With the Pittsburgh Penguins knee deep in their worst season in several years, should general manager Jim Rutherford consider a drastic move to revitalize the team?
Every year after the Pens suffer another playoff disappointment, the team brings in another player to solve their playoff problems, and every year the Penguins again fail early in the playoffs.
Is it possible that the problem isn’t who the Penguins are bringing in, but rather who they should be trading away?
It may sound ridiculous, trading away the one of the two bright spots on a perennial playoff team, but there are serious advantages to consider when looking at a potential move.
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First, it is important to look at the salary statistics. The Pittsburgh Penguins five highest paid players (Malkin, Crosby, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel, and Marc-Andre Fleury) account for over 53.2% of the team’s cap space. That is incredibly high for just 19.2% of the roster.
By comparison, the recent Stanley Cup champions have much less salary tied up at the top. The 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks only had 43.9% committed to its five largest contacts. The 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings came in at 47.6% of the cap space.
While these may seem like small differences, it amounts to an additional $6.4 million over the Blackhawks and $3.6 million over the Kings. That is enough to bring in an extra star-caliber player or two more solid top-9 skaters.
There is no question the Penguins are unbalanced, an inverted pyramid of money. The theoretical top line of Kunitz-Crosby-Kessel makes $19.35 million, even if it was hastily abandoned. The second line of Perron-Malkin-Hornqvist takes up $17.55 million.
This is a far cry from the bottom-6 lines like Porter-Fehr-Plotnikov ($3.355 million) and Wilson-Bonino-Sheary ($2.707 million).
A trade of Crosby or Malkin would not only bring the upper-level payroll down, but allow more expensive talent to be spread throughout the Pens lines.
While the numbers behind a trade could benefit the Penguins, so would the players they would get back. Trading someone who is arguably a top-5 player would bring a huge return to Pittsburgh.
While the exact return would be highly dependent on the team in the deal, it is easy to imagine a multi-player package. One could easily imagine a top line winger and second line center included in the exchange, at minimum.
Such a return would enable the Pens to give the remaining center a star-level winger and also get a second line center to replace the one that was lost. Both Crosby and Malkin are over-qualified on the second line, and their value could lead to a more balanced team.
You also would likely get lower-level players, prospects, or draft picks in the deal. All of these are useful to the Penguins, who are still trying to build up a system after dismantling it in the name of winning now.
A trade of one of the stars would also enable Jim Rutherford to target defensive talent, which is something sorely lacking on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster at both the NHL and prospect level.
Should the Pens decide it is in their best interest to move a part of the two-headed monster, which would be the smarter move? Each has their positives and negatives.
Malkin may seem initially more expendable. He makes more money per year than Crosby, is a year older, and is currently the star with the better stats.
Crosby, on the other hand, has not played as well this season. However, he has a name recognition and reputation that exceeds anyone in the NHL. Trading “Sid the Kid”, “The Next One”, arguably the face of the NHL, would bring in quite a package on name and potential alone.
Crosby may have the support of the fan base for helping to save the Pens and win a cup, but there is no doubt he hasn’t been the same since his concussions.
If Crosby can return to form, then he is the best player in hockey. However, it seems he’s lost that fire and edge. He appears less inclined to go for a puck in a scrum, or to go to the tough areas. He’s still great, to be sure, but he isn’t the Sidney Crosby that won a Stanley Cup and scored 100+ points.
Malkin, on the other hand, has carried this team through some of it’s lowest points in years. He has singlehandedly willed this team to victories this season. He is streaky, but he still ranges from a good player to one that has outshined Crosby at times. And there’s no doubt he performs at another level without Crosby in the lineup.
While I was initially against the idea, what the Pens currently have just isn’t working. After reviewing the numbers I would be open to the idea of the Pittsburgh Penguins trading a superstar. At this point, I would make that superstar Sidney Crosby.
While he hasn’t been the same since his injuries, he still carries the name power and potential to bring in a massive return.
Trading Crosby would allow the Penguins to become more balanced, both financially and in terms of talent. While initially very unpopular, it would allow the Pittsburgh Penguins to join the ranks of the very successful one-superstar teams like Tampa Bay, Montreal, and Washington.
Do you agree? Let us know what you think by commenting below.