On the Penguins: The Dupuis question

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As the 2013 NHL trade deadline approached, it was suggested in this space that even though Penguins general manager Ray Shero had a history of making high-impact moves near the deadline and "likely will find a way to do something," there wasn't an obvious need for him to do so.

The idea was put forth that "it won't be a shock if Shero makes a bold move or two over the next 10 days," but "that doesn't mean doing so is a no-brainer. Or necessary. Or, taking it to an extreme, even prudent."

The rationale for taking a conservative approach was that the Penguins, as then constituted, were developing a genuine synergy and that elements needed for playoff success -- specifically, team defense, penalty-killing and goaltending -- had been strong during what became a 15-game winning streak.

Of course, that was before Sidney Crosby's jaw was shattered by a puck, forcing him to sit out the final quarter of the regular season.

It also was before Shero -- who wisely refrains from allowing reporters and other outsiders to dictate personnel decisions -- stunned the NHL by adding Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen (and a third-round draft choice) in return for a first-round draft choice, two second-rounders, a third-rounder and prospects Joe Morrow, Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino.

They were incredibly aggressive moves that further solidified the Penguins as a popular choice to win the Stanley Cup and assured Shero's eventual recognition as the NHL's GM of the year.

What they didn't do was to lock up a Stanley Cup. The Penguins ended up getting just half of the 16 victories needed for a title.

Reinforcing an already-imposing lineup the way Shero did -- especially when it meant giving up a number of quality assets -- struck some as overkill, but his obvious objective was to make a very good team better and deeper.

Had Shero stood pat, he probably wouldn't have been criticized much. The Penguins already were established as one of the East's dominant clubs and it generally is a seller's market as the deadline gets near, driving prices above what usually is seen as fair market value.

Nearly a year later, the Penguins again are legitimate Cup contenders, but opting against making a move now would be much more of a gamble. Which certainly doesn't mean it would be a mistake.

The knee injury that ended Pascal Dupuis' season opened a huge hole on the right side of the No. 1 line, and Shero has to decide whether it can be filled internally -- he recently cited Beau Bennett, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna as candidates to do it -- or if he will have to explore the trade market for a replacement.

An extra wrinkle is that all three players who could audition for Dupuis' job have missed significant chunks of this season because of injuries. Indeed, Bennett, who likely would be on top of the list if he were healthy, won't play until after the Olympic break because of wrist/hand surgery.

Bennett will be back for no more than three games before the March 5 trade deadline. Asking him to convince management in such a short time that he can be productive in a top-six role, especially when he'll be trying to overcome the effects of a three-month layoff, seems unrealistic, unless Shero and his staff already believe he can handle the job.

There's no question Bennett, a first-round draft choice in 2010, projects as a top-six forward; the issue is whether he's ready to fill such a role effectively in high-stakes games.

He has just 38 NHL games on his resume, and put up one goal and two assists in 12 games this season. For all of Bennett's potential, no one is likening him to Guy Lafleur just yet.

Then again, Bennett had more NHL experience than Megna (21 games) and Gibbons (15) combined going into the game at Phoenix Saturday night.

He has four career goals, as did Megna before the Coyotes game. Gibbons had two. All entered the weekend trailing defenseman-turned-right-winger Deryk Engelland in the 2014 team scoring race.

Of course, the Penguins could try something more unconventional than putting a forward with a skill-oriented game on the top line. Say, shifting checking-line center Joe Vitale there, since he was fairly effective with Crosby and Chris Kunitz there before being hurt three weeks ago.

Regardless, it seems safe to assume Shero will vigorously investigate who might be available in a trade, even though he might discover that the asking price is too high or that the Penguins wouldn't have the salary-cap space to accommodate a particular player.

Too bad Iginla, now with Boston, won't be on the market again this year, because he'd be a perfect guy to step into Dupuis' spot.

And, unlike his time here in 2013, he'd actually get to play the position where he's spent his entire career.

The Penguins this week

Monday: vs. Ottawa ... The last time the Penguins faced the Senators, they absorbed a lopsided beating and, more important, lost Dupuis.

Wednesday: at Buffalo ... Ryan Miller of the Sabres, who could be Team USA's go-to goalie at the Olympics, made the Penguins work for a 3-0 victory at Consol Energy Center last week.

Friday: vs. New York Rangers ... The Penguins will face an Olympic goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden, for the second time in three days. Unlike Miller, he won't have any of them as a teammate at the Games.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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