Play Small Ball Ray
The Penguins have been riding high lately and look to extend their 5 game winning streak tonight against Boston. They have a league leading 97 goals scored, 12 more than any other team. They have two players in the top three in scoring, and one of them is not named Evgeni Malkin. Their powerplay issues from years past seem a distant memory.
The Penguins do have their issues. They have had issues in defensive zone coverages and clearing the front of their net. They have at times lost their composure and taken ill-timed penalties. Their goaltending has ranged from spectacular to inconsistent. Production from their third and fourth lines has been lacking. Their penalty kill has fallen from grace.
As the trade deadline approaches, rumors connecting the Pens to big name forwards have begun swirling. The Get-Sid-A-Winger Campaign has racketed back up. Much as we would all like to watch Sid work with an elite winger, Shero would be wise to avoid such a move at this deadline.
This year’s trade deadline will be somewhat unique, because of the lockout-shortened season and the falling salary cap. The cost to acquire a high-end rental piece will be higher than normal for several reasons. There is likely going to be a shortage of sellers at this year’s deadline, because more teams will be closer to the playoff bubble.
In the East, only 5 points separate the 5th seed from the 11th. In the West, only 4 points separate the 4th seed from the 11th seed. With only just past the halfway mark of the season, at least three-quarters of teams still feel like they have a reasonable shot to make a run at the playoffs. Teams that want to make the playoffs look to add pieces, not substract. That means more buyers fighting over fewer available players, which will drive up prices.
The salary cap falling from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season. Most of the top contenders have a limited amount of cap space now, but they will have even less next year. While teams generally dislike giving up assets for rental players, they may be more inclined to do so this year because they will not be committing any future cap space beyond this season. GMs can get another piece for a playoff run now without crunching their ability to maneuver in free agency this summer.
So what should Ray Shero do? He should not go after the two big names mentioned most often with the Penguins: Corey Perry and Jarome Iginla. Not only will prices be high for the reasons above, but both Anaheim and Calgary will be under great pressure to get a significant return for both. Anaheim has rebounded strongly from a down year and sits comfortably in the 2nd Seed in the West. Trading away a player like Perry just a few years removed from an MVP season during a stretch run will be a huge blow to the locker room and fan base, even if they risk losing him for nothing this summer. Iginla has been the heart and soul of the Flames for well over a decade and has close ties to all levels of the franchise.
I suspect the Penguins would have to give up, at minimum, one of the top defense prospects and a 1st round pick for either, with Perry likely commanding another piece as well. That is not a price Shero should pay.
While the Penguins have an impressive stable of young defensemen, history tells us how difficult it is to develop defensemen. For every Kris Letang, there are five Noah Welches. It is not unlike developing pitching in baseball, where many promising prospects fail (insert Pirates joke here). They really do not know what they have yet in these players, as most have not played above juniors or are in their first professional season.
The 2013 NHL Draft is also considered very deep, on par with the infamous 2003 Draft where players like Parise, Getzlaf, Kesler, Richards, Perry, Eriksson, Bergeron, Weber, and Backes were all taken 17th or lower. First and second round picks are thus particularly valuable this year.
Finally, the Pens already have the daunting task of resigning Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to extensions this summer with one year remaining on both their contracts. Both are in line for raises. Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, and Craig Adams are also UFAs. It seems mathematically impossible for the Pens to have any chance resign a Perry or Iginla.
Shero should focus on smaller moves to strengthen the third and fourth lines and find another defensive defenseman. He should focus on speed, grit, and penalty killing ability. Those are the attributes the Penguins most need, not more high-priced skilled forwards.
I am on Twitter, @AndrewRothey