Pittsburgh Penguins can afford to mortgage future

As we’ve covered on City of Champions, Consol Energy Center (in conjunction with Robert Morris University) is hosting the NCAA Frozen Four this week. Not only is this event a rare opportunity to watch some of college hockey’s best in western Pennsylvania, it also provides a glimpse at the cost of loading up for a Stanley Cup push.

January 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defender Joe Morrow (70) skates with the puck during the first period of the Penguins intrasquad scrimmage at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In Thursday’s national semifinals, both college prospects the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for Jarome Iginla were on the ice, with Kenny Agostino’s Yale Bulldogs advancing to Saturday’s title game before St. Cloud State and Ben Hanowski fell to Quinnipiac in the nightcap.

All told, the Penguins gave up five future draft picks, Hanowski, Agostino and 2011 first-rounder Joe Morrow in the recent deals that brought Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen to Pittsburgh.

As a recent ESPN.com article by Hockey Prospectus’ Rob Vollman reminds us (subscription required), the chattel surrendered to augment the Penguins’ roster has significant value:

[O]n average the five draft picks and four prospects they gave up will add up to 15.4 goals of future value. According to hockey’s 3-1-1 rule, which states that every three goals results in approximately one point in the standings and is worth about a million dollars, the Penguins have given up over five points in the standings in future years, which could cost more than five million dollars to get back.

Vollman arrives at that conclusion thanks to a formula designed by Hockey Prospectus colleague Iain Fyffe. Much like WAR in baseball, Fyffe’s brainchild is based on the value a player adds as compared to a theoretical “replacement-level” athlete.

Fyffe uses historical results to determine how much future draft picks might be worth, but even if those unnamed prospects exceed that projection, the Penguins will never rue their recent trades.

March 28, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Brenden Morrow (10) takes the ice against the Winnipeg Jets before the game at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As Vollman writes, the additions of Iginla, Morrow, Murray and Jokinen figure to add 7.9 goals over replacement (combination of scored and prevented) over the Penguins’ next 20 games, which will include the playoffs. With a roster built to urgently compete for championships, Pittsburgh is unmistakably closer to that goal now than when the season started.

Also, if the Penguins have to dip into the future free-agent market to replace the young talent they dealt away, they are in solid position to do so. Backed by the immense capital represented by the Ron Burkle-Mario Lemieux ownership group, the Pens have the wherewithal to spend aggressively. That largesse will only grow as the franchise continues to create revenue better than most NHL teams.

There is a point at which neglecting development will lead to diminishing returns. Joe Morrow may very well blossom into a star offensive defenseman and the duo of Hanowski and Agostino could reach their more modest ceilings, to say nothing of the draft picks sent away.

But the Penguins are in the “sure thing” business for the foreseeable future. While the Frozen Four made the cost of deadline dealings more tangible than usual, it doesn’t damn the risks Pittsburgh has taken to seize the moment.

Topics: Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla, NHL Trade Deadline, Pittsburgh Penguins

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