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Insider Only Post-Trade Deadline: Basing off-ice capabilities over actual on-ice capabilities is a scary road Jim Rutherford continues on

Penguins Post-Trade Deadline Fallout

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Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made a trade Monday at the deadline for the sake of just making a trade in shipping underperforming winger Tanner Pearson to the Vancouver Canucks for rugged defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

There are complications to keep trying to fix one mistake with what will surely be another mistake in acquiring Gudbranson.

Gudbranson, 27, carries a $4 million cap hit through the 2020/2021 and that’s the real problem with this deal. From the eye test to several metrics, this is one of the worst value defenseman in the NHL and it’s not close. I’m always going to be somebody who trust the eye test over any metrics but the concern with Gudbranson is his game doesn’t bring optimism from either direction and it’s a Jack Johnson situation where the player is who he is at this stage of his career.

This is not a player who has a Justin Schultz skill set that just needed a change of scenery in the right system to flourish.

Gudbranson leads the NHL with a minus-27 rating and has a league-worst 34% Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

Kris Letang | $7.25MM Cap Hit | Signed Through 2022-2023
Justin Schultz | $5.5MM Cap Hit | Signed Through 2019-2020
Brian Dumoulin | $4.1MM Cap Hit | Signed Through 2022-2023
Olli Maatta | $4.083MM Cap Hit | Signed Through 2021-2022
Erik Gudbranson | $4MM Cap Hit | Signed Through 2020-2021
Jack Johnson | $3.25MM Cap Hit | Signed Through 2022-2023
Marcus Pettersson | RFA
Juuso Riikola | RFA
Chad Ruhwedel | UFA

The biggest concern with Gudbranson playing a regular role in the Penguins lineup is how bad he struggles in the transition game. Gudbranson had the worst controlled Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

Gudbranson was basically run out of town by Vancouver fan base and things likely won’t be easier in Pittsburgh with this fan base.

Rutherford in his post-trade deadline press conference was obviously aware of how poor the metrics are for Gudbranson. Rutherford, though, feels Gudbranson being a heart and soul guy outweighs the on-ice concerns. Similar to the 2015 trade deadline and the 2017 summer, the Penguins organization is back on this toughness element.

“That doesn’t describe why you want certain players,” Rutherford said of Gudbranson’s poor numbers, even indicating they might not improve in Pittsburgh . “In Erik’s case, he’s a real heart-and-soul guy. He’s a good dressing room guy. He’s got good character, and he can protect our players. He puts us in a stronger position to push back when we get into more physical games.”

It’s an alarming direction for the Penguins to take, basing high-risk decisions on a trade acquisition being a good dressing room guy and being able to provide leadership as a primary reason to make this move and act like the major deficiencies in Gudbranson’s game can be out-weighed by leadership qualities and being able to break up a scrum after a whistle.

This isn’t the Steelers locker room where a bunch of maniacs like Antonio Brown who have never won on the big stage are running around causing issues as the Penguins are not outside of the playoffs right now or lost in the second-round to Washington last year because they are or were lacking heart and soul type players in their room or on the ice.

The Penguins are on a scary road in just overlooking a players’ actual on-ice capabilities when making a high-risk decision like this. They did it in giving Jack Johnson a five year deal and are doing it again in adding Gudbranson. It’s a lot harder to hide a third pairing defenseman than a 4th line winger whose only attribute is toughness.

Feeling the need for more character and having a ‘good dressing room guy’ is what led Rutherford down the road of bringing Matt Cullen back that is keeping younger players like Teddy Blueger from being embraced for a full-time role. A lot lower risk with Cullen, though, when he’s eating up $650,000 of cap space compared to $4 million.

— Once the Penguins’ coaching staff became down on Tanner Pearson, that was it, and whether it was at the deadline or in the summer he was going to be moved. But, you can’t make the mistake of moving Pearson just to move him.

Pearson is still at the age and had past production in Los Angeles where the Penguins were in position to wait things out until the summer to facilitate a deal that could have opened up cap space. There was going to be a team like Ottawa or others scrambling to meet the cap floor and sense is Pearson would have had a market in the summer for the Penguins to move him for a mid or late draft pick.

The Penguins have nearly $80 million tied into 16 players for next season, several depreciating assets in their 30’s with high cap hits where the team is hamstrung against the cap moving forward.

That needed to be a focus with a player like Pearson but instead the Penguins went the ‘we’ll give you our bad decision (trading for Pearson) for your bad decision (Canucks signing Gudbranson).

“The fact that we trade Pearson after acquiring him doesn’t mean we didn’t like him,” Rutherford said. “We were looking for somebody to produce a little bit more than Hagelin did, and Pearson did that. But, at the same time, when you have a chance to get a player like Gudbranson, you have to give something for him.”

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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