The “New” Alternatives, Pt. 1: The Trades Baby

Alright, I’m happy for the Wild, but get real…

So the Pens missed out on Suter and Parise, that’s what happens when you have the two best players in the world on your team. This wasn’t a failure of Ray Shero, he simply didn’t have the power and authority to spend another $100 million dollars on one player, and let’s be real, the next time he will spend $100 million on a player it will be Evgeni Malkin, not some dude who averages about 67 points a season (and I was gracious and I didn’t take his 6 points in 13 game total from two years ago).

I admit, there have been slight issues with the way that Shero has handled big time free-agency signings. Shero kept trying to force a long-term deal on Hossa rather than short, which is what he wanted. This year, he was able to clear some cap space, but he couldn’t deliver Suter to Parise, and as it really looks, that was the most important thing. But to say that the Penguins are doomed, or even to suggest that they’re really in a worse place is absolutely wrong.

All over the Internet and the talk radio shows everyone keeps saying that the Pens might as well give up now. Why? They keep saying “well just look at the way the Penguins collapsed in the playoffs this year. And all they’ve done is make the team worse.” Bollocks. I’ll remind you, it was a worn out Marc-Andre Fleury and horrible penalty killing that caused the meltdown in the playoffs this year. So what has Ray Shero done to address that?

Well, so far, remember this is ONLY the fifth day of Free Agency, he’s addressed the worn out MAF part by signing one of best statistical goalies in the league to provide at least 30 games of relief for MAF and to push him to be better. Then he went out and exchanged his former go-to penalty-killing center, who had gotten too preoccupied with scoring goals, for possibly the finest pure defensive center in the league (as well as a studly future defenseman and a first round pick). He then went and dumped his poor performing “shot blocker” in an attempt to clear money so that the team could address other organizational defects. Yes, I understand that there is a bitter taste in your mouth now that Parise and Suter have both signed with a team that isn’t Pittsburgh and it will be years before we know if we’ll end up getting anything from the Michalek cash dump, but I promise you, the available cap space is not a bad thing at all. If there’s one fact we can take about winning the Stanley Cup in the post-lockout era, it’s that the best teams are not the best on paper, they aren’t the best in July, they’re the teams that become the best on a day in late February (Trade Deadline). The teams that become the best need to have both money and assets for trade. Even if the Penguins don’t sign one more player they’ll be in great shape for that date.

But then again, don’t fool yourself into thinking that King Shero is done wheeling and dealing. He’s always made his fortune in the trades, and in case you’ve forgotten some of the more notable, I will be happy to remind you…
• 2007: Pens are on the cusp of a Stanley Cup berth for the first time since 01, brings in Gary Roberts for less than nothing to provide a little experience on the otherwise young team, how’d that turn out?
• 2008: a couple of weeks before the trade deadline, he convinces the Ducks that they would rather have Ryan Whitney than Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi. I’ve written much about what Kunitz means for the Penguins, and how there’s no doubt that it is not coincidence that he has spent most of his time in Pittsburgh playing with the leading point producer in the NHL and the favorite MVP choice, whether it’s Sid or Gino. And you know my perspective on this, but I still think Tangradi’s best days are ahead of him.
• After that deal he brought in a minor role player named Hal Gill.
• Then he dropped the big one: Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, and a first round pick. How’d that one turn out? If you need a refresher, Armstrong got cut by the abysmal Maple Leafs this summer, Christensen has left for Russia (I think), and both Esposito and the first round pick that the Thrashers acquired have yet to play one game in the NHL. We got to go to the Cup finals, and I think that Dupuis guy has panned out all right over the years.
• 2009: after getting so close the previous year, and after getting spurned by Hossa in the offseason, Shero did the only thing he could. Got better. How’d he do it? Bill Guerin.
• 2010 was a down year and certainly Alexei Ponikarovskiy and Jordan Leopold weren’t the best players Shero ever brought in, but then again this was one year away from the Cup and he needed to do whatever to get better.
• 2011: hey remember when Ray Shero traded Alex Goligoski, basically our number six defenseman to Dallas for James Neal and Matt Niskanen? Whatever happened to those guys?
• 2012: nothing to do. Nobody was on the market, and his best commodities, his many young defensemen all were set to become RFAs, now that they should be getting new deals, they could be instrumental in making a move this year.

Of course there are a couple of quality trade situations that have been suggested: the first of which, that Mike Colligan has been espousing since well before free agency actually started is a more or less straight up trade between St. Louis and Pittsburgh with Chris Stewart coming here in exchange for Paul Martin. Both guys need a change of scenery and Stewart is very comparable to James Neal except more physical and a lot badder. Stewart doesn’t work in Ken Hitchcock’s defense first system but when he’s played in systems similar to the Penguins (especially when he played under current Penguins assistant Tony Granato in Colorado, oh you know the guy who runs the offense and powerplay in Pittsburgh now) he’s put up very quality goal totals. Whereas Neal is really actually a sniper in a power forward’s body, Stewart is a power forward in a tough guy’s body. At 6’2” 230 lbs. I think he could make a place for himself in front of the net.

Mean.

Further, he’s mean. He’s thrown some vicious elbows in his day and I think he has been suspended before, but I may be wrong. The more I think about it, the more I like that. Sid should play with a guy who has an intimidation factor, I’m pretty sure that’s why Shero has been so adamant about finding big wingers, and probably why he encouraged Sully to take an offer elsewhere.

That’s right, Steve Sullivan signed with the Coyotes yesterday, 1-year $1.85 million with a $500,000 signing bonus. That’s a contract worth well over $2 million all in all. I think the issue with Sully is that we pretty much have the bottom six filled out, and the only position of need is that “winger for Sid” but unfortunately, Sully isn’t going to offer a lot protection to Sid, and as a result there really wasn’t much of a spot for him, except for on the powerplay, but more on that later.

Anyway, in return, it is a well-known fact that the Blues are looking for a left-handed, puck moving, top-4 defenseman, to help mentor the young star Alex Pietrangelo. I mean the only way that could provide a thinner veil over Paul Martin would be to say that he must be American and have a good +/-. Further, Hitchcock’s system is almost identical to the one that Martin played in in New Jersey that made him into a defenseman worth $5 million per season. The Blues still need to come to terms with a couple of RFA wingers before they’re likely to let Stewart go, but this seems like an unreal hockey trade for both sides.

Moving on to defense, the Penguins will need to do something here. I’m not sure that it is enough to seek a physical d-man now that Sully has signed away from the Pens; they are going to need someone to help Letang on the PP. The best bet for that is the known to be available Keith Yandle from Phoenix. The issue with Yandle is that I’m sure the Yotes will want offense in return. If there were one position where the Pens don’t have room to spare it would be offense. What could the Pens give up? That’s the question and I’m sure there is an answer. I’m sure that two pieces in this trade would be Simon Despres and next year’s first round pick, but would someone like Tangradi or Dustin Jeffrey (or both) be enough to get it done? I’m not sure.

In the next installment, which should go up later tonight I’ll consider the remaining free agents and try to answer which ones can actually fulfill the needs the Penguins have.

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