In the middle of the baseball trade deadline, it wasn’t a Pirates trade that made a lot of noise Tuesday morning in Pittsburgh, but a trade made by the Penguins. The move continues the offseason makeover of the Penguins into a team with four scoring lines. Brandon Sutter, for the second time, was traded by GM Jim Rutherford. The first time was when Rutherford was the Carolina GM and traded Sutter in a package for Jordan Staal. Sutter, who many thought was a possible centerpiece of a package to bring Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, was used as a trade chip to bring in younger players and replenish at least one valuable draft pick that the Penguins desperately need after trading away so many in seasons past. Sutter was shipped to Vancouver along with a 2016 3rd round pick for forward Nick Bonino, young defenseman Adam Clendening, and a 2016 2nd round pick.
Almost simultaneously with the trade with Vancover, Rutherford also signed former Washington 1st-round pick Eric Fehr to a 3-year, $6 million deal. The Fehr signing is significant because the deal that sent Sutter to Vancouver probably wouldn’t have happened if the deal with Fehr fell through. Rutherford set out from the beginning of the offseason to make all four forward lines into scoring lines. Last season’s bottom two centers were Brandon Sutter and Maxime LaPierre. Now, they’re Nick Bonino, a 22-goal scorer for Anaheim the season before last, and Eric Fehr, a 6’4″, 212-pound center that scored 19 goals last year for the Capitals. Here are reasons to like and not-like the trade:
Reasons to like the trade/signing: Both Bonino and Fehr add serious depth down the middle of the four lines for the Pens. Other than Brandon Sutter, the Pens did not have any real goal-scoring threats in the bottom-six, and now they have two. The Kessel trade also puts guys like Chris Kunitz or David Perron in the bottom-six to play next to one of these guys, which makes the Pens deeper in terms of scoring ability. Both guys also play pretty physical, especially Fehr, who uses his size to his advantage. These guys aren’t gritty like LaPierre or Steve Downie, but they have scoring ability that makes up for it. The trade and signing also saves the Penguins money in the salary cap. Sutter’s cap hit was going to be $3.3 million, and Bonino and Fehr are a combined hit of $3.9 million. Rutherford shed salary and made the Pens deeper at forward.
Reasons to not like the trade/signing: Even though the Penguins got deeper at forward in the trade and signing, Brandon Sutter is still the best player out of all players involved. Sutter scored 21 goals last year and was valuable on the penalty kill and in the room. Most of all, he stepped up in clutch situations, including the playoffs, when the team needed a lift. He will be missed. Eric Fehr also had offseason elbow surgery on June 3rd, and his rehab time is 4-5 months according to Rutherford. More than likely, Fehr will not be ready for the start of the season, but it shouldn’t be any later than the end of November before he steps out on the ice in a Penguins sweater.
Overall, I think this is another great trade by Rutherford. I will miss Sutter. He was a great player for this team, but the Penguins needed to get deeper at forward and that’s exactly what happened here. Rutherford set out to make four scoring lines and he’s making the right moves to do so and he’s doing it without spending max money. He’s found ways to take Spaling’s and Sutter’s contracts, which were pretty sizable when you consider their roles, and use them as pieces to bring in guys like Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, and Eric Fehr. Rutherford is giving Pens fans reason to be optimistic about this season. He’s committed to a plan and executed it nearly perfectly. The pain of losing Sutter will wear off, especially if Bonino and Fehr fulfill what they were brought here to do. Just like Sutter did for the critics of the Staal trade.
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