We don't know much about Alexandre Picard, the journeyman depth defenseman signed Wednesday by the Penguins, but we do know this: he's a depth defenseman. He gives the Pens eight guys that Ray Shero knows can play realistic minutes in the NHL in Letang, Orpik, Michalek, Martin, Niskanen, Lovejoy, Engelland, and Picard. No, we are not counting the guy Sidney Crosby punched in the nether-regions.* Consider that there are really two tiers of d-men here. You've got the top 4, big money guys, and then you've got the bargain basement second tier of Lovejoy, Engelland, and Picard (all making less than $600K). There's only one guy who doesn't fit comfortably in either group: Matty Niskanen. He makes $1.5 million against the cap, and for all the things he brought to the table when he came to the Pens in the Neal-Goligoski swap - smooth skating, a right-handed shot, a ready-made nickname - Matty Ice caused some severe butt-clenching when we watched him handle the puck in his own zone. It's time to move him.
Lovejoy and Engelland have shown they can at the very least handle full time regular season duty on the third d-pairing. Picard is a serviceable 7th defenseman. And there are a bunch of kids knocking on the door: Simon Despres, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep, and Robert Bortuzzo could all be ready to play limited minutes in case of an injury. Strait already did so last season. The Pens would still have a deep bench, and there is currently cap room available to sign another veteran defenseman on the cheap.
We know some team is bound to step up and trade for a guy like Niskanen. There are about 20 teams in the NHL that would probably give the pending RFA a raise. Of like $3 million. Maybe Shero can snag a lower line winger with some size and grit in return. We could recapture some of what we lost in letting Rupp and Godard walk. Or trade for a draft pick and save the extra cap space for greater in-season flexibility. Any way we look at it, GTOG says the Pens benefit more from dealing Matty Ice than from keeping him. Great nickname, though.
* Some debate has arisen on our Facebook page as to where exactly Boris I-Got-Punched-In-The-Nuts Valabik was actually hit by Sid and whether this is encompassed by our use of "nether regions." Let Urban Dictionary decide.