As we all know, March 1st at the 3 pm has come and gone. Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford in the days leading up to and on, what has become an NHL holiday in #TradeDeadline Day, was quite active. Let’s take a look at the moves Rutherford made along with other roster movements and what it means to the defending champs.
Let us start with the most talked about position and player leading up to and on Trade Deadline Day and that’s goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Since last season’s playoff run ultimately ending in the Penguins hoisting Lord Stanley’s fable cup, speculations and rumors have flown around like confetti at a Blue Jackets regular season win in February. Is Fleury going to stay? Will he back up Murray? Will the Penguins let him go in the expansion draft? If Fleury did a back handspring into a full twisting layout and stuck the landing, does that mean there’s life on Jupiter? Any possible question, scenario, or absurd situation was discussed by fans and analysts alike in the case of Marc-Andre Fleury.
The fact is, last year it took a 3-goalie rotation in order to complete the tasks of 16 wins in the playoffs. And as a former goaltender himself, Jim Rutherford understands better than most that it takes a team effort to win and that includes at the backstop position as well. This is why Rutherford intended on keeping number 29 for as long as he could. So, the trade deadline has past and here we are today, Monday morning 3/6/2017 and last night Murray gave up 3 goals early and smiling veteran, the one they call “Flower” came in to save the day shutting down the Buffalo Sabres and giving his team the opportunity to score 4 unanswered goals in two periods for the win. Not only do the Penguins get to keep the best goaltending tandem in the league for another playoff run, they get insurance that they will have the best possible goaltending available for any situation. This is excellent not only for situations like last night’s game but also because of the injury history of the Penguins overall. The Penguins receive a “Pittsburgh Gold” star for keeping “The Flower” in town.
It was no surprise that Rutherford was looking to acquire defensemen at or before the trade deadline. Long term injuries to Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, along with short term injuries to Justin Schultz and the oft injured Kris Letang, put a gaping hole in the blueline of the Penguins lineup. If the Penguins want any chance at repeating as champions, GM Rutherford had to find a way to stop that hole from bleeding and the recalls from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton were not the solution.
Top defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was rumored early to be on the block before the deadline. But Rutherford tends to not wait around for deadlines, he makes things happen on his time. So, he went out and acquired veteran Ron Hainsey from the Carolina Hurricanes. Hainsey, a very responsible and seasoned veteran on the blueline now gets to show what he’s capable of when playing for a contending team. Hainsey, an excellent acquisition, truly helped stable the blueline. But was that enough? The answer is, no! Not so much!
Shattenkirk was still on the table, March 1st. In what turned out to be a Metropolitan division battle for the Blues defenseman, Shattenkirk was ultimately shipped to the Capitals where he was reunited with old teammate T.J. Oshie. But Rutherford doing what he does, grabs another iron out of the fire and begins to hammer out something special. Not only did Rutherford find a way to deal with the long-hated Flyers without actually having to deal with them, he also got multiple teams to retain some of the salary of defenseman Mark Streit (good luck plugging all the info into Turbo Tax Mr. Streit!). Streit, a 39 year old puck moving defenseman, packed up his gear and headed across the Pa Turnpike, leaving behind the City Where Dreams Go to Die for the City of Champions. Two days later in Streit’s first game with the Black and Gold he records a goal, an assist, 4 shots on net, and 2 blocked shots in a 5-2 win over his former team (albeit only for an hour) the Tampa Bay Lightning. I’d say it was a heck of a deal my GM Rutherford. Now, with Schultz back in the lineup as well, the Penguins blueline holes have been sealed up. “Pittsburgh Gold” star number 2 for GMJR.
The biggest rumblings of the rumor mill on deadline day, when it came to forwards for the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the potential to acquire Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche. But honestly, that was truly just speculation. While Duchene has my utter respect as a player and my heartfelt sympathy for playing for the Avalanche, the crafty winger just wasn’t going to fit in Pittsburgh. At least not in this moment. On top of that, there just wasn’t room in the Pens salary cap in order to fit a top 6 veteran forward. However, the Rutherford did make a minor splash on his forward front, sending Eric Fehr to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a minor league defenseman. As much as I liked Fehr and believed he was very reliable 4th line player, there are cheaper options for the Pens in their minor league affiliate that can do the same thing. The trade opened up a little cap space, so that GM Rutherford could close the holes in the injury laden blueline.
The reality of the Penguins forwards is that with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Sheary, Hornqvist, Cullen, Guentzel, Kunitz, Bonino, and Hagelin, the Penguins are a scoring threat top to bottom. Once Rust is healthy and if Hagelin finds his scoring prowess again, there is no reason to tweak or change this lineup even if it was to add a caliber player such as Duchene. The speed and the work ethic, which is established by number 87 Captain Sidney Crosby, of the Penguins forwards is lethal. And as the old saying goes, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. “Pittsburgh Gold” star number 3 for staying put and believing in the forwards you got at the deadline.
The Penguins filled their needs and management sent the message of, “we believe in you, we believe in this group, and we’ve only gotten strong in order to make a long run”. It’s a great message and one that fans and writers alike believe too. Now, it’s time for the Pens to heat up down this back stretch and allow some players to get healthy again as well as allowing others to get comfortable with their new surroundings. When the Penguins heat up and everyone is healthy, you better “Get in the fast lane grandma, because the bingo game is ready to roll!”
Good talk, I’ll see ya out there! #LetsGoPens
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