Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Heading into this lockout-shortened
season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were tabbed by Las Vegas odds-makers as
Stanley Cup favorites.
The choice made sense back in January, and over the last two months Pittsburgh
has done little to damage its standing as the NHL's team to beat. In fact,
with a pair of recent trades the Penguins clearly are going all-in in an
attempt to win their second Stanley Cup title of the Sidney Crosby era.
Already loaded with marquee talent like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and
Kris Letang, the Penguins acquired veterans Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray
in separate trades over the past few days.
Since acquiring Morrow and Murray didn't cost Pittsburgh a single player from
the club's current NHL roster, it made plenty of sense for the Pens to gear up
for a run that could end with the franchise winning its second Cup in four
While winning it all isn't the type of thing teams can guarantee with a couple
of trades, at worst the moves should at least help the Pens get past the
opening round after losing in the conference quarterfinals in each of the past
two seasons. At best, it could give Pittsburgh a significant edge over other
Stanley Cup contenders like Boston or Chicago.
The only real knock against Pittsburgh's recent trades would be the old "don't
mess with a good thing" argument. After all, the Penguins are in the midst of
the longest winning streak in the NHL this season, capturing 12 games in a row
to begin the month of March. The hot streak has vaulted the Pens to the top of
the Eastern Conference, a spot the club hopes to use as a jumping-off point to
its first title since 2009 and fourth in franchise history.
The fact that the Pens have somehow managed to pull off the majority of this
winning streak without the help of Malkin, last season's Hart Trophy
recipient, is in an indication of how tight Pittsburgh's team game is right
now. Dan Bylsma's club hasn't skipped a beat while Malkin has sat out eight
games with an upper body injury and the club has even been able to overcome
the loss of top defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed the past three contests
with a lower body issue.
The recent trades, however, aren't designed to cover up for the absence of
both Malkin and Letang, as both players are due back soon and could play as
early as Tuesday's home game against Montreal. Instead, the Pens expect Morrow
and Murray to fill more specified roles, ones that could be essential in the
quest for this year's Cup.
In Morrow, the Pens added a physical forward who served as captain of the
Dallas Stars for six-plus season before being traded Sunday for a package that
included defensive prospect Joe Morrow, a first-round pick in 2011.
Morrow had to waive a no-trade clause to complete the trade to Pittsburgh and
seems eager to make his best effort at fitting in with a club that is already
"I have no idea what part, I just don't want to screw it up," Morrow jokingly
told Pittsburgh's official website.
"Right now, they're going pretty good ... I've been on teams before, the
Olympics, where you find a role and you do whatever it takes. I want to win a
Cup. I'm going to do whatever role I need to do to help this team do that."
A two-time 30-goal scorer, the 34-year-old Morrow has recorded just 17 markers
over his past 86 games, but he's willing to do just about anything to help
Pittsburgh get back to the promised land.
"I know all the skill and talent this locker room has," Morrow added. "I think
my job is just to drive to the front of the net with my stick on the ice and
let things hit me. That makes things pretty easy."
Murray's job description also could be described as letting things hit him.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound defenseman, who was acquired for a second-round draft
pick in 2013 and a conditional second-rounder in 2014, is a fearless shot-
blocker and he could become Pittsburgh's most effective physical blueliner
since Hal Gill helped the Pens win it all in 2009 before departing for free
Considering the level of talent Pittsburgh already had in place before the two
recent trades, it would seem the Pens would be done dealing ahead of the
traded deadline, but there are surprising rumors suggesting the contrary.
A source told ESPN's Pierre LeBrun that the recent deals for Morrow and Murray
do not necessarily mean the Pens are done pursuing Calgary Flames forward
Jarome Iginla, who could be the most coveted player ahead of the season's
trade deadline on April 3.
Landing Iginla, who also is reportedly being chased by the Boston Bruins,
would cost Pittsburgh more than they gave up for either Morrow or Murray, but
it might make sense for a team that obviously feels it's really close to a
Like both Morrow and Murray, Iginla is another guy who will be a free agent
after this season. That's OK by Pens general manager Ray Shero, who has
identified this shortened season as an ideal one for rental players since the
salary cap is set to increase significantly for the 2013-14 campaign.
"It just seems this is the one year, too, that teams have that extra cap
space," Shero said in an interview with NHL.com last week. "Where a team like
us in the last couple of years really didn't have any cap space and maybe
moving forward with the cap going down, we might not have that in the future."
Shero knows the trades for Morrow and Murray, or even an additional deal for
Iginla, guarantee nothing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If championships always
went to the most obvious teams the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings never
should've won it all last spring, but they did.
What the Penguins are doing is taking calculated risks in a year when they
have the cap space to do so. Whether 2013 ends with Crosby and Co. hoisting
another Cup, it's hard to argue with that logic.
The Sports Network