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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: John Tavares-to-Penguins talk makes no sense, even if history says it does

| Monday, May 21, 2018, 8:48 p.m.
New York Islanders' John Tavares is a five-time All-Star free agent.
New York Islanders' John Tavares is a five-time All-Star free agent.

Under Ray Shero or Jim Rutherford, the Penguins have built a good track record when it comes to identifying — and eventually acquiring — a trade or free agent target.

Remember when conversations sounded like this?

"The Penguins should try to get Marian Hossa. ... They probably can't get Hossa. ... Oh my gosh, they're really in on Hossa. ... The Penguins just got Marian Hossa!"

Substitute names such as Jarome Iginla, Gary Roberts, Derick Brassard and Bill Guerin, if you like. They were all players identified very early in a trade season, and they wound up coming here.

Free agency speculation also often became truth in terms of the Penguins' effort to get the player, but with less success in finishing the deal. "Jagr Watch" and "Parise Watch" leap to mind.

Even in those circumstances, the Penguins were in the bidding for guys who were big free agent fish until the end. Their depth of forward talent and lack of cap space would suggest such a move to be difficult. Yet they tried anyway.

Now enter John Tavares.

He's the five-time All-Star free agent center from the Islanders. On May 11, Elliotte Friedman of mentioned the Penguins might be a dark-horse candidate to land his services.

"Someone we do not expect is going to come out of nowhere to take a run at him," Friedman wrote. "It's purely a guess, but Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is the kind of guy I could see staying up at night figuring out how to do it."

I, however, lost no sleep over this. Because, to me, it seems like nutty idea.

But as last week went along, this notion grew from hardly being acknowledged to being a point of discussion in many print, radio and TV outlets around town.

Because of this momentum, and that Penguins' history I just outlined, I almost feel obligated to keep an eye on this talk now.

For instance Monday, The Athletic reported soon-to-be hockey ops boss Lou Lamoriello had already met with Tavares in advance of taking his new job.

So when I read that, I instantly went down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out what the ripple effect could be to the Peng….

And they got me. I'm hooked. The offseason hockey rumor mill won, and I lost. Even if for a day, I shouldn't have given this one any credence. I out-thought myself.

As discussed on our podcast page Friday, there are countless reasons why Tavares to the Penguins wouldn't work.

• He's going to eat up $10 million to $11 million against the cap. After signing their restricted free agents, the Penguins will have virtually no cap space.

• If the Penguins were to create space, they would likely have to trade Phil Kessel, Brassard and another player in order to make a Tavares signing happen.

• They wouldn't be able to retain any salary, and they could take on zero NHL players in return.

• Even if that all were to happen, why acquire Tavares and have him run into the same issues as Brassard when it came to running out of skilled players as linemates and getting no power-play time as a third-line center?

Those encouraging the idea will note the Islanders experimented with putting Tavares at wing . Even if it didn't take in Brooklyn, might it work here? Especially if the potential of moving Brassard to wing is being considered.

Sorry. I'm still not buying. I don't think Rutherford will be either. The only "yeah, but" here is if all of that happens, Tavares takes a short-term — and massively below market — deal, leaving Rutherford the ability to sign some blueline help as well.

With many hungry teams potentially in the mix to get the 27-year-old Islanders captain, don't count on that.

It would be fun to put this story under the "Well, stranger things have happened in free agency" file.

Well, have they? How Hossa spurned the Penguins in the summer of 2008, yeah, that was strange.

And, no, I didn't see the need or wherewithal for the Pens to attempt a reunion with Jagr in the summer of 2011. But they tried.

They even got creative enough to get deeper than I expected into the Parise and Ryan Suter derby of 2012.

Hence, little the Penguins do in the offseason surprises me anymore when it comes to winning immediately.

This move for Tavares would, though. Both in terms of logic and capability to pull it off.

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