On his inactivity in the 2012 trade deadline, Ray Shero said:
I said this six weeks ago when we had lost six in a row, I like our team and I believe in our hockey team. I still do and I'm comfortable with this team moving forward. That's where we are...I just think that we have a pretty good hockey team here with our leadership and the character we have in our hockey team.
History would not repeat itself.
After the Flyers routed the Pens in embarrassing fashion, Shero took a good team and made it better than ever in less than a year. Just when you thought Shero was satisfied with the team, he wanted more. With the help of a soundly-run organization, a state-of-the-art facility, a legendary owner, and a team already stacked with talent, Shero welcomed top players to the Pens without losing much in return while getting exactly what he wanted. Most importantly, he got what the Pens needed.
Ranking these players was hard, a true testament to the job Shero did. I didn't base my ranking on skill-level, but rather, the value they've brought to the Pens.
6. Douglas Murray
14 games - 1G, 2A
This was not a popular trade at first, and for many, it may still be that way. But what Murray brings to the Pens is veteran size to the blue line. Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen are 6'0". Mark Eaton and Paul Martin are 6'1". The Pens do have a bigger guy in Brooks Orpik, but he's currently nursing a lower-body injury. Then there's Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, and Robert Bortuzzo, all over 6'2", but how often they see the ice during the playoffs is uncertain.
Murray is that constant beefiness on the blue line and it follows through on his shots from the point. This is a guy who can blast the puck and we've seen him find the net that way or find the sticks of players who will finish it.
However, his Achilles heel is his skating and speed. Against an Islanders team entering the playoffs with a ton of speed and young skill, this could be bad which is why he's last in this ranking. Murray's best tool to combat that is intimidation. The best case scenario is having Michael Grabner skating to the corner to corral the puck and, for a split second, hesitating when he sees 245-pounds of brawn hurtling towards him.
5. Jarome Iginla
13 games - 5G, 6A
Putting Iginla this low on any list feels criminal, but the question I asked myself throughout was, "If X wasn't on the Pens, would it have made a difference?" In regards to Iginla, I would say the difference wouldn't be drastic.
On the power play, especially without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Letang, and James Neal for a chunk of time, Iginla has been a God-send. Six of his 11 points came on the power play. At even-strength, though, he hasn't been as impactful as other players which is why I've placed him fifth.
Iginla's biggest contribution to this team won't be on the scoreboard, but in the dressing room. It's been pretty smooth sailing for the Pens since he joined the team, but wait till the Pens have a few bad losses under their belt. Easily the most respected player on the team, that will be his time to shine.
4. Jussi Jokinen
10 games - 7G, 4A
I had the most difficult time justifying Jokinen's placement here because not only was he a complete steal, but he's been tearing it up. Since becoming a Penguin, out of everyone on this list, he's the only one to average over a point per game. He also didn't have that slow transition many players combat upon joining a new team. His first game on the Pens against the Rangers included the lone goal in regulation and the game-winner in the shootout.
With his supreme stick-handling, Jokinen has brought that scoring touch that was immediately lost when Crosby, Neal, and Malkin were out of the lineup. What I believe to be most invaluable is his faceoff prowess. He will enter the playoffs with the highest faceoff percentage of players expected to dress (sorry, Joe Vitale). Not having Crosby really hurt the Pens in faceoffs and Jokinen was a reliable antidote.
When Crosby returns and Jokinen is shuffled to the fourth line, I can only imagine the damage he'll invoke. It doesn't take him a ton of ice time to do work. Against the Hurricanes, Jokinen netted two goals and a won 75-percent of faceoffs in under 13 minutes.
With that said, Jokinen has been predominantly a luxury, not a necessity. Considering Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis' resurgence this season, not having Jokinen wouldn't have crippled the Pens. Plenty of players have stepped up to the challenge and Jokinen's absence wouldn't have changed that.
3. Brandon Sutter
48 games - 11G, 8A
Sutter is probably the most underappreciated addition to the Pens this season. It isn't purposeful; it's just the way Sutter rolls. Most of us remember his two goals almost three and a half minutes apart in the game of the season against the Bruins. But many probably can't remember many major plays other than that.
