John Steigerwald: Maybe best deals are no deals for Penguins stars
Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
Somebody said that a long time ago, but nobody has been able to prove it because general managers, no matter the sport, never talk about the trades they could have made but didn’t.
So maybe Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford’s best trade will be the one he didn’t make with the Minnesota Wild involving Phil Kessel.
Kessel invoked his no-trade clause, and, if he does play for the Penguins next season, he might be motivated enough to have the kind of year that would, under the old theory, make it one of Rutherford’s best.
Of course, when that expression was first used, players didn’t have no-trade clauses, so this one doesn’t count.
By all accounts, Rutherford has spent a lot of time on the phone since the Penguins were eliminated by the New York Islanders in April, and he already could have made a lot of good trades by not making them if he turned down a lot of offers.
So what about Kessel? Would it be that bad if he plays another one of this 82-game seasons with the Penguins?
He scored only 27 goals last season and was a minus-19. The Penguins were 34-19 when he had a point and 11-18 when he didn’t. For what it’s worth, they were 12-23 when he was a minus.
I don’t think anybody is blaming him for the sweep by the Islanders. And it has been 10 years since the Penguins won a Stanley Cup without Phil Kessel.
Then there’s Evgeni Malkin. He scored only 21 goals in 68 games and finished minus-25. You don’t have to dig into the analytics to know he had a terrible year. He had enough turnovers to embarrass Vinny Testaverde.
The Penguins’ record when he had a point was 33-18. Their record when he was a minus was 7-27.
Malkin also has a no-trade clause, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Rutherford received some calls asking about his availability.
Malkin will be 33 in five weeks. It would be shocking if Rutherford could find a team Malkin would agree to that would be interested in giving Rutherford a deal that would justify the move.
The question is: Which would be a better addition by subtraction for the Penguins, Kessel or Malkin?
Malkin would subtract more from the payroll, help with the salary cap and bring more in return, and he’s no less responsible for the Penguins needing a shakeup than Kessel is.
You expect Phil Kessel to be Phil Kessel. You don’t expect Evgeni Malkin to be Phil Kessel.
Chances are both will start the season on the Penguins roster. Malkin will be the guy with the most pressure to be better, but Kessel will be the guy the fans turn on first.
• It is not too often a general manager says this after trading a star player: “I know we’ve taken a good player off our team, so I can’t sit here and say we’re a better team for doing that.”
That’s what David Poile of the Nashville Predators said after trading defenseman P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils for two second-round picks and two guys whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize.
It was a salary dump. Subban is making $9 million a year, and, Poile said, the Devils were the only team that offered to take on his full contract.
Predators fans will be frustrated by seeing a popular player dumped purely for financial reasons, and there are some in the media who have come to dislike the salary cap because it forces teams to move stars. But everybody in the media and every Predators fan needs to remember there would be no hockey in Nashville if it didn’t exist.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.