Few Penguins can feel safe as deadline looms

Ray Shero is not the kind of general manager who makes major personnel decisions on the basis of 60-minute snapshots.

That’s a good thing for his players.

The ones who would like to remain on the payroll, anyway.

For if Shero had allowed the Penguins’ performance in a 5-1 loss to Chicago Saturday night at Soldier Field to shape his long-term thinking, he might have completed a thorough overhaul of his roster before the team’s flight home touched down.

That doesn’t mean Shero won’t spend the time between now and the NHL trade deadline actively trying to patch some holes in the lineup and possibly upgrade the team in a place or two.

He traditionally is aggressive as the deadline approaches, and with long-term injuries to key players such as right winger Pascal Dupuis (knee) and defensemen Paul Martin (hand) and Kris Letang (stroke), there is no shortage of areas he can try to reinforce.

The Penguins have lost 363 man-games to injury and illness through their first 60 games and with so many severe, even season-ending, medical issues, it has been nearly impossible to predict what the roster will look like day to day, let alone when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next month.

Heck, simply evaluating players already in the organization when personnel groupings have to be mixed and matched so frequently is a daunting task.

“In an ideal situation, you have a steady situation of who’s available and who’s not and you have a long chance to evaluate those players,” right winger Craig Adams said.

“You have certainty, and then you say, ‘Hey, we want to do this or no, we don’t need to do this.’ When you have a lot of moving parts and a lot of uncertainty, obviously, it makes the job that much tougher.”

There are times when it seems as if the entire sport is fueled by speculation and rumors, and that never is more true than in the days leading up to the deadline.

Aside from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, if one of Shero’s players doesn’t read or hear something about being included in a trade before Wednesday, he likely is making a conscious effort to avoid media outlets and the Internet.

And while the Penguins’ interest in Vancouver center Ryan Kesler has gotten a lot of attention, it’s not just high-profile players who change teams at this time of year.

There’s usually plenty of demand for bottom-six forwards and third-pairing defensemen, too. The Penguins are among the clubs that would like to not only enhance their depth on defense, but add a little more grit and scoring to the third and fourth lines.

“I’m not trying to think about it too much,” fourth-line center Joe Vitale said. “But changes could be coming.

“Whether they happen or not, it’s the decision the team wants to move forward with. You learn to adjust. You learn that players come, players go.

“If you go, someone else comes. It’s part of the game, part of the business. You want to have the guys come in and try to come together and have a great team and make a run for the Cup. We understand that. We’re professionals about it. You just kind of move forward.”

Rosters were frozen for much of February because of the NHL’s Olympic break, downtime that isn’t an issue before most trade deadlines.

“This year is maybe a little different, with the Olympic break,” Vitale said. “I remember last year, the weeks leading up to it, you got nervous and more nervous. And there were [moves] a couple weeks before, a week before, right at the deadline.

“So [it was] a little more nerve-wracking last year. This year, we had the Olympic break and then we [had the outdoor] game. So many things are happening so fast. And I’m coming back from an injury, so I had that in my mind. Before you know it, it will be Wednesday.”

But between now and then, there likely will be a sleepless night or two for guys who suspect they are candidates to be included in a trade package.

Most of Shero’s deadline deals to date have involved giving up assets like prospects and draft choices, not players off the NHL roster, but that always could change.

All the Penguins can hope is that whatever Shero decides to do will pay off as well as some of the moves he made in previous years.

“You learn to trust him,” Adams said. “They’ve always given us the best chance to win. I’m sure this year will be no different.”

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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