With the trade deadline approaching, most teams are looking towards what they need in order to make a deep playoff run. But with the Penguins, perennial playoffs favorites, it’s a bit more complicated than simply filling holes in their roster.
The Penguins need forwards. It’s a weird thing to say for a team with two of the most dominant forwards in the game today, but it’s true. With Pascal Dupuis injured, there’s a gaping hole on Sidney Crosby’s line that’s being filled with players like Brian Gibbons who, while skilled, have yet to demonstrate being consistently first-line skilled. Dupuis is a workhorse, and on his salary ($3.75 million), it’s hard to find a first-line winger to replace him. GM Ray Shero has called the idea of finding a winger to replace Dupuis “far-fetched”.
But there’s also the issue of the third and fourth lines, which has been plaguing the Penguins all year. It’s not that the third and fourth lines are bad, but they’re not good either. While they aren’t outright liabilities, they very rarely score. On top of that, with the relentless string of injuries the Penguins have weathered, the lines are constantly in flux, making chemistry very, very difficult to form. If the Penguins hope to win the Cup this year, it’s generally thought that the third and fourth lines need to start producing more consistently. That’s not gospel (after all, most teams that win the Stanley Cup have one gaping flaw or another, think the Blackhawks and their lacking powerplay), but it is a nagging concern – enough of a concern that there’s been speculation that Brandon Sutter, the current third-line center, may be on the trade block for a more dynamic scorer.
The Penguins, however, are faced with a major problem- they have almost no cap space (roughly $1.2 million) to add high-quality players with. If Kris Letang is out for the season, it may be a blessing in disguise for the Penguins, who could use his salary to plug up the holes in their offense. (Letang’s salary is $3.5 million.) But Letang’s condition is unclear and won’t be made clear for another couple of weeks, meaning that Shero won’t know what kind of money he has to work with until after the trade deadline has passed.
Last year the Penguins went big at trade deadline, adding Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Brendan Morrow, and Douglas Murray. Ultimately, this did not help them overmuch. Morrow and Murray were both serviceable, though Iginla, their biggest acquisition, had trouble building chemistry on either of the top two lines. But the Penguins came up short in the Eastern Conference Finals, and a lack of scoring and chemistry on the first and second lines was a big reason why. With that fresh in their minds, the Penguins may be understandably cautious about making big trades going forward, especially considering their record (40-15-3) which places them comfortably ahead of their closest competitor in the Eastern Conference, Boston (37-16-5), and miles ahead of anyone else in their Metropolitan Division.
Ultimately what the Penguins may do is go for small trades. Acquiring players like Jussi Jokinen, while maybe not a sexy, headline-worthy transaction, has served the Penguins well in the past. Jokinen, while still having part of his salary paid for by Carolina, has put up 16 goals and 26 assists this year. If the Penguins can get more players like him for similarly reduced costs to plug up holes in the bottom two lines, their trade deadline woes may be all but over.