On Sunday, Dave Molinari published an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concerning Max Talbot's purpose on the Pittsburgh Penguins, which generated questions surrounding his future with the team.
Would GM Ray Shero keep him or deal him by the trade deadline? If he stayed, would Shero extend his contract or let him walk away in free agency?
With the trade deadline just 27 days away, Shero must start weighing his options while making—or foregoing—the difficult decision to cut ties with some players on the team. Thus far, the ever-popular Talbot is near the top of the list.
So we have to ask the big question: Are Talbot's games sporting the black and gold numbered?
Possibly, but I'm leaning toward no as of now.
As Molinari stated in his article, Talbot has etched his mark in Penguins history after his two-goal effort in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals carried the Pens to their third Stanley Cup. It was his finest moment in a Pens uniform and will probably be the finest moment of his NHL career.
But that's in the past.
On the other hand, Molinari pointed out his lack of production. Talbot "doesn't have a point in 15 games or a goal in 24," he states. For someone making just over a million dollars a season, Talbot's five goals and 11 points on the season could be deemed problematic.
Right winger Pascal Dupuis, who is making just $350,000 more than Talbot, has had a tremendous season with 10 goals and 21 points. We should keep in mind Dupuis is often lined with Sidney Crosby, while Talbot is lined with grinders Craig Adams, Mike Rupp and sometimes enforcer Eric Godard.
But the point is Talbot's primary job isn't to create offense on the team, like Molinari said. In the end, I feel that would be Shero's biggest reason to keep him on the team.
Talbot has had quite the journey with the Penguins. Drafted in 2002, Talbot saw Pittsburgh go through the dark times at the beginning of the millennium and didn't even break into the NHL until 2005. Since then he has embraced his job on the team as a role player.
That role player position became a major headline when the Pens sauntered through the 2009 playoffs. Talbot was a huge surprise not only with his eight goals but the times he stepped up for the team, including the fight with the Philadelphia Flyers' Daniel Carcillo in Game 6 of the quarterfinal round that charged the Pens to score five unanswered goals and close the series with a 5-3 win.
It wasn't even an argument that Talbot was a big-game player.
But things changed when he had shoulder surgery following the Cup win. The following season, Talbot had a measly seven points in 45 games.
Talbot changed for the better in the offseason, and while he isn't playing up to his 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs level, he hasn't been useless either.
Molinari mentions how he's been an integral part of the Pens' league-leading penalty kill, especially when top penalty killer Jordan Staal was out with foot and hand injuries. On top of that, Talbot has been a solid fourth liner and has been successful implementing Dan Bylsma's infamous dump-and-chase system.
I disagree with Molinari that Talbot has been largely forgettable. While he hasn't had the "spark" lately which is a symptom of his recent slump, he hasn't forgotten his job, which is to create space and bruises through a physically tough line. Talbot has been smart on both sides of the puck and all three zones of the rink.
The reason why Talbot seems unforgettable is because he's doing his job and not making mistakes. He claimed only eight giveaways and boasts 14 takeaways, one less than Crosby.
Sometimes, not being noticeable is a good thing.
Let's also not forget Talbot's presence and contributions in the locker room. His popularity among the players isn't some sort of fluke.
Because Talbot has the reputation for being a big game player, there will be some teams interested in him, but I don't know how much the Pens will gain from trading Talbot. Maybe a low draft pick or prospect if Shero decides to ship Talbot alone.
If Shero decides to package a few players together, however, then it's an entirely different story.
The Pens depend heavily on role players, a fact that many see as a crutch for the team because it means there isn't as much talent on the wings. This is obviously related to salary cap issues, but players like Talbot have made it count when needed, which is why the Pens have seen success without top wingers.
Talbot certainly has it in him to pull another 2009 Cup run, so I think Shero should delay moving Talbot and see if he steps up his game with the playoffs quickly approaching.
Let Talbot show his big game attitude and play before making any decisions. Should he improve, then there is no doubt the Pens should keep him.
At the end of the season, there will only be six of 15 forwards returning with contracts, so this post-All-Star Game period is crucial for the players looking to re-sign with the team.
Shero has never kept a player longer than he is needed, and there is plenty of cheap talent in Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi, two players worthy of NHL spots next season.
Now is the time for the current Penguins to show just how much they mean to the team. For Talbot, putting up the points is certainly necessary, but if he keeps his game simple as a defensive-forward and continues his stellar play on the penalty kill, a reward could be in order.
But as of now, he hasn't earned it yet.
It would behoove Shero to not trade yet and see what happens when Crosby returns from his concussion, which looks to be soon. Let the players heading into summer's free agency duke it out and see who really wants to stay.
Talbot has vocalized his desire to stay, so I don't see why his play would demonstrate anything but as the playoffs inch closer.
Either way, Shero's final decision on Talbot won't be an easy one.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.