ShareThis Page
5 things we’ve learned about the Penguins since the NHL trade deadline | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

5 things we’ve learned about the Penguins since the NHL trade deadline

Jonathan Bombulie
816171_web1_gtr-pens14-101718
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Dominik Simon is checked by the Canucks’ Erik Gudbranson in the third period Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

If trade-deadline acquisition Erik Gudbranson is going to make a positive contribution to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ injury-depleted blue line, he’ll have to improve on his performance in Vancouver, where he had a league-worst minus-27 rating.

While it might be a risky strategy that is bound to backfire at some point, the Penguins have every reason to believe he will.

In the Mike Sullivan era, every defenseman the Penguins have acquired in a midseason trade has had better results after joining the team. With the usual caveat that plus-minus rating is a flawed metric that lacks context, the numbers are remarkable.

Justin Schultz was a minus-22 with Edmonton and a plus-7 with the Penguins. Ron Hainsey was a minus-16 in Carolina and a plus-8 with the Penguins. Jamie Oleksiak was a minus-6 in Dallas and a plus-13 with the Penguins.

The improvement wasn’t as dramatic for Trevor Daley, Mark Streit or Marcus Pettersson, but all had better plus-minus ratings with the Penguins than with their previous teams.

It would be arrogant for the Penguins to assume they can take any old defenseman and turn him into a plus machine, but they have done a pretty good job of identifying players stuck in bad situations and putting them in better ones.

Evidence is mounting. The change-of-scenery effect could be real.

“Sometimes it’s just not working for players. They just need a fresh start almost,” Schultz said. “I know that was the case for me. Coming here was a new start. Got to reset my game, and obviously it was pretty easy coming to a talented team like this.”

Here are five other things we learned about the Penguins since Monday’s trade deadline.

1. Stock up for Johnson

Since Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin went down with injuries in the outdoor game last Saturday, Jack Johnson has played some of his best hockey of the season.

That’s a continuation of a trend for Johnson, who was a minus-13 in his first 25 games with the Penguins and a plus-10 in 38 games since.

2. Changing attitudes

When Gudbranson makes his Penguins debut Friday night in Buffalo, the Penguins will have two No. 3 overall draft picks on their blue line. He was taken third in 2010, and Johnson was picked third in 2005.

Letang, Schultz and Dumoulin, meanwhile, were chosen between picks 43 and 62 in their draft years.

It’s a stark illustration of how much scouts and general managers still favored size and strength over finesse and puck-moving ability as recently as a few years ago.

3. Tied together

Friday night’s game will be the first Gudbranson and Jared McCann play as teammates, but they already were linked inexorably. Florida traded Gudbranson to Vancouver for McCann in a 2016 deal.

“It’s going to be cool, but I knew him from before, like in the summertime,” McCann said. “We trained at the same place last summer. We’re very excited to have him.”

4. Replacing Rust

While surviving their injuries on the blue line might be a priority for the Penguins these days, replacing Bryan Rust, out “longer term” with a lower-body injury, could prove just as difficult.

Since a Dec. 12 hat trick in Chicago, Rust is tied with Jake Guentzel for the team lead in even-strength goals with 14. That’s double the third and fourth players on the list, Sidney Crosby and Letang, who have seven apiece.

5. Small changes

Ultimately, the Penguins made only minor alterations to their roster at the deadline, sending out a role player on the wing in Tanner Pearson and adding a role player on defense in Gudbranson. Crosby takes that as a compliment, in a way.

“It means they believe in what they’ve seen when we’re at our best,” Crosby said, referring to management. “That’s the way I would take it.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.