Pens Did What They Could/Should Have at Trade Deadline

Between the lack of assets to trade in the first place, salary-cap complications and an apparent need to bolster the defense that became glaring once Ben Lovejoy got hurt, there wasn’t much General Manager Jim Rutherford was going to accomplish.

The Penguins’ activity at the NHL’s trade deadline was as predictable as it turned out to be underwhelming.

There was no Ulf Samuelsson and Ronnie Francis this time.

No Marian Hossa.

Not even a Jarome Iginla.

Between the lack of assets to trade in the first place, salary-cap complications and an apparent need to bolster the defense that became glaring once Ben Lovejoy got hurt, there wasn’t much General Manager Jim Rutherford was going to accomplish.

Another body for the blueline will have to do.

Justin Schultz qualifies along those lines.

A once-promising prospect at Wisconsin, where he twice led NCAA defensemen in scoring, Schultz was a combined minus 78 in four seasons with Edmonton. The Oilers eventually decided they’d rather pay Schultz half of his salary not to play for them and shipped him to Pittsburgh.

The Pens will take him because they need numbers on defense and because a change of scenery might possibly do Schultz and his offensive skill set some good.

But he’s no game-changer or difference-maker.

The Pens are going to have to go with what they already had as far as those are concerned.

Where will that take them?

To the first round of the playoffs, presumably, as long as remaining head-to-head matchups with Philadelphia on March 19, April 3 and April 9 don’t degenerate into a collective disaster (two of those are on the road).

Beyond that, the Pens looked like a team that won’t go any farther if their first-round opponent winds up being the Washington Capitals or the New York Rangers prior to engaging the Caps and Rangers this week.

But that, in all likelihood, wasn’t going to change at the deadline.

What can alter that equation, and what has already changed the way the Penguins are being perceived to a degree, is what they can accomplish the rest of the way in the regular season in terms of continuing to forge an identity under Mike Sullivan as a hard-working team that will play with patience, discipline and purpose.
 


photo via Pittsburgh Penguins / greg shamus

 

Sullivan has been preaching since Day One that the nightly objective is to outplay the opponent rather than attempt to outscore the other team.

And teams that can do that consistently in the postseason have a chance.

Once there, the Penguins’ survival will depend first and foremost of their ability to keep the puck out of their net. That’s not exactly Schultz’s forte. But better him as a contributor than a call-up from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, or so the theory goes.

Accomplishing that, the Penguins will need the usual suspects to show up as required, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury to name four.

That wasn’t going to change at the trade deadline, either.

This isn’t a team completely lacking in postseason potential, but nor is it one that was only a player or two away from assuming a place among the perceived front-runners in the chase for the Cup.

Better to play it out pretty much as is without risking the allocation of assets that might be needed down the road (Derrick Pouliot, for example) than to pay dearly now for a run that might not materialize, anyway.

That didn’t happen when the Pens got Hossa and Iginla, either, despite the excitement their acquisitions inspired.
 

 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section