Should I stay or should I go?
The NHL's imaginary tennis ball is now in the Pittsburgh Penguins' court after the blockbuster move that brought sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey. While adding the Russian was not an option for Ray Shero, the Penguins do have quite a few holes in the lineup that must be filled.
The Devils have already filled theirs, by adding a primary scorer. Has the balance of the Atlantic Division swung even farther in the favor of New Jersey, who have currently won all four meetings between the two teams?
Always the mad scientist, Shero is never completely happy and will take any opportunity to bolster his squad. In each of the past few seasons, he has gone out and addressed major needs at the deadline before a playoff run. From Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque in 2007 (toughness) to the earth-shaking move for Marian Hossa in 2008, Shero has shown to be more than willing to make any type of move.
But to make a trade, you need to give some things up. So who might we see coming and going at the trading deadline?
There is a lot that Mark Eaton can bring to a playoff-caliber team. Except for the fact that one of those teams is not the Penguins.
To be entirely honest, Eaton is 6'2" and plays like he is half of that. The words "physical play" are not in his vocabulary and that is not a good thing for a man who is filling a defensive defenseman role. He is paid $2 million a year but is due to be a free agent in July.
But just because he might be useless to the Penguins doesn't mean he couldn't be treasure elsewhere. He is a veteran with considerable playoff experience. He can contribute offensively but his supreme strength is his ability to block shots.
The only problem is, could Shero find someone to buy?
Potential Customer: A playoff contender that needs a calm veteran presence and the willingness to sacrifice the body.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 40 percent.
Goligoski is one of the most promising young players, not only for the Penguins but in the NHL. So why trade him? He is supposed to be Sergei Gonchar's future replacement.
He's signed until doomsday and then some. Actually, just until 2013. But he is a small puck-moving defenseman that the Penguins quite honestly have one too many of. In order to make a trade, you need to have bargaining chips and Goligoski would essentially be worth his weight in gold.
He doesn't have a big slapshot. He isn't anything special defensively. The Penguins will also score more than enough goals from their forwards alone to not have to rely on the blue line for more production. But like any trade, Goligoski would only be moved if the price is right and Shero is more than confident that he could resign Gonchar in the offseason.
Potential Customer: A Western Conference team that needs to add speed and skill on the blue line, but isn't afraid to give up a valuable asset.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 25 percent.
Chance of a Deadline Move if Mark Eaton is traded: 5 percent.
In the summer of 2009, the Carolina Hurricanes were unable to resign veteran winger Ryan Bayda, who was a nice complimentary player during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Penguins also liked what they saw out of Bayda and gave him an entry level contract after a professional tryout.
But Bayda hasn't played a single game for the Penguins in 2009-10 and has been stuck in Wilkes-Barre. While it's normally "out of sight, out of mind", Bayda has too much playoff experience and skill to remain in the AHL. The Penguins simply have an abundance of checking line players and Bayda is the odd man out.
At a very cheap cost, Bayda is excellent in a third or fourth line role and could certainly help out a team in need of some grit.
Potential Customers: A fifth-through-eighth place team looking for depth or grit.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 75 percent.
The 30-year-old Ukrainian isn't exactly the most challenging puzzle to figure out.
He's a very streaky regular season player with more off-days than good ones. He doesn't play with a major physical edge and he carries the worst plus/minus on the team by quite a few yards.
But when the playoffs come around, he wakes up and realizes his true talent. By this standard, he makes himself a very valuable player to the Penguins but there is a point where Ray Shero needs to draw the line.
Every core player of the Penguins has close to 50 playoff games in the bank now. Shero will have a decision to make. Is it better to trade for a higher-skilled winger or keep the sliding Fedotenko around in hopes that his performance level increases in April?
Potential Customers: Very few.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 35 percent.
Ray Shero doesn't have any problem using draft picks to acquire players. In fact, receiving Bill Guerin for a third-round pick may have been one of his most brilliant moves as a GM.
