It may not have been pretty at times, but the Pittsburgh Penguins gutted out a 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday. To be completely realistic, “pretty” wins are just about done for at this point in the season: teams have to take the wins however they come to them. It makes much more sense to be prepared to win games “ugly” because that’s how you win playoff games and series. If you’re a team that relies on winning “pretty” like the Penguins had gotten used to over the years, you’ll get swallowed up by teams that know how to play “ugly,” like the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals, or the New York Islanders. So what if the game Friday night got hairy? The Penguins won. They are two points behind Washington and the Islanders for first in the East Division, and more importantly, six ahead of the Bruins for fourth. Pittsburgh is in good shape.
With that being said, the NHL’s trade deadline is tomorrow, and between the time I finish writing this post and the time you read this on Sunday, some trade of consequence or substance will have been made. Indeed, the last few days have shown that the dominoes may be tipping, with the Islanders acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from New Jersey, or Tampa Bay acquiring David Savard in a three-team deal between the Lightning, Columbus, and Detroit.
Most years I do some sort of long trade deadline post detailing the trade value of each Penguin on the roster and some grading of each team’s likelihood to be buyers or sellers. As to the latter, I think the picture is pretty clear, judging by the playoff odds of each team by division:
Just to be clear, that’s fourteen out of the sixteen playoff seeds effectively assured, and five teams battling for the other two spots.
For the Penguins, this year’s trade deadline is going to emphasize the “dead” part of the word. Sure, maybe general manager Ron Hextall will squeeze out a depth addition of some kind, but the truth of the matter is that, without causing further harm to the team’s future by trading away it best prospects or their more productive talent in Pittsburgh, the Penguins aren’t going to improve much from outside. I am in the camp that Hextall will choose to stay largely idle, except maybe for a lateral swap. After all, the man who Hextall replaced, Jim Rutherford, did not leave the team with much in the way of cap space or assets.
Regardless, Pittsburgh has a pretty decent team already that is managing to get by fine at the moment. If and when they get to full health, they’ll have four-sixths (yes, two-thirds) of their middle-six back in the lineup. Are they a Cup-winning team? Especially when the principal foes (namely New York, Tampa, Colorado) in that regard have been able to upgrade? It’s a tough answer to know when you aren’t sure who will be healthy and who won’t.
I will say this: I’m afraid the Penguins’ best hope for winning the Stanley Cup this season is that the injury bug that has been gnawing at the team all season goes away and starts afflicting other teams. (Or doesn’t bite anyone at all! I guess that’s fine too.)