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January 22, 2019
Whitney Solid Gone
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
When Ryan Whitney got scratched from Wednesday nightís home game with the Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins were quick to assure everyone a trade wasnít in the works. Whitney went home to deal with a family emergency. Time off for personal reasons. Nothing to see here. Honest.
Well, this afternoon, Whitney got traded to the Anaheim Ducks for Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi. Hmm ha.
At first, I hated this deal from a Penguin perspective. Kunitz, 29, is a ham-and-egger. Heís not the top-line winger they need. He topped out in 2006-07 with 25 goals and 60 points playing primarily on a line with Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne. In recent years, heís seen time on the left side for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Thatís the best role for Kunitz. On his own merits, heís another third-liner, basically a Canadian Ruslan Fedotenko. But he's shown the ability to be a complimentary winger on a top line. He works the corners, he goes to the net, and heís the kind of physical, character guy the Pens need up front. And heíll look great on Kid Crosbyís left wing, so long as thereís a Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik on the other side. But if itís just Crosby and Kunitz with Pascal Dupuis or Tyler Kennedy, then this deal is meaningless.
I have to think Ray Shero has something else cooking. Trading Whitney as opposed to Sergei Gonchar indicates the Pens havenít given up on the season. Jordan Staal should probably pack his bags.
Kunitz is a $3.75-million cap hit over the next three years. Whitney, 26, would have cost $4 million a season, and $4 million for a No. 2 defenseman who logs 20+ minutes a night is much more affordable than $4 million for a depth winger. So, in swapping Whitney for Kunitz, the Pens are basically admitting they no longer feel Whitney is a top-two defender.
Iíve never seen this Tangradi kid play, but heís a 6-4, 220-pound power forward and is lighting it up for the OHLís Belleville Bulls with 38 goals and 87 points in 52 games. The 20-year-old Philly native is only two points behind John Tavares for the league scoring title.
The more I think about this trade, the more I like. Tangradi is obviously the key. If he lives up to anything close to his potential, itís a major win for the Pens. Maybe as soon as next year weíll see Tangradi-Crosby-Caputi.
And thereís little doubt swapping Whitney for Kunitz makes the Pens a better team right now. While the Birds are desperate for legit NHL wingers, theyíve got offensive defensemen falling out their pockets. Kris Letangís minutes will get a bump, and Alex Goligoski can step right in and provide another puck-mover from the back line.
Meanwhile, the Ducks were in the exact opposite position, owning a surplus of wingers and no young, cornerstone defensemen. Chris Pronger is the only Anaheim blueliner under contract for next season, and he could get moved at the deadline. Whitney gives them a No. 1 guy who can log 25 minutes a night, man the point on the power play, and trigger the transition game.
Few defenders in hockey make better outlet passes than Whitney. He can move the pill. Everything is crisp and on the tape. Whitneyís problem is he doesnít play up to his size. People see the rangy 6-4, 220-pounder and expect him to hammer people in front of the net. Not gonna happen. Heís like a bigger Larry Murphy. Embrace it, Anaheim. Donít expect him to be a physical presence. Just enjoy the passing and shooting and whatnot.
Itís a sad day in Pittsburgh, though. Another one of the home-grown kids leaves town. Colby Armstrong. Ryan Malone. Now Whitney. Times they are a changiní.