FALLOUT OF THE JAROME IGINLA TRADE
The Penguins acquisition of Jarome Iginla in the early morning hours makes this season coming down to reaching the Stanley Cup Finals or end up being a bust for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That’s the message being made by management for a hockey club that has been plagued by three straight early playoff exits.
The first question on a lot of minds is where does Jarome Iginla fit on the top-3 lines? That’s something Iginla and GM Ray Shero didn’t even discuss when Iginla accepted to waive his no trade clause but head coach Dan Bylsma has to be licking his chops this morning.
When breaking down the top-9, the lineup consists of centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter, and wingers Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow.
Although Bylsma (prior to the Iginla trade) has spoken about giving Brenden Morrow a shot on Evgeni Malkin’s left wing, Morrow is no longer a top-6 forward but could form a strong third line with Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter. That’s a line Bylsma should put together immediately going down the stretch here. If that’s the direction Bylsma goes, what is the Penguins best options on the top-2 lines?
Putting Iginla with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal is an option but Iginla is not a natural left winger and while James Neal is struggling mightily right now, he’s evolved into a premier goal scoring “right winger” when playing with an elite center. It doesn’t make much sense to move him back to left wing, a position he hasn’t played since 2010-2011.
I feel where Bylsma has to look is breaking up the Sidney Crosby line, at least short-term in an exploratory process. The Penguins know what they have in that line, arguably the best in hockey, but there’s still no reason not to tinker a bit and see how well Crosby fits with Iginla.
If this was the route Bylsma goes, the question then becomes who comes off of Crosby’s line, Kunitz or Dupuis?
I would first give Kunitz – Crosby – Iginla a look with Dupuis – Malkin – Neal on the second line. In Dupuis, Malkin and Neal would have a forechecking presence they need and added speed to the line. If Bylsma places Iginla with Crosby, I’m sure, though, he will be tempted to reunite Kunitz with Malkin and Neal, who formed one of the best lines in hockey last season. So many different options the Penguins can go but here’s what I’d start out with on the top-4 lines:
1st Line: Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Jarome Iginla
Analysis: What makes the Crosby line so dangerous is the speed upfront and that’s one concern with breaking Kunitz – Crosby and Dupuis up but don’t the Penguins have to see what Kunitz, Crosby and Iginla can do together. This could give you everything and be perfectly built for playoff hockey.
2nd Line: Pascal Dupuis – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Analysis: Dupuis brings the speed and forechecking element to the table, which he so often brings to the table for Sidney Crosby.
3rd Line: Brenden Morrow – Brandon Sutter – Matt Cooke
Analysis: Could have the makings of one of the best third lines in hockey, a tough line to play against with some skill offensively.
4th Line: Tyler Kennedy – Joe Vitale – Craig Adams
Analysis: If Tyler Kennedy sticks around, he strengthens the Penguins 4th line when he gets to his game.
4th line in FLUX: Is this something the Penguins go with? I doubt it when it comes to the 4th line. The Penguins continue to like what Tanner Glass brings to the table on the penalty kill, so he might stay in the top-12 and the sense is Joe Vitale is going to struggle to stay in the top-12 as the Penguins have not been pleased with his consistency.
Although a very good argument can be made that Beau Bennett should be playing in the minors than getting seven to eight minutes a game in a 4th line role, when evaluating this team management has looked at the Penguins 2009 championship run where they had some skill on the 4th line in Miroslav Satan, so they might look to Beau Bennett to fill that type of role this post-season.
Keep in mind, the Penguins have also not ruled out adding to their fourth line and covet a depth player who can kill penalties and take draws when needed. The 4th line is also in flux and it remains to be seen how it shakes out between now an April 3rd.
TRADE RUMBLINGS ON KENNEDY, JEFFREY
How the Penguins attack the next week will be interesting. With the addition of Iginla, the Penguins now have 15 forwards, 9 defensemen and 2 goaltenders.
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are on injured reserve and a roster move has to be made for Iginla to play who should make his Penguin debut on Saturday.
A second roster move will have to made if Evgeni Malkin returns this week and he should.
Beau Bennett and Simon Despres don’t have to clear waivers, so procedural moves can always be made to get under until the rosters expand, but the two roster players to watch in trade talks this week is Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey.
They are two names coming up in league circles. Phoenix has been scouting Jeffrey and the word last month is that the Penguins held a third round grade on Jeffrey and I doubt that has changed.
Do the Penguins try to move Jeffrey to recoup some draft picks? Possible.
Kennedy is a player the team has to be make a decision on. He has picked up his play and I hear the coaching staff wants to keep him around. The Penguins, though, are shopping him and the sense is management will still consider moving him for the right price. He’s available but only on the Penguins terms as it’s still no guarantee that the Penguins will tender him this summer.
ON THE LOW-RETURN THE PENGUINS GAVE UP
Penguins GM Ray Shero played his cards perfectly. He made it clear he wasn’t going to give up a premium return for Iginla and just let things fall into place as in the end Iginla wanted to come here as the Flames captain squashed a better deal for the Flames perspective from Boston.
The Flames seeking a top tier prospect never came to fruition and the Penguins won’t be losing any sleep over giving up Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski. Agostino was a rising prospect in the Penguins system but far from a sure fire NHL prospect and Hanowski is regarded at best as a C-level prospect. The Penguins didn’t give up any real assets and hold on to 2012 2nd round pick Teddy Blueger, Minnesota State, and 2011 7th round pick Scott Wilson, UMass-Lowell, the two players with the highest upside of the Penguins college prospects.
Former GM Craig Button now an analyst with TSN and NHL Network wasn’t too high on the Flames return of Agostino and Hanowski when appearing on TSN. “Certainly doesn’t appear it is at all,” Button said when asked if the return was enough. “The Pittsburgh Penguins have hit a home run here.”
The low return made the Penguins comfortable in not needing an extension to pull the trigger on the deal. Iginla currently makes $7 million per season and while he’s a fading superstar, it’s widely believed Iginla seeks a three to four year deal in the $6 million range. That has some of the top NHL insiders already speculating this is a pure rental for the Penguins and saying Pittsburgh has “no chance” to resign him.
“This is a pure rental for the Pittsburgh Penguins,” TSN’s Bob McKenzie said. “We don’t believe there is any chance what so ever that Pittsburgh Penguins are in a position where they can possibly sign Jarome Iginla moving forward.”
I somewhat disagree and feel that talk is premature as Iginla could fall in love with Pittsburgh but it’s been clear from those in league circles to me that Iginla still wants to get paid and yes it’s going to be tough for Pittsburgh to resign him.