Potential Ryan Kesler Deal Ignores Pittsburgh Penguins' True Needs

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIMarch 4, 2014

Feb 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler (17) during the pre game warm up against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

Unless you're just now returning from a self-imposed Internet fast, you know that the Pittsburgh Penguins are interested in Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks. The argument in favor of acquiring him suggests that making a deal for the former Selke Trophy winner would return the Pens to their glory days.

The last time Pittsburgh made it to the Stanley Cup Final, it had Jordan Staal as its third-line center, while Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby took care of the top two lines.

While swinging this deal with the Canucks would certainly give the Penguins that sort of center depth, it would also be flat-out ignoring the true needs of the roster.

The Penguins would be acquiring Kesler in an attempt to replicate their glory days, when they boasted Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal (above) at center.
The Penguins would be acquiring Kesler in an attempt to replicate their glory days, when they boasted Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal (above) at center.Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

When Pittsburgh moved Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package headlined by Brandon Sutter, the team was simply trying to manage the salary cap. Keeping three No. 1 centers on your team is costly, after all.

The Penguins have since failed to make much of an impact in the playoffs and last season's offensive dry spell against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final seems to have been the final straw for general manager Ray Shero.

According to Rob Rossi of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh first kicked tires on Kesler back in January and has been inching toward a deal since then.

The Penguins don't need another center, though. They need depth on the wings and arguably on the blue line as well. If one were power-ranking their needs headed into the trade deadline, a top-end center might be fourth or fifth on the list.

Sutter isn't a bad center, he simply hasn't had the consistent support of strong bottom-six wingers to work with. While DobberHockey indicates that Kesler spends nearly 15 percent of his shifts with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Sutter has played with a myriad of sidekicks.

Oct 19, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin (33) and center Ryan Kesler (17) talk on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

His most frequent linemate is Craig Adams. Sutter has also seen some time with Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner. It's tough to strike fear into the hearts of opposing lines when the combinations simply haven't been all that great or consistent.

Seeing the names that Kesler lines up with, you'd assume that he would have better numbers than Sutter. That isn't the case.

According to DobberHockey's Frozen Pool (subscription required), Kesler has averaged 29 points a year over the last three seasons. Sutter is averaging 20.

It's true that the current Canuck has battled injury problems, but that isn't something that should work in his favor here. If anything, it should make the Penguins even warier about adding him and his $5 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

This isn't to say that Sutter is as strong of an option as Kesler. It's just that the current Pen would be able to perform up to the standards the team has for him if there were better wings to play with. With Beau Bennett still on the mend and Pascal Dupuis out until the start of next year, Pittsburgh needs help that players like Matt Moulson and Thomas Vanek would provide.

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 30:  Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks checks Daniel Alfredsson #11 of the Detroit Red Wings as Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks skates by during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 30, 2013 in Vancouver, Brit
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The big difference is that those two are on expiring deals while Kesler falls into the "hockey trade" catchall, but acquiring him wouldn't magically fix Pittsburgh's No. 1 problem, which is scoring depth on the wings.

If Kesler comes to Pittsburgh, he too would be coupled with the likes of Glass and Vitale. Is the gifted two-way center capable of creating enough offense to make the lack of NHL-caliber wingers less noticeable? It seems unlikely.

Pittsburgh seems poised to make a splash by picking up Kesler for the next two years, but in doing so, it's failing to address what should be its top priority.

There's nothing dangerous at all about the team's current bottom six and that doesn't change regardless of whether the Pens use Kesler as the No. 3 center or top-line right wing.


Salary information courtesy of CapGeek.com.


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