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Guentzel, Tarasenko and the question of fit on deadline week


Welcome to trade deadline week! While much of this year’s focus has been spent on possible defensive upgrades for playoff contenders, I want to shift gears and assess the wing position.

Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel has been considered the crown jewel of the deadline at wing for a while now – in fact, TSN’s Trade Bait board has him fourth across all available players, and he’s eligible to return from long-term injured reserve on March 10.

But I’m starting to wonder if this is a two-horse race, and more specifically, if Ottawa’s Vladimir Tarasenko could be a comparable (or perhaps, better) option for some contenders.

There are several teams looking to upgrade at the wing position, and Tarasenko and Guentzel appear to be the two best options. Guentzel is younger and has been scorching in Pittsburgh over the past few seasons, but Tarasenko’s pedigree, shooting capability, and relatively smaller cap hit might be alluring to other teams.

Answering the question of preference may come down to fit and the types of centers these wingers would get to play with, almost assuredly in a top-six role.

But I do think it’s interesting to baseline the two wingers against one another, especially considering part of Tarasenko’s signing with the Senators on a prove-it deal was just that — to show he was still the attacker we fawned over years ago in St. Louis. That, coupled with Guentzel’s slowdown in 2023-24, has at least brought the two players closer.

Let’s look at a few key measures. First, let’s compare the two from a rate-scoring standpoint.


If you thought there would be a bigger gap between the two when it comes to their individual scoring ability, you aren’t alone.

We remember Guentzel’s remarkable 40-goal season in 2021-22; we also can recount an ugly two-year stretch for Tarasenko between 2019-21, marked by injuries and slowed production.

But the reality is that when Tarasenko’s been healthy, he’s been as individually productive offensively as Guentzel. Over this five-year horizon, Guentzel is the marginal winner as a goal scorer; Tarasenko the marginal winner as an assist man. The points per 60 minute gap between the two over the past five seasons is a microscopic 0.04.

Individual scoring isn’t the only parameter to assess. We can also look at even-strength numbers to determine how their respective teams benefited from each player’s minutes. The below graph shows multi-year trended on-ice scoring rates for both players:

Again, the results are closer than I would’ve first thought – Tarasenko’s triumvirate of teams have produced more offence as a group, but they have also given up more defensively.

Tarasenko hasn’t historically been known as a dynamic defensive player and, despite him aging out of his prime, it’s notable he’s still playing with the most dynamic offensive players against stiff competition. Since leaving St. Louis, both New York and Ottawa have regularly anchored him to their best offensive playmakers (Artemi Panarin, Tim Stutzle). His minutes may be marginally down, but he’s still getting a lot of premium play.

That said, the defensive pressure with Tarasenko on the ice has been real, and, as a result, Guentzel’s minutes are better on a relative basis. Over the period: Guentzel is at  +0.6 goals per 60 minutes on the ice versus Tarasenko’s +0.3.

Lastly, even when it comes to penalties, their results are quite similar. Over the same period, Guentzel’s net-penalty rate is +0.4 per 60 minutes played, meaning Guentzel drew more power plays for Pittsburgh than what he gave back by way of penalties taken. Tarasenko, across his stops in St. Louis, New York and Ottawa, has a net-penalty rate of +0.3 – marginally worse than Guentzel, but close and still additive for his respective teams.

If you squint at this long enough, I think you still end up concluding Guentzel might be the better option of the two for two reasons: he’s three years younger, and the on-ice results have been a bit better with him in recent seasons.

But the daylight between the two is quite thin, and depending on a given team’s salary cap situation and personnel, Tarasenko could be more alluring.

That’s what makes trade deadline week so exciting. Enjoy the drama.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference