The (Drop) Deadline

The Pens had a great weekend, they should have won by a total of 14-3, but even then, 12-3 isn’t too shabby either. They beat up a couple of teams that they needed to beat up. Good times. But now we’re moving onto the trade deadline, which in many years is incredibly exciting. This year, it just doesn’t seem like a whole lot is going to happen, and even less than that with the Penguins. Nonetheless, let’s examine what the Pens may do at the deadline this year, and what they need to do.

In terms of “need,” my answer is honestly “nothing.” There are several reasons for this.

What do the Pens need?

The needs of the Pens are few and far between. Again here I would say that they don’t “need” any position, not to the extent that they have “needed” players in the past at the deadline. However, it is fair of people to look at scoring forwards, physical defensemen, and maybe even a back up goalie (now that Johnny got injured in practice a few days ago). I will do that in time, but I still want to examine other conditions first.

The Market

The biggest deal so far this deadline has definitely been the Kings sending Jack Johnson to the Blue Jackets for Jeff Carter. Johnson is very much in the vain of Brooks Orpik, big guy, big hitter, good locker room presence, and overall a solid human. Jeff Carter is not those things. To be fair he is a centerman, but beyond that there have been rumors that he was sleeping with the spouse of a teammate in Philadelphia, that he got traded because he was a poor leader in Philadelphia, and while in Columbus he possibly milked his injuries so that he wouldn’t have to play for a bad team. If that’s the going rate to get a “top” offensive player, please count me out.

Better from Within

Here’s a thought, the Penguins have Sidney Crosby on their roster. There is quite literally nothing that any team can do that would make their team better than for the Penguins to get a healthy Sidney Crosby back.

That said, I don’t want the Penguins to put Crosby on Long Term Injured Reserve. This would make him ineligible for the rest of the regular season. The dilemma is that the extent to which the Penguins can make trade deadline moves is directly tied into the ability to redistribute Crosby’s remaining salary for this year.

Who would you really rather have on your team, Derek Roy or Sidney Crosby?

If you want Crosby for the playoffs, you have to let him get healthy and try to get in a few games before the end of the regular season. The pace of the playoffs is on yet another level still from the regular season, and if Crosby can come back at all, you have to see him play again in the regular season again, just to make sure that he is all the way back.

If he can’t, all bets are off. But still you might as well wait and see. I’ve asked it before, but could you really see the Pens, even as good as they’ve been this season, win the cup without Sidney Crosby? To me it would be like the Pens of the 90s winning without Lemieux. If Crosby isn’t there, I almost don’t want the Pens to win the Cup, and that is just my opinion, but I also think a lot of people would agree with me.

Forwards

The ideal player I would have liked to see the Penguins pursue would have been Tuomo Ruutu. Of course, unfortunately last week he signed a new contract extension with the Carolina Hurricanes, and thus he isn’t going anywhere. Ruutu would have been a great fit in Pittsburgh – the most succinct way to describe him is that he is the Finnish Chris Kunitz – a proven scorer but a guy who plays with an edge and is just as effective running down the puck as he is at burying improbable feeds. I don’t think that it is a conincidence that Chris Kunitz has spent the last three seasons playing with the League’s best player (Crosby in 09-10, through the first half of 10-11, and now Geno this year). Just imagine if both Sid and Geno had the same opportunity. But, again, he’s not moving this year so c’est la vie.

There are a couple of Colorado Avalanche players that would be wonderful additions to the Penguins. Namely Milan Hejduk and David Jones. Both are good scorers, Hejduk is a great veteran presence ala Billy G from a few years ago. David Jones is much younger, and probably a player who has yet to fully recognize his potential. Both are bonafide goal scorers, they would fit a little better with Sidney Crosby than Jordan Staal, although, they would still only bolster a second line led by Staal. The trouble with this is that the Avalanche are only 2 points out of the playoffs in the West. I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t move either. Further, the acquisition cost could be pretty high for either of these pending UFAs.

