Quick Hits on the Morrow and Murray Deals
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Some quick hit thoughts on the recent trades…
—These trades were aggressive. It was a strong seller’s market, and Shero admittedly paid a high price. He made the trades early so he would not miss out on acquiring the players he wanted and to put pressure on other teams like Boston to join the arms race. The moves were somewhat surprising, because Shero is the type of GM who often plays the long game (not signing role players to contracts longer than two years, focuses his drafting on defensemen). He made a hard pivot to the here and now.
—Shero made these trades to fill specific stylistic needs rather than acquiring recently productive players. He wanted his team to be tougher and bigger in front of both nets. He wanted to bring in some character and leadership. He certainly accomplished that.
—These trades also make the Pens older and slower. Dan Bylsma’s forechecking system places a premium on players with speed. Hockey is not as simple as just planting yourself in front of the net. You have to play defense in your own end, complete a breakout through the neutral zone, maintain possession into the offensive zone or dump and chase, and then you can go to the net. I do not doubt Morrow will still excel at the latter; it is all the preceding aspects I have concerns about.
—These trades are risky. Not simply because the Pens gave up significant assets to acquire the two veterans, although that is certainly part of it. They’re risky because neither player has played particularly well this season. Corey Pronmon, a prospects writer for Hockey Prospectus and ESPN, tweeted: “There’s a reasonable argument to be made D Murray has not been an NHL level defensemen this year.” Brendan Morrow’s decline in production and skating the past few years has been well-documented. If both find their game, there will not be a more complete team in the NHL. But even people excited by these moves have to admit there is a significant chance neither contributes much. That is not to say a change in scenery might not do them good. It is not to say that Morrow and/or Murray failing is definite or even likely. Acknowledging risk is not predicting failure.
—I can certainly foresee Morrow and Murray being more valuable in some series than others. Against Boston, a team with several hulking power forwards in Horton and Lucic, Murray will likely play a much bigger role than against a smaller, quicker team like Montreal or Ottawa. If Murray helps neutralize those big Boston forwards en route to winning a playoff series, the trade will be more than worth it.
—There seems to be a lot of anecdotal and/or non sequitur (“it does not follow”) arguments in favor of these trades. Just because Hal Gill worked out so well has no bearing on whether Douglas Murray will. Just because the Pens have a long history of failure drafting in the second round does not mean second round draft picks have little value or can be traded without much thought. Just because Ryan Malone was a power forward and fit well on Malkin’s line does not mean Brendan Morrow will. There are many good arguments in favor of these trades, but these are not among them.
—If the Penguins were willing to pay such a high price for these players, it seems to me they probably should have gone the next step and paid a little more for players who are more of a sure thing. If Brendan Morrow and Douglas Murray combined cost a former first, two seconds (one conditional), and a fifth round pick, why not pay the price of Joe Morrow, a higher pick, and another prospect for a Chris Stewart? Or a Martin St. Louis? Or a Keith Yandle? All have been rumored to be available, but expensive, at different points. Whether those guys are available or if that is a deal the other team would accept is impossible to know. It just seems to me that the difference in price would be fairly marginal, but the difference in talent and expected production is huge.
—I do not believe Shero is done. He sees his entire young core in their prime, healthy, and ready to go after 16 wins. This organization is 100% committed to championships. Nothing else matters. Don’t count the Pens out of anything yet.