The Pittsburgh Penguins had a largely routine weekend at the NHL Draft in Vancouver, picking up a handful of prospects and not making any of the trades that had kept the rumor mill busy for weeks beforehand.
Here are five things we learned from the draft about where the Penguins stand and what their plans are for the rest of the offseason.
1. Still seeking the sweet spot
As general manager Jim Rutherford flew back from Vancouver, the only move he had made so far this summer was a trade of Olli Maatta to Chicago for Dominik Kahun and a draft pick. That’s not a lot of change for a team swept in the first round of the playoffs.
On the draft floor Friday night, Rutherford said it was “highly unlikely” he would trade Kris Letang or Evgeni Malkin this summer. That would have been a massive amount of change for a core that has won three championships.
There’s a sweet spot somewhere in between.
Sweet spot, thy name is still Phil Kessel.
The most logical offseason move for the Penguins remains a Kessel trade. It would shake up a roster Rutherford has deemed stale, but it wouldn’t be a seismic shift.
Rutherford prides himself on his creativity in the trade market. Navigating Kessel’s limited no-trade clause and getting a respectable return might be his most creative brushstroke yet.
2. The oh-so-helpful GM fraternity
Remember when Rutherford said earlier this month he is operating as if Kessel will still be on the team in the fall? Draft weekend provided a great example of why he had to say that.
For salary cap reasons, Toronto needed to get rid of Patrick Marleau. Everyone knew it. Carolina squeezed a first-round draft pick out of the Leafs to take him off their hands.
For similar reasons, Nashville had to move P.K. Subban. It was no secret. The Devils picked up the All-Star defenseman for a song, all because they could accommodate his $9 million cap hit.
If Rutherford came out and said he absolutely, positively must move Kessel by opening night, he probably could get it done. But opposing GMs would make sure it was as painful a process as possible.
3. Metropolitan math
Speaking of the Devils, they improved dramatically by trading for Subban and drafting Jack Hughes. The Rangers are much better as well after trading for Jacob Trouba and drafting Kaapo Kakko.
Division standings aren’t necessarily a zero-sum game, but let’s face it. If the Devils and Rangers have better records, those points are coming from somewhere.
Some should come from Columbus, which likely is about to lose Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene to free agency.
Beyond that, where? Do the Capitals start to show signs of age? Do the Islanders and goalie Robin Lehner come back to earth? The Hurricanes don’t look like a fluke. The Flyers finally have a goalie.
It’s going to take a lot of work for the Penguins to avoid being the team that loses out in this Metropolitan math equation.
4. Philosophy class
In the Maatta trade, the Penguins got younger and quicker by acquiring Kahun. The first three picks the Penguins made in Vancouver, on the other hand, were bruising power forwards.
If the Penguins believe a team needs a nice blend of players — the physical and the fast — to be successful, that’s a perfectly reasonable position.
If the Penguins are haphazardly picking up players without a discernible organizational philosophy, that’s bad.
5. Why not both?
The Penguins kept their first-round pick for the first time since 2014, using it on winger Samuel Poulin. This was widely described as the Penguins momentarily turning their back on their win-now ways to restock the prospect pool.
Not so fast.
A year and a few days after the Penguins picked Kasperi Kapanen in the first round in 2014, he went to Toronto in the Kessel trade. Eight months after the Penguins drafted Angelo Esposito in the first round in 2007, he went to Atlanta in the Marian Hossa deal.
A team can make its first-round selection and be in win-now mode. It’s not an either-or proposition.