Tim Benz: Slow draft week doesn’t mean Penguins will remain silent
If you were looking for a big splash from the Pirates offense over the weekend, you didn’t get it .
That’s not surprising.
What was surprising this weekend was a similar lack of fireworks from the Penguins at the NHL Draft.
Notoriously creative general manager Jim Rutherford frequently makes moves at points on the calendar when many deals are consummated. He tweaks his roster whenever he sees the need for improvement, even after a year that ended with a Stanley Cup.
Like last year, when the Pens acquired Ryan Reaves at the draft.
Rutherford warned us in advance that this might not be a very active offseason , even though 2018 stopped two rounds earlier than the previous two campaigns. But he also said the roster would look different.
Having the draft come and go with no moves doesn’t eliminate that possibility. There is still plenty of time between now and the start of the season. However, the main reason why the draft seemed like such an obvious place to start pushing the dominoes is it provided an opportunity for the Penguins to achieve two major goals:
1) make a prospect pipeline thinned by many “win now” trades deeper by acquiring draft picks. And …
2) acquire those picks by shedding salary from a roster that is going to be pushing the cap.
Rutherford still can accomplish these tasks. For instance, a player such as Conor Sheary or Derick Brassard could be traded. The return might not be as good now, though, and the draft picks will be another 12 months away from becoming Penguins property.
One thing that does seem highly unlikely at this point is a trade of Phil Kessel. As predicted here Friday , the Penguins didn’t sell off their talented right wing while in Dallas.
Perhaps that’s because — as reported by multiple outlets — Arizona wasn’t willing to take on Kessel’s contract, whatever Los Angeles was offering wasn’t enough and Rutherford simply couldn’t come to grips with the idea of trading away 92 points from a team that remains positioned to compete for a title.
Unlike potential trades of other Penguins between now and training camp, the Kessel talk seems dead.
Consider coach Mike Sullivan’s “nothing-to-see-here” dissertation at the draft when asked about his allegedly tense relationship with Kessel. Sullivan never would’ve answered those questions to the degree that he did — and with the dismissive tone that he had — if there was any chance of the Penguins trading Kessel before the team reconvenes in the fall. It would look awfully strange for Sullivan to make statements like that in late June only to see No. 81 dealt once free agency starts July 1.
That’s also probably why we haven’t heard from Sullivan until now. Organizationally, the Penguins are always cognizant of trying to control the message and quelling stories that might have the slightest whiff of negativity.
So that’s about a month’s worth of time when Sullivan could have quashed discussion of a disconnect between himself and Kessel if such a problem was truly as imagined as Sullivan tried to make it sound Friday night.
Again, he could have. Unless, of course, he was waiting to see if Rutherford was going to make a trade before the draft was over.
Which makes a lot more sense to me.
So that’s $6.8 million against the cap the Penguins won’t be moving. Therefore, Penguins fans who want Carolina forward Jeff Skinner might have to witness a couple of other players getting pushed off the roster to make that happen. Skinner is going to make $5.75 million this year.
LA had shown interest in Jeff Skinner but priority for now is Kovalchuk. Told that Pittsburgh and St. Louis have also talked to Carolina about Skinner https://t.co/rE1hDzFhpa
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 21, 2018
Rutherford always has been described accurately as aggressive. But that doesn’t mean he’s impatient. He waited for Matt Cullen after 2016, took his time before landing Riley Sheahan and stuck with the ups and downs of players such as Sheary, Carl Hagelin, and Olli Maatta.
His inactivity at the draft might seem odd. Yet it might be just a delayed start before a flurry of moves.
Moves that might be more complex to pull off now but still are possible.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.