Buy or Sell: A Breakdown of Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Rumors

Steve Rodenbaugh@rodeyslContributor IIIMay 29, 2014

Buy or Sell: A Breakdown of Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Rumors

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    With 12 players entering free agency, the Pittsburgh Penguins figured to be one of the busiest teams this offseason even before the regular season ended and the postseason began.

    Then came the collapse against the New York Rangers which culminated in a third Game 7 loss on home ice in five years.

    Then came the shocking dismissal of general manager Ray Shero, the 2013 NHL Executive of the Year.

    Then came the lingering questions surrounding head coach Dan Bylsma, who remains in coaching limbo.

    In the last three weeks, Pens fans have seen a year's worth of suspense and intrigue, and it's not even June yet.

    As the search for the team's next general manager continues, let's take a look at some of the trade rumors swirling around the Penguins and see if they have merit or not.

Clearing Cap Space on the Blue Line

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Rumor: Rob Scuderi to either the Los Angeles Kings the Calgary Flames for draft picks, as reported by Craig Custance of ESPN.

    After Kris Letang struggled in the playoffs last season, Ray Shero concluded that he needed a defensively-sound partner to be a stabilizing influence and signed former Penguin Rob Scuderi to a four-year, $13.5 million contract.

    While the expectation was that Scuderi and Letang would form the Pens' top defensive pairing, it didn't work out that way, as injuries and a clash of styles prompted a change on the blue line.

    With both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen entering free agency this summer, and with Kris Letang's salary doubling to more than $7 million a season, a lot of analysts and fans believe that Scuderi is too expensive for the Pens to keep and expect him to be playing elsewhere next season.

Clearing Cap Space on the Blue Line

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Verdict: Sell

    While Rob Scuderi may not have been the answer for Kris Letang's inconsistent play, he is a solid stay-at-home defenseman and played well in the playoffs alongside Robert Bortuzzo on the Pens' third defensive pairing.

    Although some argue that Scuderi's production doesn't match his compensation, the fact is that his cap hit of $3.375 million is comparable to those of other defensemen over 35 years of age like Sheldon Souray ($3.67 million), Ed Jovanovski ($4.125 million) or Bryce Salvador ($3.167 million).

    With the uncertainty of free agency, and with young defensemen Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot both coming off shoulder surgeries this summer, the Pens' blue-line depth is going to be taxed enough as it is, so trading a proven stay-at-home defenseman wouldn't make sense—at least not now.

James Neal on the Move

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Rumors: James Neal to the Winnipeg Jets for Evander Kane, as reported by William DePaoli of Inside Pittsburgh Sports

    Since the trade that brought James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh in exchange for Alex Goligoski has been hailed as Ray Shero's best move as the Penguins' general manager, it's perhaps only fitting that recent rumors have James Neal leaving Pittsburgh right behind Shero. 

    The fact is that Neal has been an indispensable player in the regular season with 89 goals in 199 games but an invisible player in the postseason, having been held scoreless in 30 of 38 playoff games with the Pens.

    While 40-goal scorers are hard to come by in the NHL, there's a growing sense that Neal is too content to simply go to open ice and wait for the puck to come to him, that he doesn't go to the net enough and, as evident by his 24 penalty minutes in 13 playoff games this year, is undisciplined at times.

James Neal on the Move

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Verdict: Buy

    The Pens have been rumored to be looking at both Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler of the Jets for a long time, and either one would be a good fit for a team looking to get bigger and tougher. The move would provide a much-needed shakeup to what is seen as a complacent locker room.

    In their last three postseason runs, the knock on the Pens has been their lack of discipline and willingness to strictly play a perimeter game rather than going to the net to score the ugly goals that often determine playoff games and series, and James Neal epitomizes both of those problems.

    With the team's ownership reportedly less than thrilled with the team's lack of discipline and attitude, Neal seems to be the most likely candidate to be dealt this summer, and given his reputation as an elite sniper, there will be no shortage of interest.

Uprooting "The Flower"

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Rumor: Marc-Andre Fleury to the Calgary Flames for draft picks or prospects so the Penguins can sign Ryan Miller to a long-term contract, as reported by Craig Custance of ESPN.

    It seems at times that the Penguins' offseason wouldn't be complete without another round of Marc-Andre Fleury trade rumors, and this offseason figures to be no different.

    Rumored to be headed to the Minnesota Wild last summer after being benched in the 2013 playoffs, Fleury seemed to return to form and enters the final year of his $5 million-a-year contract fresh off statistically his best postseason performance since 2008.

    Despite this, critics are quick to point to his epic puck-handling disaster in Game 4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which led to the tying goal at the end of regulation as proof that Fleury's habit of letting in soft goals at key moments hangs as a black cloud over the Pens' Stanley Cup aspirations.

Uprooting "The Flower"

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Verdict: Sell

    If Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't traded after last year's disastrous playoff performance in favor of a healthy and proven Tomas Vokoun, it doesn't make sense to trade him this year after strong regular and postseason performances in favor of a free agent like Ryan Miller who struggled in the postseason.

    With their top goaltending prospects at least a year away from being NHL-ready, and with an inexperienced backup in Jeff Zatkoff, the Pens' best bet is to let Fleury play out his contract and decide next summer whether to resign him or pursue Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop or another free agent.

    That way, Fleury will get the opportunity to prove that he really has put his postseason struggles behind him, the Pens' goaltending prospects will get another year to develop, and if free agency really does bring out the best in players, the Pens will get a motivated goaltender who's looking for his next contract.

Canucks and Penguins Deal, Take Two

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Rumor: Ryan Kesler to the Penguins in exchange for Brandon Sutter, a high draft choice and a top prospect, as reported by Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

    At the trade deadline back in March, the biggest buzz in NHL circles concerned the Penguins' reported pursuit of all-star Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks and his mutual interest in coming to Pittsburgh.

    That was until the Canucks ownership team stepped in and, after being pummeled in the press for their mishandling of the Roberto Luongo situation, blocked the trade perhaps to avoid another public-relations disaster.

    Since both teams will have new general managers, the assumption is that the hopes of the trade happening are gone, but the fact remains that Brandon Sutter is a restricted-free agent who, coming off of a strong playoff performance, may be looking for a deal in upwards of $4 million per season.

Canucks and Penguins Deal, Take Two

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Verdict: Buy

    With the Canucks reportedly only considering trades for Ryan Kesler that would include a young center in return, the possibility still exists that this deal might still happen—especially if the Pens' next general manager deems Brandon Sutter's demands too high.

    While there's no way to tell whether the trade was only Ray Shero's idea or had the backing of the rest of the Pens' hockey brain trust, Kesler would bring the speed, grit and work ethic to the Pens that Mario Lemieux believes that the team needs in order to get back to being a Stanley Cup contender.

    If this deal does happen, look for Simon Despres to be included, as the former first-round pick has, despite his size and skill, dropped down the Pens' defensive depth chart and seems destined for another year in the AHL.