As the Pittsburgh Penguins enter their league mandated five day break this week, the team’s GM Jim Rutherford isn’t using the opportunity to get some much needed rest and relaxation. While the Penguins players will retire to their homes or maybe even hit up a tropical beach for a few days, the team’s GM will be working overtime to get things back on track.
Forty-four games into the season and Rutherford isn’t exactly sure if he likes what he sees from his team thus far, but he’s intent on coming up with an answer this week. Does that mean making a deal or standing pat? Time will tell.
“I’m not going to say publicly everything that I know and what I feel about how we’ve lost some games, but I think I have a pretty good handle on it,” Rutherford told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Jason Mackey this past weekend. “Some of the things that I see, I don’t believe changing player personnel is going to do it. As a group, we have to be more consistent and do what we do best.”
As Mackey points out, Rutherford is an excellent bluffer… so there could be more bubbling below the surface that we don’t know about. So, what are the biggest factors in a potential trade for the Pens? The biggest is their lack of assets. By Mackey’s count, the Pens really only have two tradeable assets in defenseman Ian Cole and rookie forward Daniel Sprong.
It’s no secret that Cole would like a change of scenery, given that he’s had a difficult time cracking the full-time roster under head coach Mike Sullivan. He’s a classic, stay-at-home defensman who can block shots, clear the front of the net and play the penalty kill. It’s unlikely that Cole alone would bring back a bounty of players or picks, but he’s certainly a valuable player if given the opportunity to fit into a team’s system.
As for Sprong, the 20-year-old rookie has lit it up at the AHL and NHL level so far this season with two goals and three points in just five games with Pittsburgh and 18 goals and 28 points in 29 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The former 2nd round pick (46th overall) in 2015 looks poised for NHL stardom, so why would the Penguins be so keen to trade him? The Dutch born Canadian is still growing and finding his way in the pro ranks, but don’t be surprised if he becomes an impact player for the Penguins sooner rather than later.
Still, Mackey makes the case for trading Sprong in an attempt to land a legitimate third line center:
What about Daniel Sprong — let’s assume the Penguins would even be willing to part with him at this point — and some premium picks? OK, maybe. But a legitimate third-line center is going to bring with him a legitimate contract. Making the money work will be hard, if not impossible.
Crazy, right? Could you imagine Rutherford trading Sprong for a new version of Riley Sheahan? Not only would it not help the team, it would set them back years of development. The backlash from the team’s fanbase would also be severe. For what it’s worth, Rutherford is a smart man… don’t hold your breath on a Daniel Sprong trade anytime soon.
Letang on the go?
In other Pens news, you can put the Kris Letang rumors to rest. He’s not getting traded. Late last month there was plenty of trade chatter around the 30-year-old defenseman, but a report from Mackey indicates that Letang won’t be going anywhere.
A team source took issue with several reports out of Canada that have indicated the Penguins are actively shopping Letang. They are not, the source said.
Letang has certainly had an inconsistent season this year, but he remains one of the team’s core players. He’s scored three goals and 27 points in 41 games, but sports a dreadful -13 plus/minus rating.
If Letang wants to shut down the rumors, he’ll need to do it with his play the rest of the season.