Leverage is everything.
The Penguins know it, and GM Ray Shero used the leverage of an untapped trade market to land his grit forward and stay-at-home defenseman before the rest of the league could set his prices for him.
Pittsburgh acquired D Douglas Murray and LW Brenden Morrow in deals made a day apart, but more than a week in advance of the April 3 trade deadline.
Before any one of the NHL's other 29 clubs made a significant move in this deadline season, the Penguins have already made two.
That proactive approach to personnel decisions is a pattern that first emerged after the Penguins lost out on Marian Hossa—and precious time that could have been used competing in the first days of free agency—back in 2008.
The Hockey Writers' Mike Colligan detailed the Penguins' unwillingness to let players direct and, more importantly, delay their personnel options as far back as 2010,
Shero left the decision up to Hossa as he waited patiently by the phone on July 1. When the Slovak sniper finally made his choice the following evening, it came in the form of a one-year contract for $7.45m with the Detroit Red Wings (Pittsburgh's biggest rival at the time).
The Penguins knew there was a possibility Hossa would sign elsewhere when they acquired him via trade, but they couldn't have anticipated the sucker punch Hossa unloaded that left Shero picking over free agent scraps 48 hours after the July 1 frenzy had begun. It's safe to assume the team wasn't going to let Sergei Gonchar steer their offseason plans [in summer 2010].
Since being held hostage by Hossa, the Penguins have struck early on a number of deals. They had Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek on speed dial at the start of free agency in 2010, having already done their due diligence on Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis. The Pens swung the deal for Matt Niskanen and James Neal seven days ahead of the 2011 trade deadline.
So proactive are the Penguins, they didn't even let Jordan Staal play out the final year of his contract in Pittsburgh, opting to move the talented center at last year's draft. That deal netted them a fine replacement in Brandon Sutter, in addition to a pair of defensive prospects in Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot.
Dumoulin and Pouliot won't see the ice this season, but they've already made their contribution to the Pens' Cup run. Having a stock of players like Dumoulin and Pouliot in the pipeline is what allowed Pittsburgh the leverage to move Joe Morrow for an immediate need on the NHL roster.
There's that word again.
There are risks inherent to Murray and B. Morrow, both in their slipping numbers and in losing the assets Pittsburgh spared to get them. However the two veterans play out on the ice, though, the Penguins did what they could to get those players on their own terms.
Even if the prices were steep, those prices seem set to become much, much steeper.
Jarome Iginla is the premier forward on the market, and just a handful of teams are believed to be in the running for his services (including the Pens). However, the gap between landing Iginla and landing the next-best forward is now a gulf because of the Penguins' deal that took Morrow off the shelf.
Is there a chance that the Pens grossly overpaid for Morrow? His play, and the development of former Pens' prospect Joe Morrow will have to determine that.
Given B. Morrow's injury troubles and dipping stats, it's reasonable to believe history could show the Pens as having "lost" the deal in surrendering a former first-round pick for an aging rental player.
But, given the dearth of trade bait in this deadline, it's perfectly safe to assume that the second big deal in this deadline will be much, much costlier than the first.
The trade deadline is a prime time for teams to become reactive to the market and to their own perceived needs. In striking early, Shero and the Pens have been proactive, working ahead of a market that figures to be thin due to the compressed schedule and the small number of teams for which the playoffs are truly out of reach.
If the worst-case scenario plays out and their new veteran duo turns out to be a bust, the Penguins can't be faulted for overpaying in reaction to their competition.
Shero and his team knew what they were giving up when they acquired these players. Whether or not history determines they gave up too much, it's immediately clear that Pittsburgh's deals were made according to plan.