In which Ray Shero channels his inner Norman Dale…
This is your team.
It was pretty easy to make the case that the Pens COULD have made a deal or two prior to Monday's trade deadline. Shero has made it a point each year since he took over to make at least one deal, and this team is certainly not without needs. Pre-deadline talk brought with it the usual speculation. There was the talk of the need for a stay-at-home defenseman – someone who could keep the crease clear in front of Fleury a la Hal Gill in the 2009 playoff run.
There was talk of adding a backup goaltender thanks in part to Brent Johnson's struggles.
There was talk of adding some secondary scoring depth, because hey, every team could use secondary scoring.
And as has been the case for the last five seasons, there was some speculation that Shero made an out-of-nowhere splash and brought in another Winger For Sid, assuming we're going to need a winger for Sid by the time the postseason rolls around.
But none of that materialized, and not just for the Pens.
So Paul Martin is still here. Tyler Kennedy is still here. Brent Johnson is still here. Ben Lovejoy's spot in the press box will still be filled by Ben Lovejoy. Eric Tangradi? Still here, though he may be heading back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. No draft picks were moved. The prospects – particularly Joe Morrow and the AHL crew of Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait and Carl Sneep – all remain.
At the end of the day and for the remainder of this season, the team that skated off the ice after beating the Blue Jackets Sunday afternoon is your team.
Some post-deadline thoughts then, dudes…
Why not put Sid on LTIR and free up additional cap space for a big upgrade?
Well, the short answer is that the team is hoping (and may be quietly expecting) that he comes back before the deadline. Yes, this is a strange road with which we'd all rather not be familiar. As we also saw earlier this year, the risk of re-injury or recurrence of symptoms could be a cloud that's going to likely hover over Crosby, possibly for the rest of his career. But he's going to try to come back at some point and if it happens this year, awesome.
But who would Shero have pursued? Short of a pure hockey deal that came out of nowhere, a la the Neal trade last year, nothing was out there in terms of impact talent. New Jersey wasn't dealing Parise; they're in the playoff race. Iginla wasn't on the market. Shane Doan wasn't being traded. And Pittsburgh wasn't parting with the assets it would've taken to land Rick Nash.
Heading into tonight's games, there were five teams within six points of 8th-seeded Dallas in the West. That means there are 13 teams in that conference playoff race. The East is about the same.
Ray, get real here. Martin?
As we mentioned previously, Paul Martin may eventually be moved, perhaps sooner rather than later, what with James Neal signing an extension. But absent some unforeseen legitimate hockey deal, it wasn't going to happen at the deadline. And chances are Shero probably didn't even try to move him.
For one thing, Martin's play has improved over the last few games and that may be due in part to him clicking with a couple of new defensive partners. Per the folks over at DobberHockey.com, he's taken nearly 75% of his even-strength shifts with Kris Letang over the last three games. Over the last ten games, he's been paired more than 50% of the time with either Letang or Engelland at even strength. The change appears to have worked. Martin has simplified his game in the defensive zone and looks as comfortable out there now as he has all year.
But Martin just isn't an attractive commodity right now, not for trade deadline. Too many years left. Too much money left. And teams in contention like the Pens aren't moving a guy like that – again, not unless it's a "hockey" deal like the one that brought Neal here. Deals like that are rare, but they're more common during the summer.
Why no backup for the backup?
Simple. There are 20 games left for the Pens to play. Fleury has appeared in 52 games, but made 49 starts. If the Pens can keep him to around 65 or 66 appearances, that means all the Pens would need is six complete games out of their backup. No sense in dealing a draft pick or a player for a goalie you're likely only going to need for six games. Johnny and Thiessen should be able to provide that between the two of them.
Wait, you mean there was no market for Tyler Kennedy?
Tyler Kennedy's injury put a kink in any attempts to deal him, but it's not like teams would have been falling all over themselves to trade for him.
Kennedy is what he is – an energy player with great speed, a willingness to crash into corners and stick up for teammates. He'll get you 15 goals and 35 points a year. He's a good fit for this system at a manageable cap hit of $2 million per year, but his high-water mark very well may have been last year when he had the benefit of additional ice and power play time.
Again, there's nothing wrong with any of that. But Kennedy just isn't the type of player that is going to entice a team on his own to make a deal. He doesn't kill penalties. He's not a dynamic player with the puck (his 140 shots still ranks fifth on the Pens, and he's played 20 fewer games than most of the regulars). He's a "what you see is what you get" player who won't bring much more to another team than he already does here.
But still, no moves at all?
No moves at all. And by the sounds of it, it wasn't that the Pens didn't try. It's just that this happened to be a very bizarre market at the deadline this year. There were very few high-profile pending rent-a-players available because so many teams are still in playoff races. This, in turn, inflates the market for everything else. When a team can demand and get a first-round pick for Paul Gaustad, that's saying something.
Perhaps there was no greater testament to this seller's market than what other teams who needed to make moves COULDN'T do. Philly needed goaltending help and couldn't find it. The Rangers did nothing to bolster their lineup. The Washington Capitals are coming apart at the seams and couldn't upgrade or shake things up, despite also freeing up cap space by moving Backstrom to LTIR. Despite McPhee's precarious position over this season's final quarter, he couldn't justify a roster shakeup.
How this all shakes out for the Pens, no one knows. So much hinges on Crosby, which means the heat on that issue is about to get turned up again. And Crosby or not, nine of their twenty remaining games are against the Flyers (3), Rangers (2), Devils (2) and Bruins (2). Chances to prove themselves against the other top teams in the East will be there.