The good news, I suppose, is I get to save a whole lot of our time as I get to write a trade deadline preview, review, playoff preview and championship review all at once. The bad news, for at least myself, anyway, is it all turns out in favor of the wrong shades of Black-and-Gold.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are your 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.
At least that is where the smart money is going to be over the next couple of months.
Most Boston Bruins fans head straight for the Tobin Bridge when the teams suffers the kind of heart-wrenching loss to the Montreal Canadiens they did on Wednesday night. This time was a little different, though, because while the Bruins were busy squandering yet another third period lead, nearly every so-called expert in the hockey community had it signed, sealed and delivered that Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla was headed to the Boston Bruins in exchange for minor league prospects Matt Bartkowski and Alexander Khokhlachev, and a first round pick. According to reports, the only thing stopping the deal from being official was it was “too late” in the evening to make an announcement.
Iginla had been touted around town in recent weeks as the player to put the Bruins over the top in their quest for a second Stanley Cup in three years. The perfect player, who perfectly fit what the Bruins were currently lacking on offense, was en route to the Hub for an extremely reasonable fee. “Too late” to make the deal official, however, was all the time Penguins general manager Ray Shero needed to swoop in and steal a player from the Bruins for the second time in less than a week.
Boston went to bed on Wednesday reveling. It was Christmas in March, the B’s best trade deadline since 2003-2004 when Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander came to town. By the time the hockey world woke up on Thursday morning, Shero had poached Iginla for a pair of two college prospects and a first round pick, while the vast majority of TSN’s pundits were left begging for forgiveness from their followers for their reporting errors.
Even Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli seemed surprised by how things unfolded when he said he was “told at Noon [Wednesday] that we’d won the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes,” as he addressed the media at a Thursday press conference to explain how the botched trade attempt unfolded. “We believed that we had a deal.”
In the 12 hours between Chiarelli’s noon phone call on Wednesday with Calgary and 11:45pm that night when he was informed the deal was off, Iginla, who has a no movement clause in his contract and must sign off on any sort of deal, decided he would rather leave the only NHL franchise he had ever known to join the Penguins.
Ultimately, Chiarelli was played the fool, but it was not by the wizardry of Shero, who has torn up the NHL trade market over the course of the past four days. It was Iginla’s call that sent things amok.
Can anyone really blame him? Maybe he would have been a better fit in Boston and maybe one of the “nicest guys in hockey” did somewhat stick it to his former employer, who was happily willing to let him have a better shot a glory for mere cents on the dollar, by forcing a lesser package upon them to get out of their floundering mitts, but what 35-year old, future Hall-of-Famer who has toiled in postseason anonymity for much of his career – just 54 postseason contests in his 16-year NHL career – still looking for that elusive Stanley Cup would not opt to go for what was already arguably the best team in the National Hockey League?
Chiarelli even admitted so much himself when, at Thursday’s press conference he noted, “Well, they’re a lock now, right?”
The Penguins, winners of a league high 13-straight contests and undefeated in the month of March, are currently the best team in the Eastern Conference and have more wins than any other team in the league. Iginla will join an offensive cast that already has the best player on the planet in Sydney Crosby, who seems to be more than recovered from the concussion issues that have plagued him the last few seasons as he leads the league in both points (54) and assists (39) in what is arguably his finest campaign to date. Wingers Chris Kunitz (19) and James Neal (17) are third and fifth in the league in goals scored, while defenseman Kris Letang (25) is third in assists.
The Penguins are no slouch on defense, either, tied for ninth in the league, giving up 2.47 goals again, while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 10th amongst regular starters with a 2.24 goals against average and 11th with a .918 save percentage.
Despite the Chicago Blackhawks’ impressive start to this season, the Penguins were a healthy favorite for best team in the league with a relentless and dangerous offense thanks to Crosby and company and a fairly intimidating defensive corps with Letang, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. And that was all before Shero strengthened an already impressive roster by acquiring two team captains in Iginla and Brendan Morrow (Boston was in the final two to acquire his services as well before being spurned in favor of Pittsburgh), and a quality defenseman in Douglas Murray, giving up all of four draft picks, two low level college prospects and defenseman Joe Morrow, a solid AHL defenseman with a good upside, the only chip of consequence Pittsburgh had to move.
And notice there has been no mention yet of Evgeni Malkin, the 2011-2012 Hart Trophy winner and arguably the second best player on the planet behind teammate Crosby, who has been out much of March with injury.
There is still a month to play in the regular season and just under a week left before the NHL’s April 3rd trade deadline, but does that even matter? Iginla and Morrow were the biggest, most prevalent names on the trade market and they are now gone. With some many teams still in the playoff hunt, is there any one of consequence left to move? The new rumored names are Martin St. Louis and Jaromir Jagr, but are those aging stars enough to put any other team in the NHL over the top or is Chiarelli right? Given their recent acquisitions, are the Penguins now a lock to win the Stanley Cup? The addition of Iginla would have put Boston in prime position to overthrow Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference crown, but now that he is a Penguin?
There are still plenty of good teams in the NHL, all of who are more than worthy of a Stanley Cup bid and all who can get the better of the Penguins on any given night – Boston, Montreal and Chicago amongst them – but it is hard to see any of those teams getting the better of Pittsburgh in a seven game series.
If the Penguins have a flaw, it is their defense, their 21st ranked penalty kill and their inability to keep an opponent off the board. Teams are going to be able to score on the Penguins. Fleury did backstop Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup team in 2009 and did play well during that postseason run, but has had times throughout his career in which he has disappeared and made folks question whether or not he is really amongst the league’s elite goaltenders. His numbers have steadily improved the past five seasons, but Fleury’s career 2.65 goals against average and .910 save percentage (2.68 and .908 in the playoffs, respectively) are not stellar and he has given up four or more goals on five occasions this season. A timely goal in the playoffs can turn a series and the Penguins are susceptible.
Unfortunately, for the rest of the NHL, the Penguins are more likely than any other team to score that timely goal. The fear when facing the Penguins should not be scoring on them, it is whether or not they can be stopped. Or even slowed down.
There is a reason they play the games. There is never a sure thing in sports. Jarome Iginla to the Penguins, however, could be the first. Who in the world will dare oppose them?
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.