Hockey News and Discussions
After winning back-to-back championships, the Penguins have slightly regressed this year. The team lost key depth players in this past off-season (including Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Marc Andre Fleury, and Trevor Daley) and anyone watching this team will notice the difference.
There have been rumors all season that Pittsburgh is looking to upgrade its center position and find a true replacement for Nick Bonino, who played such a pivotal role down the stretch for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 squads.
The Penguins already tried finding a replacement for him through the trade market, acquiring Riley Sheahan from Detroit earlier this season (along with a 5th round draft pick in 2018) in exchange for a 3rd round draft selection and Scott Wilson.
After going pointless in 8 games with the Red Wings this season, Sheahan has produced 18 points in 45 games with the Pens. As of Feb 4, 2018, his advanced stats during his time with Pittsburgh are as follows:
Defensive Zone starts: 68.1%
Average Time on Ice: 15:36
Faceoffs: 55.7 percent
While those numbers aren’t bad, they do not match what Nick Bonino produced as a third line center:
29 pts in 63 games (2016) and 37 points in 80 games (2017)
PDO: 102.8 (2016) and 99.4 (2017)
Corsi: 51.5 (2016) and 46.4 (2017)
Defensive Zones starts: 55.6 (2016) and 56.8 (2017)
Average Time on Ice: 15: 50 (2016) and 16:39 (2017)
Faceoffs: 50.4% (2016) and 48% (2017)
Furthermore, there is a great disparity in where Bonino and Sheahan got their ice time. Sheahan averages 0:21 on the powerplay and 2:51 shorthanded, while Bonino was averaging 1:43 on the powerplay and 2:17 shorthanded in 2017.
Pittsburgh popularized the trend of top quality 3rd line centers, which helped them win two Stanley Cups. Now with other contending Eastern teams improving on that formula (Lars Eller on the Capitals, Matthew Peca on Tampa Bay, Tyler Bozak on the Leafs, Travis Zajac on New Jersey, Riley Nash on the Bruins, and Pierre-Luc Dubois on Columbus), the Penguins are feeling the pressure to upgrade and are currently dangling defenseman Ian Cole as trade bait.
One move that might make sense is trading for Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec. The Pens are projected to have $1,967,871 in cap space at the Trade Deadline on February 26, while Cole is signed for $2.1 million through this season. That combination should be more than enough to absorb Plekanec’s contract ($6 million through this year) if Montreal retains some of it.
Currently, the Canadiens need to rebuild, as they’ve lost huge pieces of their once mighty core (PK Subban in a trade that looks worse every day, Alexander Radulov to free agency, Andrei Markov to Russia) as well as younger players who would have helped them this season (Nathan Beaulieu in a trade with the Sabres, Sven Andrighetto to waivers, and Mikhail Sergachev to a trade with the Lightning).
Since the Habs are reportedly contemplating trading their captain, Max Pacioretty (which would signify a complete rebuild), Plekanec, a pending Unrestricted Free Agent, could be a perfect trade target.
Currently, Plekanec is 10th in scoring on the Canadiens with 18 points in 52 games, with an unbelievably low shooting percentage (3.9 percent). However, the Canadiens have struggled to score goals this season (27th in goals for) and a change of scenery could benefit him, having only been two seasons removed from a 54 point campaign. His advanced stats aren’t terrible either:
PDO: 99.6% (4th highest among Canadiens forwards who have played 10 games)
While Plekanec is a productive two way center, I also believe he could be had for relatively cheap. The Penguins, who have their 1st and 2nd round picks this year and next year, could offer Cole, a fifth round pick in 2018, and a conditional 3rd rounder in 2019 (that becomes a 2nd in 2018 based on playoff advancements). For the Pens, it gets them the 3rd line center that they desperately need, while still allowing them to hold onto young prospects such as Zach Ashton-Reese, Thomas DiPauli, and Daniel Sprong. For the Canadiens, it gets them Cole, who they could flip or re-sign, and two picks to help with the rebuild.
In the 2018 draft, Montreal has their 1st round pick, Chicago’s 2nd round pick (from the Fleischmann/Dale Weise trade), a 2nd rounder from the Capitals (Eller trade), their own 2nd round pick, and their own 3rd round pick. The Penguins’ 3rd round pick would be just another asset to add to their treasure chest and would help them with their rebuild.
Short-term, the move would also allow Charles Hudon, Michael McCarron, or Jacob De La Rose to get some more playing time.
With Pittsburgh (currently third in the Metropolitan division) is only 3 points ahead of the Blue Jackets and 4 points back from the Capitals, they will need all the help they can get this season, as every single point will matter down the stretch.
*all statistics taken from Hockey-Reference.com
*all salary and cap information from Capfriendly.com