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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: Ian Cole's departure hasn't sunk Penguins

| Tuesday, April 3, 2018, 7:50 p.m.
The Blue Jackets' Ian Cole (23) checks the Canucks' Brandon Sutter, right, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday March 31, 2018.
The Blue Jackets' Ian Cole (23) checks the Canucks' Brandon Sutter, right, during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday March 31, 2018.

B followed A. Therefore, A caused B.

It's logic for the simple-minded and often not logical at all.

Take Ian Cole's migration from Pittsburgh to Columbus. Since that happened, the Penguins have stumbled a bit, going 10-7-2. The Blue Jackets have accelerated, going 13-3-1 prior to Tuesday night's home game vs. Detroit.

In the feeble brains of Twitter twits and talk-show callers, Cole's switcheroo is responsible for those developments. A No. 5-level defenseman is the reason the Blue Jackets have caught the Penguins from behind in the Metropolitan Division standings.

“They shouldn't have traded Cole! PK, shot blocking, chemistry, blah, blah, blah! Rutherford screwed up!”

Given the Penguins' accomplishments these last two seasons, fingers shouldn't point at GM Jim Rutherford. If you insist, I've got just the finger for you.

Cole's absence has been felt on the penalty-kill. Since the trade, the Penguins have survived just 38 of 54 disadvantages, a disturbing success rate of 70.3 percent. Cole's positioning and his instinct near the blue paint are missed on the PK.

But at even strength, Chad Ruhwedel has been acceptable. Now Matt Hunwick is back in the mix. You're not covering that many minutes, and you're only replacing Cole — a healthy scratch during part of his tenure in St. Louis and during two lengthy stretches of his time in Pittsburgh.

Cole isn't Bobby Orr. He's not even Olli Maatta.

A disclaimer: I hate to be perceived as ridiculing Cole, or even criticizing him. Cole is a solid bottom-pair NHL defenseman who will earn far above his station when he hits free agency this summer. He's done very well at Columbus, playing 18 minutes per game. Once he gets paid like a top-four defenseman, he may get to be a top-four defenseman.

For a while.

Center Nick Bonino got top-six money from Nashville. He played in the Predators' top six for a bit. Now he's their third-line center, same as with the Penguins. You are what you are. Bonino contributed mightily to two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh. But no one bemoans his absence.

That's the nature of hockey in the salary-cap era. Very few stay with the same team indefinitely. Even fewer aren't replaceable.

If the Penguins don't win a third straight Stanley Cup, it may be because of fatigue. Because of injury. Because the odds catch up. Because (gasp) another team is better. It won't be because they don't have Cole.

If the Penguins do win a third straight Stanley Cup, maybe it will be because Derick Brassard (acquired in the Cole trade) keeps up his run of playoff production: 55 points in 78 career postseason games. Or perhaps because Brassard's presence enables Coach Mike Sullivan to successfully use Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin on separate lines, thus creating matchup nightmares for the opposition.

But there's little point (or fun) in thinking rationally.

Exacerbating the situation is Thursday's showdown between the Penguins and Blue Jackets at Columbus, a game that could determine if the Penguins get home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The teams might well play again in that first round.

Cole has excelled for Columbus: two goals, five assists and a plus-12 mark in 17 games with the Blue Jackets. Brassard, injured since March 27, has three goals, five assists and is plus-1 in 14 games with Pittsburgh.

Cole vs. Brassard: Who won that trade? It gets determined Thursday and maybe in the first round.

That's absurd, of course. But this is the business I've chosen.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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