With an injury list long enough to include multiple chapters, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been put into an unfamiliar position. Heading into the postseason, the Penguins are not favored by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
With a star-studded roster, the Penguins were almost ensured to be a season-to-season favorite at capturing the most coveted trophy in all of sports.
Now, with a depleted roster resembling an American Hockey League (AHL) team rather than a National Hockey League (NHL) team, questions are being asked that haven't been asked in years. Will they even make the playoffs? Are they going to be active at the trade deadline? Will Sidney Crosby play again this season?
Currently the injured reserved list is cluttered, with F Sidney Crosby, concussion (IR), F Evgeni Malkin, torn ACL and torn MCL (will miss remainder of season), F Chris Kunitz, lower body (IR), F Mark Letestu, lower body (IR), F Arron Asham, upper body (IR), F Dustin Jeffrey, lower body (IR), F Eric Tangradi, concussion-like symptoms (indefinitely) and F Mike Comrie, hip (IR) all out.
For the first time in a long time, the Penguins are underdogs. Having been able to tread water and sustain their high standing the Eastern Conference so far, the Penguins are reaching their limit both mentally and physically.
Mentally, facing an uphill battle night after night with so many impact players out of the lineup is draining and can take even the most dedicated player off his game. Physically, with players that generally log heavy minutes being on the shelf, multiple players are facing increased minutes and roles.
If Crosby is out for the season, how far will the Penguins go?
The organization has almost reached the bottom of the barrel in AHL call-ups, needing only a few more misfortunes to befall them before having to reach into their East Coast Hockey League club, the Wheeling Nailers, for help. Certainly the situation is dire, times are desperate. But what to do?
With the trade deadline fast approaching on February 28th, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero has a full plate that no one envies. Speculation has run rampant and rumors have swirled as to what the Penguins should do and will do.
Before deciding what to do at the deadline, Shero needs to be confident in Crosby's status. If he is going to return in time for a playoff run, the trade deadline will be a busy day for Shero. If Crosby will remain on the shelf for the remainder of the season, Pittsburgh will do its best to finish out the season as is and most likely still reach the playoffs, but will ultimately not be in serious contention for the Stanley Cup.
The hard question to answer is what is Crosby's status? With concussions being notoriously fickle, it's tough to set a timetable for his return. If he does indeed plan to return, the Penguins have the cap space (close to $9 million) to bring in some much-needed help at the deadline. Despite the cap space available, they will not have many options with a less-than-desirable trade market this year.
Ironically, one positive thing for the Penguins to take away from a season filled with so many negatives, is that they are in that unfamiliar position. For the past few seasons, the Penguins have been targeted by many teams as the team to beat in the playoffs.
Now with the injuries and the expectations of fans lowered, the Penguins can fly under the radar heading into the playoffs and possibly surprise a team or two, or three. So as the season comes to a close, the Penguins must make some important decisions and cling to the few positives they can if they plan on chasing their fourth Stanley Cup.