“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”
Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero finds himself and his team in a position few would imagined at Thanksgiving.
When sitting around the turkey at the end of November, the Michel Therien-coached Penguins were 13-5-3, and seemed to have picked up where they left off the previous spring.
Sure, there were a few flaws, but any Pens fan would have figured that the trade deadline could fill any gaps and get Pittsburgh all the firepower they needed to make another deep playoff run.
Three painful months later, the Penguins find themselves in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The minor flaws of Thanksgiving have become Presidents’ Day deficiencies. Today, the Dan Bylsma-coached Penguins have a record of 29-25-6, and cannot piece together a consistent week of hockey that approaches last May’s standards.
Several weaknesses have surfaced throughout the winter. The inability to win key, late-game faceoffs, the inability to keep the puck in the offensive zone on the powerplay, and the lack of a physical presence in front of each net have hindered a once promising season.
And perhaps the biggest absence, and most frustrating line-up problem—no first-rate wingers to play with the game's best playmaker, Sidney Crosby.
It would be very tempting for Shero to try to fix these problems at the deadline. After all, he gave Crosby perhaps the best finishing winger in the game 12 months ago with the blockbuster Marian Hossa deal.
A physical winger who can put the puck in the net, win possession battles in the corners, and solidify a struggling power play would probably be enough to get Pittsburgh back in the postseason, and make them a very scary matchup for a Bruins, Capitals, or Devils team.
It’s not as if Shero doesn’t have tradeable assets. Defenseman Ryan Whitney is considered one of the best young puck-moving blueliners and is signed through 2012-2013.
However, Whitney is coming off a major foot injury, and his -15 rating ranks him just under the approval ratings of your average Wall Street investment bank CEO. There probably are teams that would be in the market for a player with this much potential upside, but too few to start any kind of bidding war.
Similarly, 20-year-old center Jordan Staal is signed at $4 million per year through 2012-2013. Staal is still figuring out how to use his 6’4” 220 pound frame effectively, but shows flashes of how good he can be.
Staal is effective on the defensive end, a more than adequate penalty killer, and takes many crucial defensive zone faceoffs. His lack of scoring this year has been a source of frustration, but is a player far from his peak and is locked up for four seasons at a reasonable price.
The problem with dealing Whitney or Staal is that neither is likely to fetch a scoring winger who will be around longer than next season. As tempting as a short-term fix may seem, a healthier move would be to ride out the season with the roster intact, rather than mortgage the future for a low seed in this year’s postseason with a probable first or second round exit.
Maybe some draft picks can be dealt for a third line winger (who might well be paired with Crosby on Pittsburgh’s first line), but even those are probably valuable to a team with limited minor league depth.
In fairness, it is probably too much to expect an organization with so many NHL players under the age of 24 to also have a loaded feeder system at this point.
So unlike last year when Shero proved himself to be a great dealmaker bringing in Hossa at the deadline, he would be better served to overcome difficulty and be an “intellectual” this year—by doing nothing.