NHL Trade Deadline: Salary Cap be Damned, Crosby Needs a Winger (Tuesday Slew)

USA TODAY Sports

The NHL trade deadline is a week away, and the Penguins have the internal depth to address every issue but one.

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

Yes, it reads like a bad joke, but here we are again. The NHL Trade Deadline is on the horizon, the Pittsburgh Penguins would appear to be among the league's buyers and Sidney Crosby is again in search of a scoring winger.

Crosby is in his eighth NHL season, and only very recently have Pascal Dupuis and gold medal-having best-friend-forever Chris Kunitz solidified Crosby's wings and the Penguins' top line.

The band's been together since 2010, but one injury or another has usually gotten in the way. Only last year did the line stick together through the postseason, one that ended in a head-on collision with a wall named Tuukka Rask.

Even after that goal-less, point-less sweep, the line remained the same. Dupuis signed a four-year contract extension and Kunitz for three (with one still remaining), essentially solidifying Crosby's line for as long as everyone stays productive.

Or healthy.

Dupuis's season-ending knee injury broke the line apart in December, and games since then have featured some rotation of AHL call-ups, in-house promotions and all-out line shuffling. Crosby and Kunitz have fared well enough. Crosby is still in the NHL points lead, and Kunitz is on track to score almost 40 goals this season.

Still, is that enough to spearhead the team into another postseason of high expectations?

What the Penguins address at the deadline -- if anything -- is as much a question of limitation as of possibility. The team may want to address its defensive absentees in Paul Martin (hand) and Kris Letang (stroke). It may also want to address its absentee scoring depth among bottom-six forwards. However, the team has less than zero cap space. It might work out that they can't address anything by way of trade unless they ship off a good bit of salary already on the books.

As for addressing the team's defensive depth? Could take one or two players. The third or fourth lines? Shaping that anew through trades could similarly take one or two players, meaning one or two new cap headaches.

It might -- somehow -- work out that the only thing the Penguins can afford is a new winger for Crosby.

Admittedly, that's a limited pool. There are only so many teams who will be selling at the deadline. Few of them will make available the kind of winger who might be able to keep up with Crosby. Fewer still will be affordable. However, there might be a way to squeeze someone into the picture. Matt Moulson wouldn't be a bad place to start.

Skill set aside, Moulson is a would-be target for the Penguins because of his relatively low cap hit and the near-certainty that he will be dealt. After breaking through as a 30-goal winger with the New York Islanders, Moulson is now with the Buffalo Sabres, the sellingest of trade deadline sellers in the Eastern Conference.

Moulson may not make a perfect fit on Crosby's line. He's a left-winger. That's Kunitz's spot, and will remain so. However, like Dupuis, Moulson is a left-handed shot. He proved in his time in New York that he can skate with elite playmaking talent in John Tavares, and Tavares plays a style that's a good facsimile for Crosby's.

What it would take to pry Moulson out of Buffalo is anyone's guess, but it's a sure bet the Sabres will be fielding calls. Most importantly, Moulson would fit into the Penguins' suffocating salary cap situation.

Perhaps.

The easiest one-for-one cap equation regarding Moulson is to place Kris Letang on long-term injured reserve for the balance of the regular season. Letang is out a minimum of five more weeks after having suffered a stroke earlier this month, and it takes only an absence of 10 games or 24 days to qualify for LTIR. There are just seven weeks remaining in the regular season, and the Penguins are reportedly planning as though Letang will not be available again this year.

Letang carries a $3.5 million cap hit. Moulson's hit is $3.133 million. As far as the cap goes, Letang's yearly cap hit, placed on LTIR for the rest of the regular season, would cover the addition of Moulson to the roster.

Of course, there are other factors.

Dupuis is creating some $3.75 million in LTIR space, and the team is using some of it for AHL call-ups. Tomas Vokoun's $2 million cap hit has been used for the season so far to help the Pens remain cap compliant. There is a chance he will return to the lineup sooner than later, and his return would dry up the team's remaining $1.195 million in LTIR-boosted cap space, in addition to the demotions or trades that will have to follow to recover all of his incoming cap hit.

Placing Letang on LTIR would cover Vokoun's return and leave some $3 million or so leftover in LTIR-boosted cap space, perhaps just enough to cover a salary like Moulson's.

The Penguins have plenty to consider, and they could be left to address all problem areas internally if the trade market plays out of their price range.

We've already seen what the team can address from within. The defense will be in fine shape if left to veterans like Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi for a few weeks (especially with the suddenly excellent Matt Niskanen-Olli Maatta pairing still together). A few wingers, like Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons, have the kind of speed to keep up with Crosby on the wings, but want for NHL experience. Beau Bennett is an option, but who trusts him to stay healthy?

The Penguins may not be comfortable with any of those players on their top line, but put them on the third line and that speed alone becomes some kind of weapon when its following shifts by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Defense? The Penguins have it.

That leaves the question of who will replace Dupuis for the rest of the season. It'll take some work (and a lot of math), but the Penguins should be able to answer the question of who will be Crosby's winger.

It wouldn't be a trade deadline without it.

Tuesday Slew is commentary-style jargon that runs Tuesdays at Pensburgh. Or other days. I'm on twitter.

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