Shero couldn't have picked a better person to fill Jordan Staal's skates when it became clear he was ready to jump ship. A skilled third-line center was a huge depth addition to the Pens and his ability to neutralize opponents' top players has been, and will continue to be, key to the Pens' success. Not only is Sutter right at home clearing pucks out of the slot, but he also has a knack for some clutch goals, as I noted.
Sutter could use a training camp to really transition into the Pens' system, but he's done exactly what the Pens needed. With this being his first playoff appearance, the big question is if he'll be ready for the responsibility. Remember in 2009, the Pens won the Cup not because Staal did his job, but he went above and beyond what was expected of him. Sutter will need be that defensive anchor at center, but he'll also need to crank up his offensive-mindedness as well.
2. Brenden Morrow
15 games - 6G, 8A
Many questioned Morrow wouldn't have enough left in the tank to make the loss of Joe Morrow worth it.
Were they ever wrong.
Morrow was a pleasant surprise for all of us. Fixated on the seemingly hopeless dreams of getting Iginla to Western Pennsylvania, none of us were prepared when the Morrow trade was announced. When he first joined the team, it looked like the naysayers were on to something: Morrow just wasn't pulling his weight and was pointless in his first four games and only had a point in six games. He wasn't playing bad, but he was inching toward the "bust" category.
Suddenly, it clicked against Carolina. Getting that first goal was all it took and Morrow became the quintessential player for Bylsma's system. A complete package.
He and Kunitz play a very similar game: tough, get-in-their-face hockey with a sniper's touch. Like Kunitz, Morrow has found tremendous success parking himself in front of the net as a screen or putting rebounds where they belong. He also sealed a permanent place in fans' hearts when he fought P.K. Subban and gave him a lesson in undressing. That additional toughness is what sets him apart from the rest. The Pens needed that.
What makes Morrow even better is he's scoring more than expected. The Matt Cooke - Sutter - Morrow line has been producing at exciting rates, and it's a line we surely will see when the playoffs begin.
1. Tomas Vokoun
13-4, 0.919 SV%
Blame my love affair with goalies, but despite the volume of offensive tools Shero ushered in this season, his best move was bringing in Vokoun to back up Marc-Andre Fleury. Simply put: Fleury needed someone to share the load of the season and Vokoun has done that and then some. This was a void that had to be filled more than anything, especially after Fleury's collapses in the playoffs the last few seasons.
Fleury was playing too many games in the regular season. Plain and simple. The shortened season would already give starters an advantage to play most of the season without wearing down, but the more games Fleury could ultimately sit, the better.
Signing Vokoun not only acted as an insurance policy in case Fleury became a sieve, but it gave him an extra incentive to fight for his starting position. It wasn't much of a fight, but when Vokoun had to step in for Fleury, be it as a replacement or to give him a breather, he was stellar. Vokoun provided a coolness in net, like every save required only half the effort. His veteran aura was present every time he left the crease to collect the puck. And yes, he can still make that jaw-dropping save that's "so Vokoun".
What makes this the most important signing is its effects go beyond giving Fleury a break in the regular season. If he needs to, Vokoun can step into the number one role (though I wouldn't want him to maintain that spot for long). As many have already mentioned, Vokoun's 3-0 record and .970 SV% against the Islanders are enough to make you a little comfortable about what's to come.
And it's not just fans; the Pens are a comfortable team in front of Vokoun as well. We missed this when Brent Johnson was in net last season. Having that kind of confidence in a back up is priceless.
Shero covered his bases in the goaltending department, adding talent while firing up the remaining goalie. A two-for-one deal. There was no position that needed it more.
Last trade deadline, Shero was comfortable with the leadership in the dressing room. This time around, Shero made sure the dressing room contained a surplus of leaders. With players like Iginla, Morrow, Jokinen, Murray, and Vokoun, the Pens better their chances for a deep playoff run not only because of the additional skill levels, but because of the heart within each of these players. None of these guys have won the Cup and you know that with this opportunity thrown at them, they are going to fight to hoist Lord Stanley.
And I'm sure Cup winners like Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Letang, and Fleury are more than happy to help them achieve their childhood goal.