The Best and Worst Trades During Ray Shero's Tenure with Pittsburgh Penguins
With the Olympic hockey tournament in full swing and the resumption of the NHL schedule still two weeks off, it's time to take a look ahead at the next big event on the NHL calendar: the annual trade frenzy.
While serving as Team USA's assistant general manager, Ray Shero's top concern at the moment is how his team is doing in Sochi. But fans can rest assured that he and the rest of the Pens management and scouting staff are planning for what will be a feverish week between the end of the Olympics and the March 5 trade deadline.
Although this year's deadline probably won't be as busy as it has been for the Pens in recent seasons, let's look at the best and worst trades of the Ray Shero era.
Worst: The "Poni" Show Wasn't Worth the Price
One season removed from winning both the Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies as the NHL's regular season scoring leader and postseason MVP, Evgeni Malkin was struggling.
Having dropped from 1.37 points per game in the 2008-09 season to .87 points per game in the 2009-10 season, Malkin needed a spark, and Ray Shero concluded that Alexei Ponikarovsky was just the player who could provide it.
Acquired by the Pens from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2010 NHL trade deadline in exchange for Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula, "Poni" arrived in Pittsburgh having averaged 20 goals per season during his five seasons in Toronto.
Unfortunately, his goal-scoring ability apparently never cleared customs and, despite playing alongside the NHL's reigning assist leader Evgeni Malkin, he struggled to find the back of the net and amassed just three goals in 27 regular and postseason games before leaving town that summer.
Best: The Penguins Bring a Duck to the Igloo
Having lost both the Stanley Cup and Marian Hossa to the Detroit Red Wings during the summer of 2008, the Penguins needed to fill a hole up front if they were to reach the playoffs and make another postseason run in 2009.
With a blue line loaded with offensive defensemen such as Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, Ray Shero elected to deal another one, Ryan Whitney, to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forwards Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi and turned a question mark into an exclamation point.
Kunitz made an immediate impact with five points in his first three games with the Pens, and his willingness to forecheck and go to the net made him an ideal linemate for Sidney Crosby, who tallied 24 points in 17 games after Kunitz arrived.
While Ryan Whitney has seen his production and ice time diminish ever since the trade in 2009, Kunitz seems to have improved during his time in Pittsburgh, and he has already exceeded his career high in goals (27) with a third of the schedule remaining.
Worst: One Morrow Goes for Another
Since he became the Penguins general manager in 2006, Ray Shero has a habit of both drafting highly skilled defensemen and trading those types of players and draft picks to fill needs.
That's why it should have come as no surprise that Shero was willing to part with the Pens' 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow and a fifth-round pick at last year's trade deadline.
The surprising part is that he didn't get more than a 34-year-old Brenden Morrow and a third-round pick in return.
While Morrow's addition did give the Pens some of the grit and scoring depth that they needed (14 points in 15 regular season games with the Pens), both his effectiveness and ice time diminished as the postseason wore on, until he was eventually relegated to the fourth line in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With the Pens left with very little cap space, Brenden Morrow signed with the St. Louis Blues, while Joe Morrow, in a cruel irony, was traded to the Boston Bruins—the same team that ended the Pens' postseason run and Brenden Morrow's stay in Pittsburgh.
Best: Penguins Get Two Stars from the Stars
While some trades have a positive impact on a team right away, the positive impact of other trades takes time to appear.
In the case of the trade of Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen in 2011, the latter was certainly the case.
With both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out indefinitely and after watching the Pens lose eight of 14 games in February, Shero decide that something had to be done and traded defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen.
While Shero had hoped that they would have an immediate impact, that wasn't the case.
Neal and Niskanen combined for just two goals and eight assists in 38 regular season games and one goal and two assists in the Pens' first round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and many considered the trade a mistake.
Since then, however, Neal has blossomed into a perennial 40-goal scorer and Niskanen has become a solid two-way defenseman and has, at times, been the Pens' best defenseman this season.
Worst: Garon Gives Little in Return
As the old adage goes, "you have to be willing to give something in order to get something in return."
When it comes to trades, general managers just hope that they aren't giving too much for too little in return.
Unfortunately, that seems to have been the case when Ray Shero acquired Mathieu Garon from the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline during the 2008-09 season.
Having lost the Oilers' starting goaltender job to Dwayne Roloson, Garon was facing free agency and, with a 6-8 record, a 3.17 goal-against average and a .895 save percentage, was looking for a fresh start.
Although the Pens' current backup goaltender, Dany Sabourin, had a better goals-against average (2.87) and a better save percentage (.898) than Garon, Shero wanted a backup with more experience and sent Sabourin, forward Ryan Stone and a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft to the Oilers to get him.
In the end, Garon only played in five regular and postseason games combined with the Pens and signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets after the season.
Best: Marian Hossa Trade Puts the NHL on Notice
In the salary-cap era of the NHL, the key to being a successful general manager is knowing when to be patient and when to be aggressive.
In the spring of 2008, Ray Shero decided that he had been patient long enough and stunned the hockey world by acquiring the top player available in Marian Hossa.
Acquired along with Pascal Dupuis in exchange for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and the Pens' first-round pick in the 2008 draft, Hossa elevated the Pens from playoff hopefuls to championship contenders and led the team in goals during a magical playoff run that came up just short in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Although Hossa elected to leave Pittsburgh and sign with the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, the lasting impact of the trade that brought him to Pittsburgh helped to shape an inexperienced team in 2008 into a Stanley Cup champion in 2009.