Although the Pittsburgh Penguins have reliable young talent contributing steadily through the season thus far – Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna, Zach Sill, Harry Zolnierczyk – it’s hard to imagine the organization will feel comfortable rolling them out there once the playoffs start.
Perhaps they could provide solid production on the bottom two lines, because of how much determination and drive they have shown, but being slotted on the top-line might prove to be too much. Don’t get me wrong though, captain Sidney Crosby can play with just about anybody and make them serious catalysts.
And while forward Beau Bennett will in all likelihood resume top-line duties, he’s been inconsistent, injured, and shifted all-over the lineup this season. Knowing how much talent he possesses, Bennett could without a doubt succeed as Crosby’s right winger; however, his dependability is in question when it comes to being able to stay on the ice.
I have suggested before that Pittsburgh should pursue Devils’ forward Jaromir Jagr, Flames’ forward Jiri Hudler, or Sabres’ forward Matt Moulson. But what about making a splash for Jets’ defenseman-converted-forward Dustin Byfuglien?
Byfuglien, 28, is on an underachieving team in Winnipeg, and could be the big right-handed shot Crosby has missed since Bill Guerin. Recently moving back to forward, if anyone remembers him when he played for Chicago, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound workhorse dominated in the postseason at that position.
Collecting a total of 25 points (14G, 11A) in 39 playoff games with Chicago, Byfuglien tallied 16 of those 25 in the Hawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup year. In those 2010 playoffs, he tied for first on the team with 11 goals – five being game-winners, which also led the team.
So not only can Byfuglien handle the forward position, but he’s got a history of playing well in the postseason. Understandably, he performed beyond expectations slightly because of the players around him, however, wouldn’t that make Byfuglien a perfect fit for Pittsburgh?
Unfortunately for the Pens, they don’t have a whole lot of cap-room. Byfuglien is signed through the 2015-16 campaign, and has a $5.2 million cap-hit. But despite having a little window to acquire Byfuglien due to their payroll, they can make it work. Pittsburgh’ gained $3.75 million in wiggle-room when Dupuis went down, leaving $1.45 million to even-out if they choose to deal for Byfuglien.
Newly-claimed forward Taylor Pyatt is reeling in $1,550,000 million, and would be a good candidate to designate for assignment. Although he brings that necessary size and grit, his contract, accompanied with slow speed, is something Pittsburgh can get rid of come playoff time.
As-far-as what Winnipeg would want for him, that’s the tricky part. Defenseman Simon Despres’ name is one that will certainly surface, given he’s a former first-rounder and holds great potential. Defenseman Matt Niskanen could also play a part in acquiring Byfuglien, but I expect that Despres, along with a few draft picks and another prospect would be enough to pry the big-man from the Jets.
Of course, Pittsburgh could ultimately decide that Bennett is going to fill that right-wing hole. He’s not a bad choice, just an iffy one because of his injury history.
The only issue that would stall this deal from happening is that Winnipeg would ask too much – after all, he’s arguably their best player. Should Pittsburgh steal Byfuglien, here’s how I’d picture their four-forward lines looking like:
- Kunitz – Crosby – Byfuglien
- Jokinen – Malkin – Neal
- Gibbons/Megna – Sutter – Bennett
- Engelland/Glass – Vitale – Adams
When you look at it on paper, Byfuglien makes the top-two lines that much more intimidating and powerful. However, as Pens’ fans know, winning on looseleaf doesn’t guarantee anything. Execution is what’s important.