The Pittsburgh Penguins have made a pair of moves that should help address their perceived depth issues.
Tuesday morning, the Penguins announced they had dealt center Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Adam Clendening and a 2016 second-round pick. Within minutes of announcing the trade, the club also announced the signing of pivot Eric Fehr to a three-year, $6 million deal.
“The two deals went hand-in-hand so we could add more depth,” said Penguins GM Jim Rutherford in a conference call. “The conversations with Vancouver have actually gone on a long time. I can’t remember exactly when, but it was prior to the draft.”
Moving Sutter had long been rumored and with his $3.3 million cap hit on a Penguins team that needed to do something to boost their depth, the trade, and subsequent signing of Fehr, makes perfect sense for Pittsburgh.
“I appreciate what (Sutter) has done, but he was one year away from being a restricted free agent and I felt with this opportunity, it was a chance we were able to get somebody for him in Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening,” said Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. “We really like Nick as a center…By doing this, it opened up cap space so we could add more depth to our forwards, like adding Eric Fehr, whose coming off of a very good year and is a player we’ve liked for quite some time.”
Even with the three acquisitions, the Penguins have $2.8 million available should they be interested in adding another depth forward and the cap space is important.
With the off-season acquisition of Phil Kessel, many thought the Penguins – who will now ice a top-six that looks more like a video game forward corps than a real, live NHL one – wouldn’t be able to add effective NHLers to their bottom-six in a league where utilizing a four-line attack is a necessity. However, the additions of Bonino, 27, and Fehr, 29, should take some of the pressure off the top-six to be solely responsible for winning games.
“Nick is a very smart player,” said Rutherford. “He really has good hockey sense…He’s a guy that almost got 40 points and had 15 goals. When you look at the structure of our salaries and our cap, it’s important to get those bottom-six cap hits in better shape and that’s what we were able to do with these two deals.”
Fehr is no slouch, either. This past season, Fehr scored 19 goals and 33 points for the Washington Capitals, which was the second-best offensive output of his career. On top of his offensive production, Fehr was a steady puck possession player even while taking the majority of his shifts in the defensive and neutral zones.
“Eric is comfortable as a two-position player,” Rutherford said. “He could possibly jump into the top-six if that situation presented itself, but he’s coming off a year where he played center. He was good on faceoffs, a very good shut-down guy and in that third center position with the Capitals.”
The acquistions of Bonino and Fehr, both of whom have favorable advanced stats, come shortly after the Penguins announced the hiring of Sam Ventua, who was the co-creator of War-On-Ice, one of the go-to advanced stats websites for hockey fans.
“The analytics are very strong on both Bonino and Fehr in all the different aspects of what we look for in analytics,” said Rutherford.
One of the only concerns regarding Fehr is he’s coming off of elbow surgery which could force him to miss 4-6 months, which could mean he’s out until November. However, Rutherford said the signings were important for the long-term, adding he could deal with Fehr being out for six months as long as he comes back into the lineup at 100 percent.
After a flameout in the first round of the 2014-15 post-season, the Penguins needed to make changes. Bringing in Kessel was one thing, but now it appears Rutherford has begun to round out his bottom-six. If the Penguins weren’t considered contenders before, Tuesday’s moves could put them in a position to take a serious shot at the Stanley Cup in 2015-16.