Deadline Dealing; An Art and a Luxury
The trade deadline has come and gone. In Pittsburgh, this was the first time in Ray Shero’s tenure that a move was not made. Guys such as Hal Gill, Bill Geurin, and Gary Roberts were acquired by Shero on the deadline in seasons past, but this season Shero kept his word in saying “I believe in our hockey team”. He made this statement about a month and a half ago, during a 6 game losing streak. Quite a few questioned him at the time, but now, everyone is quiet.
The Penguins have reeled off impressive wins over the past few weeks. Lead by points leader Evgeni Malkin and top five goal scorer James Neal, the Penguins have become a serious contender in the East. They have proven their strength in February by beating the Bruins, Flyers, and Rangers. They are also getting healthy. Since Kris Letang has returned, the Pens have a record that sports three wins to every loss. Since Jordan Staal has returned, he has 6 goals and 4 assists in just 8 games. They have had recent success with call ups as well. Eric Tangradi has become a 4th line monster, using his big body and talent to torment teams by keeping the puck on his stick. If he is able to find the net soon, things can get even better. Brad Thiessen won his first ever NHL start in net just a few days ago. The Pens have 7 NHL ready defencemen and two AHL defencemen that are all stars two years straight.
Statistically the Pens are sitting pretty as well. As a team they rank 4th in goals per game, 10th in goals against per game, 5th in power play, and 2nd in penalty killing. They are very balanced in all stats heading into the stretch run, yet they also have an edge. Jordan Staal now has 21 goals in 42 games, his best pace ever. Kris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are both on pace to at least tie their career highs in points. They have two 30 goals scorers, another at 20, and 4 more guys with more than ten goals. Their Defense has been good enough this season to keep them in every game. They rank third in the east and fifth in the league respectively for their goal differential. All of this means a few simple things, a trade would have been nice for depth, but prices meant it was a luxury that was not needed.
The Penguins also have a few notable players sitting on IR right now. Feisty winger Tyler Kennedy is recovering from a high ankle sprain. While he has not had his best season, he still posses enough skill to be a twenty goal scorer. The big name though, still resides in the press box. Everyone in the NHL knows the situation of Sidney Crosby, so there is no need to divulge deeper into the topic, but Crosby is back to full practices. His health is improving as he is slowly becoming symptom free. If cleared for contact by mid March, his return for the playoffs becomes all but inevitable. Adding arguably the best player in the game back into this lineup is more than what any team could have done on the deadline.
It might seem strange, but to all of the Penguin fans, this team can win. This team is deeper than expected, stronger than expected, and more importantly can still grow exponentially with the return of a single player. The Pens are not the best team in the league, but by the first round of the playoffs, they might just be the team to beat.
Other deadline news – I am really liking the trades by the Nashville Predators. They traded away a lot of their future for some rental players, but they gave themselves every opportunity to win big this season.
The Canadiens made a few stark moves, but I like their choices. They are slowly riding themselves of once was or never been players, making room for young guys to step up. I do not think they have given up on the season, but they definitely have a rebuild on the run type plan in action.
The team I question deeply is the Boston Bruins. This team made a few moves that were at the least, questionable. They have a few injured players, but more importantly, are struggling. I thought the least they could do was shake up the roster to get some players going again.