Rob Scuderi was an integral piece of the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup run of 2008-09, then after the Game 7 victory he departed and signed with the Los Angeles Kings. He played four seasons on the west coast before re-signing with his former club before the 2013-14 campaign.
To say that Scuderi’s first season back in the black and gold was abysmal is the nicest way to say it. He was horrid during the 2013-2014 and missed a significant amount of time with a broken ankle and other minor injuries.
Fast forward to the present season, many were thinking the 36-year-old defender was rebounding, but he wasn’t doing it alone. Pittsburgh management seemed to think he was as they traded away his partner Simon Despres at the trade deadline for another former Penguin in Ben Lovejoy.
From the moment it occurred, I was against it and I took a lot of heat for it.
Despres was drafted 30th-overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft. He is a 6’4″, 218 pound offensive defender who skates like a player that is 4 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter. Two head coaches in Dan Bylsma and Johnston eventually soured on him because of his inconsistencies on and off the ice.
The thing that they failed to consider when they made this trade was that they drafted him as a project. Despres is, and always has been, a talented player who needed a lot of development, but has an incredibly high ceiling. The mental and physical inconsistencies could have been fixed and if the Anaheim Ducks figure that out, they stole a fantastic player from the Pens.
In other words, Despres was the reason for Scuderi’s “rebound” season.
Scuderi w/Despres: SCA/GP 5v5: 6.4 GA60 5v5: 1.71 5v5 goal diff: +6 W/o Despres: SCA/GP 5v5: 6.0 GA60 5v5: 2.52 5v5 goal diff: -14
— Jason Mackey (@Mackey_Trib) April 7, 2015
Just take a look at this chart which details Scuderi’s statistics with and without Simon Despres.
When Despres was playing with Scuderi the Penguins scored 2.29 goals and allowed 1.62 goals per sixty minutes played. Then when you look at Scuderi apart (total numbers of him with every other defender) the Pens score 1.38 goals and allow 1.91 per game in sixty minutes played. The chart does not showcase good possession numbers but realistically, those statistics are not relevant when there is that big of a gap in scoring differential.
The point is that Scuderi and Despres made a surefire third defensive pairing and without his partner the former 5th-round pick has struggled.
He has always been known as a “penalty kill” specialist, Scuderi misses assignments, fails to clear the zone and is a detriment to the penalty kill on a nightly basis.
Ever since Lovejoy joined the Pens, his play has declined. Experts who cover the Anaheim Ducks knew that Lovejoy was over-deployed and his perceived value was improved by playing alongside Cam Fowler. They believed that Lovejoy was a capable third-pairing defender, except Pittsburgh isn’t using him in that role because of injury woes.
So now Pittsburgh has traded away Despres—who has been responsible for Scuderi’s rebound—for a defender who cannot replace him. In fact, in the 26:31 that Scuderi and Lovejoy have played together, their goals against per sixty played in an astounding 4.53.
Now take a look at the Pens other deadline addition in Ian Cole. He doesn’t play well with Scuderi as well. In 155:13 played together they score 1.16 goals and allow 1.93 per sixty minutes played.
The only defenders that Scuderi has played well with this season are Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff and Despres. That analysis is looking at goals for vs against per sixty minutes played, he has a positive differential with all of those players.
So what’s the problem? None of those players are actually able to play along side the 36-year-old. Martin plays on the top pairing alongside Letang (when healthy), Ehrhoff plays on the second pairing with Pouliot and Despres is no longer on the roster. There is no solution available and he will continue to handicap the team moving forward.
Just sit back and realize that Scuderi is signed under contract for two seasons after this year concludes.
Ideally, the Penguins would buyout his contract this season and take the $917,000 salary cap penalty. There’s just a sinking feeling in my stomach that it simply won’t happen because of the respect the organization has for Scuderi.
Overall Pittsburgh has fallen into a bad habit of rewarding veteran players who should be let go or traded and the New York native is just another example of that.