Aside from the game itself, there’s little that’s more exciting than the prospect of seeing a new player, especially a star player, get traded to your favorite team. And that’s why February is one of the most thrilling times of the year for hockey fans.

If you haven’t yet done so, you might want to take a minute to read my column from earlier this week dissecting the Pittsburgh Penguins’ salary cap situation and possibilities for creating additional space.

Today, we’re going to take it a step further and look at who might attract Penguins general manager Ray Shero, as he seeks ways to improve his roster.

Remember, as outlined in my previous column, the Penguins have roughly $1.1 million in full-season cap space with the currently-constructed roster. In order to add a player or players of significance, Shero will have to get creative by trading one or several of his current roster players and/or manipulating his team’s cap hit through the means of Long Term Injured Reserves (LTIR).

Given the news earlier this week that Sidney Crosby did not suffer a broken neck and that team officials and doctors see no reason to shut him down for the season, I’m going to assume Crosby will be available to the Penguins before season’s end.

So, what are the team’s needs?

The way I see it, the Penguins could afford to improve in three areas: scoring wingers, team toughness, and defense.

With the emergence of the Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz line, the coach Dan Bylsma and his staff would be ill-advised to break up the trio, leaving Sidney Crosby with a pool of third liners for his wings. While Jordan Staal could bump his way to Crosby’s wing and Pascal Dupuis has proven capable of creating space for the elite center, it seems logical at least one winger is needed.

Additionally, with Crosby’s track record over the last year-plus, it would be nice to see a Rick Tocchet-type power forward flanking his wing. Of course, the salary cap won’t permit such an addition without a major shake-up, so a second-tier physical winger would have to be the target.

My top three picks:

  • Tuomo Ruutu, Car, $3.8 million cap hit, UFA: Like his brother and former Penguin Jarkko, Tuomo has a mean streak and often plays on the edge. Unlike Jarkko, Tuomo is a highly-skilled player capable of playing on a scoring line. His acquisition would require roughly $2.7 million in cap adjustment.

  • Brendan Morrow, Dal, $4.1 million cap hit, 1 year left on contract: One of my all-time favorite non-Penguins, Morrow is a passionate leader on and off the ice, playing a power forward game with a power forward snarl. TSN’s Bob McKenzie suggests the Dallas Stars captain could be on the outs as the team looks for a changing of the guard. While he’d be the ideal winger for Crosby, the one year remaining on his contract could make it difficult for Shero to re-sign blossoming star James Neal. Morrow’s acquisition would require would require roughly $3 million in cap adjustment for this year, and additional adjustments for next year to be able to keep both Morrow and Neal.
  • Shane Doan, Pho, $4.5 million cap hit, UFA: Doan’s game is no secret, he plays hard every shift and makes life miserable for his opponents. He’s also spent his entire career with the Coyotes franchise and is a heart-and-soul style franchise player. He’d be a wonderful pick-up, but his loyalty to the Coyotes and their loyalty to him, together with his cap hit likely make him a long-shot, at best. His acquisition would require roughly $3.4 million in cap adjustment.

If Shero finds it difficult to move enough salary to acquire a physical scoring line winger, he might look to adding some sandpaper to his bottom lines; possibly even a center, allowing Staal to play alongside Crosby.

My three picks:

  • Paul Gaustad, Buf, $2.3 million cap hit, UFA: Guastad may not be a scoring threat, but he’s huge, he’s capable in the faceoff circle, and he’s downright nasty. The Penguins lost a lot of grit when Mike Rupp departed for New York, and Gaustad could fill the void, while centering the third line. His acquisition would require an additional $1.2 million in cap adjustment.
  • Travis Moen, Mon, $1.5 million cap hit, UFA: Moen doesn’t have a reputation as a flashy player and may not be well-known in general, but his game is tailor-made for the playoffs. He can poke in the occasional goal, but his forte is grinding it out and agitating his opponents. His acquisition would require an additional $0.4 million in cap space adjustment.
  • Dominic Moore, TB, $1.1 million cap hit, UFA: Moore has been highly mentioned as one of the most sought-after bottom-six forwards in the league. The former Penguin made a name for himself last postseason as a speedy, pesky player who loves getting under his opponents’ skin. His status around the league could drive up the asking price, but his $1.1 million cap hit would require no additional cap adjustment for the Penguins.

Regardless of what Shero does on offense, he may look to sure up his defense. Despite somewhat lackluster play from Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, and Zbynek Michalek, the Penguins rank eighth in goals-against. But with a bottom four of Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy and rookie Simon Despres, Bylsma might feel uncomfortable giving his bottom pairing significant minutes down the stretch and into the playoffs. Adding a trusted veteran would go a long way in balancing the third pairing.

My three picks:

  • Hal Gill, Mon, $2.25 million cap hit, UFA: Gill is no stranger to Penguin fans, as he was one of two defensemen on the ice during the final seconds of the team’s Stanley Cup victory a few years back. Not young then, Gill is now two years older and two years slower, but the 6’7 defender remains a penalty killing beast and continues to understand his skating limitations, allowing him to stay strong positionally. He’s familiar with the team and Bylsma’s system, making him my favorite among defenders. His acquisition would require an additional $1.15 million in cap adjustment.
  • Mark Eaton, NYI, $2.5 million cap hit, UFA: This list is starting to look like a who’s who among former Penguin defenders, illustrating just how well Shero has done with his blueline through the years. Eaton is a good skater, makes a decent first pass, and plays well in his own end. Bringing him back might not be the most earth-shattering move, but sometimes the best moves are the least imposing. Eaton’s acquisition would require an additional $1.4 million in cap adjustment.
  • Greg Zanon, Min, $1.93 million cap hit, UFA: Zanon hasn’t played for the Penguins, but he is very familiar to Shero, who was with the Nashville Predators at the same time as Zanon. Shero has shown a propensity for adding players he is comfortable with, not to mention Minnesota’s general manager, Chuck Fletcher, is his former assistant in Pittsburgh. Zanon’s game is simple, yet effective: blocking shots and cleaning up the defensive zone. He’s not fancy. He’s not a big name. But he’s effective. His acquisition would require an additional $0.83 million in cap adjustment.

There’s no telling what Shero might do in the coming weeks leading to the NHL’s February 27 trade deadline, but one thing is for sure: he’ll likely surprise us with a bold or unexpected move. Then again, don’t look for anything major, as Shero just doesn’t have a lot of salary cap space to play with – even if he does move one or several of his current roster players.

What are the Penguins’ needs in your eyes? Who would you like the see the Penguins acquire? Do you disagree with any of the players I mentioned above? Let’s hear what you have to say!