The NHL Trade Deadline is a little over a week away and everyone’s starting to wonder what General Manager Ray Shero has up his sleeve.
Shero has orchestrated some key moves around deadline day in the past that have obviously worked out quite well.
The deal for Marian Hossa in 2008 propelled the Penguins into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992. Granted, they lost and Hossa spurned the team and the city by joining the Detroit Red Wings.
In 2009, Shero brings in Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin around the deadline. The moves were marginally effective as the team only went on to win the Stanley Cup. No big deal.
Last year was a bit of a hiccup on Shero’s record. As soon as I heard rumblings that the Penguins were looking at Alexei Ponikarovsky, I got a bad feeling.
I’ve never been a Ponikarovsky fan. For a man his size, he should be a lot tougher than he is. How guys half his size can move him out of the area in front of the net with ease is beyond me.
Either way, the trade was a bust as he ended up in the press box for part of the shortened playoff run last year.
The Jordan Leopold deal wasn’t a bad one on paper, but he never seemed to find his way in Pittsburgh either.
The question now becomes, what will Shero do before the Feb. 28 deadline?
My guess and hope is that he does next to nothing.
What assets could he possibly entertain moving at the moment?
Currently injured are: Sidney Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery), Chris Kunitz (lower-body), Arron Asham (concussion), Eric Tangradi (concussion symptoms), Mark Letestu (knee), Dustin Jeffrey (lower-body), Nick Johnson (upper-body) and Mike Comrie (hip).
So, what’s left?
Guys who have been rumored to be on the trading block for several seasons are now the guys being asked to keep the club afloat until the reinforcements get healthy.
Two that stick out are Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy.
Shero also needs to keep in mind that only six forwards, who started the season with the parent club, are currently signed for next season. (Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, and Letestu)
Talbot ($1.05 million) and Kennedy ($725,000) will likely seek raises. However, Talbot could elect to test the market if he wanted to as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Kennedy is still a restricted free agent.
Other players to keep in mind:
Craig Adams has been nothing but a workhorse since Shero plucked him off waivers from Chicago in 2009.
Mike Rupp has provided grit and toughness with the occasional offensive outburst. It still makes me smile when thinking about his hat trick against the Rangers at MSG last year.
Pascal Dupuis, who’s been a fixture on Crosby’s wing for the better part of his time in Pittsburgh, is an unrestricted free agent.
I honestly don’t think that Shero will be able to do much of anything given the current injury situation. Sure, there’s draft picks available, but unless Crosby is coming back this season (and no one is indicating one way or the other on that front) it may be better to hold onto them for now.
He could always make some deals at the NHL Draft in June to fill some holes ahead of the July 1 unrestricted free agent period.
The other problem is that, in my opinion, the market value for players is absurdly high based on deals that have already gone through.
A prime example is Philadelphia acquiring Kris Versteeg from the Maple Leafs for a first and third-round pick this season.
Believe me, I like Versteeg a lot (okay, maybe not as much now that he’s in Philly), but in what bizarro world is he worth that price? The guy cracked the 50-point plateau once. However, he is entering his prime and has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last two years. It still seems like Philly overpaid for him.
Follow that up with the king’s ransom that Toronto got from Boston (prospect Joe Colborne, 2011 first-round pick, 2012 conditional second-round pick) for Tomas Kaberle yesterday.
Deals like these and the one for Ponikarovsky last year, lead me to believe that General Manager Brian Burke has some scandalous information about every other GM in hockey. The guy basically names his price and gets it. It may take four years or so (see Kaberle deal) for him to get that price, but he’s going to get it.
Further proof: Toronto traded Francois Beauchemin, who never really fit in with the team, back to Anaheim and got Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2013.
Boston even traded away their second-rounder in this year’s draft to obtain Chris Kelly from Ottawa.
The Penguins have been successful without Crosby in the lineup. However, recently it’s felt like the team loses a player a game, which has left the cupboards are pretty bare.
I’ve been impressed with how many of the Baby Pens have stepped in and been effective, but you can see there’s still a bit of a learning curve with so many of them being in the lineup.
Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe all the experience these young guns are getting will pay off even more down the road.
Depending on the draw, they’ve probably got enough in them to get through the first round of the playoffs, but a deep run without their best players will be difficult.
As it stands right now, I would anticipate that any moves Shero is going to make between now and the deadline will be with an eye toward next season.
Rather than trading for another rental player, perhaps he swings something for a forward with a year or two left on their current contract. That way they could still help out this season and Shero gets a higher return on his investment.
Then again, I never thought the Penguins were ever a contender in the Hossa sweepstakes.
Anyway, this next week will tell us a lot about the resolve of this team.
Tomorrow’s game will mark the first of five in seven days, including two back-to-back situations.
The schedule looks like this: at Chicago, Washington, San Jose, at Carolina, At Toronto. Games fall on Sunday, Monday, Wedneday, Friday and Saturday.
Once the schedule was released over the summer, I circled this week. Look at the first three games there and you’ll see why.
To me, it was going to be Measuring Stick Week. If the Penguins could come out with a solid record in those five games, you had to think their chances in the playoffs were that much better.
If they struggled, it would give Shero a good sense of what the team was lacking ahead of the deadline.
To a degree, both of those statements are still in play.
If the injury-plagued Penguins can earn at least three wins this week, maybe the dark cloud hovering over the team will seem less ominous.
Time will tell, but in any event, Shero no doubt hears the clock ticking.
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