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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Penguins should trade Ian Cole, but for right reasons

| Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
The Penguins' Ian Cole checks the Coyotes' Christian Dvorak in the second period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Ian Cole checks the Coyotes' Christian Dvorak in the second period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

There are good trades and bad trades. And the bad trades usually get labeled that way because they get made for the wrong reasons.

Those reasons are usually financial. For instance, when the Penguins traded away Jaromir Jagr.

Or when the Pirates trade away, well, just about anyone.

If defenseman Ian Cole gets dealt from the Penguins, as has been discussed quite publicly of late, it won't be strictly because of money.

But it might also be for the wrong reasons.

Speculation amongst media members who cover the team is that there is some sort of personality rift between Cole and coach Mike Sullivan. A lot of that belief stems from a sense that Cole is too chummy with the media for Sullivan's taste.

Yes, Cole is open with reporters. But I don't see that as a bad thing unless he is giving away tactical secrets, bashing teammates, or providing bulletin board material for opponents.

None of which I remember Cole doing to any severe degree.

For his part, Sullivan has bristled at the suggestion Cole has been scratched for the intent of keeping him healthy until a deal has been made, or for any type of personality clash.

“I think sometimes you guys make it up as you go,” Sullivan told reporters. “I don't know where this stuff comes from.”

Well a lot of people from competing outlets have made up the same story I guess.

But let's take the coach at his word. Let's assume there's no conflict with Cole. Why then is he being scratched?

“We've had a couple of games where the coach made a change on defense,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “We'll have to see where that goes as we go forward.”

That's not exactly dousing the trade rumors, GMJR.

In one sense you could understand why Rutherford would want some smoke out there around Cole, even if there isn't a burning fire to trade him. He's in the final year of his contract and likely will be too expensive for Pittsburgh to resign against the salary cap next year.

Then there's the looming need to either keep or replace Patric Hornqvist, as well.

A shot-blocking defenseman who has been an important penalty-killing contributor on two Stanley Cup winners in the walk year of his deal may be a valuable trade commodity.

Then again, all those attributes are reasons why the Pens should keep Cole. Also, keep in mind Cole is currently less expensive than five other regular defensemen on the NHL roster.

Furthermore, Cole has a far better resume and measurables than Chad Ruhwedel or any of the other defensemen in Wilkes-Barre who would be replacements.

Cole's game hasn't been where it needs to be, particularly on Pittsburgh's leaky PK unit this year (26th in the NHL). The Notre Dame product is far from the only Penguin to be guilty of that, yet he seems to be the most scapegoated so far.

If Cole were to be traded, the assumption is that some quality forward scoring depth would come back to Pittsburgh in return. The Penguins have struggled in that area this year.

Although, Rutherford would have to keep in mind how much actual quality would be associated with such a player if he were to carry a price tag in the neighborhood of Cole's $2.1 million salary cap hit. The Penguins couldn't take on much more than that in return for Cole and remain cap compliant since they are within about a million dollars of the ceiling as it is.

As a comparison, Anaheim just dealt right-handed shooting defenseman Sami Vatanen to New Jersey. Vatanen is more expensive than Cole by $2.77 million. But he is slightly younger (26) than Cole (28), under contract through 2020, and has more offensive prowess.

What did he yield in return from the Devils? Forwards Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third-round pick.

That's $5.66 million against the cap this year for two players who have totaled seven goals in 51 combined games. Henrique scored 30 times two years ago. But he was recently demoted to the fourth line in New Jersey.

Does that kind of offensive production at that price sound worth it to you for a defenseman who has been a staple in your top six for two straight playoff runs?

If Rutherford can do better than that in exchange for Cole, then I'm all for it. Then, in theory, that would make “hockey sense.”

But to deal him in an effort to throw good cap space after less than good promise of scoring in return, all in the pursuit of apparently eliminating some manageable personality rub?

That doesn't make hockey sense. In fact, it's nonsense.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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