Pittsburgh Penguins' Success in Next Few Weeks Will Determine Trades

Andrew Pregler@ACPreglerContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 07:  Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks with his team during a time out from the NHL game against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on January 7, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Devils defeated the Penguins 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Pittsburgh sports teams just cannot seem to catch a break with injuries this season. After watching the Steelers finally succumb to their injury woes, fans are starting to worry that the Penguins may face the same fate.

The gravity of the Penguins' injuries are severe. With recent news that both Jordan Staal (knee) and James Neal (broken foot) will miss weeks due to their respective injuries, the front office plan has to change for Pittsburgh.

Furthermore, it looks as if Craig Adams is hurt, and he is one of the handful of players to show up in every Pens game this season. 

Over the last few seasons, Ray Shero has been one of the best deadline traders in recent memory, always finding ways to make the Penguins a better team with a combination of young talent and experienced rentals to put Dan Blysma's team over the edge.

Just last season, with Tyler Kennedy as the leading scorer for the Pens in the second half of the season, Pittsburgh still managed 106 points and a playoff spot. 

Now a quick disclaimer: Under no circumstances is Shero going to make another Marian Hossa-style trade here at the deadline. First off, the Pens just do not possess the farm system depth necessary to pull of any kind of deal and still be looking at future success. 

Secondly, this kind of move puts Pittsburgh in a tough spot financially. Big name players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury are all set to see their contracts expire within two years, and the priority for Shero is keeping this nucleus together in order to maintain Cup contention.

Obviously, the Penguins are a good enough team to contend for the Cup now, and hopefully all players, with the exception of Crosby, will come back this season. This means Shero has to keep the team afloat until this happens.

The trade deadline is not until February 27, and even with Staal and Neal's grim injuries, both should return by that date. Kris Letang is skating, which leads to the assumption that three key cogs to the Pittsburgh machine will be back before Shero needs to pull the trigger on any deal.

All of this brings us to this conclusion: Shero and the Pens will not do anything in the near future unless the next few weeks show that Pittsburgh is just not competitive. 

While the losses to the Rangers, Devils and Flyers all sting, the Penguins were at least competitive. The rest of January pits the Pens against the Senators, Caps (twice), Panthers, Lightning, Canes, Rangers, Habs, Blues and Maple Leafs

With the exception of St. Louis, Florida, and New York, the Penguins are playing right in their own "category," meaning teams fighting for playoff position. The Pens are currently eighth in the East, holding onto the last playoff spot.

They will face, in the same order as above, the fifth, 10th, third, 13th, 14th, first, 12th, fourth (in the west) and seventh-place teams in the Eastern Conference. 

If Shero is going to make a move, he is going to do so after this month. If the Pens are able to defeat the teams below them in the standings and stay competitive with the ones above them, Shero will more than likely stand back and wait for the stars to return before assessing trades.

However, if the Pens struggle against inferior opponents such as Montreal and Carolina at home, then expect Shero to start looking for a quick addition of scoring as soon as he can work a decent move.


Andrew Pregler is a Featured Columnist covering Syracuse and Pittsburgh Sports. Follow on Twitter @ACPregler for more Pens updates.