Deadline Eve thoughts
Some observations as the clock ticks toward the NHL’s trade deadline Wednesday at 3 p.m.:
*** While everything can change with a single phone call – and much goes on behind the scenes that never leaks out to the press and public – the Penguins still appear to be the team most aggressively trying to acquire center Ryan Kesler from Vancouver. They aren’t the only club attempting to convince the Canucks to part with him, however. Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago either have made substantial offers for him or are expected to. The Canucks have not committed to trading Kesler, who has two years left on his contract, but definitely are willing to part with defenseman Alex Edler. General manager Mike Gillis likely will try to package the two, if possible. Several teams appear to be interested in Edler, but the Penguins don’t seem to be on the list.
*** Because Kesler has a no-trade clause, he can veto a deal to any club he isn’t interested in joining. Columbus and Toronto reportedly have been told that he doesn’t care to play for them.
*** As noted in the space Saturday, Kesler would be an upgrade over Brandon Sutter as the Penguins’ No. 3 center, but that hardly is their most urgent personnel need at the moment. While it’s conceivable that the Penguins’ plan would be to plug Kesler into Pascal Dupuis’ spot on right wing of the first line for the balance of the season, then shift him into the middle behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin when Dupuis returns in the fall, Kesler is most effective – and, apparently, happy – when playing center. And because Kesler is the most-coveted player in the league at the moment, the price to get him will be steep, assuming the Canucks go ahead with a trade. Again, as mentioned here Saturday, defenseman Derrick Pouliot should not be included in any offer for Kesler. He is the Penguins’ top prospect and, with Kris Letang facing an uncertain future while recovering from a stroke, the franchise cannot afford to relinquish a high-end prospect with Pouliot’s skills set.
*** At this point, Dupuis (knee) is the only player the Penguins know won’t return this season. If GM Ray Shero is told by doctors that Letang is unlikely to return before 2014-15, he likely will step up his efforts to bring in a defenseman who can handle and pass the puck. That’s a glaring need a the moment, but will ease when Paul Martin returns from his broken hand, which from all indications will happen before the end of the regular season.
*** With the Penguins virtually certain of having a less-imposing roster than they did in the fall, it might seem prudent for Shero to be a little less aggressive than usual at this deadline, preserving any assets that he might be willing to sacrifice in deals now for the offseason or next season. There are, however, a couple of reasons why he might believe it’s important to enter this spring’s playoffs with the strongest possible lineup, regardless of the cost. The first is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has had a series of disappointing postseason performances and who has one year remaining on his contract. If Fleury fizzles in the playoffs again, Shero might well conclude that Fleury’s run as the Penguins’ franchise goaltender should end, and that the search for his replacement should begin in the summer. The second is the future of coach Dan Bylsma. The Penguins have lost to a lower-seeded opponent every year since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and, even though Bylsma was given a contract extension last summer, he has to be held accountable for their playoff disappointments at some point. If, in fact, Shero is preparing to pass judgment on Bylsma and Fleury, he undoubtedly would like to put them in the best possible position to succeed this spring.
*** It has been suggested that Shero is so intent on acquiring Kesler because he’d like to recreate the Big Three centers model the Penguins had when Jordan Staal played behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That is completely understandable, and might well be the case, but replacing Sutter with Kesler isn’t likely to have much of an impact if the guys playing on the wings of the third line aren’t upgraded, as well. Staal, who teamed with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke to form what was widely regarded as the league’s best No. 3 line a few years ago, generally had capable linemates whose games complemented his. Sutter has had to deal with a constantly changing cast of wingers, most of whom do not fare well when compared to Cooke and Kennedy.
*** New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello still hasn’t made it known publicly whether he will be a buyer or seller – or neither – at the deadline, but there is rampant speculation that he is considering a deal that would send goalie Martin Brodeur to Minnesota. There isn’t much room for sentiment in the NHL, where business considerations generally trump all else, but Brodeur, the winningest goalie in league history, is one of those guys who seems as if he should end his career in the same place where it began. Martin Brodeur as a Minnesota Wild? Sounds a lot like Franco Harris as a Seattle Seahawk.