The Pensblog gets the ball rolling with a new, intruiging trade deadline strategy that general manager Ray Shero might consider:
Is Staal's play of late making the Pens contemplate a shift in thinking?
As in, bumping Staal up to number-2 center and trying to acquire a solid two-way third-line center?
Think about it: Staal and Craig Adams are sub 50% faceoff guys and Evgeni Malkin is sub 40% in the circle. As a result, Sidney Crosby (57.2%) has to bear a heavy burden, he's currently taken 37% of the Pens faceoffs.
Bumping Staal up to 2nd line forward of course creates a problem: it takes Malkin out of his natural position. Malkin is proficient on the wing, but arguably not at his most effective. If Geno can settle into a winger role and get comfortable there, it of course resolves the problem of not having enough skill on the wing. The $64,000 question is, can Malkin do that? Is he willing?
There's little doubt Staal's been playing good enough recently to be a 2nd line center, and whether or not Malkin plays on his line or with Crosby, it adds a whole new dimension to the offense.
Here's what the assumed lines would look like post-trade deadline (assuming full health, which we all know is a fleeting concept)
Finding a checking forward isn't that difficult to do, but finding a "sellers" at this trading deadline might be, as only four teams are out of the playoff hunt. Let's set the standard of being an honest, hard-working center that's at least 50% proficient this season on a team that is amongst the 4 lowest in the league (TOR, CAR, EDM, CBS). The player must have a reasonably friendly contract and bonus points if the player is a FA to be. Plus/minus isn't a good indicator for us here, since these guys come from teams where they allow more goals than they score (so everyone ought to be bad there) but it is important to have a +/- relative to teammates.
Behind the jump, possible candidates for the Penguins if GM Ray Shero wants to shift Malkin to wing and bump Staal up a line for this playoff run:
#18 / Center / Toronto Maple Leafs
Jun 04, 1976
Salary: $1.4 million (expires 2009-10)
|2009 - Wayne Primeau||40||2||4||6||-2||26||0||0||0||0||40||5.0|
Reasons for Yay: Very strong 55.8% in the faceoff circle, good size, expiring contract and reasonable cap hit, plays for a team that probably would trade him
Reasons for Nay: Probably better suited as a 4th line center than a 3rd for a contender at this stage of his career. Like Crosby, is left-handed, so his strong side isn't as strong as Sid's, so what would he really offer?
#8 / Center / Carolina Hurricanes
Nov 02, 1976
Salary: $2.875 million cap hit (expires 2009-10)
|2009 - Matt Cullen||55||11||24||35||1||24||1||2||1||0||127||8.7|
Yay: Has Stanley Cup experience with the Canes, almost surely is on the trading block, is better all-around player than just a checking line center, is a plus player on a bad team.
Nay: Only 48.9% winner of faceoffs this season, his salary might be too much for the Pens to take on, also is left-handed
#26 / Center / Columbus Blue Jackets
Dec 17, 1977
Salary: $2.675 million cap hit (expires 2011-12)
|2009 - Samuel Pahlsson||54||2||9||11||-3||24||0||0||0||0||67||3.0|
Yay: Has Stanley Cup experience with the Ducks, solid 53.9% at faceoffs this season
Nay: Doesn't provide much offense, has a contract for two more season that's a little too rich.
There could be other options out there, but I think clearly Cullen is the best choice. He might not be the pure "checking" center or defensive specialist, but he's a speedy player with experience and plays a smart game. In my head at least, Cullen could look pretty good in between Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on the Pens 3rd line.
Hopefully, as the Olympic break passes, teams may be willing to sell players, but I wouldn't count on it. 13 teams are set up in each conference to think they can compete for the top 8, which is going to mean not much of a supply.