PITTSBURGH - General manager Ray Shero will define the Pittsburgh Penguins this week.
The NHL trade deadline arrives Wednesday afternoon at 3, which means Shero has to decide if his team is good enough to win four rounds of playoffs.
It doesn't look like it is.
With Pascal Dupuis out until next season after reconstructive knee surgery, the Penguins desperately need an accomplished winger for Sidney Crosby's line. That slot has been an open audition process since Dupuis was injured, and nothing has worked.
The Penguins' star power is formidable, but beyond that their forwards are a whole lot of Chuck Kobasew. It would help if Beau Bennett weren't injured again, but even counting on a healthy Bennett would be risky, given his limited NHL experience.
Shero said it's "far-fetched" that he could make a deal that would adequately replace Dupuis, but that's what GMs always say. There's no sense in getting expectations up if they might not be fulfilled.
Shero said earlier that he doesn't want a rental player. This is the time of year when non-playoff teams look to shed players who are approaching free agency. That's what happened last year in the deadline-week trade spree that brought back Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray.
The Penguins wound up being disappointed with those acquisitions, but that shouldn't deter Shero from making a trade this year. Instead of trying to just augment a strong team, he needs to fix some weaknesses this season.
Few teams are sellers this season, but that shouldn't matter. Make a deal with someone who is lusting for the kind of defensive prospects the Penguins have stockpiled in the system. When Shero got James Neal for Alex Goligoski, it was a hockey deal, not one based on contract issues.
There isn't a lot of cap space, so maybe that means Shero has to deal a tenured veteran. That's OK, too. Shero seems to be reluctant to tamper much with his core, but sometimes that's necessary. Craig Patrick traded Paul Coffey and Mark Recchi when the Penguins were defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Penguins' other glaring need is for an experienced backup goalie. This entire season has been a warm-up for another test of Marc-Andre Fleury's postseason mettle. It's been lacking, which is why the Penguins got Tomas Vokoun last season and why they sent Fleury to a sports psychologist before this season.
Jeff Zatkoff has done better than expected, but would anyone trust him with multiple playoff games? That could happen if Fleury again gets the yips or gets injured.
Maybe Vokoun can still come back, but it's now March 3 and he hasn't played.
Shero always has to keep one eye on the big picture, but needs to focus just as sharply on this year's circumstances.
Is this team presently good enough to win the Stanley Cup?
A smart hockey man like Shero knows the answer to that, which is why he'll keep his phone fully charged and his mind open for the next few days.
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Caffeine-wired Mountain Dew fans might see that as a bigger issue than who's on first.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.