Monday, January 28, 2013

Early evaluation of the Jordan Staal for Mike Zigomanis Trade. Wait...Brandon Sutter isn't Mike Zigomanis?

By Finesse

As Artistry pointed out in our Pens-Sens recap, we are 10.4% of the way through the shortened season, which is the equivalent of being in the second period of the 9th game of an 82 game season.  In other words, Fleury is peaking.  Given the accelerated season and the fact that everything else has pretty much gone according to script so far this year, there's no better time than now to make ABSOLUTELY DEFINITIVE CONCLUSIONS about the blockbuster trade sending Jordan Staal to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the pick that became Derrick Pouliot.

And that ABSOLUTELY DEFINITIVE CONCLUSION is this: When Ray Shero made the decision to trade Jordan Staal, he probably didn't expect Mike Zigomanis in return.

The real truth after the jump...

The truth is that Sutter (0 goals, 1 assist) has, to this point, been a little too Zigomanissy for our liking.  We're certainly willing to give him more than five games to get comfortable with a new team, particularly when the failure to find a second winger for Malkin has led to Tyler Kennedy (a good 3rd liner, not a good top-6 forward) bouncing up and down the lineup and preventing development of chemistry on a Sutter-Cooke-Kennedy line.  It's too early to worry, we know.

The risk when you deal away a thoroughbred like Jordan Staal is that even though you get nice pieces in return, the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.  Sutter himself will almost certainly never be the player that Jordan Staal was (or will become), but he has to make himself a much more forceful presence not only on the PK and in a shutdown role, but also in exploiting the inevitable match-up he gets against 3rd pairing defensemen.  So far, we haven't seen much.

But the immediate return from the Staal trade has to be more than Brandon Sutter, even in a scenario where Sutter plays up to his potential (which we've written is very high).  This trade has to bring more to the current roster than a 3rd line presence and two young defensemen who may or may not ever be good.  And that's why Ray Shero absolutely has to move some of the organization's much-hyped defensive prospects, and soon.

The Pens are reaping the same PR benefits as the Yankees do in baseball by being the highest profile team in the league -- namely, that every one of their prospects seems to get a slight uptick in their perception solely based on the fact that people know their names.  (Every trade the Pirates have made in the past 15 years to the Yankees or Red Sox has brought back a prospect we think is better than he is merely because we heard Karl Ravech say his name on Baseball Tonight that one time we accidentally watched Baseball Tonight).  As just one example, consider Simon Despres, who is often perceived as something resembling a "can't-miss prospect" because he got great press on draft day and he plays for the Penguins so people know his name.  Maybe he will one day be as good as advertised, but he had only 15 points in 44 games with the Baby Pens last year (and was a -5) and his current coaches and GM don't think he's ready to consistently see ice time over Ben Lovejoy.  We know it's early in his development, but as with almost all young players, he's far from a sure thing.  A defenseman in the NHL is worth at least two in the AHL.

Right now, there are two windows that are only open for a limited time -- the window for the Pens to win the Cup, and the window where young prospects can return value in a trade.  Shero moved Staal for a very solid NHL player and two defensive prospects (Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliout) whose windows of marketability are currently open.  If the immediate payoff from trading Staal isn't enhanced beyond Sutter by moving Dumoulin, Pouliot, or any of the other young defensemen that the Staal trade helped make expendable, then we just traded a 50-point guy with a track-record for a 30-point guy who has never played a playoff game.

The ones that got away?
We currently have our GM hats on and are scouring the league for trade targets.


  1. You mention all this without even acknowledging the fact that staal turned down the pens 10 year offer.
    Further, signing malkin and or letang next summer would have been almost impossible had shero found a way to keep staal. We need to therefore take that reality into account. Unlike the Yankees, the pens do have a salary cap to contend with, making the reality of keeping all of their stars quite impossible. Once we accept it had to be only 3 of either malkin, Crosby, letang or staal, getting sutter in exchange for arguably the weaker of those four is a pretty good deal!
    Great blog guys, keep it up!

  2. @Kevin - Indeed - it's all about context with the Sutter trade. I still think Shero is brilliant for getting a genuine 3rd-line center for Staal, let alone the other pieces, seeing as he would have left for nothing in July.

    And because I'm still playing optimistic (not game 15 yet) - I'd say the Sutter we're seeing right now isn't going to be anywhere near the Sutter we see in March. DB's system is notoriously hard to learn - likely too complicated - and Sutter didn't even get a real training camp to learn it or gel with his linemates. I think we all remember how Neal and Niskanen faired for their first couple of months in the system.

    And if we are talking trade to get an immediate return - okay - then who? Despres is the only one of our batch of prospects to even be close to NHL-ready. The rest are years younger - between 2-5 years out. We need a young guy with a cheap salary to help us stay under the cap - like now, and next year. It's the only way we'll keep all of the core and still be at the top end of the league. Trade for a veteran, get a veteran salary. It's a shame Despres hasn't stepped up, because they really need him to fill in that gap, to be a stable presence during the years that the younger guys are steadily coming of age.

