Just last week, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the enviable position of having enough depth on defense to be a seller, despite their position as a clear-cut buyer in terms of contending for a third straight Stanley Cup title. However, the Penguins know too well from their experiences over the past few years just how quickly that feeling of comfort on the blue line can change with injury. In placing Justin Schultz on injured reserve this morning, with the expectation being that he will be out “weeks” at the very least, Pittsburgh’s opinion on their blue line has changed in an instant.
Ian Cole was the man on the block last week, with many teams having immediate interest in obtaining the services on the solid stay-at-home defender. An impending free agent who has been devalued in Pittsburgh following the signing of a similar player in Matt Hunwick and the re-emergence of Olli Maatta this season, Cole had become expendable for the Penguins. However, as beat writer Jason Mackey indicates, any talk of moving Cole is completely off the table for now with Schultz out of the lineup.
In fact, the health of Schultz going forward could turn the Pens from sellers to buyers on the blue line. Frank Corrado, who was called up to take Schultz’s spot on the roster, has not worked out so far. If that continues, Pittsburgh will at least need to add another depth option. Chad Ruhwedel, while remarkably reliable for Pittsburgh over the past year plus, is best suited for that #7 depth option role. Hunwick and Cole, while both experienced, successful defenders, are very similar and similarly one-dimensional. Beyond a healthy grouping of (the also injury-prone) Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Maatta, there are serious questions without Schultz to round out the top four. If “weeks” turn to “months” for Schultz to return to action, GM Jim Rutherford could end up on the opposite side of the defensive trade market.