Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Why the Canucks and Penguins are ideal trade partners
By Tyson Cole1 month ago
The trade deadline is two months away, and rumours are starting to spread across the league. Since August, there have been 18 total trades, and two teams have had their hand in eight of them; The Vancouver Canucks have been involved in five, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, three.
The rumours are heavily swirling around Penguins star Jake Guentzel.
This management team has not been shy about acquiring former Pittsburgh Penguins players. Sam Lafferty, Teddy Blueger, Ian Cole, and Mark Friedman were all players acquired during the Rutherford-Pens era.
Current Penguins General Manager Kyle Dubas has a history of trading with the Canucks dating back to his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He and Patrick Allvin have shaken hands on three trades since the latter took over the GM position of the Canucks. One of those trades came earlier this season in the swap of Jack Rathbone for Mark Friedman.
What about now makes it the ideal time for these two to get back on the phone and start negotiating?
Vancouver Canucks Assets
Over the last few years, the Canucks biggest weakness was the right side of their defence. This issue has been temporarily resolved with the additions of Filip Hronek, Ian Cole, and Nikita Zadorov to the blue line.
The new glaring need is a top-six forward.
To say that Andrei Kuzmenko has not been the same Kuzmenko that Canucks fans saw last season would be an understatement. His sophomore season has not gone the way many had hoped. Head coach Rick Tocchet has let his frustration be known, scratching the near-forty-goalscorer five times this season, most recently against the St. Louis Blues.
This begs the question, how long will Kuzmenko’s struggles be allowed to continue before a change is made?
A good point is brought up at the 1:59-minute mark, “If Kuzmenko can’t get into game 38 in St. Louis, is he going to play in the playoffs for Rick Tocchet?”
The playoffs are a different beast than the regular season. Teams emphasize limiting opponents’ chances, opting to play physical two-way hockey rather than run-and-gun offence.
During the regular season, Kuzmenko guarantees ‘lift you out of your seats’ moments. It’s just that they don’t always work out. When not executed properly, these high-risk, high-reward plays can lead to high-danger scoring chances against, a problem more often than not for Kuzmenko this season. Kuzmenko has shown he can be one of the Canucks best offensive forwards, but his defensive game has fallen short of Rick Tocchet’s expectations.
Of the 14 Canucks forwards that have played 100 minutes of time on ice at 5-on-5 this season, the Canucks have the worst control of high-danger goals-for (HDGF%) with Kuzmenko on the ice. He has been on the ice for 10 high-danger goals for and 11 against.
The Canucks stand to gain in more ways than one, so long as Kuzmenko is afforded the ice time to iron out the flaws in his defensive game. Should Kuzmenko figure it out and return to his goalscoring ways while playing the hard-nosed forecheck-heavy style that Tocchet wants, then the Canucks will have boosted their Cup contention odds or increased their ability to net a proven playoff performer on the trade market in a potential trade.
As it stands, alternating time between the press box and the ice won’t help Kuzmenko prove to his frustrated head coach that he can play how he wants, nor will it improve the theoretical value the Canucks could gain in a potential trade return, should they decide that Kuzmenko is not a fit for how they hope to play come playoffs.
The more he plays, the better off the Canucks are situated ahead of the trade deadline, which brings us to their potential trade partner, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh Penguins Assets
It’s a tight race in the Eastern Conference, with the Penguins tied for the final wild card spot, below New Jersey and Washington by the ‘games played’ tiebreaker.
Despite rallying back from sitting fourth-last in the Conference around American Thanksgiving, Jake Guentzel, their leading scorer, has come up often as a name to watch on the trade block.
Unsurprisingly, the American winger is having a phenomenal year with the Pens, scoring 18 goals and 43 points through 39 games.
So why would they want to trade their current season point leader?
Guentzel’s agent, Ben Hankinson, commented on his client’s current situation in an interview with Sirius XM Radio,
“Could it get ugly? Yes, it could. Kyle has to make decisions, too. Which way the team is going and the investment he’s going to make with Jake. Is it in the same direction? It’s going to come down to how they play, and we’ll put our heads together.”
Guentzel’s time with Pittsburgh appears to be on a ticking clock, as this is the final year of his current deal—a deal signed by current Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford, no less!
GM Kyle Dubas will spend these next two months deciding whether the Penguins stand to gain more from a playoff run with an expiring Guentzel and a potential contract extension or in a trade return to a top team out of the Conference.
Could a potential trade between these clubs with so much familiarity come to fruition on a Kuzmenko/Guentzel swap?
Hypothetical trades are always fun, so let’s get into this doozy.
Andrei Kuzmenko and a 2024 first-round pick for Jake Guentzel
Every team is tight to the ceiling in today’s salary cap world. That these two players share comparable cap hits makes for an easy fit into either team’s roster
Kuzmenko is making $5.5M, while Guentzel is making $6M per season. Pittsburgh has $200,000 of available cap space, while Vancouver has $332,500 with the help of long-term injured reserve.
During his tenure in Toronto, Dubas targeted players with term remaining on their contract, over one-year rental players during trades. With an additional year remaining on his contract after this season, Kuzmenko fits that mould of player-return.
As a team fit, Kuzmenko could slide onto a line with fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin, leading to Bryan Rust bumping back up to Sidney Crosby’s line. For the Canucks, Guentzel could slide next to Elias Pettersson or J.T. Miller, depending on how the lotto-line figures down the stretch. The 29-year-old forward has shown the ability to excel with superstar forwards throughout his career. The addition of Guentzel would give the Canucks the ability to separate and reunite the lotto line whenever they see fit, giving them a more balanced attack.
For Canucks fans, parting with another first-round pick is a tough pill to swallow. Truthfully, it might not be enough to part ways with a struggling forward for a proven first-line calibre forward like Guentzel.
Guentzel’s underlying profile blows Kuzmenko’s underlying profile out of the water this season and historically. Guentzel has 24 more points while creating 107 more individual scoring chances (iSCF) than Kuzmenko.
A first-round pick is a lot to pay for a potential rental player, let alone a first-round pick plus an additional asset to compensate for the discrepancies between their on-ice stats. An additional asset that could prevent them from landing a potential player in a later trade.
The Penguins’ depth scoring could use some help, as the scoring is scarce outside of Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel and Rust. Newly acquired forward Rielly Smith has just eight goals and 20 points in 37 games, while Rickard Rakell has three goals and 12 points in 25 games.
It seems farfetched to believe that a team tied for the final wild card spot could trade their leading point scorer. However, with Dubas’ history of making significant changes to his roster, this may be the kind of return large enough to ease the Penguins’ fears of losing a player of Guentzel’s calibre for nothing without fundamentally damaging their playoff odds.
For Vancouver, acquiring a bonafide star in Guentzel would be the perfect addition for a serious playoff run against a tough Western Conference.
So, Canucks fans, who says no to this potential trade?
Recent articles from Tyson Cole