The Pittsburgh Penguins have been off to a slow start in the 2017-2018 season by their standards. They are currently in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with a 16-13-3 record with 35 points. Pittsburgh plays in a tough division and most likely five teams in that division will make it to the postseason.
Pittsburgh has scored 94 goals and given up 104 points so far this season. They have the third worst defense in the NHL. Justin Schultz has been their best defenseman this season on both sides with two goals and eight assists. His plus/minus is 1. They seemed lost without him right because he is out with a lower-body injury.
Kris Letang has scored two goals and recorded 22 assists, but his defensive game is an issue. His plus/minus is -13. It just feels like that Letang is another forward and not a defenseman. Olli Maatta has scored two goals and recorded 11 assists, but his plus/minus is -3. He can be stiff at times and Maatta isn’t good on the defensive end either.
Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, and Chad Ruhwedel aren’t bad, but they aren’t anything special. The Ottawa Senators are trying to trade players; would be it outrageous to get defenseman Erik Karlsson? He is having a rough season in Ottawa and maybe he needs a change of scenery. In 23 games, he has scored one goal and recorded 17 assists. His plus/minus is -16. Karlsson isn’t usually that bad.
Karlsson would be good to have on the team. They need another defenseman. Karlsson has a cap hit of $6.5 million for the next couple of seasons. He is an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-2019 season. If that’s the case, the Penguins should trade Olli Maatta ($4.083 mill), Ryan Reaves ($1.125 mill), prospect Daniel Sprong, and a first-round pick.
If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know what other defenseman are out there, but general manager Jim Rutherford is going to have to make a move sooner rather than later.
Other than that, the Penguins should move forwards Carl Hagelin ($4 million next two seasons and is an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-2019 season) and Ryan Reaves ($1.125 million and is an unrestricted free agent after this season). Hagelin isn’t doing anything anymore and they need more pop on the third and fourth lines. In 31 games, he has only scored two goals and recorded three assists.
They should call up Daniel Sprong at some point. It might be sooner rather than later. He has scored 12 goals and recorded nine assists in 22 games at the AHL level this season. His plus/minus is -2. Sprong is NHL ready and the Penguins are waiting patiently. They already called up Dominik Simon and he has two assists in two games this season. Pittsburgh should let him keep playing because he can skate. In 20 games at the AHL level, Simon scored three goals and recorded 13 assists.
Reaves has scored one goal and recorded two assists in 32 games this season. He is basically not fit for this scheme. I don’t think it is an accident that the St. Louis Blues are doing better without him this season. St. Louis has a 21-8-2 record with 44 points.
The Penguins should still try to trade for Tyler Bozak but I don’t think Toronto wants to mess up their chemistry. They could try to trade for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but I don’t think Edmonton wants to trade him. If they could do that, that would be great. Pittsburgh is going to have to go in a different direction though.
What about James Neal from the Vegas Golden Knights? He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Neal has scored 14 goals and recorded nine assists in 29 games.
If Pittsburgh acquires Neal, call up Sprong, and keep Simon in the NHL here’s what the lines could look like:
Line 1: Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Line 2: Conor Sheary- Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Line 3: James Neal-Riley Sheahan- Daniel Sprong
Line 4: Bryan Rust- Carter Rowney-Dominik Simon
Those lines would be a lot faster and the scoring on the bottom six would be a lot better. Carl Hagelin would most likely be traded anyways and Ryan Reaves would probably be sitting in Sullivan’s doghouse.
They got the goalie personnel correct earlier in the year between the pipes when they put Antti Niemi on waivers and called up Tristan Jarry to be the backup. Let’s hope it happens again and maybe they will start stringing wins together.