DOSE OF REALITY FOR PENGUINS & LATEST TRADE TALK
“Long time it was 2-1….. We had our chances to win.”
That was Sidney Crosby’s take after the Penguins 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.
With or without Evgeni Malkin, what this game showed was a dose of reality that the Penguins’ back end is just not good enough to make a deep run.
A team with two talented scoring lines and a big physical third line is going to cause the Penguins fits in a seven game series like the Bruins have all season in outscoring Pittsburgh 14-3 in three meetings.
You think these last couple games defensively haven’t spooked Jim Rutherford who is aggressively trying to add a top-4 defenseman?
Many have been waiting for Olli Maatta who missed most of last season to get under his feet and emerge as the top-2 pairing defenseman they expect him to be, but there’s no signs that is going happen.
Maatta was a disaster in the loss to Boston but most concerning is his play all season has been at the level of a No. 6 type defenseman. This wasn’t just some off night. The game has been too quick for Maatta and he frequently gets beat to the outside and is often saved by Kris Letang’s closing speed.
Maatta is a big problem for the Penguins right now and it’s why this management group that continues to operate at a win-at-all cost mentality looks to be backed into a corner to have to overpay for immediate help. They think the world of Maatta long-term but he’s just not a top-2 pairing defenseman right now.
This is a market they should be staying out of and just rolling the dice with what they have but with jobs on the line if Pittsburgh misses the playoffs, hard to see “riverboat Jimmy” who some with other NHL teams call him, not making a move.
If Maatta was playing anywhere near the level he was his rookie season when paired with Matt Niskanen, I’d bet the GM and his cohorts would feel a lot more comfortable in possibly rolling the dice and standing pat.
The Penguins badly feel the need to add another defender to the mix.
Derrick Pouliot has been solid in the transition, but there’s nothing special about his game and he’s not going to be that guy. A Barry Trotz or Alain Vigneault would have a field day in targeting a Pouliot pairing in a playoff series.
For Pittsburgh and other teams in the d-man market, the prices are sky-high, Mike Weber went for a 3rd round pick, and the pickings are slim.
As I’ve been reporting over the past month, Dan Hamhuis has no interest in coming East, especially to a bubble team like the Penguins.
Bob McKenzie had this take about Hamhuis tonight on NBCSN went discussing the Penguins deadline options.
“If Hamhuis were to waive, I think he’d be much more inclined to waive to a team in the West than the East,” said McKenzie.
The Penguins are making an aggressive play for Kris Russell sources told Inside Pittsburgh Sports this week, but as McKenzie reported tonight, there is lots of competition.
“R[hide]utherford would like to bolster the depth on defense,” McKenzie said. “Calgary’s Kris Russell being the type of defenseman that would interest Pittsburgh. But lots of competition.”
The view on Russell from many pundits and fans, especially the analytics crowd is not a good one but to General Managers and NHL executives, Russell is quite popular. We’re hearing at least six teams are pursuing him, headlined by the Penguins.
After Russell, the rental market is next to nothing.
Scouts have positive things to say about David Schlemko, who could probably be had for a third rounder, but Ray Shero dealing Schlemko to Pittsburgh who the Devils are battling for a playoff positioning would be a tough sell for Shero to make to his team. Knowing Shero I just can’t see that one happening.
Edmonton’s Justin Schultz is such a disaster in his own end to go with the $3.9 million qualifying offer the Penguins would have to make to retain him, makes him a risky addition, even with the Oilers reportedly willing to pick up some of the cap hit.
No. 7 types like Matt Hunwick, Matt Bartkowski could become last minute options just to add some more experience if the Penguins strike out on their list of top targets.
I’m told Toronto’s Matt Hunwick is of some interest to the Penguins.
On the non-rental market, Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin is one of the few options out there. Detroit among the teams looking at him.
Also in Columbus, Jack Johnson’s improved defensive play under John Tortorella has them much less inclined to consider moving Johnson than executives said they were a few months ago. The price would be steep.