But there is one fact. Shero does not want to give up his first-round pick unless it is for a truly outstanding player. When he gave one up for Marian Hossa in 2008, it set the Penguins minor league system back quite a bit, as the club has felt its effects in depth since then.
But as for other draft picks, you can bet they are halfway out the door already.
Potential Customers: Any NHL not in playoff contention and possibly even some who are.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 99 percent.
Yes, the same Andy Sutton that was just suspended two games for hammering Pascal Dupuis' face into the glass.
At 34-years-old, Sutton is not the kind of player that will wow anyone at the trading deadline. But he's exactly the man the Penguins need right now.
Sutton plays on the edge of dirty each and every game. At 6'6" and over 240 pounds, he hasn't met a forward yet that he won't demolish. He is also more than willing to sacrifice his body to block shots, an element of hockey that has quickly evolved into a main component in Dan Bylsma's defensive playbook.
The Penguins currently have nobody, except perhaps Brooks Orpik, that will strike any fear into opposing players. Sutton is the kind of defender that you don't know what he'll do next, and that unpredictability always makes a forward think an extra second before going into his corner.
Ray Shero has done business with the Islanders before and that mutual understanding makes it more possible.
Why He is Needed: The Penguins lack an imposing physical defender that can be used in situations against top-line forwards.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 70 percent.
If Colby Armstrong had a last wish, it would be to play with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins once again.
He was a fan favorite during his time in Pittsburgh and if it was even possible, he loved the team and the fans even more. He plays with passion, intensity, and belongs in Pittsburgh.
But it is not his decision, and now that the Atlanta Thrashers have let Kovalchuk go, resigning Armstrong would be even more a priority. However, as we just saw with Kovalchuk, if a player doesn't want to stay, no money in the league can make him stick around.
If Ray Shero wants a new winger, forget about Ray Whitney. There would be no better trade deadline acquisition than Amstrong. It would be very interesting to see how his game translates to Dan Bylsma's uptempo offense as compared to the defensive-minded trap Michel Therrien used.
While his consistency is no predictable thing, his heart would outweigh any negatives, as nothing would make him happier than to return to play with his best friends.
Why He is Needed: He can play any role for the Penguins from top line to checking line. The ability to score 20+ goals is nice too.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 55 percent.
Immense size, a power play cannon, and a right-handed shot. Three things the Penguins need and three things that Foster does well.
The former second-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames has blossomed in Tampa Bay this year, picking up seven goals while skating only a dash over 15 minutes a game. Fifteen of his 26 points come off the power play and while his defensive skills aren't perfect, he would be the perfect compliment to play with Jay McKee.
But maybe the most impressive part of the towering 28-year-olds game isn't the fact that he can score on the power play. He is more than willing to crank shots from the right where others have been hesitant. The fact that he only makes $500,000 a year on a contract set to expire in July is very nice for the Penguins as well.
Why He is Needed: Size, skill, shot. Not much more to say.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 40 percent.
Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs may be the toughest team in the league to figure out. Are they buyers or sellers? Sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference however, has led Burke to make quite a few moves.
Would they be willing to make more?
Ponikarovsky would be a more than perfect fit with the Penguins. He is a skilled goal scorer with a lot of size and would be an ideal match on a line with Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has excelled with Jordan Staal, a player that is also very good down low and with the puck.
He would also fill a major need on the Penguins power play. For a very long time, Dan Bylsma has lacked a guy who is willing to play in front of the cage and score garbage goals. Currently, Matt Cooke has been used in the role but let's be honest, he's no Alexei Ponikarovsky.
But there are a few negatives around him as well. The Ukrainian isn't exactly a great two-way player, he's not cheap, he can be very streaky and has next to no playoff experience.
One would have to say however, that his positives outweigh the negatives.
Since Shero and Burke have done business in the past, maybe a deal could be agreed upon here as well?
Why He is Needed: A big forward with good hands in front of the net. Also brings a physical edge.
Chance of a Deadline Move: 50 percent.