Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Feb. 27, 2020
Penguins fans have become accustomed to bold moves by Jim Rutherford, so there was plenty of anticipation leading up to this week’s NHL trade deadline, which was on at 3 p.m. on Feb. 24.
It did not disappoint.
Rutherford made three moves involving NHL players, with the most noteworthy coming about two weeks ago. The Penguins finally threw in the towel on their Alex Galchenyuk reclamation effort, shipping him to Minnesota with highly touted prospect Calen Addison and a 2020 first round pick. In return, they received veteran forward Jason Zucker.
Most already figured Pittsburgh would be a buyer as the deadline neared, but that decision made it official. They released a bundle of assets brimming with potential for a player they believed could be an instant game-changer.
That notion seems accurate so far, as Zucker already has five points in seven games since the trade. His best performance came in a 4-1 win over Montreal where he scored twice.
Better yet, the 28-year-old is signed through the 2022-23 season at a reasonable $5.5 million average annual salary.
Rutherford’s next big move came on deadline day, Feb. 24. He swapped a 2021 third-round pick for San Jose forward Patrick Marleau, who leads all active players in career games played.
With 10 goals and 10 assists this season, Marleau has been productive. Nonetheless, he proved expendable for a struggling Sharks team that’s nearing a rebuild.
Now, he’ll step into a depth-forward role with the Penguins. Between his experience and continuing production, he should be a perfect complementary piece.
It’s also worth mentioning that Marleau has never won a Stanley Cup. In fact, thanks to his new team, he just fell short in 2016. As he joins a Penguins team looking to win now, his hunger to finally win the big one makes him an even better fit on the roster.
Rutherford capped his deadline moves by acquiring a familiar face, Conor Sheary. Sheary, of course, won two Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017.
The 27-year-old was a key role player during each title run, scoring a combined 12 points. He also netted a career-high 23 goals during the 2016-17 season.
However, after his production dropped the following year, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Now he returns to his old team hoping to help them achieve a familiar goal.
As part of the deal, the Penguins also received forward Evan Rodrigues. In exchange, Domink Kahun was sent to Buffalo.
Rodrigues has struggled this year with only nine total points, but he posted 25 and 29 points in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, respectively. For a player who spent his first four NHL seasons with the Sabres, perhaps a change of scenery will prove beneficial.
Now, with the dust finally settled, it’s time to consider the effects of these transactions.
As mentioned before, there is no doubting the current motive of Rutherford and the Penguins. This team is chasing another Stanley Cup now, and it’s not hard to understand why.
The longtime core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang is getting older by the day. Each player is over 30, and as we have repeatedly witnessed in sports, you can never really predict when that dramatic decline will finally arrive.
It makes sense to seize the current opportunity. The Penguins are among the best teams in the league right now, so why not go all in while they have the chance?
Some have complained about Rutherford’s moves, particularly the Zucker deal. They have suggested a first-round pick and high-end prospect were too much to give up for a good, but not great, player like Zucker.
Some have also pointed out that Kahun is the best player of him, Sheary and Rodrigues. So why bother trading him with that sort of return?
These are familiar responses. When Rutherford first arrived, he made it clear he wanted to win now. That meant trading away draft picks and prospects for questionable players.
It wasn’t particularly well-received at the time, but sure enough, his aggressiveness brought two championships back to Pittsburgh.
Rutherford’s track record here has been fantastic. Key contributors like Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz were all acquired through trades. Even this season, Rutherford scored big when he made a deal for John Marino, who has been among the team’s best defensemen. Sure, deals for Derick Brassard, Ryan Reaves and others didn’t pan out, but that happens.
The Penguins are going all in, and their fans should embrace it. Otherwise, in a few years when Crosby and Malkin are past their primes, fans will still be wondering, “What if?”