On the Penguins: Pros and cons to being a player at the trade deadline

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Logic says that pulling off trades between now and the NHL deadline April 3 will be tougher than usual because this season's compressed schedule has more clubs than usual viewing themselves as playoff contenders.

That, presumably, would make them less inclined to part with players from their major league roster.

Precedent, however, suggests that Penguins general manager Ray Shero likely will find a way to do something.

After making significant moves at or near the deadline in each of his first five years on the job, Shero was uncharacteristically quiet in 2012, settling for claiming Cal O'Reilly -- remember him? -- off of re-entry waivers from Phoenix.

That the Penguins subsequently melted down during Round 1 of the playoffs and were humbled by Philadelphia in six games presumably didn't reinforce the idea of taking a similar approach in 2013.

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A shutdown defenseman and a winger with something of a scoring touch -- though not necessarily one who would assume a top-six role -- appear to be the Penguins' primary targets. Both make sense for a team capable of going on an extended playoff run after losing to lower-seeded opponents in each of the past three springs.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are grueling, and attrition can be a decisive variable. Hang around them long enough, and the Penguins almost certainly would have plenty of work for nine defensemen -- one more than they're carrying now -- especially if the newcomer has a physical edge to his game.

And, while the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre includes a handful of borderline NHL forwards who could fill a short-term hole in their lineup, adding a winger with a history of contributing at this level could be critical if/when injuries or fatigue come into play.

Shero has shown he can be aggressive when he feels his team has championship potential. That's understandable, because even the best-constructed club gets a finite number of opportunities to win a Cup.

That's why Shero outbid a number of other contenders to pull Marian Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis) out of Atlanta minutes before the deadline in 2008, when the Penguins finished two victories shy of a title. It's why he added Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin a year later, when they claimed their first Cup since 1992.

So, given that the Penguins figure to be no worse than the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, it won't be a shock if Shero makes a bold move or two over the next 10 days.

That doesn't mean doing so is a no-brainer. Or necessary. Or, taking it to an extreme, even prudent.

It's not just that the players already on hand cobbled together a double-digit winning streak; it's the way they did it over the past few weeks.

They didn't simply rely on their exceptional offensive talent but rather elevated the aspects of their game -- team defense and penalty-killing and goaltending -- that are critical to success in the postseason.

A synergy has developed with this team, and tinkering too much with its makeup could disrupt that, even as an infusion of depth and/or talent would appear to make it stronger.

And other, more long-range, issues could come into play when deadline moves are being debated, although they seem unlikely to make it off the back burner.

For example, four veterans who have filled significant, if not always prominent, roles -- forwards Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams and recently returned defenseman Mark Eaton -- are scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency this summer.

The Penguins have yet to divulge which, if any, of those will be priorities to re-sign, but while a bounty of high-quality young defensemen is in their pipeline, NHL-ready forward prospects are scarce.

Consequently, if the Penguins don't hold on to Dupuis, Cooke or Adams, scouring the unrestricted free agents list for potential replacements would be the obvious move.

This summer's free-agency class isn't particularly strong, however, and there is no guarantee the Penguins would be able to get any players they'd target, anyway.

That means they might be forced to explore trades to fill those voids, and being able to offer a variety of attractive assets -- be they draft choices or players -- would enhance the chances of completing one.

There will be fewer of those assets to offer, however, if Shero makes a high-impact move before the deadline.

That said, Shero has ample reason to feel he has a group capable of earning the franchise's fourth Cup, and he isn't likely to be shy about making a bold move or two to improve it by 3 p.m. April 3.

The week ahead

Today vs. Philadelphia ... If the Flyers could play all of their road games at Consol Energy Center, where their regular-season record is 6-1, they might not be in danger of spending the playoffs in front of their TVs.

Tuesday vs. Montreal ... The Canadiens still haven't gotten the message that there's no way they're supposed to challenge for first place in the Eastern Conference this season.

Thursday vs. Winnipeg ... Jets leaked in eight goals in both of their trips here last season. Doing that again might not be the best way to sustain their playoff hopes.

Saturday vs. New York Islanders ... The Islanders might know by the time they get to town whether they'll be selling off assets before the deadline, as usual, or trying to bolster their lineup for the playoffs.

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First Published March 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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