PITTSBURGH - The NHL trading deadline arrives this afternoon, and Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero and his staff will be ready.
They'll be hunkered down at the Consol Energy Center offices, ready to respond to phone calls, faxes, text messages and e-mails.
The Penguins view themselves as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but they could also use help.
Their priorities would be a shut-down defenseman, another scoring winger and possibly a back-up goalie.
Whether anything happens depends on how the market shakes out. History shows that some deals are finalized after weeks of negotiations while others start and end with one last-minute phone call.
The buyers are looking for immediate help to win this year. The sellers want value for the future.
Sometimes a team that's not inclined to deal suddenly changes course because of a move that's been made within its division or conference.
Shero has been active at every deadline since he took over the Penguins.
The biggest issue facing the Penguins as they prepare for the postseason is Sidney Crosby.
Will he be ready to play again? If he comes back, will be he able to stay in the lineup.
His last comeback, 10 months in the making, lasted only eight games until he was again sidelined by concussion symptoms.
Crosby has been practicing with the Penguins, and looks good. He's moving quickly with agility and his puck-handling and stick-handling skills appear to be fine.
But he still hasn't been cleared for contact. Until that happens, there's no way he gets to suit up again.
With Crosby, the Penguins are a legitimate contender. Without him, they're still a good team, but hardly one of the favorites.
Evgeni Malkin has been virtually unstoppable lately, forming a potent line with James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
But the Penguins' secondary scoring has been lacking.
After scoring 11 goals in his first 36 games, Pascal Dupuis has two in 24 games.
Maybe that's improving, though. Jordan Staal has come back from a knee injury to score four goals in five games. Matt Cooke's offensive game has picked up recently.
In an Eastern Conference where games can be tight, the Penguins could use a force on defense.
However, it's difficult to acquire the kind of playoff-tested defenseman they need. Nashville had to pay a steep price to get Hal Gill from Montreal, and other defensemen are being made available at a similar cost.
Back-up goalie Brent Johnson has struggled badly after two productive seasons. The Penguins think Brad Thiessen has NHL potential, but he has no experience in the league.
The hope is that Johnson will get his game back, but that's tough to do playing as infrequently as he does.
Fans have been concocting scenarios where the Penguins acquire very-available Columbus right wing Rick Nash, but that doesn't seem possible because of the cap space required and the talent the Penguins would have to give up.
Who's available in trades? The Penguins would willingly part with Eric Tangradi, whose play hasn't matched his size so far. Tangradi has been fading as a prospect.
From the NHL roster, defenseman Paul Martin or Zbynek Michalek could be had, but they've both had sub-par seasons to this point and don't have high value.
Shero isn't opposed to giving up prospects, but he does have to keep an eye on the salary cap. Those players coming through the system need to step in and win jobs on the Penguins in next season or two.
Looking back on Shero's deadline day deals:
2011: F James Neal and D Matt Niskanen from Dallas for D Alex Goligoski. The Penguins didn't get much from either player last season, but they've both stepped up this year. It was a fair trade because Goligoski has been outstanding for Dallas. Nonetheless, this was a win for the Penguins.
2010: F Alexei Ponikarovsy from Toronto for F Luca Caputi and D Martin Skoula. Ponikarovsky was not the scoring winger the Penguins thought he would be (two goals and 17 points in 16 regular season games, one goal and five points in 11 playoff games). Skoula and Caputi were expendable, but the Penguins didn't get anything from this trade. Loss.
D Jordan Leopold from Columbus for a conditional draft pick. Leopold had little impact. Verdict: No effect.
2009: F Bill Guerin from New York Islanders for a conditional draft pick. One of Shero's finest, he added a veteran with great credentials who still had enough left to help on the ice, too. Win.
F Chris Kunitz and F Eric Tangradi from Anaheim Ducks for D Ryan Whitney. The Penguins traded Whitney at peak value and got a top-six forward in Kunitz. Tangradi hasn't been much, but the other part of this trade makes it a win for the Penguins.
F Craig Adams claimed on waivers from Chicago. Adams doesn't score much, but he's a valuable role player who kills penalties, blocks shots and delivers hits. When you get that kind of asset and give up nothing, it's 100 percent win.
2008: F Marian Hossa and F Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta for F Colby Armstrong, F Erik Christensen, F Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft choice. The Penguins wanted Hossa for the stretch drive and playoffs, and figured they'd have a chance to sign him long-term. He helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup Final, then bolted for Detroit. That's OK. He helped that year and Dupuis has been a long-term contributor, making this deal a win for the Penguins, who only gave up spare parts.
D Hal Gill from Toronto for two draft picks. Gill was a physical presence who helped the Penguins win the Cup. Win.
2007: F Gary Roberts from Florida for D Noah Welch. Roberts was a big influence on a young team and could still play a little. Welch never amounted to much and plays in Sweden now. Win.
F Georges Laraque from Phoenix for F Daniel Carcillo. This was designed to add some fighting muscle to a young team. Laraque was one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL. Win.