The Penguins needed a puck-controlling, top-nine, penalty-killing forward for as little money as possible. Enter Daniel Winnik.
Pittsburgh acquired Winnik from the Maple Leafs on Wednesday for a second-round pick in 2016, a fourth-round pick in 2015 and forward Zach Sill. Toronto will also pay half of Winnik's remaining salary, which takes his overall cap hit from $1.3 million to 650,000.
Winnik, because of his skillset and price tag, would've been one of the most sought-after players at the NHL trade deadline.
"He played well from the get-go," GM Dave Nonis said on a conference all after the trade. "(He) fit in well with every line he played on. and teams recognized that."
Winnik, 29, has seven goals and 19 assists this season. He should immediately slot in on Pittsburgh's third line with Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett, though he'd represent an upgrade anywhere in their bottom six. Less tangibly, he's big (6-2, 210) physical and capable of playing several different forward positions.
Quantitatively, given his role, he's more impressive. Toronto controlled 48.3 percent of all even-strength shot attempts when he was on the ice, second only to Nazem Kadri among regular forwards. The Leafs are abysmal in that regard — at 44.5 percent team-wide, they're 28th in the league — and Winnik started about 76 percent of his shifts outside the offensive zone, when shot attempts against are more likely.
In short, Winnik has shown an ability to stay on the right side of the puck for years, and the Penguins need those sorts of players, particularly on the third line.
Daniel Winnik (Getty Images)
Sutter has been the constant in that group throughout the season. Pittsburgh controls less than 47 percent of all shot attempts while he's on the ice, which isn't good enough. Thus, it makes sense that his production would lag; since the start of December, he's got six goals and five assists. That's not what you want from a third-line center on a contending team.
Now Sutter has a better shot at success. In Winnik and Bennett, he'd have legitimate wingers with a knack for puck possession, if nothing else — which, in turn, would leave Pittsburgh better equipped to weather rough stretches from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
With Sill out of the mix, Pittsburgh should be left with a fourth line of Maxim Lapierre, Nick Spaling and Steve Downie. If coach Mike Johnston wants a tougher third line, Downie can replace Bennett with Sutter and Winnik.
The end result is a forward group that's probably a player or two away from being legitimately strong — a Rob Klinkhammer or a Marcel Goc, say. Whoops.
Still, the waterfall effect from adding Winnik (improving the third line, allowing Spaling to drop to the fourth and potentially removing Adams from the lineup, since Winnik also kills penalties) is positive for the Penguins, and it comes cheaply enough from a payroll standpoint that other moves could be possible.
The Leafs, meanwhile, did a great job of turning a player signed for zero term and minimal money into two assets. From TSN's Scott Cullen:
The second-round pick, offers slightly better than a one-in-three chance of yielding an NHL player, with about a 10% chance of being a top-six forward or top-four defenceman. That's the real value for the Maple Leafs and since that's a 2016 pick, it's likely to be about five years before there is a payoff, if there is a payoff at all. The fourth-round pick brings less than a one-in-five chance of an NHL player, with a little better than a 3% chance of that player being a top-six forward or top-four defenceman.
Sill was likely included to take money off Pittsburgh's books and provide roster fodder down the stretch.