With the quarterfinals of Olympic hockey being played today, the gold medal game is soon to follow. With the trade deadline looming, Ray Shero will be expected to "catch lightning in a bottle" again as he has the previous two years. The first of these impact trades being the acquisition of Marian Hossa from Atlanta two years ago, then the acquisition of Bill Guerin for a third round pick last year.
Will Shero pull of a blockbuster Hossa-esque trade or a minor but drastically important move like the Guerin acquisition? Only time will tell.
Now, I know that I'm going to take a lot of flak for using Jordan Staal as my best trade bait, but it had to be done.
The 6'4", 220 lbs power forward/penalty killing guru is a good, young player. This is the reason he could be on the block; he would garner the most attention and more attractive offers. Staal is signed through thee 2012-2013 season at an annual $4 million a season.
While Staal's defensive game has flourished, his offensive game has not. Staal, a three year pro, has yet to break the 50 point mark in a season! I understand that offense isn't everything, Evgeni Malkn and Sidney Crosby have been carrying the offense, but even they need help.
For a player his size, he plays very small. Watching games, one very rarely sees Staal lay a decent check. Fellow linemates Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy typically handle that aspect of the third line.
While on the PP, there is always a big forward who is there to screen the goalie. The Pens have been known to employ this tactic with the likes of Bill Guerin, Mike Rupp, and Matt Cooke.
One would think that a big body like Staal would be a perfect fit, yet he is never placed in that position. This is where the true power forwards make their money, living in front of and around the net.
Teams that need help in any aspect of the game would be interested in Staal. He is probably a favorite for the Selke award this season for his supurb PK ability. I believe Staal will eventually be an offensive force as well, but only when placed in the right system as mentioned above.
After forwards Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, I'd say that every forward is attainable for the right package. Watching much of the season, I believe that there are three to four forwards who could either a.) net some decent return or b.)have fallen completely this year and need to go.
The lackluster performance of Ruslan Fedotenko has placed him in the latter of the two. Fed has 22 points (8 G, 14 A) this season and a paltry - 16, worst on the team. Unfortunately for a fan favorite, his time with the Pens should come to an end. He will be a unrestricted free agent at the end of the season if he is not released.
Fed could help out a young team who will need some veteran leadership as well as playoff experience. As I have heard so many times, "he turns it on in the playoffs". I hope he does, but I doubt it will be in a Pens uniform.
Pascal Dupuis and "Mad" Max Talbot are also expendable. Dupuis is another good role player that has shined at certain times and been invisible at others. Usually a linemate of Malkin, Dupuis has put up sub par numbers for a top six forward (13 G, 12 A in 61 games). More suited for third line duty, Dupuis' grit and toughness somewhat make up for a lack of offense. Dupuis is signed through 2011 at $1.4 million annually.
Max Talbot, the star of game seven in the Stanley Cup finals, has reached his end with the Pens. A fan favorite for his likeable personality and blue collar attitude, Talbot has never starred offensively.
Never scoring more than 26 points (2007 season) and being hampered by injuries all season, Talbot could find himself in another uniform sooner rather than later. Talbot is signed through 2011 at $1.050 million annually.
Now to the part of the team that needs to be changed, the blue line corps. The Pens have entirely too many non-physical, puck moving defensemen. For this reason, I believe that Sergei Gonchar and Mark Eaton either are being shopped or will be traded by the March 3 deadline.
Gonch, an assistant captain and quarterback of the power play, is getting long in the tooth and seems to have lost a step skating wise; however, his shot has not diminished. This aspect of his game is still a viable threat for a PP unit. For this reason, Gonch is marketable. In 46 games, he has 8 G and 29 A as well as 3 PP goals.
Gonch is no longer a good defenseman, and everytime I see him skate out for a PK I have to laugh. He can score, and a lot of teams in the league need PP help. With Gonch's contract off the books ($5 million for this year), the Pens could either go after a Hossa-esque trade or use the money to resign Kristopher Letang at the end of the year.
This leads me to the last player I feel could be wearing a new sweater after March 3, Mark Eaton. Eaton is the poster child for my too many non-physical defensemen. How many times can you look at another team in the Pens end with a guy standing right in front of the Fleury? It's infuriating, especially when Eaton is right behind the player barely pushing him.
Proponets for Eaton are quick to point out that he blocks a lot of shots. This excuse means he was where he was supposed to be. Does he have a lot of intestinal fortitude for getting in front of a shot? Yes, he does. Does it make him a good player? No, not on that alone.
Eaton could offer a young playoff team an experienced blue liner with playoff experience... oh, and shot blocking.
I'm going back to a different age in hockey where forwards were afraid to come screaming down the boards for fear that Darius Kasparitis would check them. The Pens need a player like that now.
My first choice would be Chicago and Team Canada defenseman Brent Seabrook. This is a dream and will never happen, but that's what I want: a big, physical, and young defenseman. Too many times big forwards setup a tent in front of Marc-Andre Fleury because no one, besides Brooks Orpik, will body them up.
With the pieces that I have outlined in this article, the Pens could get a decent physical defenseman.
Another stereotype for this type of defenseman is Barrett Jackman of the St. Louis Blues.
Jackman is the type of intimidating force that the Pens need to stop these powerhouse offenses, such as Washington, in the playoffs. The former Calder Trophy recipient is signed through 2011 at $3.625 million annually. For a team in need of offensive help, as the Blues are, maybe a trade Gonchar for Jackman? I'd like to see it done.
For the top six forward(s) problem, I have thought long and hard, as well as watched a lot of Olympic hockey. Most of these blogs have thrown out names like Ray Whitney and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Both of these are interesting players, but I have another option: KHL.
I have to give credit; my inspiration for this ephiphany was watching the Olympics. Follow me on this, it gets a little confusing. An NHL team can loan players to the KHL for monetary compensation, so why not the other way around?
There are several former NHL first round picks, as well as top six forwards playing over in Russia. The official IIHL rules on international transfer can be found here (http://www.del.org/fileadmin/content/downloads/IIHF/IIHF_International_Transfer_Regulations_-_June_2009.pdf).
I want to focus on two players in particular who can help the Pens as top six forwards: Alexander Radulov and Nikolai Zherdev.
Radulov, a former player for the Nashville Predators, has a total of 95 points (44 G, 51 A) in two NHL seasons and 105 points (44 G, 61 A) in two seasons in the KHL. He has one more year with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Radulov could be placed on the second line with Malkin as they already have chemistry, both playing for Team Russia. His ten PP goals in the KHL prove that the Russian sniper lives up to his calling.
Nikolai Zherdev should bring back memories of last season when the 26 year old Russian was a NY Ranger. That season, Zherdev was co-points leader on the team. He has 239 points (99 G, 140 A) in 365 NHL games and 36 points (13 G, 23 A) in 49 KHL games.
His NHL stats speak for themselves. The fact that he makes the best of bad situations, being with the Rangers last season and the Blue Jackets before that, speak to his caliber of play. Imagine what he could do with a setup man like Crosby; Crosby would finally have his legitimate scorer.
Either of these players could be acquired for monetary compensation. Zherdev would probably be easier to attain as Radulov is the leading scorer on the best team. I know that this is an odd way to find talent, but, if the Pens wish to repeat, some extraordinary measures might put them back on top of the NHL world.