Shero's bold moves were the right ones

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There will be people who insist Penguins general manager Ray Shero made a mistake in trading for free-agent-to-be Marian Hossa because it's just not smart hockey to deal for such a player unless a team is on the cusp of Stanley Cup championship contention.

Those people are missing the point.

The Penguins are on the cusp of playing for the greatest team trophy in all of sports.

That's why Shero made the trade. That's why he must be saluted today for having the courage to pull the trigger on a deal that brings to the Penguins exactly the kind of winger Sidney Crosby needs.

It would have been easy for Shero to stick to his master plan of patiently developing the Penguins' mother lode of wondrous talent and seek a championship further down the road. But he has been watching the same hockey we've all been watching of late, which means it's easy to see why he came to the conclusion this team was ready to win this year, not in 2009 or '10.

Shero has seen an injury-ravaged team play just about as well as any club in the Eastern Conference. He has seen it more than hold its own without Crosby. He had the foresight to realize that with Crosby and now with Hossa the Penguins have the potential not just to be good but to be great.

Who knows what the future might bring in terms of injury or defection. This year, the talent is here. The time to strike was now.

Yes, the price was steep. Just a few minutes before yesterday's 3 p.m. trading deadline, Shero sent two of the team's top nine forwards, Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen; last year's No. 1 draft choice, Angelo Esposito; and the team's first pick in the 2008 draft to the Atlanta Thrashers.

The price is steeper still because there is no guarantee Hossa will re-sign with the Penguins.

Still, the deal was a good one and potentially a great one. It's a deal people might be talking about for decades. It's a deal that can put the Penguins into the Stanley Cup final.

The Penguins aren't just a better team today than they were before 3 p.m. yesterday, they could well be the best team in the Eastern Conference.

In addition to Hossa, the Penguins acquired Pascal Dupuis, a small, speedy forward whose strength is on the penalty kill from the Thrashers. In another deal, Shero gave up second- and fifth-round draft choices to Toronto for 6-foot-7, 250-pound defenseman Hal Gill, who is as slow as he is big. Gill gives the Penguins a physical presence it lacked, but him being slow on his skates is not in sync with their style.

Those who might think Shero mortgaged the team's future for nothing more than a possible chance at glory this year need to rethink their premise. Armstrong and Christensen were complementary players. They can be replaced. Giving up first-round draft choices can be dangerous, but let's not forget that from 1996-2001 the Penguins' No. 1 picks were Craig Hillier, Robert Dome, Milan Kraft, Konstantin Koltsov, Brooks Orpik and Colby Armstrong.

As for chemistry concerns, and Armstrong, in particular, was important in that regard, nothing ramps up chemistry like winning.

Besides, how has a team mortgaged its future when it still has Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Ryan Whitney, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Malone and Sergei Gonchar?

"I still feel good about our future," Shero said. "I still feel good about the assets we have. Not many teams ... not any team can sit there with a Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, Whitney and Gonchar. We've got great assets here. I think we'll be a good team for a long period of time."

The key, of course, is Hossa, a gifted sniper who is almost certain to play alongside Crosby. Hossa had 26 goals and 30 assists in 60 games with Atlanta. He scored 43 goals last season and had 45 in 2002-03. His production only figures to increase playing beside the best playmaker in the league. Crosby, too, when he returns from injury, will prosper by playing with a veteran world-class goal-scorer like Hossa.

With Crosby and Hossa making up two-thirds of one line and the highly productive unit of Malkin, Malone and Petr Sykora another, the Penguins will present enormous defensive challenges to opponents.

Shero didn't speak at length about the possible signing of Hossa to a long-term contract. Considering how many younger players must be satisfied financially, it will be difficult to keep Hossa, who is earning $7 million this year and seeking a long-term deal at an annual salary of at least that much.

But that's for the future. It's the present that counts. And the acquisition of Hossa has made the Penguins' present one that is rich with promise.

It's a great day for hockey in Pittsburgh.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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