The only challenge left that’s worth working for this regular season is the top seed in the East, we have no interest in the cursed President’s Trophy. Only two teams remain capable of catching the Penguins: Montreal and Boston. Montreal played last night and for the rest of the season they will have the same amount of games left as the Pens, and they play each other Wednesday. The Canadians have 6 games left and the Penguins have seven points in hand. That leaves a magic number of 5 for the Pens to clinch the top seed in the East (Canadians can earn a maximum of 12 points). The same holds for the Bruins, they have 7 games remaining following the postponement of their game yesterday, but there is an 8 point difference between the Pens and Bruins. Thus that magic number is down to 6. By the time the Pens/Bruins game ends on Friday, the Pens could cut it to 4 points.
Oh also, Sidney Crosby, James Neal, and Paul Martin all resumed skating yesterday. Sid rocked the incredibly fashionable full-cage mask, Neal has been symptom free for a while now and will probably be back in the lineup on Wednesday, and Paul-Mart wore a tracksuit.
And the Penguins were 3-0 last week on a jaunty drive through the American Southeast. In the absence of so many key players the new acquisitions really raised the bar, as such we are going to dedicate this Stud of the Week to those who weren’t here last year.
Been a long time since we addressed the Penguins’ Stud of the Week. But in a week where a ton of different things happened, and when the Pens have four days off in a row, it only seem right to come back to it.
But first, some news. Surprisingly good read from Rob Rossi about the efforts the Penguins have taken to create a winning environment from top to bottom in Pittsburgh. Still surreal that Jarome Iginla is a Pittsburgh Penguin, and that he seems dead set on staying that way til the end of his career.
The Penguins became the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff berth when the Sabres beat the Devils in a shootout Saturday night. Also, doing a little math it looks like the Penguins are magic number of 2 away from winning the Atlantic Division and guaranteeing a top three seeding in the playoffs (the Rangers can reach a maximum point output of 60 [9 games left X 2 points each = 18 points, currently have 42]). Assuming the Pens are able to win the division, they are only a magic number of 2 away from clinching a top 2 seed overall in the East, the now division-leading Washington Capitals have a maximum output of 60 points (9 games to play, 18 point maximum output).
It looks like Kris Letang will be back in the lineup very soon. He participated in full team practice today and will join the team for their forthcoming road trip. The news is not so good for James Neal who has been diagnosed with a concussion. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, but he won’t travel with the team. Beau Bennett has been recalled and chances are good that he’ll get to play alongside Geno and Iggy, not too bad for a rookie. Get the Stud after the break.
Another Cup winning move from Ray Shero today to bring in Douglas Murray, who we were pretty keen on last week in our discussion of possible trade targets. If Brenden Morrow draws analogies to Billy Guerin and Gary Roberts, Murray has to draw comparisons to Hal Gill: is he going to be the Pens best defender? Hell no. Is he going to be a good fit and add some much needed grit to the bottom pairing? Hell yes.
Murray’s not as tall and rangy as Gill but he’s more physical, he’s purpose built to clear out trash in his own zone. Unfortunately, also like Gill he’s not the fastest skater, but in hindsight how often did you actually say, “Man, Hal Gill is killing the Pens with his lack of mobility,” and for what its worth HCDB has already said he plans to skate Murray with Niskanen, someone who doesn’t want for foot speed.
The cost for Murray is this year’s 2nd round pick and a conditional second or third round in next year’s draft, contingent on whether the Pens re-sign Murray or not. Again this is the Penguins giving in order to get but there are two things that make this trade worthwhile: its important to remember that the Pens had TWO first round picks last year, and that management is really big on Pouliot AND Maata, and the Pens already picked up an extra third round pick in this draft. Now assuming that the Pens are able to make a deep playoff push this year and assuming the Stars trade off a few more veterans and plummet in the rankings and earn a lottery spot, what is the big difference between a late second rounder and an early third? In a league like the NHL the difference tends to be pretty small.
And it’s all shaping up nicely for the Pens. Paul-Mart and Free Candy will continue to take on the toughest assignments, the new unit of Murray-Niskanen can hopefully move into silent shutdown mode–you don’t notice them every shift and that’s a huge compliment–akin to the vaunted Scuds-Gill pairing of ’08 and ’09. From there you have Kris Letang and any number of other dynamics: if the Pens need another solid, safe defenseman, Mark Eaton gets the call, if they need some added muscle Deryk Engelland all day, and if by chance they need more offense, that’s why they have Simon Despres.
Of course there is one more defensemen on the Pens current roster, Robert Bortuzzo, and we have no idea what the Pens plan to do. We promise you this, if the Pens put him through waivers, he won’t make it. We would also prefer that the Pens not trade him, although the Pens grow offensive defensemen on trees in Wilkes Barre, the same can’t be said for defensive defensemen. So what is there to do? Well the Pens can send Despres back to the minors, but that’s unlikely… They probably wouldn’t get anything to trade away Mark Eaton or Engo… So could the Pens be gearing up for another move? One that would require the Pens to move someone else? But who? Are we on the cusp of a blockbuster trade? Are Brooks Orpik or Paul Martin in their last days in a Pens’ uniform?
We have no idea, nor do we really think it’s happening, but nonetheless it is impossible to predict what will happen next. For now you should just sit back and watch it unfold. It’s gonna be awesome. Some more about Murray after the jump…
April 3rd marks the NHL trade deadline, for what it’s worth the Pens will literally have 10 regular season games left after that date. As such there will be a real premium on rental players–teams will want to give up as little as possible from their core and receive as much as they can in return, even if the investment will only be for the length of the playoffs. Further, it seems obvious to us that the price for rental players will necessarily be high for a number of reasons, first, the salary cap will contract next year, so teams are not worried about trying to resign guys with expiring deals. Two, this will probably be the last time that teams can try to buy their way to a championship for a few years. And three, why not? With guys like Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar and other future Hall of Famers presumably on the market what will stop contenders from making huge moves?
This week also marks the annual GM Meetings which is supposed to be a time for the GM’s to weigh in on possible rule changes, but really is a carefully contrived opportunity to lock all the GM’s in a room and make them talk to one another. Some of the biggest publicity for the league comes during a crazy trade deadline, and after a slow deadline last year the NHL doesn’t want to risk a repeat so you just know that things will be interesting.
What follows is our list of guys that, if we were King Shero, we would be inquiring about during these meetings. We have organized the post into two parts: defensemen and forwards. Our viewpoint is that the Pens need two players, a shutdown defender and a bottom-six forward. There’s no guarantee that either will happen and certainly we aren’t opposed to the Pens zeroing in on Jarome Iginla or Chris Stewart if the price is right, but we’ve already discussed what Beau Bennett has done for the top-6 forward complexion moving forward, not to mention that the biggest offensive addition the Pens can make is a healthy Evgeni Malkin, as such, those guys aren’t essential pieces for us right now.