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Rossi: Winnik nice, but not enough for Penguins

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The Maple Leafs' Daniel Winnik is congratulated after scoring against the Rangers on Feb. 10, 2015, in Toronto.
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The Maple Leafs' Daniel Winnik stickhandles past the Penguins' Simon Despres on Nov. 14, 2014, in Toronto.
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Getty Images
The Maple Leafs traded forward Daniel Winnik to the Penguins for forward Zach Sill and a pair of draft picks on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Penguins' Zach Sill and the Ducks' Clayton Stoner fight in the third period Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
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USA Today Sports
Toronto Maple Leafs center Daniel Winnik (26) takes down Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot (63) as they fight at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs won 4-3 in overtime.
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Maple Leafs forward Daniel Winnik skates in a game against the Blue Jackets on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.

Maybe loading up on third-line wingers will win the Penguins the Stanley Cup.

But general manager Jim Rutherford is wrong if he’s betting on that likelihood after adding to his group of mostly not-ready-for-prime-time wingers with the acquisition of Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Nice player, Winnik, with seven goals and 25 points on a terrible Toronto team. His plus-15 rating already makes him the best Penguins forward in that regard.

Winnik, 29, also is set for unrestricted free agency, and he cost Rutherford a steep price even with Toronto picking up half of Winnik’s prorated $1.3 million salary-cap hit.

Forward Zach Sill is replaceable. A fourth-round pick might not be worth too much to the Penguins.

However, a second-round pick (in 2016) was way too much to sacrifice for Winnik, especially given the Penguins’ shallow pool of prospects (specifically forwards) in the system.

Then again, maybe Rutherford won’t miss all the picks he already has traded away this season. He is 66 and admittedly likely to stay with Penguins for only two more seasons. What does the future of the franchise mean to him? Let holdover staffers Jason Botterill or Tom Fitzgerald figure that out, presuming either is with the franchise after this season.

I’m not making that presumption.

I’m also not down on Winnik. He will make the Penguins better. He is versatile and plays hard, responsible hockey, the likes of which we haven’t seen a lot of in Pittsburgh the past five springs.

So now what? This can’t be it for the Penguins before the expiration of the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday. Rutherford needs to add more, precious little cap space be cursed.

The Penguins need a second-pairing defenseman to play with Christian Ehrhoff. They also need to be prepared for not having Ehrhoff at all, because players returning from lengthy concussion absences always are risky bets to stay in the lineup.

More than anything, the Penguins must find some help for Evgeni Malkin, because he is their best hope for turning this postseason into something magical. No player, not even Sidney Crosby, is more capable of becoming an irresistible force than Malkin — the closest thing these Penguins have to a Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr, because big, skilled players are built to shape postseason series.

Speaking of Jagr, Rutherford should stay on the watch for New Jersey’s saltiest trade bait. Malkin sure sounded like somebody itching for the right winger when I brought up Jagr’s name Tuesday.

“Yes,” Malkin said. “Of course. Yes. Jagr is great with (the) puck, still great at passing, still has (the) shot. You watch. He is still great. He would be great for us. Guys (would) see him work. He works hard every day. He makes big plays still. He wins. Yes.

“You think maybe he can come here?”

I did before the trade for Winnik.

I still share the vision of some members of Rutherford’s management staff and coaches who would love to watch the Penguins’ enigmatic power play run through Jagr on the half wall — Jagr working cross-ice feeds to David Perron, with Malkin (high) and Crosby (low) darting into open space, ready to pounce.

I bet any of the Capitals, Rangers and Islanders would hate to watch that Penguins power play.

I’d also bet on any team that could place aged-but-not-finished Chris Kunitz with Winnik on what would be a suddenly imposing third line centered by Brandon Sutter. Move Maxim Lapierre between Nick Spaling and Steve Downie on a fourth line, and then we can start talking about the Penguins possessing Stanley Cup-caliber depth.

We can’t talk about that yet, though.

Rutherford still has some significant work to do, and I know where his scouts should go to watch games over the next few days: wherever Jagr is playing.

No. 68 is still the one to make these Penguins great.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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