On the Penguins: The deadline and Ray Shero
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The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. Monday, and if precedent means anything, the Penguins' depth chart will look a bit different than it does today.
While most indications are that the Penguins haven't been excessively aggressive in trying to fine-tune their roster for the stretch drive and playoffs, general manager Ray Shero has made a move or two at the deadline every year since he took the job.
Some of his deadline deals have been huge, like the one that brought Marian Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis) from Atlanta in 2008, and others have proven to be low-impact -- the acquisitions of Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alex Kovalev come immediately to mind -- but Shero invariably tweaks his personnel mix.
Although the Penguins don't have a gaping void in their lineup, they wouldn't mind bringing in a Hal Gill-type shutdown defenseman or a goal-scoring winger to play alongside Sidney Crosby. (Not that there's anything terribly new about the latter, obviously.)
It's important to note that Shero's sense of whether Crosby can realistically be expected to play again this season figures to have a significant effect on what, if anything, he does.
Team officials have insisted publicly for weeks that they believe Crosby will play again this season, and there has been an undercurrent of optimism about that inside the organization for at least that long.
Still, if there is a target date for him to return to the lineup, no one who would know it is even hinting at when it might be.
There's no reason to believe a comeback is imminent, given that Crosby hasn't been cleared for contact yet. But if he does play again in 2011-12, he wouldn't object to having a skilled linemate or two to work with.
(Given the way Chris Kunitz and James Neal have jelled with Evgeni Malkin, the chances of coach Dan Bylsma breaking up that unit so that one of those wingers can work with Crosby seems a bit less than microscopic.)
Of course, there isn't exactly a glut of goal-scoring wingers being shopped at the moment, and the ones who are haven't exactly been marked down for quick sale. To this point, it has been very much a seller's market, mostly because so few clubs have been willing to write off the season.
There's also another factor that could influence whether Shero makes an impact move: With the 2012 entry draft scheduled for Consol Energy Center, the Penguins likely are reluctant to part with their first-round draft choice.
Dealing it surely would make for an anticlimactic opening round for most of the crowd, although Shero would have time to try to acquire a replacement. And even if he couldn't land one, the fan base undoubtedly would accept the tradeoff if the trade meant the Penguins would win another Stanley Cup.
Still, while Shero shouldn't -- and wouldn't -- flatly reject any proposal that calls for the Penguins to surrender their first-rounder, he won't be eager to part with that particular asset over the next day or so, either.
James Neal's good deal
There were few, if any, complaints when the Penguins and James Neal, pictured at left, agreed to a six-year, $30 million contract a week ago, and understandably so.
The player got a deal that should provide financial security for several generations of Neals, at least, while the Penguins locked up a potential 40-goal (or more) man through the prime of his career.
And as good as that agreement looked at the time, it seemed even better a few days later, when Carolina re-signed Tuomo Ruutu to a four-year, $19 million contract.
Neal's salary is a bit higher than Ruutu's -- $5 million per season, compared with $4.75 million -- but so is his productivity. And his potential.
Ruutu is a quality player and would be a nice contributor on any team. But Neal, 24, is five years younger and has more goals in 2011-12 than Ruutu has had in any season since entering the NHL in 2003-04.
Of course, there's more to the game than just scoring goals, and the Neal and Ruutu situations weren't identical. The most important difference is that while Neal was scheduled to become a restricted free agent July 1, Ruutu would have been unrestricted.
That would have given Ruutu significantly more leverage in his negotiations, since restricted free agents rarely change teams because their clubs have the option to match any offer the player receives or to get compensation if they decline to match.
Nonetheless, Shero and Neal recognized the benefits of making a long-term commitment to one another -- Shero locked up a core player until 2018, while Neal got a healthy raise and an opportunity to continue playing with a world-class center whose game meshes nicely with his own -- and worked out a contract that, in today's NHL, reflects fair market value.
Neither side won those negotiations. Which means that all concerned did.
First Published February 26, 2012 12:00 am