|Big deal after all: surprising Penguins add Marian Hossa, Hal Gill|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 27 February 2008 02:23|
General manager Ray Shero downplayed talk in advance that the Penguins would be major players at the NHL trading deadline Tuesday.
Surprise - they landed the biggest prize of the 45 players who were dealt in Hossa, a soon-to-be free agent who couldn't work out a new contract with Atlanta.
As usual, there were a flurry of down-to-the-wire deals, with Tampa Bay dealing star forward Brad Richards to Dallas, the San Jose Sharks prying away defenseman Brian Campbell from Buffalo, Colorado reacquiring defenseman Adam Foote from Columbus and Washington picking up goalie Cristobal Huet and forward Sergei Fedorov.
But the trade that sent shudders through the Eastern Conference was the Penguins adding Hossa to a high-scoring mix that already includes Crosby, last year's MVP and scoring champion, and Evgeni Malkin, the current scoring leader.
``Pittsburgh has so much talent, it's almost scary,'' said Hossa, who was in Ottawa with the Thrashers and couldn't leave in time for the Penguins' 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
Many of the conference's contenders pursued the 29-year-old Hossa, who tied for sixth in scoring with 100 points last season. Pittsburgh sneaked in at the last minute and grabbed Hossa, even though Shero estimated there was only a ``5 percent chance'' of doing so when the day began.
``I didn't think until a half-hour before the deadline this had a real possibility,'' Shero said. ``This was a big deal to make.''
In Montreal, where the fans made a big deal out of what became a curious day for the Canadiens after they couldn't trade for Hossa. The Canadiens traded starting goalie Huet for a draft pick without adding any players to their roster.
Still, the price Pittsburgh paid for Hossa was unusually high on a day when name players were routinely dealt for draft picks. The Penguins, for example, also picked up 6-foot-7 defenseman Hal Gill from Toronto for second- and fifth-round picks.
For Hossa, the Penguins gave up two quality young forwards in Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen; 19-year-old Angelo Esposito, last year's first-round pick and this year's first-rounder. Once the draft is over, Atlanta will have acquired four players from Pittsburgh who are 25 or younger.
All for a player who becomes a free agent July 1 and had zero contract talks with the Penguins before the trade was made, although they also get right wing Pascal Dupuis (10 goals, five assists in 62 games) from Atlanta.
With the Penguins owning so many young scorers, Shero is convinced he could make the trade and not mortgage the future. But if the Penguins make an early playoff exit and the 29-year-old Hossa leaves, the deal could haunt them for years.
The Penguins prefer to think it might win them their first Stanley Cup in 16 years - or, as forward Petr Sykora said, ``We're going for the big trophy.''
When Crosby returns from the right ankle injury that has sidelined him since Jan. 18, he'll find himself without his road roommate in Armstrong - a gritty, hardworking forward known to his teammates as Army. The Penguins hope that plugging in Hossa on his line will ease Crosby's disappointment.
``A lot of guys have been playing with them (Armstrong and Christensen) for four or five years, so it's difficult,'' goalie Ty Conklin said. ``There are some mixed emotions.''
Hossa has 26 goals and 30 assists in 60 games and averages nearly a point per game for his career, though his playoff production (35 points in 55 games) isn't as good.
``We've always had a hard time finding that fit for Sid, and I believe Marian is a guy who can think at that level, skate at that level and, obviously, he can score goals and kill penalties and raise everybody else's game,'' Shero said.
Adding Hossa allows the Penguins to keep Malkin at center once Crosby returns. Before Crosby was hurt, Malkin was playing out of position as a wing on Crosby's line.
``That's the plan, I'm not going to hide it,'' coach Michel Therrien said. ``Malkin's line has been so good. ... Malkin stepped up his game and he is a lot more comfortable. He has been the best player in the league the last month and a half.''
Shero agreed he took a major gamble - but, he said, it's equally risky not doing anything when other teams are improving themselves.
``This gives us a better chance,'' he said.
Dallas, competing with Anaheim in the Western Conference, felt the same way after landing Richards and goalie Johan Holmqvist for promising goalie Mike Smith, forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern and a fourth-round pick.
Richards was dealt by the Lightning two years after signing a five-year contract that averages $7.8 million. For the first time since he was 14, he will no longer play on the same team as best friend Vincent Lecavalier.
Obviously, it was a bad day for best friends in the league.
``That part was tough. But I kind of got past that mentally,'' Richards said.
The Sharks also made a move by acquiring the best defenseman available in Campbell for forward Steve Bernier and a first-round pick. After losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere last summer, the Sabres felt they couldn't let another talented player leave without getting any player in return.