Grove: After Guentzel Injury Pens Need To Make A Move If They Want To Win Cup

Guentzel was going to deliver 40+ goals and be a major playoff weapon

Bob Grove
December 31, 2019 - 12:59 pm
Jake Guentzel (59) leaves the ice after suffering an apparent injury

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - Given the way the Penguins have responded to injuries this season, prior to last night you’d have been hard-pressed to say anything was beyond their reach in 2019-20. Anything.

That’s no longer true without a trade of significant proportions for a scoring winger.

The team announced today that Jake Guentzel would miss four to six months after shoulder surgery this morning, the result of his frightening crash into the boards after scoring his team-leading 20th goal of the season last night against Ottawa.

Under the most optimistic scenario, Guentzel is out until the middle of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Or, under the worst-case scenario in this injury-plagued Pittsburgh season, he’s done until next October.

As currently constructed, the Penguins cannot win the Cup without replacing a good portion of the production Guentzel brought on a nightly basis, and I mean nightly, because he’s played 203 consecutive regular season games – the 11th-longest such streak in team history.

General manager Jim Rutherford will have plenty of cap space with Guentzel on long-term IR, and he will certainly take a run at replacing some of Guentzel’s goals; he cannot replace Guentzel’s natural scoring gift. And let’s remember that Guentzel’s also a proven playoff commodity.

This is a cruel blow to a team that’s already lost 156 man-games to injury, and the list of players who have missed significant time is now going to almost completely parallel the list of their most important players. Sidney Crosby has missed 22 games, Patric Hornqvist 17, Brian Dumoulin 16, Bryan Rust 14, Evgeni Malkin 13, Justin Schultz 12, Kris Letang 8 and now add Guentzel at 43 through the end of the regular season. We’re not even halfway through the season, and some of those numbers are still climbing.

Rust and Hornqvist are the only current wingers on pace to score at least 20 goals (Rust is headed for 40), and Hornqvist barely makes that pace. With a healthy Crosby and Malkin, one could hope that Dominik Kahun will get to 20, or that Jared McCann could get there playing the wing after playing center for almost the entire first half of the season.

But, again, Guentzel was going to deliver 40+ goals and be a major playoff weapon. It’s unfair to expect Kahun or McCann to become anything close to the kind of scorer Guentzel was in the 2017 playoffs; neither one has ever scored a playoff goal and Kahun has never even skated in a playoff game.

Sure, we can theorize that Alex Galchenyuk is the answer, but he’s on pace to score 10. Not a likely answer.

Where the NHL trade deadline of Feb. 24 was shaping up as more of a fine-tuning exercise for Rutherford, whose team impressively sits fourth overall despite the injuries, it now takes on a completely different look.

The Penguins can stay in the playoff mix without Guentzel, especially given what they’ve already proved this season defensively and with Crosby on the verge of returning to the lineup. But they have legitimate Cup aspirations in 2020 and those cannot survive without the addition of a proven scorer in the trade market. It’s the kind of challenge Rutherford has proven himself to be adept at meeting in the past, and now he’s got to do it again.

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