The Pittsburgh Penguins have traded diminutive winger Conor Sheary, along with defenseman Matt Hunwick to the Buffalo Sabres for a conditional fourth-round draft pick that can become a third rounder if certain conditions are met.
The Penguins get: over $5 million in salary relief. I stress time and again on here how important this is to NHL teams. Remember that Chicago once paid Carolina an asset by the name of Teuvo Teravainen in exchange for them taking Bryan Bickell’s $4 million contract off the books for them. The difference with this deal is that Sheary has more upside and more to contribute then Bickell did back when the Chicago deal happened – so instead of a good prospect, the Pens just gave up a potential top-sixer.
The Sabres get: a top-six winger or bust, plus a serviceable bottom-six defenseman. Sheary had 53 points in 61 games two seasons ago when he clicked with Sidney Crosby. He had 30 points in 79 games last season when he stopped clicking with Crosby and was gradually moved down the depth chart. Hunwick is often a healthy scratch and the situation won’t change in Buffalo, who have added Rasmus Dahlin for this season and possibly Brendan Guhle as well.
Fantasy Players Impacted: Sheary just underwent the worst of all sophomore slumps. And what’s more, he looked so out of place in the NHL that I questioned if he could even bounce back. His shifty moves no longer worked as well, he was easily muscled off the puck and he just couldn’t gather any momentum to create offense because his time and space was almost completely taken away. The opposition could just use the same playbook in 2018-19, in which case Sheary will be a bust. But I like the idea of a fresh start on a Jack Eichel line and that’s where he’ll get first dibs. You won’t see Sheary get between 30 and 55 points if he plays 80 games – he’ll either click and top 55, or he’ll sputter and fall short of 30. Does he lack strength to compete night in and night out? Or was that a typical sophomore slump as the competition adjusts and he just needs to re-adapt? As a Sheary owner in one of my three leagues, I had been shopping him. Now I think I will pull him off the market. I'll listen to offers, but no longer actively shop. So something about this has me feeling at least a little bullish about him.
Sheary’s arrival bounces Evan Rodrigues down the depth chart, as well as Jason Pominville both at even strength and on the power play. Meanwhile, as I noted above, Guhle is on the bubble for making this team and adding Hunwick to the mix certainly hurts his chances. Guhle could be looking at another AHL season.
With Sheary gone, Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon, Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese will battle for the last spot in the top six. ZAR offers grit, hustle and a good scoring touch. Simon offers more of a third-line skill set but has shown he can contribute. Rust is probably the fallback solution, as he has been there before and has shown that he can be a 50-point player (based on points-per-game average) playing with Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Sprong is the wildcard as he has the highest upside. If he’s NHL-ready, then he’ll take his shot on the big line and run away with it.
With Hunwick gone, new signee Juuso Riikola has a better opportunity to make the club as a part of the bottom pairing. He has some upside, but should not be counted on to provide it this year.
Fantasy players this helps, in order:
2. Bryan Rust
3. Conor Sheary
4. Zach Aston-Reese
6. Juuso Riikola
Fantasy players this hurts, in order:
3. Brendan Guhle
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