The NHL trade deadline passed about an hour ago, and it wasn’t the most boring in the history of the game but it wasn’t the most exciting. The Bruins got better with Hampus Lindholm coming to town a couple days ago, except Hampus! Hampus! might not be that good anymore. The Avalanche, already the league’s best team, made a couple of under-the-radar moves that are actually quite savvy in picking up Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson, especially the latter. And the Leafs chickened out, but maybe we’ll circle back to that.
The Penguins, surprisingly in the thick of the Metro Division race, didn’t sit around and acquired Rickard Rakell from the clearance-sale Anaheim Ducks. And this smacks of something the Penguins do and then watch it flower into something truly meaningful.
Rakell was a consistent 25- to 30-goal scorer back when the Ducks were winning the Pacific and then spitting it up and various organs in Game 7s at home. Then he went into shooting percentage-hell as the Ducks fortunes went from contender to looking like the rest of Anaheim, California. When Rakell was having his three big seasons (87 goals combined) between 2015 and 2018, his shooting-percentage was well above 10 percent. The next three seasons saw his shooting-percentage dip below that mark, and his goal totals went with it (42 goals).
However, Rakell’s underlying numbers suggested he was getting the same chances. His individual expected goals per 60 minutes (according to NaturalStatTrick) have remained around 0.80 throughout his career. His shots and scoring chances have dipped ever so slightly as he’s gone along.
However, this season, it just so happens to be the last of his contract before unrestricted free agency and he’s spent most of the season playing with the NHL’s new wunderkind in Trevor Zegras. Suddenly his shooting-percentage is back to 11.8. Funny how that works, and he’s got 16 goals in 51 games, a 25-goal pace over a full season.
And in Pittsburgh, he’ll most likely be running alongside Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins are desperate for someone to score beyond their first line. Rakell probably knocks Danton Heinen down to the third line, and playing with Malkin should see Rakell get the chances off the rush he prefers rather than furious cycling and finding space. This whole thing smacks of the Phil Kessel deal a few years ago, though Kessel famously couldn’t play with Malkin. Still, this is another secondary scorer that will probably take to the Penguins system like a Yinz or Iron City (which is no worse than Yuengling and you’ve all been poisoned to think either is much above late night swill).
And the Pens could be anything come the playoffs. They could win the Metro, they could even possibly slip down to a wildcard, and either way the path out of the East is hellish. It’s likely they’re staring down trying to get past Igor Sheterkin in the first round, and then trying to run with the Canes in the second. Or possibly having to get through the Bruins, the best defensive team in the league, in either, and that’s before a team has to deal with whoever survives the Saturday night on payday weekend in Muskogee that is the Atlantic Division (cowboy tip of the hat to Jim Ross for that one).
The Penguins still have major questions on whether they can trust Tristan Jarry for a playoff run, or whether Jeff Carter can hold up for one more spring. There were rumors weeks ago they might try and bring Marc-Andre Fleury home, but that never came close. This is about as good as they could do, and just feels like that Penguins move that they pull on the whole league. Though this time it is Ron Hextall, so all bets are off.
On the flip side, the Leafs did nothing, as they seek their first playoff series win since Deadwood was a bustling mining town. They apparently had some real discussions about Fleury as well, but were scared off by the price. And the Toronto media and fans will assuredly appreciate GM Kyle Dubas protecting future first round picks when a roster built to win right now is eating high speed dirt again thanks to their goalie becoming a windsock in the first round again. The big picture is always what matters in T.O. Dubas is just waiting to make his move when the time is right. You plebes don’t know.