Perhaps the biggest criticism of Ron Hextall during his tenure as the general manager in Philadelphia was he too often just wouldn’t pull the trigger.
So there’s irony attached, as well as initial outrage among the Penguins’ fan base and disbelief in the media, to Hextall pulling the trigger on a trade for Mikael Granlund.
It’s a bad enough deal that it may eventually become the deal-breaker for Hextall’s Reign of Error with the Penguins, and presumably will assuming anyone higher up on the organization’s food chain is paying attention.
It’s not that Granlund is an awful player.
But he’s old (31), he’s expensive (a cap hit of $5 million per season) and he’s not what he used to be, and the Pens have too many of those types already.
Worse yet, he’s not Jakob Chychrun.
And that, as it turns out, is a double-edged sword.
Chychrun is young (24), a better defenseman than Granlund is a forward, and a little more affordable ($4.6 million).
He’d have been a better fit for the Pens based on age alone.
But what really makes this a lose-lose transaction for the Penguins is Chychrun wound up with the Senators.
And the Senators are a team that may yet be heard from.
Ottawa has forced its way into an already crowded collection of contenders for one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, a congregation of seven teams bunched within six points of one another as of this morning, by winning three straight games and 10 of its last 14.
The Sens got appreciably better with the addition of Chychrun, now and down the road.
The Pens got a little better now with Granlund but they’re going to pay dearly for it later.
They remain pretty much what they were a season ago when they were bounced out of the playoffs by the Rangers.
They’re too old, too expensive and too easy to play against, particularly when the hockey gets hard.
Those issues predate last spring’s Rangers series.
Chychrun wasn’t going to solve all of those problems, but he would have potentially been a bigger difference-maker than Granlund. Head coach Mike Sullivan was reportedly keenly interested in Chychrun (a similar Sullivan instinct proved prescient back in the day when he pushed for the acquisition of Carl Hagelin).
Hextall reportedly investigated but balked at the price.
The Pens’ loss became Ottawa’s gain.
As for the teams not desperately battling for a wild card invitation to the playoffs in the East, presumed qualifiers not named Boston or Carolina, the Rangers have added Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, the Devils have landed Timo Meier and the Maple Leafs have acquired Ryan O’Reilly.
Hextall is being out-generally managed badly.
And the Pens are what they are after frantically clearing cap space only to flush it down the drain on a skilled and versatile but seemingly fading finesse player.
“Our roster is our roster,” Sullivan observed after the 7-2 debacle against Edmonton on Feb. 23.
It doesn’t stack up a whole lot better now than it did then.
Hextall would have been better off following his instincts and opting not to pull the trigger.