Starkey: Shero's magic show
All you can ask, as a player or fan, is for management to give your team a chance to win it all.
Ray Shero does that.
In his latest deadline trick, the Penguins' general manager pulled a top-four defenseman and a top-six winger out of his hat without giving up a regular or a first-round draft pick. (Next year, I expect Shero to show up at his deadline news conference amid a puff of smoke, then perform a suspended straitjacket escape and make a hockey puck float above his head.)
True, Shero parted with a second-round pick and a decent prospect (Luca Caputi) in order to acquire winger Alexei Ponikarovsky and defenseman Jordan Leopold. But as any Pirates fan will tell you, prospects and draft picks are the currency of teams that won't win anytime soon.
Teams with immediate championship aspirations deal in real, live players such as the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ponikarovsky, who was rescued from a nine-year stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs and will be grafted onto Evgeni Malkin's line.
Talk about salvation.
"He's no fun to play against," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Word of the deal leaked into the dressing room after the Penguins' win over Buffalo on Tuesday night.
Nobody seemed disappointed.
Nobody would dare question Shero at this point, either. Not after watching his David Copperfield act over the previous three deadlines.
"Every year, Ray does what he thinks he needs to do," Orpik said, "and I think we'd be idiots to second-guess him."
Ponikarovsky isn't perfect, mind you. He arrives with a reputation as somewhat of an underachiever. Leopold, too, has his critics. By the same token, some in the Penguins dressing room will tell you that Caputi isn't exactly a can't-miss prospect.
Look at it this way: If Ponikarovsky and Leopold — both potential unrestricted free agents — are ever going to find their ceilings, this might be the place. In Pittsburgh, the two will be immersed in a winning environment with some of the world's greatest players. They'll be chasing a Cup and a contract at the same time, so motivation doesn't figure to be an issue.
Consider what has transpired at the past four deadlines:
Penguins got: Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin, Gary Roberts, Ponikarovsky, Hal Gill, Pascal Dupuis, Leopold, Chris Kunitz, Eric Tangradi and Georges Laraque (plus Craig Adams on waivers).
Other guys got: Angelo Esposito, Colby Armstrong, Ryan Whitney, Erik Christensen, first-round pick, two second-round picks, two third-round picks, fifth-round pick, Noah Welch, Daniel Carcillo, Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula.
I like Team A, even if the Penguins had to part with some of those guys.
Every year, Shero proves he has a perfect read on his club.
Three years ago, he saw the need for toughness and a playoff presence. Who on this planet better than Roberts for that role?
Two years ago, with a push from ownership, Shero not only acquired a premier player in Hossa but also delivered a powerful message to his young team: Ahead of schedule or not, it was time to chase a championship.
Last year, Sidney Crosby needed an assist during a turbulent season, so Shero not only found him a winger but also a highly respected veteran presence to help on the leadership front in Bill Guerin.
This year, Evgeni Malkin is having the somewhat turbulent season, so guess who gets the deadline treat?
Another defensive defenseman would have been nice, but you can't have everything.
As winger Ruslan Fedotenko put away his equipment after Tuesday's game, he was thrilled to hear that his friend and countryman Ponikarovsky was coming.
"Hey, it gives us a better chance to go deep," Fedotenko said. "That's good."
No, that's great.