Two trades for the Penguins today.
Defenseman Hal Gill from Toronto for Pittsburgh's 2nd and 5th round picks in the 2008 draft.
Gill is 6' 7", all of it mean. He's very good at parking himself in the slot on the penalty kill and beating on anybody who dares cross his path. If you remember him from his Bruins days, you probably remember him because he frustrated the bejeezus out of Jaromir Jagr.
Wings Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta for wing Colby Armstrong, center Erik Christensen, center Angelo Esposito (currently back in juniors), and Pittsburgh's 1st round pick in the 2008 draft.
Wow. This is a big, big deal.
Hossa is a five-time All Star, has averaged about one point per game, and is a steady 30 goal per season scorer. He's also a strong penalty killer. Dupuis is more of a third-line checking winger, and is also a good penalty killer. (Detecting a theme here?)
The now ex-Penguin I feel, um, least bad about is Christensen. Crusher's ideal role is second line center. He doesn't really have the physical style that his nickname would suggest, so he won't work on a third or fourth line. Michel Therrien tried him on the wing last year, but he wasn't very effective there. Thus, the only way Christensen could get quality time was when Crosby or Malkin were, for whatever reason, not the 1 and 2 centers.
That excess depth at center also explains Esposito's departure. With Crosby locked up for six years, and Malkin due for a big contract this summer, there wasn't room for another first round center. It could end up another Markus Naslund for Alex Stojanov deal, if Espo lives up to the potential he's shown with the Quebec Remparts. The jury is still out on that, though.
The big shock in the deal is Colby Armstrong. On the ice, he's had some scoring droughts, but he never takes a shift off, is a reliable penalty killer, can take on any role in the system, and never lets his beanpole physique get in the way of a good hit. In the locker room, he set the tone for this young team: Take the work seriously, but never let the game stop being fun. You probably couldn't find a human being in the city of Pittsburgh who didn't like Army.
That kind of heart isn't easily replaced.
But from a tactical point of view, Ray Shero's moves make good sense. The Penguins' penalty kill has been mired in the mid-20s in the league rankings this year. Meanwhile, Hossa and Dupuis were 1-2 in shorthanded ice time for the Thrashers this season. (Which makes you wonder what will happen to their PK down the stretch…) Gill's size speaks for itself. Together, they should improve the team's biggest weakness.
Acquiring Hossa also solves the dilemma that has been perplexing armchair GMs in Pittsburgh all season: Who will be Sidney Crosby's linemates? Since Sid's high ankle sprain, the Malone-Malkin-Sykora line has caught fire. Nobody wants to break that up, but that left the cupboard bare for Crosby's line. Now, with Hossa, Sid has the finisher he needs to complement his play-maker role. Add a grinder like Talbot, and the Penguins already potent offense gets that much deeper.
Gill's place in the line-up creates a new question, though. Who's the odd man out? The obvious answer would be Brooks Orpik, who has been in and out of Therrien's doghouse all year. Down the stretch, though, there's always somebody hurting, so a seventh defenseman isn't a bad thing to have around. Ask Alain Nasreddine.
We'll have to wait and see how this all unfolds. The obvious message from Ray Shero is that the time for rebuilding is over. Now, it's time to win the Stanley Cup.