The Penguins are on the clock.
Because Ray Shero is all in.
In the teensy hours of Thursday morning, when it came through Twitter — as all news seems to these days — that the Penguins acquired Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, the most desirable player available as the NHL trade deadline approaches, it signified one very clear, sharp and strident message: The Penguins’ general manager has sent them on a mission to win the Stanley Cup this season.
That’s one thing, but the rest? Anything less would be a gross disappointment.
The Penguins are a franchise that captured the Stanley Cup in 2009, but since then has stumbled, staggered and lurched in the playoffs, winning just one series and losing three in a row to lower-seeded teams.
This move — and the recent acquisitions of winger Brenden Morrow and defenseman Douglas Murray — is an effort to offset yet another playoff disaster.
And the Iginla deal comes at a relatively low cost, with Calgary receiving a first-round pick in 2013 in exchange, along with prospects Ben Hanowski, a winger, and Kenny Agostino, another winger.
In addition, Shero understood the time was perfect to pull such a move. Iginla will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and, with the salary cap going down after this season, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams could part ways with the franchise, as each will become unrestricted free agents.
If ever there was a time to be bold for Shero, this was it.
If you are going to throw every chip in the middle of table, now was the time.
Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, just after the Iginla deal was consummated: “What are you supposed to say, that we’re not all in?
“Yeah, we’re all in. We want to win.”
Now comes the rub.
There will never be greater expectations in this town, never a bigger anticipation of something that’s supposed to happen, than the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup this season.
If the team falls short of that, the fan base will widely view it as a failure. Not just any failure. But a failure of enormous quantity.
As it stands now, with the Penguins set to host the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, the franchise is in the midst of a 13-game winning streak and has a 26-8 record.
They are, undeniably, the class of the Eastern Conference.
And Shero has, undeniably, made these Penguins marked men.
There should be elation; there should be euphoria about the Iginla deal, but as all of us are seemingly caught up in this exuberance, there needs to be a brief time to pump the brakes a bit.
While this transaction certainly positions the Penguins in a remarkable spot in what could — and, frankly, should — be a magical run to the Stanley Cup, Shero can only do so much.
The general manager can’t back check.
He can’t offset an odd-man rush.
He can’t head man the puck, severely swing a tape-to-tape pass or come up with a lead-protecting, swooping save, either.
No, Ray Shero can assemble the personnel that puts these Penguins in best position to go out and compete for that Stanley Cup.
With the Iginla move — and perhaps even more to come as there’s still cap room — Shero has surely done as much.
But now it falls to the players.
If the guys in the sweaters and skates don’t perform and execute, all this wizardry by the guy in the shirt and tie will have been for naught.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com.