It's been a summer of change for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but new general manager Jim Rutherford doesn't appear to be done shopping just yet. That's not too surprising, as Rutherford seems to view the Penguins roster as a work in progress.
After trading James Neal and signing free agent defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (among others), Pittsburgh reportedly has its eyes on one of the more popular remaining free agents available in Paul Bissonnette, according to Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona (h/t Pen's Labyrinth).
If Bissonnette does sign in Pittsburgh, it will be a full-circle deal for both player and team. It was the Penguins that drafted "Biz Nasty" in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, but he only laced up the skates in 15 NHL contests for the organization before the Phoenix Coyotes (now the Arizona Coyotes) claimed him off of waivers in September of 2009.
Bissonnette went on to become one of the most popular players in Coyotes history because of his personality and knack for giving people the business on Twitter. James Tanner over at HockeyBuzz.com recently called for Arizona to bring the enforcer back to town, while Morgan wrote the following after it became clear that Bissonnette wouldn't be back in Arizona:
Bissonnette made a name (and gathered 551,000 followers) for himself on Twitter with his humorous, off-the-cuff remarks and his refusal to take flak from critics.
But he made a different name for himself in the Coyotes community.
Bissonnette brought homeless people from the Central Arizona Shelter Services Vista Colina Emergency Family Shelter to hockey games in the past four years. The Coyotes donated the tickets, but Bissonnette paid for the transportation from the shelter in Phoenix and for food vouchers with the money he's raised from selling shirts by Sauce Hockey.
That's the kind of quality individual you want to have in the locker room, and it's been pointed out at various times this offseason that the Penguins could use an enforcer type in the bottom-six forwards (never mind the presence of Steve Downie, apparently). Bissonnette certainly fits that bill—he has 52 NHL fights under his belt and can play a regular shift as well.
At least that's how the 6'3", 216-pound forward has been billed. In reality, he averaged less than five minutes a game for the Coyotes last season and has 22 points in 202 NHL contests. Is he a good guy? It would seem so. Was he incredibly popular in Phoenix? You bet.
None of these things should be of interest to the cash-strapped Penguins, though. Especially not when considering the direction that Rutherford has taken over the last few months. It seems like he wants to crush the idea of top-six forward/bottom-six forward entirely, instead rolling four strong lines that can score and defend well.
Bissonnette simply doesn't fit in with that ideal. Even the rough and tumble Boston Bruins have cut ties with their lovable enforcer. If the Penguins are serious about playing all four lines consistently, and if we accept that the enforcer position is rapidly dying out in the NHL and it's been documented that fighters don't prevent injury or deter cheap shots, then what's the positive for Pittsburgh?
Simply put: there isn't one.
Bissonnette will undoubtedly find work in the NHL this season. He just shouldn't be Pittsburgh's mistake. Not when it would cost someone like Kasperi Kapanen a roster spot. If there was cap space to burn and an actual need for a fourth-line player, then Bissonnette would be a good fit. The Penguins have less than $1 million in space available, though, and already have a glut of forwards trying to make an impact on the third and fourth lines.
Another thing to consider: Why let Joe Vitale walk if the intent was just to replace him with another depth player? Adding a bit of irony to this case: It was the signing of Vitale that made the Coyotes pass on keeping Bissonnette on the roster. If Vitale wasn't good enough to hack it on Pittsburgh's fourth line, why replace him with the guy Vitale's new team let go in order to make room?
Pittsburgh also couldn't make space to keep Brian Gibbons, and losing him to the Columbus Blue Jackets will haunt Rutherford if his plan is to replace him with Bissonnette. Again, by all accounts, this is a good guy who is a steadfast team-first player. He just doesn't make sense in Pittsburgh at all and would be a philosophical backslide by a front office that has seemingly pulled it together this summer.