    Not to mention - we could trade away a future franchise defenseman: who's going to be the best of that group? Pouliot? Morrow? Harrington? Maatta? I don't want to be the one guessing at that, when they are 18-19 years old. I get the argument - I just cringe at the idea of giving away these pieces for at best mid-level, fill-in-the-gap talent. Sure - it's win now. But it'll be win-now 5 years from now too, as long as we have Sid and Geno.

    Shero likely should and will give up one of these young defensemen, but he has to wait for the right deal - and only do it if it's the right deal. Otherwise, stand pat. This team is a shadow of what it might be. Kunitz looks terrible so far; Geno is doing his bipolar schtick; Sutter is still finding his groove in the system. I want to see what this team looks like once the offense starts to click before any chances are made.

    1. I'm not saying that the Staal trade was a bad trade. Far from it. The haul that Shero got, especially given the leverage we lost after Staal rejected the contract offer, was impressive. I'm still very optimistic about Sutter even though he hasn't been good.

      My point is that I think the deal should be considered incomplete. If all we get from this trade on the NHL level this season is Sutter, then I'm significantly less enthused about the deal than I am if we use the assets we've acquired to get more pieces that can help now. Yes, we will still be competitive with Malkin and Crosby in 5 years ... but they will be on the wrong side of 30. I'm not calling for an irresponsible "all-in" strategy, but if we can get someone to help now, he has to do it. His job is to figure out which of the prospects will be good and which are sell-high guys.

      Brandy -- the fact that Despres hasn't stepped up is sort of illustrative of what I'm trying to say about these prospects ... there is a window during which the prospects have a lot of value, and often times that's before they get significant NHL time. The book is far from closed on Despres, but every game that he's a healthy scratch likely decreases his trade value. There's a sweet-spot when unknown guys have maximum value. If we can hit that window now and return reasonable talent, I say do it. Because if/when we trade some of them, guess what? We get a new first round pick every year.

    2. I get what you're saying - and I agree to a large extent. I'm just acknowledging that I worry about trading away the next Ryan Suter in Ollie Maatta or Scott Harrington, etc. Some of them will be busts (or sort-of busts)- but 2 or 3 others could lay the foundation for a defense for a decade. And no one know which ones.

      Right now, we have NO high end prospects that are ready for NHL playing time - up front or on the back end. Why? Because Shero traded away years worth of 1st and 2nd round draft picks. And the only hope we have of internal help now is Despres (which isn't inspiring right now). He did it to make 2 cup runs, which I understand, and I wouldn't suggest he mortgaged the future. But the team is paying a price for it now. And you trade away those guys, starting over with new picks 5 years out, the interest on that loan goes up even more. The team is in a pretty tough place, actually (relatively speaking); Shero's going to have to make some tough decisions.

    3. Aside from 2008 with the Hossa and Gill trades, when did Shero trade high picks? I just can't remember.

    4. I just went and looked, and it is perhaps more impression than reality. I was thinking '07 as well, which perhaps isn't fair, since they traded Esposito (thankfully).

      From the 06 draft class - all we have left is Sneep.
      From the 07 class - all we have left is Veilleux, Bortuzzo, Grant, and Jeffrey.
      From the 08 class - all we have left is Killeen and D'Agostino.

      The later classes are pretty much intact. I guess it's a combination of trades, busts, and career minor leaguers. Pretty uninspiring actually. But those are the years that should be comprising a solid chunk of the big club right now. And clearly they are not. Doesn't say much for the scouting staff actually.

    5. If I'm reading that correctly, the Pens aren't getting regular contributions from anyone drafted since 2006? Yikes. I knew that Shero hasn't drafted well the last few years, but that's awful.

    6. Sneep is gone now, too.

  3. @Artisty - Derp - that's right. He got traded like last week. Seeing as I saw him play in Wheeling on New Years Eve, I guess it's pretty incidental though.

    @Finesse - Youngest are three from the 05 class in Sid, Tanger, and Vitale (still the C. Patrick era anyway). Obviously, Staal can't quite be considered a bust, but you better not miss on a 2nd overall. And Strait was from the 06 class. Neal is younger - but not our pick.

    And this is what worries me about trading away assets: we don't have all that many. WBS is built on AHL vets, especially up front, and our young d-corps. I'd trade one of those defensive prospects for an emerging power forward of 21-22 in a heartbeat, provided that they are pretty much ready for the show. We have no one up front.

    We have 5 big defensive prospects: Despres, Morrow, Harrington, Maatta, and Pouliot. And then a couple that project as possible (though I wouldn't say likely) 3rd pairing guys - Dumoulin, Samuelsson, maybe D'Agostino. If you get a top-pairing guy out of one of them, and a couple of 2nd pairing guys, I think you consider that a success. And we'll need them as Brooks, Niskanen, Engelland, could possibly ALL be gone at the end of next season. And people want (or perhaps now it's wanted) to trade Martin, who actually has a year after that! You are talking a complete defensive overhaul, with the exception of Tanger(who won't come cheap) - in 2.5 seasons. How many of those spots can be filled with FAs without major cap issues?