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Messages Sent

Head Coach Mike Johnston warned the regular season was about building process for good habits come playoff time.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last week, it looked like things off the ice were about to explode causing a giant shift for the Penguins from the front office down to Zach Sill eating nachos in the press box.

Head Coach Mike Johnston basically started the message sending by separating Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the power play. Johnston and assistant coach Rick Tocchet have reportedly been so exasperated by the top players refusal to follow simple instructions such as shooting the puck and not getting caught stationary, it forced this very public move.

While the team lost 2-1 in a shootout in Chicago, the frustrations were starting to boil.

Then came two more 1-goal losses to the Washington Capitals (3-1) and Columbus Blue Jackets (2-1), the latter reportedly enough to have General Manager Jim Rutherford stay back in Pittsburgh to talk trades with other GMs.

Things were so bad, Phil Bourque went off on the post-game radio show after losing to the Blue Jackets saying, "enough is enough".

Much of the attention was on the players based on the criticism of the lack luster response after Crosby's fight with Brandon Dubinsky but Bourque stating "There’s kind of been this ‘Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. Don’t look at the stats. Don’t look at the numbers so much.’ That’s kind of what you’re hearing. You know what, at this point, you better look at the numbers, because it’s a reality. It’s not a small sample size anymore. It’s a reality that right now, this team is not good enough, and there should be some real, real healthy fear of what’s going on right now."

Before the season, Johnston talked about the process but after 58 games, is it really still about the building process or has time come to put it together?

It wasn't surprising coming off three straight losses, the Pittsburgh media began to report on General Manager Jim Rutherford's intention to shake things up if the team struggled over the weekend.

It is funny as critical as the fans, media, and team personnel have been at various points in the season, everyone accepted Johnston's idea during training camp to build this team for the playoffs.

Maybe... just maybe... those messages sent by Johnston to Crosby and Malkin were enough to signal his unhappiness with their play. I'm not saying Bourque's tirade was orchestrated or even Rutherford's reported interest in Jordan Staal was leaked in order to motivate Brandon Sutter but after years of Dan Bylsma leaning on his 'need to get to our game' mantra after losses, maybe... just maybe Johnston knew what he was doing to get the team refocused on their play.

The last two games were a good reminder, no trade deadline acquisition will be as good as Crosby and Malkin playing up to their standards.

Staal Rumors

Just before the game ended on Saturday night, Pittsburgh Tribune Review's Josh Yohe reported the Penguins wanted to re-acquire center Jordan Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes after the season. It was a curious report in that the Penguins would talk to a reporter about a trade for the upcoming season while the team was still in the playoff hunt.

What was the motivation?

Remember last year's play by former General Manager Ray Shero to acquire then Vancouver center Ryan Kesler and how Brandon Sutter's performance after the trade deadline was possibly traced to his playing with a chip on his shoulder?

TSN's Aaron Ward reported on Sunday that Carolina had told Staal the rumors were unfounded.

It is interesting how an initial report says, "sources close to Staal said he would forgo that if it meant returning to the Penguins."

But somehow Staal goes to Carolina asking what is going on....

We're not going to hear the last about Staal to Pittsburgh but as for me, I hope we don't.

First things first, Staal would have to waive his no trade clause, which means be willing to admit to everyone in the NHL that he's more comfortable playing as a third line center than as a second liner. If there's one thing I know about many hockey players, they are prideful athletes.

And what does Carolina have to do to make Staal entertain such a decision?

Trading his brother would be a start.

So after getting past the obvious on Staal's end of the deal, why are the Penguins trying to get Staal?

Are they really going to pay $6 million cap hit for the next four seasons to have Staal center a third line?

Would they address the lack of size in the top six by promising and playing Staal on the second line left-wing with Malkin like the two did during their rookie campaigns together, one in which Staal scored a career high 29 goals?

That seems like a very big IF to me.

Oh and that tiny important nugget... what exactly does Pittsburgh have to trade to get him back?

It won't be an aging winger like Chris Kunitz or an overpaid third line center (Sutter).

Prospect Watch

Scott Wilson - Other than goaltender Matt Murray, there isn't another prospect in the organization that has improved his stock this season than Wilson. He's played in just 35 games in the AHL due to his leg injury during his NHL recall but has scored 13 goals and 15 assists. If the Penguins don't acquire a bottom six winger at the trade deadline, I expect Wilson to get another opportunity to show what he's got as the team can't possibly go into the playoffs with Zach Sill and Craig Adams between Max Lapierre.

Trade Deadline

Most people schedule a day off on NHL Trade Deadline Day and stare at the computer, listen to the radio, and watch TSN's incomparable telecast as their favorite teams make trades in hopes of making 'the' move to win a Stanley Cup or build for another year.

Not me, I'll be at Walt Disney World on a Twitter ban as I spend some quality time with the family.

On March 2nd at 3:00 PM eastern, while I'm riding the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, can the Penguins put a jolt of their own terror across the NHL by acquiring the necessary pieces to make a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup?

The team could use a better option on the blue line than Robert Bortuzzo, especially if Christian Ehrhoff can't recover from his concussion.

First place to look is in Arizona, where the desert is hot and the fire sale is even hotter but at the price to acquire and cap hit required, don't look for Keith Yandle or Oliver Ekman-Larsson coming to Pittsburgh and we've already had enough reunion talk for one blog to safely assume Zbynek Michalek gets moved to another team in search of a defensemen that swims on the ice as much as Robert Scuderi.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry would seem to make sense as a right-handed shooting defensemen, decent size at 6'3" 195 lbs, and relatively cap friendly at $3,075,000 while heading to free agency this summer but a rib injury could sour the Penguins on him.

Another right-handed defensemen that might interest the Penguins is Toronto's Roman Polak, a strong defensemen with a bit of snarl to his game but his $2.75 million cap hit might be too rich for the Penguins to take on for next season.

Besides the obvious Daniel Winnick mention to address the forward depth, some other candidates could be Arizona center Antoine Vermette (if Sutter is traded), Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty, Dallas winger Erik Cole, and Florida winger Sean Bergenheim.

Don't be surprise if familiarity pushes Rutherford to trade for Cole as the veteran would best fit on the third or fourth line.