Starkey: Shero shows some serious guts

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Memo to those who believe the Penguins gave up too much for Marian Hossa in Tuesday's stunning trade with the Atlanta Thrashers:

That was Angelo Esposito, not Phil or Tony.

Most of us didn't believe a blockbuster was imminent. Some of us didn't think it was necessary. But when you look at the particulars, you have to be impressed.

If you're a fan, you have to be downright giddy.

As ESPN analyst Barry Melrose put it, "The biggest prize went to Pittsburgh."

Just as important: The Penguins didn't lose a single high-impact player from their roster or a critical piece of their future in order to obtain a gifted goal scorer to skate with Sidney Crosby.

If the Thrashers had demanded Jordan Staal or even a hugely talented, NHL-ready prospect such as defenseman Alex Goligoski, I would have balked.

Hossa, who makes $7 million this season and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in July, might only be here for a few months, a possibility that seems to have plenty of Penguins followers troubled.

It shouldn't.

First, you have to believe general manager Ray Shero would only make this deal if he believes he has a shot to sign Hossa long-term.

Secondly, even if the Penguins don't win the Cup and lose Hossa, guess what• They can go out and sign another player to team with Crosby. The new arena, with its promised revenue streams, is only a few years away, which means this ought to be the last year the Penguins stay well under the NHL's salary cap.

The riskiest part of this deal was jettisoning Colby Armstrong, a beloved member of the club, close to Crosby and a pretty good player. You don't know how the team dynamic will be affected.

But come on.

We're talking about two third-line players (Armstrong and Christensen), a future low first-round pick in a league where half the first-rounders flame out and a past first-rounder (Esposito) whose stock plummeted faster than Enron's before the draft and who was cut from Team Canada's World Junior Team for a third consecutive year.

In return, the Penguins got a world-class sniper (and a respectable forward in Pascal Dupuis).

"It's a big, big deal," Shero said. "I think our team's better today."

Penguins opponents will have to agree, as they try to devise strategies to contain two turbo-charged lines, one powered by Crosby, the other by Evgeni Malkin.

As Hossa put it, "There's so much talent, it's almost scary."

Shero also took measures to improve a glaring weakness -- the penalty kill -- by acquiring 6-foot-7, 250-pound defenseman Hal Gill. Hossa, too, is an excellent penalty killer.

As for all the talking heads on TSN -- Canada's version of ESPN -- saying the Penguins mortgaged their future, let's be serious.

These guys are the future:

Crosby, 20

Malkin, 21

Marc-Andre Fleury, 23

Ryan Whitney, 25

Jordan Staal, 19

Kris Letang, 20

It's not like Shero gutted the farm system, either. We're not talking about the Pirates here.

Meantime, isn't it refreshing to see a Pittsburgh sports team actually make a bold move that has everybody talking• When was the last time any one of them went after the top player on the market, either in free agency or in a trade?

This was, without a doubt, one of the more dramatic trades in this town's recent sports history. It was the Penguins' biggest impact move since acquiring Alexei Kovalev in 1998 and their most dramatic deadline deal in 15 years, since picking up Rick Tocchet in the trade that sent Mark Recchi to the Flyers.

That move fueled a Stanley Cup run.

Who knows• This one might do the same.

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