Who can the Penguins get to play on Crosbys' line?
It's becoming another staple in Pittsburgh sports questions: "Are the Pens ever going to get a winger to play with Crosby", that joins the ranks of "What's going on with the Steelers O-line?" and "is this the year the Pirates break .500?"
Sadly enough, that's the main discussion these days in Pittsburgh when Pirates spring training commences. I've been burned by that last one and frankly don't care anymore.
But I digress. Ray Shero has decisions to make. With the Pens' playoff chances on life support, the decision better come quickly.
Aside from the glorious three months that Hossa gave the Pens last spring, Ryan Malone's breakout (contract) year and Palffy's brief stint before retiring, the wingers that have been slotted next to Crosby have been less than...well they have flat out stunk.
Colby Armstrong gave us hope in Crosby's first year only to follow that up by proving he's a third-liner on a solid team. Then the revolving door began. Mark Recchi (some Pens fans loved this forgetting that it wasn't 1991 again.), John Leclair (with a lot of miles, whose Pens' highlight was dislocating Malkin's shoulder), Erik Christensen, Andy Hilbert, Pascal Dupuis, Nils Ekman, Michel Ouellet, and the list goes on.
The answer this year was thought to be Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko. Satan, who's lack of willingness to battle for the puck and showing up for every 10th game, has worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh and might go down as one of the worst free agent signings in Pittsburgh SPORTS history.
Fedotenko, in all fairness, had been coming on strong before breaking his hand on Crosby's BFF Colby Armstong's face in a one-punch fight.
The real answer may lie to the North in the 6'6", 230 pound winger/center Nik Antropov. With 20 goals and 24 assists on the season, Antropov would be third on the Pens scoring list (Malkin 27-60-87, Crosby 23-56-79) and fourth in goals behind Malkin, Crosby and the ageless Petr Sykora.
Yes, he has five goals and 11 pts more than Satan but this is where it gets interesting. Nik has done it with Toronto, who if the Pens hadn't laid down for three times this season would be last in their division. For the record, the Leafs' leading scorer is Jason Blake, the feisty Pens killer who has three more points than Antropov to this season.
It's likely he'll thrive without having to be a franchise player in a bloodthirsty Hockeytown.
To make the case even better is two golden nuggets. He has fallen out of favor with Leafs general manager Brian Burke and he loves to go to the front of the net.
Now I realize that if you're an avid Pens fan you would think that a player going to the front of the net is banned in the NHL, but this guy takes his huge frame and parks it in there.
Imagine the possibilities! The room created on the power play for Crosby to play the boards and for Malkin and Gonchar to shoot with this hulking screen for them who has a tenacity for rebounds. Crosby would be able to wheel'n'deal, while a big man takes defensemen to the net with him.
The only question remains is the asking price.
Ah, yes. If only this was soccer where we could get him on loan. The huge payout for Hossa may hinder Shero's chances and/or willingness to deal. I'd love to see Satan head to Toronto for Antropov. Heck I'll even give him a ride to the Airport, but this is going to take at least a draft pick (second-third range) and a prospect.
In my opinion, make the deal. Acquire the 29 year old Russian winger and start selling or resigning him (current salary 2,050,000) by pushing the chance to play with his fellow Russians (Malkin, Gonchar and Fedotenko) and Crosby for the next few years while he's still in his prime.
When that is complete, all we need is for the Pens to shoot the puck to take advantage of him.