As the dust settles on Trade Deadline 2014, I can’t help but wonder about the deal that wasn’t. And I feel I can say this now without fear of scorn and the threat of being banished from the city by a crowd wielding sticks and pitchforks.
Hindsight is 20/20, but I have to be honest. When the rumour mill started up, I was surprised to hear of the Penguins interest in Ryan Kesler. While Ray Shero is one of the most shrewd GMs in the league with a reputation for killer trades, famously swiping Iginla from the Bruins during last year’s trade deadline, I questioned the focus on Kes. I’m sure Shero had a strategy, but in my mind the Pens’ challenge is defense, not offense. While it’s true the team have not executed recently, it’s nothing that a little line switching can’t solve. There is no question the offensive talent is there. Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz and Neal are all capable of delivering, and young guns like Beau Bennett (currently on IR) have proven they can step up to the plate and put a couple between the pipes.
The Penguins need a solid defensive player to cover the gap left by Kris Letang. Tanger’s health scare is not something to be sniffed at – news of his stroke rocked the league and had messages of sympathy pouring in from fans of all locales. But if the Penguins are to have a real shot at the Cup run this season, they need to plug the holes in their D before filling out their offense. Sure, Kesler may have been a short-term fix on the top line with Pascal Dupuis on IR, but was Kesler ever the right guy for this short-term strategy?
Goaltending isn’t currently an issue for the Penguins for the remainder of the season, but it requires some long-term strategic thinking. Marc Andre-Fleury, affectionately dubbed ‘Flower’ by his teammates, has been solid with a .916 save percentage and a league-leading 32 wins this season. Back-up Tomas Vokoun has been out with a blood clot since October 2013 and, at age 37, looks questionable for a return this season. Back-up goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, called up from the Pens AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre Penguins, trails just behind Fleury with a save percentage of .909. The Pittsburgh Penguins serve as Zatkoff’s only NHL experience, with a total of 12 games played and 704 minutes on the ice at the NHL level.
But that’s the Penguins. The Canucks – that’s another story for another day. Significant changes are on the horizon for a team who have experienced a rollercoaster since the 2010-2011 season.
One thing is for sure – all eyes will be on the Vancouver Canucks as the regular season counts down and the team get set to start potentially the largest restructuring in the franchise’s history.