With the news of Jarome Iginla’s trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins coming down early Thursday morning, the ramifications of his arrival have been the hot topic of the day. The move puts the Pens as the current odds-on favorite to lift hockey’s Holy Grail this summer.
With Iginla now on board, the questions regarding his destination have now been replaced by which line he will join in the Penguin’s stacked attack and ultimately how the Penguins will fit their pieces together.
The temptation to give Iginla a run by Crosby’s side will be tough to ignore. They had a successful partnership during the 2010 Olympics, and it is an enticing prospect to place the two together. An Iginla insertion into the first line would potentially push Pascal Dupuis down to the third line or Chris Kunitz to the second line, but is that what is best for the Pens?
Crosby's partnership with Kunitz and Dupuis has yielded 49 goals through 34 games (NHL.com). Breaking up that kind of output is a difficult thing to fathom. If Iginla is placed on Crosby’s right, Dupuis would have no problem slotting into the third line and finding success. He uses his speed well—especially in the forecheck.
A Kunitz move to the second line would reunite him with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. The familiarity of those three would make that move an easy transition if needed.
Another option for Iginla is placing him on the second line with Malkin and Neal. Neal currently plays on the right in Iginla’s spot. Iginla is versatile enough that he could move to the left and still find tremendous success, but a better option might be to move Neal to the left. Neal has played on the left side before and his transition to the other side of the ice would probably be easier.
Either way, Pittsburgh would have a second line that is unmatched in the game. Opponents would have trouble matching up with what would amount to two No. 1 lines. The effect of this line could see Crosby’s threesome having less matchups against the opposition's top pair.
As if those two were not enough, the third line would also be the envy of the league. Former Stars captain Brenden Morrow would anchor the left side with underrated Brandon Sutter at center and either Tyler Kennedy or Matt Cooke taking the right.
The third line would bring some useful versatility, as it would be a viable scoring line that can also check well. It is the type of line that could match up with some other top lines and give them fits.
These are just some of my thoughts on how the Penguins might look across the first three lines once Iginla and Morrow are fully integrated. The Iginla acquisition gives Bylsma plenty of options. The versatility of players like Neal, Cooke and Dupuis makes any lineup shuffling easier.
Whether Iginla ends up with Crosby or Malkin, there is no question he will be skating with a better center than he has ever partnered with in his NHL career. The effect their presence will have on Iginla’s opportunities—and vice versa—will be exciting to watch.
In the end, all that matters is lifting Lord Stanley, and the Penguins have put themselves in pole position for the start of that race.