Penguins' Shero ready to trade, but ...
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Ray Shero acquired Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis and Hal Gill at the NHL trade deadline a year ago because he believed they could help the Penguins compete for a Stanley Cup.
And while the team's immediate objective has been scaled back -- the Penguins' most pressing concern at the moment is simply getting into the playoffs -- Shero again is prepared to swing some deals before the March 4 deadline to enhance their chances.
To a point, anyway.
The critical factor, not surprisingly, is "what we have to give up."
Translation: Don't expect Shero to get involved in bidding wars for some of the big-name, veteran free agents such as Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight who are expected to go on the market in coming weeks.
Not because such players couldn't address a short-term need, but because Shero isn't inclined to have his long-range blueprint suffer for the sake of a quick, brief fix.
Paying a high price for a guy who could contribute over a period of years is one thing; doing it to bring in someone who wouldn't be around long enough to learn to navigate the streets Downtown is quite another.
Shero took a high-stakes gamble last February, when he acquired Hossa and Dupuis from Atlanta for Colby Armstrong, Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft choice, and nearly got a championship to show for it.
He noted at the time, however, that it isn't practical to make such moves on an annual basis because of the dangers inherent in depleting the franchise's pool of prospects and other assets.
Even so, getting into the playoffs means enough to Shero that he figures to be aggressive in his efforts to get the Penguins there.
"It's important for us to get into the playoffs," he said. "It's a message to the players, it's a message to our fans. That's our expectation.
"We want to make a push, and [qualifying] is our expectation. If there's something there we believe can help us, we're certainly going to try to look at it and do it."
The Penguins are coming off a 5-4 overtime loss in Toronto Saturday and a 4-3 overtime defeat at New Jersey 24 hours earlier, and are two points behind eighth-place Carolina in the Eastern Conference standings.
Had they taken four points out of the weekend rather than one -- hardly out of the question, since they had a two-goal lead in New Jersey with eight minutes left in regulation and were tied with the Maple Leafs midway through the third period -- they would be eighth in the East, one point behind seventh-place Buffalo.
Of course, if the Penguins had been capable of capitalizing on a decent percentage of the chances they've had to improve their record this season, they wouldn't be looking up at most of the conference.
Some of their personnel shortcomings are obvious -- they need a goal-scoring winger to take advantage of Sidney Crosby's playmaking skills and could use an infusion of grit and passion up front -- and when the Penguins held their midseason scouting meetings during the recent All-Star break, they settled on priorities for upgrading the lineup.
"We know what areas we'd like to improve, if possible," Shero said.
He declined to elaborate, likely because there's no guarantee he'll be able to, which means the challenge of getting into the playoffs might fall to players already on the payroll.
"To me, this is the team we have," Shero said.
He would not single out players on his roster as "untouchables" in trade talks, although Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin surely are off-limits and that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury likely is awfully close, but made it clear he will not rule out dealing prominent guys, if necessary.
"We have a plan moving forward to try to build around certain players, and that's what we're focused on," Shero said. "We've re-signed, basically, all of our core players. If that has to change down the line, that will change down the line, based upon hockey decisions, hopefully."
Hockey decisions that stem from bolstering the lineup for a drive to get into the playoffs, not from being a "seller" that other clubs come to for a quick upgrade at the deadline.
"We want to be a playoff team," Shero said. "I believe we'll be in a position on March 4 that we'll be around a playoff spot, if not in one."
First Published February 2, 2009 12:00 am