If the Pens were to move someone for either of those guys it might have to be someone like Matt Niskanen, and I’m not sure that the Pens want to pay that.

Which does raise another question for me. Nobody has really mentioned the possibility of Niskanen getting traded. In reality he is a pending RFA, and one still has to assume that he was never really viewed as a long-term investment for the Pens. Between Despres, Strait, Morrow, and Harrington all waiting in the wings (among others) it seems like Niskanen could be an expendable piece who will be due a significant raise next year, for what its worth.

Defense

If the Pens add on defense it will have to be a physical defenseman. Outside of Brooks Orpik, the Pens don’t have a lot of really big thumpers on defense. Kris Letang can choose to be a big hitter, but he is a better skater and he often plays on the same line as Orpik, thus you need to spread around that wealth. But after that, at least in terms of the defense, they aren’t big hitters.

The problem with this deadline, and probably most deadlines if you really think about it, is that most defenseman that are available are offensive guys. The Pens don’t need this, if Letang had been healthy all year he would likely be running away with the Norris, and Matt Niskanen is having a career year, plus all of the guys I mentioned above, Despres, Strait, Morrow, and Harrington are all good 2-way players.

The most notable player the Pens could look at here would be Bryan Allen from the Carolina Hurricanes. A very big body, a good hitter, and a fairly reliable presence in his own end. Of course in the last hour Bob McKenzie has announced that the Canes are no longer interested in trading Allen, so that could be another dead end for the Pens.

Here you would likely see an offensive player moving. The way I have interpreted things over the last few games is this: the Penguins have recalled and played Eric Tangradi in the last few games, this could be an attempt to “showcase” what he is capable of in the NHL to make him a desirable trade figure. The Pens have also been sitting Dustin Jeffrey, largely considered the best prospect in the Penguins organization, over the past few years. This could also signal a trade, in this case the Pens have removed a guy who might not be around much longer. Only time will tell, and that is quickly running out.

Goaltending

If the Pens don’t land Josh Harding to back-up Marc-Andre Fleury, there is quite literally no point in doing anything at this position. Further, it seems like if Harding moves at all, it will be to a team that is looking for a starting goalie. Brad Thiessen picked up his first NHL win yesterday, and even if Brent Johnson cannot come back this season, or can not get his game figured out, I’m not too worried about it, looking at Thiessen’s play yesterday, the Pens will be alright at this position.

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On Relative Value

A lot of people seem to be advocating for the trade of Paul Martin. I think, for better or worse, that this will happen. But, I also think the trade deadline will be the wrong time to make this move. It would be nearly impossible to get comparable value for Martin at the deadline.

The best trade the Pens can make with Paul Martin is one that will exchange Martin for a couple of studly offensive prospects. This will clear up the cap space that we desperately need and fill about the only gap in the Pens system – which is to say, offensive prospects. I mean, Eric Tangradi just hasn’t panned out as we would like (although he very nearly got his first goal of the season yesterday, and did get a quality assist), and a lot of the other guys in the minors are really “grinder” type players, who are invaluable, but also don’t help the offense that much.

Of course, trading Martin for prospects has several real issues. First off, it won’t help the Pens this year, prospects are great, but they aren’t going to improve your NHL team. Secondly, there aren’t a whole lot of teams that have the cap room to eat the remainder of Martin’s contract while the Pens would likely attempt to pick up other contracts of lesser value. Third, if the Pens really want to trade Martin at the deadline their best course of action would be to trade him to a contending team in exchange for some offensive help. If it works out it could be a great move, but it could also backfire horribly. Further, bringing in a top offensive player who will be under contract for another few seasons would only complicate the salary cap situation for the Pens this offseason, when personally, I think they really need to be interested in signing Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby to long term contracts.

Moving Martin would be better in the offseason, if you move him then, more teams will be interested and more teams will have the money to pay him. This same situation seems to be why we haven’t seen a Rick Nash trade, and the Blue Jackets do not have even a fraction of the player personnel competency that the Penguins do.