From the general manager that brought Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa, Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Alex Kovalev, James Neal and Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins, get ready for the tag-team duo of Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak.
Obviously, Ray Shero didn’t push all his chips to the center of the table at this year’s NHL trade deadline, a contrast to his high-profile moves in the past. If you followed our Wednesday liveblog, you know that neither Goc nor Stempniak were ever linked to the Penguins until the trades broke.
Instead, multiple media reports had Shero pursuing bigger game like Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and the Islanders’ Thomas Vanek. It turns out Kesler stayed with the Canucks, while Vanek moved to Montreal for a surprisingly-low price. Matt Moulson, another top-six forward who could’ve helped the Penguins’ cause, was shipped from Buffalo to Minnesota.
If you grew up following the Pens, you’re almost conditioned to believe that a run to the Stanley Cup – or at least the Final – must be preceded by a huge trade or two.
The acquisitions of Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet, among others, by former GM Craig Patrick keyed the franchise’s first two championships in 1991 and ’92. Nearly two decades later, adding Hossa, Guerin and Kunitz paved the way to a Final appearance in 2008 and a third Cup the following spring.
Of course, Shero’s shocking coup last year didn’t pan out, as Jarome Iginla didn’t make much of a difference when it counted. Whether that’s due to his declining skills or coach Dan Bylsma‘s usage of him is up for debate, but the fact remains that winning the trade deadline guarantees nothing besides raised expectations.
Holding firm doesn’t automatically inspire, either. A quick look back to 2012, when Shero made no moves at the trade deadline, reveals as much. With all their star players healthy, the Penguins imploded tactically and emotionally in a first-round loss to the Flyers that year.
So what are we to make of the arrivals of Goc and Stempniak, two depth forwards with expiring contracts?
For one, the Penguins have a legitimate top three lines now, and even more so when presumed scoring winger Beau Bennett returns from his protracted wrist rehab. Pittsburgh’s fate will still ultimately rest in the hands of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, team defense and goaltending, but the underlying foundation has been improved.
Beyond that, the Penguins only gave up mid-round draft picks and didn’t commit to any more long-term salaries. Kesler will still be available in the offseason if Shero wants to renew negotiations with Canucks GM Mike Gillis, and the salary cap is projected to rise by nearly $7 million for 2014-15.
In short, the Pens strengthened their current team and are in good position to further augment their roster this summer. Their deadline haul isn’t attention-grabbing like some recent seasons, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have impact.