PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero, uncommonly quiet at the trading deadline, still has a player in mind he wants before the end of the season.
An elite centre who makes every player around him better. A skilled scorer and playmaker. A player every other NHL team covets.
A guy named Sidney Crosby.
“I’m hopeful he’ll be able to come back and play. There’s no guarantee of that,” Shero said.
For the first time in his six seasons in Pittsburgh, Shero failed Monday to pull off a trading deadline deal. In past seasons, he added players such as Marian Hossa, James Neal, Bill Guerin, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and Gary Roberts, all of whom played significant roles for playoff-bound teams, but the Penguins sat this one out.
It is believed this was the first time since the 1980s that the Penguins failed to make a significant move at the deadline.
All those Shero-acquired players were added with the idea of either playing beside or complementing Crosby. And while it was speculated in Pittsburgh that Shero stayed on the sideline this time because he expects Crosby to return in the near future, he said that wasn’t true.
The reality, he said, is the asking price for the players that interested the Penguins simply was too high.
“It was just one of those trade deadlines. We’ve always been active doing something,” Shero said. “This is the first time we have not done anything. It just really wasn’t there for us in terms of the players that were available.”
Still, Shero has insisted for weeks that he is comfortable with a team that has played well even without Crosby. The Penguins are 15-4-1 since mid-January despite being without their sidelined superstar, who has played just eight games in the last 14 months.
Crosby is skating again with the Penguins, but his return date remains uncertain because of ongoing concussion-like symptoms.
“We had a number of conversations with some teams. Whether the price, in our opinion, was too high on some players or there just wasn’t a fit on our end (nothing happened),” Shero said. “We did make some offers on some players. But those players never even got moved. It was a long day to really come up with nothing.”
Especially when the Penguins are accustomed to coming up with something just as the playoffs are approaching.
However, Shero believes an already good team was upgraded with the recent returns of star defenceman Kris Letang and centre Jordan Staal from injuries. The Penguins have climbed to within seven points of the Rangers in the Atlantic Division standings, and Shero believes they possess the depth and chemistry that can carry a team through an extended playoff run.
NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin is surging with four goals in two games and a nearly goal-per-game pace over the last month. Malkin is proving to be a difficult matchup problem for opponents, especially now that Staal—moved up from the No. 3 to the No. 2 centre—is becoming as big a force offensively as the former Selke Trophy finalist is as a shutdown forward.
Staal has 21 goals in 42 games and might threaten his career high of 29 goals, set during his rookie season in 2006-07, despite being out six weeks with a left knee injury.
And if Crosby comes back…
“You (could) see Staal moving up to the wing depending on the matchup situation,” Shero said. “The beautiful thing is that they (Crosby, Malkin and Staal) can all play well over 20 minutes a night. So you can put them in different situations depending on the game and the score of the games.”
He added: “It just gives us a lot of options and flexibility. It creates many more problems for the teams we are matching up.”