Why Jarome Iginla Trade Isn't a Slam Dunk for Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins made another impressive trade on Thursday morning by acquiring Jarome Iginla (per the Penguins' official Twitter account) from the Calgary Flames to give their roster more scoring depth and grit for a Stanley Cup run.
But this deal failed to address the team's biggest needs.
BREAKING NEWS: #Pens acquired Jarome Iginla from Calgary for Ben Hanowski, Kenny Agostino and 2013 first-round pick— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 28, 2013
Acquiring a player of Iginla's caliber is a fantastic move for the Penguins because of what the 35-year-old veteran brings to the ice, but there were stronger areas of concern on this team than goal scoring, forward depth, grit and leadership.
Shero has to add a top-four, two-way defenseman who can contribute offensively if Kris Letang's injury woes continue. Trading for veteran defenseman Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks was a good move, but he won't add much scoring to the blue line and he isn't going to dominate against opposing teams' best forwards.
The Penguins' penalty kill ranks 21st in the NHL and their blue line doesn't have an elite defensive defenseman to shut down top offensive teams. Not since the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2005-06 season has a team won the Stanley Cup without a true No. 1 defenseman.
From an offensive standpoint, what if Malkin's injury does not improve and he is either unable to play in the postseason or not at 100 percent health?
Malkin's injury history should worry Shero, which is why it's a bit surprising that his first two forward acquisitions before the trade deadline were both wingers when his center depth without Malkin is suspect. The last thing the Penguins needed at the deadline was more wingers.
Brandon Sutter is a good young pivot, but he's not an elite playmaker that can maximize the scoring production of top wingers such as James Neal and Iginla (if he's forced to play on the second line).
Neal's offensive production when Malkin is out of the lineup is not impressive. Malkin has assisted on nine of Neal's 18 goals this season, and in his recent nine-game absence from the lineup due to injury, Neal has scored just one goal.
Another concern is the Penguins' ability to play four lines. Does this team have strong enough third and fourth lines? Relying too much on the top six to produce offensively is not a winning strategy in the playoffs and this was proven by the last two Stanley Cup champions (Bruins 2011, Kings 2012).
If Shero wants to acquire a top-four defenseman or another center, he only has a little over $4 million in salary-cap space to work with, per CapGeek, and he's already given up a few good prospects in previous trades since last weekend—his 2013 first-round pick and two second-round picks.
How much more of his team's future will he want to give up?
Prior to the Brenden Morrow and Iginla trades, the Penguins were ranked first in goals scored and second in power-play percentage, which is where they currently rank in those categories as of March 28.
The acquisition of Morrow added any grit, toughness and leadership that the Penguins might have lacked and the decline in his offensive abilities wasn't a concern because Pittsburgh already has tremendous scoring depth.
The additions of Morrow and Iginla have also made Pittsburgh a much slower team, and anyone who watches the Penguins on a regular basis knows they are most dangerous when their speed and quickness cause problems for the opposing team. They are a highly skilled offensive team that uses its speed to create scoring chances, but playing this style of hockey will be harder with two aging wingers in Morrow and Iginla getting a lot of ice time.
Another challenge for the Penguins will be to integrate their new players into the lineup and develop chemistry. Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero talked about this during his press conference on Thursday to discuss the Iginla trade:
They have a month to work things out as far as where things go and what the fit might be. They may play with different players here and there and find that fit with what the roles are and who’s comfortable with whom. We have some time to sort through that and find those roles.
Morrow and Iginla are used to being star players in the spotlight, and since both will have to accept lesser roles and a smaller leadership responsibility in Pittsburgh, it's going to take time to make this adjustment. It's not always easy to become a player just filling a role when you have been a star player for most of your career.
Developing chemistry on a team full of stars is difficult to do over an entire year, and it's even harder to accomplish when there's only one month left of the regular season to work things out and find the right line combinations.
However, the Penguins' primary concern going into the playoffs will be goaltending. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is very good player, but his performances in the playoffs—even during the team's championship run in 2008-09—have been mostly mediocre at best.
Take a look at his career playoff stats:
As a result of the Iginla trade, the pressure on Fleury to perform at a high level in the playoffs increased five-fold.
If he struggles in the playoffs, the Penguins have no chance to win the Stanley Cup because good defensive teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings all have players who score important goals, and as a team, they are much better defensively than Pittsburgh.
The Bruins and Kings have goaltenders who are talented enough to win a playoff series by themselves and could bail out their teams if they struggle offensively. Pittsburgh doesn't have this luxury.
Did the Iginla trade make the Pengunis significantly better than their competition?
We know that the Penguins are going to be really good in the playoffs, but there's a lot of teams who have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup this season.
For example, the Chicago Blackhawks have the league's best record at 25-4-3 and set an NHL record by starting the season with 24 games without a regulation loss. They have the most complete team in the NHL, with a deep group of forwards, a blue line that includes two No. 1 defensemen (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) and the most impressive goaltending duo in the league this season.
When you also consider that the Blackhawks have a roster full of guys that have Stanley Cup rings and lots of playoff experience, it's easy to understand why they will be a tough matchup for the Penguins if the two teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final.
Even though they are 0-2 against the Penguins this season, the Boston Bruins are still a bad playoff matchup for Pittsburgh. Boston is more physical and has a stronger group of defensemen. The Bruins are a team built for the physicality of the playoffs, and over the course of a seven-game series, you would have to give a healthy Boston team the advantage.
This Penguins team will be under more pressure to win the Stanley Cup than any NHL team in a long time.
Not only do they need to take advantage of their current roster before a lot of changes are made in the summer due to salary-cap reasons, they will also carry the burden of helping Iginla win his first championship.
Who would win in a seven-game playoff series?
The Iginla trade has strengthened the Penguins, but it has not significantly increased their chances of winning the Stanley Cup because the team's two biggest concerns for the playoffs—the depth/talent on the blue line and goaltending—have not been improved yet.
There is no elite two-way defenseman on this roster and neither Fleury nor Tomas Vokoun are likely to play well consistently in the postseason.
Acquiring Iginla isn't a slam-dunk deal for the Penguins; it just makes their previous strengths (goal scoring, top-six talent, forward depth) more impressive. If Shero wants to separate his team from the rest of the league, he needs to acquire another quality defenseman.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.
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