Under the Ray-dar
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The Penguins have been connected to a lot of possible trade targets over the last couple weeks. Unlike in years past, no single name has gained consensus as the top target in terms of team needs and price. Jarome Iginla would bring the scoring, grit, and leadership the Pens desire, but he would be more of a luxury and come at an exorbitant price. When whispers of a Jonathan Bernier for Iginla trade start gaining steam, one has to assume the market has pushed him out of the Pens range. Other names have been discussed with varying levels of plausibility (Chris Stewart, Martin St. Louis), implausibility (Jaromir Jagr is not coming back people!), and necessity (would a slow-footed Brendan Morrow really provide the needed grit and veteran leadership?).
Ray Shero has a reputation of finding the right pieces in places most people are not looking. One player he has been interested in at prior deadlines is Ray Whitney. Whitney will be turning 41 on May 8, but has a touch of Teemu Selanne in him. He simply keeps producing well past the normal expiration date. He was nearly a point per game guy last season with 77 points in 82 games and has 12 points in 14 games this season after recovering from a hairline fracture in his foot. Despite his age, he has been remarkably durable the past four seasons, never playing less than 75 games. Having gotten a late start on the season, he would be fresh for a playoff run.
He plays his off-side on the left wing, just as Beau Bennett is doing on Malkin’s wing now. He is known more as a playmaker than a finisher, but he is usually around the 20-25 goal range. He has three 50+ assist campaigns in his past six years. His career playoff numbers are 21 goals, 32 assists in 103 games. He has maintained his hard numbers in impressive fashion and has extensive playoff experience.
Working with a relatively small sample size compared to his teammates, his advanced stats show his play has strongly driven possession on a decidedly mediocre team. He leads the team in Corsi and Corsi Rel at 18.34 and 26.4. He’s played against average to above average competition and gotten slightly favorable territorial starts at 58.6%. All the numbers show the same thing: the guy can still flat out play.
I think it is safe to say that Whitney would provide the veteran top six presence the Pens want. He is signed through next season at a $4.5 million cap hit. There is no problem fitting him under the cap this year as the Pens have ample cap room. But next season, the salary cap is going down from $70.2 to $64.3 million, creating a cap crunch. On the plus side, any extensions signed by Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang would not kick in until the 2014-1015 season. Whitney can always be traded this summer if his salary creates too big an issue next year, thus helping to recoup some of the assets lost to acquire him. Whitney does have a No Movement Clause, but upon request he can submit a 10 team list of teams for whom he’d be willing to play. It seems a safe bet a team like the Pens would be on it. (all information from Capgeek.com).
Two questions remain: Would Dallas give him up? What would the price be?
Dallas currently sits one point of the last playoff slot in the Western Conference, but they have not given any impression they are a team ready to make a big stretch run or any big splash in the playoffs. They are somewhat of a team caught in the middle between older but still productive veterans (Whitney, Jagr, Morrow and Robidas) and emerging younger forwards (Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson). Their defense corps is largely unremarkable, but Kari Lehtonen is having an outstanding season with a .922 save percentage. Observers of the team have said the team seems to lack a cohesive identity. In short, a smart general manager would have to consider remaking his squad and bringing in some younger assets for the future.
But what kind of assets would they want? From my view of their roster, they have significant needs on the blueline. While Shero should not give up one of his very best defense prospects, I could not argue if Dallas wanted a guy like Brian Dumoulin. On the other hand, the draft this summer is said to be the deepest draft since the epic 2003 class. Perhaps a 2nd rounder would be enough to bring Whitney in. Shero is loathe to trade too many high picks, especially first rounders. It all depends on the market and Dallas’s desire to move Whitney.
The most important point is that Whitney may not be as sexy a name as Iginla, but he would bring much of the same (if not better) qualities and intangibles, but at a much lower cost.
H/T to reader David Bytnar