NHL trade ratings: Penguins pick up meager victory in Dmitry Kulikov trade, for now

The exchange

The penguins get: Defender Dmitry Kulikov

The ducks get: Forward Brock McGinn, third-round pick

Sean Kind: All we can do here – the only thing that is fair and reasonable – is to judge each transaction based on the actual context available. Is a team in better shape than it was before, or not?

Right now, about 90 minutes before the deadline, Ron Hextall’s Pittsburgh Penguins are in better shape after this deal than they were before.

It has nothing to do with Kulikov, a 31-year-old left-hander who was completely crumbled by top-par minutes with the Abyssal Ducks. He’s a substitute-level guy on a good day, or at least he should be.

Where Hextall picked up a meager win, possibly his last of the season, was in shipping McGinn’s contract. He reportedly carried a $2.75 million AAV for each of the next two years and was buried in the AHL after Hextall’s frenzied salary dump feast before the Mikael Granlund deal. Hextall signed McGinn in one of his first acts as Pittsburgh general manager in the 2021 offseason. He had gone 26 games without scoring earlier this season as part of a last-six group that effectively brought Pittsburgh to its knees and doesn’t look much better, despite all the shuffling Hextall did.

Now, if the plan is to play Kulikov, Pittsburgh will likely have to move Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson or Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Dumoulin is a waiting UFA who would probably need a sweetener for a team to want. Pettersson has been the most efficient of the three this season. Joseph is one of the organization’s few relevant players on an entry-level contract. We’ll see what the outcome is there. I’m skeptical this will help the Penguins in any meaningful way, but we’ll see.

Anaheim bought a third-round pick for two years from McGinn and some retention on Kulikov. It’s easy to imagine them knocking him down next year, maybe with some paychecks withheld, to a team that needs a fourth-line body that can skate and kill penalties. Not bad.

Penguins rating:B
Classification of ducks: B+

Luszczyszyn House: Getting out of Brock McGinn’s contract — $2.75 million for two more years — is a victory. Getting Anaheim to keep money on Kulikov is technically a win too…if he’s a player a team wants to target. I will not have. But the deal gives Pittsburgh more cap flexibility and that’s important.

Or, it would be for a different front office. After watching Ron Hextall fire up some valuable assets and set the space on fire to acquire Mikael Granlund, I’m really skeptical that more flexibility will be a good thing. The implications of this deal sound like impending doom. Maybe even a big one.

Let’s start with who they acquired: Dmitry Kulikov. He’s a southpaw defender who has spent his entire career drowning in the opening four minutes, with this season being his most egregious. Blame a bad team and a bad system all you want, but you can’t do that for every player on the team – not on a team that ranks as the worst defensive team in the Analytics Era . They are so bad because of the staff, the staff who included and presented Kulikov in a leading role.

Maybe he does better in a better team in a smaller role. Maybe. He was really good last year defensively and the Penguins have a solid history of rehabilitating defensemen. Using it this year has not been easy. But last year also feels like an outlier year, one that is completely negated by Kulikov’s work this year. Kulikov was worth 1.8 out of 82 wins last year. This year, it’s just the opposite: minus-1.8 wins. It’s hard to hurt a team so much on your own, but we’re talking about a defender who is second to last on the ducks in expected goal percentage at 37 percent. He’s a big part of the problem – compared to a bad team, he’s been worse. According to data tracked by Corey Sznajder, Kulikov has been a liability to recover pucks in his own zone, turning those recoveries into outings and is a turnstile at his own blue line.

A third-round pick for this team doesn’t make sense and getting out of McGinn’s deal might be worth it on its own. He’s been his own brand of trouble this year and is an offensive black hole. But it’s another decision that doesn’t move the needle at best and could actually hurt the Penguins’ bottom line if Kulikov is as washed out as he has looked this year. McGinn, as bad as he is offensively, is doing at least well defensively this year.

And it’s just that deal, the one that creates a traffic jam on the left side with Dumoulin, Pettersson, Joseph and Ty Smith. I’m not sure Kulikov is an improvement over any of them. If the logical conclusion is to trade Pettersson – the best – then the Penguins will be the rare breed of team that spends a lot of assets at the deadline to bring out a worse team on the other side.

The “plan” is starting to take shape, but it doesn’t look very good at all.

Penguins rating:VS-
Classification of ducks:B

(Photo: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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