If Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero had the luxury of time travel or fortune telling, he might have foreseen Eric Nystrom laying a highly questionable, highly placed elbow to the skull of his once-concussed defenseman Kris Letang and acquired a depth blueliner or two at Monday's trade deadline.
But that would have gone against the grain of Pittsburgh's luck.
Still mostly healthy by the 3:00 PM trade deadline, the Penguins stood absolutely still on one of hockey's busiest transaction days. It was the first time since Shero took over as GM in 2006 that the Penguins didn't make a single deadline move.
"...We were not active today, so nobody going and nobody coming," Shero said in a Monday afternoon press conference. "So, our roster’s our roster moving forward."
With all hands on deck, it's not a bad roster with which to move forward. Heading into March, the Penguins are third in the NHL in goals per game (3.1) despite having lost last season's PPG leader Sidney Crosby for all but eight games.
Their 79 standings points are second-most in the East, and they're a top-five club in both special teams categories with a fifth-ranked power play (20.4 percent) and the league's second-best penalty kill (88.7 percent).
Only Vancouver matches the Penguins with two top-five special teams units.
These numbers weren't lost on Shero and his staff when they declined to swing for another deadline deal.
"I just think that we have a pretty good hockey team here with our leadership and the character we have in our hockey team," Shero said. "Our special teams have been very good, our penalty killing has been amongst the tops in the league and our power play’s been very good obviously, so just a lot of things have come together for us and we’re going to get some of these injured players back."
The character Shero spoke of was on display Wednesday in Dallas, when the Penguins dealt with injuries to Letang and Steve Sullivan (both of whom were listed as day-to-day as of Thursday morning) to gut out a 4-3 shootout win over a Stars team which had previously won four straight.
Despite the injury losses and a less-than-stellar game from MVP front runner Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 in the win.
“We gave up a goal with 12 seconds left in the second period. I liked the response from our team,” head coach Dan Bylsma said following Wednesday's victory. “We came out hard and played well in the third period.”
That kind of grit is what experienced teams are made of. When a locker room has it and is playing well, team executives can be loath to interrupt the "chemistry."
The Penguins were never a team looking to pick up key pieces at the deadline. The foundations of the team had been laid through the draft and through careful contract extensions given to proven players.
"As I said back on July 1, when you make a few deals and let some players go, it's kind of how you set your team up for the season, and hopefully we can get a few of these injured players back," Shero said Monday. "Right now we’re in a home-ice position, we’re fighting for home ice, and I’m happy with that."
Given the completeness of the roster, the Penguins would have been reaching in order to make a deal. The few players made available on the trade block weren't going to be cheap gets, as only a handful of teams considered themselves "sellers" and thus willing to deal.
"It’s maybe a combination of the new CBA [collective bargaining agreement] moving forward," Shero said, "if a guy has term on the contract, [teams] aren’t willing to take that on…I think it’s a combination of everything, but most importantly I think it’s the parity and, with the exception of a few teams, teams are within four to five points of a playoff spot with still 20 games to be played."
"Some teams went all the way through [Sunday’s] games to make some decisions on players, whether to trade or to keep them, and it was the usual, 'If I get blown away by an offer, I might consider moving my player.' Well, a lot of these players didn’t move because teams wouldn’t pay that price."
Given the condition of the trade market, the team's current home-ice standing and the availability of cap space next season (the Penguins have $59.5 million committed to 18 players next season, including the activation of Neal's new $5 million cap hit), there wasn't much call for Shero to make a deadline move.
Incomplete would be the wrong way to grade this deadline. With the long-term in mind, the Penguins were correct in holding their hand on a questionable market as a summer of what could be seismic changes to the collective bargaining agreement looms.
"But I said this six weeks ago when we had lost six in a row, that I like our team. You know, I believe in our hockey team and I still do and I’m comfortable with this team moving forward. So that’s where we are."
Unless otherwise attributed, all quotes obtained and used with permission.
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