The Blackhawks traded defenseman Trevor Daley to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, getting defenseman Rob Scuderi in return. Rumors had been swirling about GM Stan Bowman's efforts to move Daley for some time now, though the Penguins were not one of the teams rumored to be interested. After rumors had died down recently, the trade came as a bit of a surprise.
Though the blue liners haven't exactly struggled this season, the performance has been lackluster and frustrating at times. Daley represented perhaps the greatest of those frustrations. He has looked aloof at times, often out of position, and it's possible he may have more shot attempts that missed the net this season than forced the goalie to make a tough save.
Daley also failed to produce much despite being used in a heavily offensive role. He had been heavily sheltered, with a relative offensive zone start percentage of 16.27. His possession metrics are tops among Blackhawks defensemen this season, as he's posted a solid Corsi of 55.6 percent at 5-on-5. Despite all of that, he's managed only six points all season, including just four at 5-on-5.
The commonly held belief about Daley's time on the Blackhawks is that he just never clicked in Joel Quenneville's highly defense-reliant system. After playing most of his career in Dallas, in systems that were not nearly as intensive on defensemen, the shift to a system like Quenneville's likely came as a major challenge to Daley. He was clearly having to learn and adjust on the job, which we have come to know is not something Quenneville has much grace for.
However, moving Daley for Scuderi is a lateral move on the ice at best, and a major step back at worst. Scuderi has historically been among the worst possession defensemen in the league. Since 2008-09, he has only posted a CF percentage above 50 percent three times, and in two of those seasons he was at just 51 percent, barely breaking even. This season, he's been at 46.7 percent, which conveniently would have him at second to last in that department on the Blackhawks. All of this has happened while Scuderi typically played for teams putting up otherwise strong possession numbers.
The Scuderi acquisition in and of itself is a curious move. Scuderi's style of play is essentially everything that the Blackhawks defense hasn't been under Quenneville. He's slow, doesn't move the puck very well and still isn't very good in his own zone. His game is all about positioning and shot-blocking, which contrasts the Hawks' puck-moving strategies. The only things he brings that Quenneville tends to value are his "veteran presence" and two Stanley Cup rings.
Here are some toughts on Scuderi from Mike Darnay of Pensburgh:
While understanding this was a cap move for the Blackhawks, if Rob Scuderi is part of the plans to play for the team, it won’t go well.
If they leave him on the bench as the 7th defenseman, it’s a smart move to save some money on the cap.
Scuderi has been done for a while. His first season back in Pittsburgh, people wanted to wait and see how he would recover from the broke ankle he suffered, but he only got worse.
He’s a liability both defensively and offensively. He can’t skate anymore, his only offensive play coming out of the defensive zone is to chip the puck off the boards, usually to one in particular. He is touted as being a good penalty killer, but that’s not true either.
I hate to be so negative, but there’s no way I can make this seem like a good thing for Chicago, aside from the cap savings. If they leave Scuderi on the bench, send him to the AHL, or buy him out, it’s a moot point.
Now, there are a few ways in which this kind of deal can end up making sense for the Blackhawks. The Penguins retained one-third of Scuder's $3.375 million cap hit, so the Blackhawks are getting a little more than $1 million in cap space in this deal. That isn't exactly a game-changer, but realistically that extra million dollars could be the difference for another trade Stan Bowman might try to make down the line. Most likely, it's the driving factor behind the team's decision to make this move.
Scuderi also could be brought in as a bit of a place-holding minutes eater until one of the younger, more capable defensemen the Blackhawks have in the system is ready to come up and contribute later down in the season and into the playoffs, much like the role Brandon Mashinter fills among forwards. If the Blackhawks keep Scuderi around as a place holder while Ville Pokka and/or Erik Gustafsson continue to hone their craft in Rockford until Feburary or March, this deal has potential to make even more sense.
The biggest consequence of this deal might not come until next season, as Scuderi is signed for another year after this one. Unless he decides to retire at season's end -- unlikely given the millions of dollars he'll still be owed -- the Blackhawks will have a major decision to make regarding his contract come June. Assuming the team wants to move on, the Hawks could pursue another trade. It's also possible the team simply keeps him, waives him and sends him to Rockford if he clears. In that case, the Hawks would be able to cut his cap hit down to about $1.3 million.
The ultimate implications of this deal remain unknown and won't be figured out for some time. For the time being, the only major positive to this trade is that the Blackhawks freed up some cap space and moved Daley, who was clearly struggling in their system. Other than that, the Blackhawks got slower and older on Monday night, and that is certainly not the direction they needed to be heading. Let's assume this was a money play.