How the Penguins Can Solve Shortcomings with Quiet Yet Effective Moves

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IFebruary 4, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 17:  Chris Kunitz #14 and Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 17, 2009 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Flyers 3-2 after a shootout.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As Benjamin Franklin once told us, there are only two certain things in life - death and taxes.

In Pittsburgh, a third can be added to that list, with that being a bold trade deadline move by Penguins' General Manager Ray Shero.

He is a mad scientist, looking for any opportunity to strengthen his roster and add depth to the franchise. Never fear, trade rumors have already begun to swirl around the Penguins about who GMRS may add next.

Some fans believe the Penguins need to add a scoring winger to play with Sidney Crosby. Some others believe that more size and strength is needed on the defensive end. Whatever the stance may be, the Penguins will be much more limited in who they can pursue this winter, due to those infernal salary cap restrictions.

But to be completely honest, the defending Stanley Cup champions don't need to make anything more than a few quiet, yet effective trading deadline moves.

For starters, the Penguins remain one of the ideal destinations for the Hurricanes' "Wizard" Ray Whitney. The 37-year-old left winger would theoretically replace Chris Kunitz on the top line while also giving a boost to the mostly ineffective power play. But why?

With 37 goals, 71 points and over 200 shots on net, does Crosby really need a "scoring winger"? No! He just needs someone to free up space on the ice and get him the puck. Last I checked, Bill Guerin wasn't doing so badly either. Sure, he might have more mileage than a Pittsburgh Port Authority bus, but he is currently on pace for his best point production since before the lockout.

Why overpay for a superflous luxury? Unless Carolina's asking price would be along the lines of Chris Conner, Dustin Jeffrey, a 4th round pick and a bag of autographed Evgeni Malkin pucks from the Eastern Conference finals last year, it would not be worth paying.

Whatever problem there may be with scoring on the top line could be addressed without any acquisitions.

Promote Tyler Kennedy to the top line.

He has without question, one of the best shots on the team and has established himself as a terrific forechecker due to his speed. But they can't afford to split up the Sesame Street Line, they have too much chemistry together!

Their breakup may have already started, as Jordan Staal has seen more and more time centering a line with Malkin. If this is a partnership that is to be continued, Kennedy should certainly receive a promotion, as his offensive gifts have been wasted on a defensive-minded line for over a year now.

The Penguins have in fact, already made a trade deadline acquisition however.

The injured Kunitz is set to return to action within the next few days, possibly even at Montreal on Saturday. But even if he does not play against the Canadiens, his return is not far off and should be as fresh as ever once he makes his way back into the lineup.

While Psycho Kunitz hasn't exactly been a scoring winger during his time in Pittsburgh, his uses are far from limited and his return should make a spark no matter where he plays. His physical presence up front is something that has been missing for quite some tims. Nobody can take the body in the offensive zone like No. 14.

When Kunitz first came to the Penguins at last year's trade deadline, he wasn't on a line with Crosby.

The Captain was out with a groin injury for the first few games, and Kunitz was put on a line with Staal. That didn't work out so badly, did it? He registered a goal and an assist against Chicago in his first game, then scored twice more against Tampa Bay.

Instant chemistry, you might say.

Re-unite Kunitz with Staal once he comes back. That pairing might work out well.

Recently, the Penguins' defense has been less-than-stellar. While the reasons are unknown, they have certainly lost a bit of their early season luster, when it looked as if they could do no wrong. Maybe it's those hard winter days and the grind of the season that has made them less effective blocking shots.

But either way, there has been one small problem with the defense, masked by their successes early on. The fact is, that this is one of the smallest and least physical defensive groups in the entire NHL.

Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang are both small fleet-footed skaters that move the puck very well. But with each at 5-feet-11 and less than 190 pounds, there is a limit to how effective they can be physically. Mark Eaton has proved to be a solid shot-blocker, but he plays smaller than both Letang and Goligoski combined.

Bottom line, Brooks Orpik and his 490 hits over the past two years is the only defenseman that plays with any sort of physical edge and the only one who makes life challenging on opposing forwards. Ray Shero must change this through a trade, because this has been an ongoing problem for some time.

The Penguins don't need a big-name defenseman. Or a guy that can put up 40-50 points a year. But they do need a bottom end defenseman with good size and a willingness to lay the body. It has become a little too simple for opposing teams to set up extended stays behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Ray Shero should make a trade deadline move. Just not the blockbuster deal.        


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