A few days ago, I wrote in this space that Shero should avoid the expensive rental players like Corey Perry and Jarome Iginla (http://www.faceoff-factor.com/1pittsburgh-penguins/4741/play-small-ball-ray). I’ve argued that the cost these players will command is not justified in light of the Pens upcoming contract negotiations this summer with several star players and their growing need for talented players on entry level and second contracts.

Chris Stewart is different. I am not the first writer to push the Pens to acquire Stewart (hat tip: Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers ). But the reasons Stewart is attractive to the Pens have only grown stronger. And now TSN’s Darren Dreger is reporting that he is available but he would not come cheap.

First, Stewart is in the midst of a breakout campaign, with 11 goals, 12 assists in 26 games. He has rediscovered the form that saw him post a 64 point campaign with Colorado in 09-10 after a down campaign last year in St. Louis. He was criticized last year for alleged poor conditioning and attitude. He has a reputation, outside of last season, of having an excellent work ethic. He proved it by coming in this year 20 pounds lighter and has found his net-crashing, powerful game. He is only 25 and entering his prime.

Second, he is the kind of power forward who can play Dan Bylsma’s aggressive forechecking system as he is a strong skater for such a big man (6’2”/228 lbs). He has a very good shot, soft hands, and goes to the dirty areas. While Chris Kunitz is having a career year, he is not a true power forward. He fits the system and is the type of winger they lack.

Third, he is a restricted free agent. The Pens do have important contract negotiations coming up this summer with Malkin, Letang, and Kunitz. All three are in line for raises. Stewart is well on his way to nice pay bump from his $3 million pay this season. If Stewart cannot be resigned, he can be traded to recoup some of the assets the Pens will give up to acquire him (discussed more below) or the Pens would be entitled to draft pick compensation if he were to sign an offer sheet. In short, whatever he costs the Pens to acquire, they will not lose him for nothing after this season, unlike Perry and Iginla.

But what would Stewart cost? I expect he would cost one of the Penguins recent first rounder defensemen, a No. 1 pick, and another medium value piece. Pouliot, a 1st, and a 4th? Maatta, a 1st, and Tyler Kennedy? Morrow, a 1st, and Dumoulin? I think those are reasonable deals for a player of Stewart’s caliber.

Should the Pens pay that price? I would argue yes they should. This type of deal is one that balances giving the Pens a significant boost in their playoff run now without materially compromising their long term outlook. Since he lost out on resigning Marian Hossa, Shero has smartly shown a tendency to only acquire expensive assets when he has years of control.

Chris Stewart is the homerun trade Shero should target.

I am on Twitter @AndrewRothey