Changes were coming. Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford intimated as much during his end-of-season media conference after the team’s disappointing qualification-round exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas hinted the same as his club licked its wounds from a disappointing ouster via the Columbus Blue Jackets.
They made good trade partners. As a result, Kasperi Kapanen — drafted by Rutherford in 2014 and traded to acquire Phil Kessel in 2015 — is going back to the Penguins as the Maple Leafs clear some needed cap space. The cost for Pittsburgh to acquire Kapanen and a package of other filler items? Awfully high.
The Penguins sent Toronto their first-round pick in 2020 (15th overall), AHL defenseman David Warsofsky, pending restricted free-agent forward Evan Rodrigues and Filip Hallander, one of the Penguins’ top prospects in a shallow system. In addition to Kapanen, the Pens acquired NHL tweener Pontus Aberg — who is committed to play in the KHL next season — and Jesper Lindgren, a 23-year-old defenseman who remains a project and is expected to play in his native Sweden next season. In short, Pittsburgh paid a premium for a middle-six forward.
As long as the Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, it makes sense for them to go for it every single year. You can’t fault a GM for chasing a Stanley Cup. But the cupboards are largely bare beneath the NHL roster, and one day, possibly sooner than later, the Penguins will feel that sting. Let’s take a closer look at how Pittsburgh reached this point, its seller’s philosophy regarding draft picks and what’s left in the prospect pool, along with what’s next for a team hunting for another championship.