Shero commits to current roster

| Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The likelihood is that the Penguins will chase the Cup without former NHL scoring champions Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Their respective absences had granted general manager Ray Shero the salary-cap space needed to make even more moves before the NHL trade deadline Monday. He had already added a couple of potential impact wingers, James Neal and Alex Kovalev, and defenseman Matt Niskanen last week.

Shero spoke with many fellow GMs in the hours before the 3 p.m. deadline yesterday. He opted against saying "done deal" because of an intangible fortified over these past two tumultuous months by the players who have kept the Penguins from falling apart.

"The thing we have with this team is the guys who have been here and won," he said. "This is a character group of guys. They work really hard for each other. They care for each other.

"A couple of things came our way over the last day or two to bring a guy into our locker room that we weren't sure of."

Certainly the high cost of upgrading played a big part in Shero's decision to hold off on making a deadline-day deal - say, for center Jason Arnott, who went from New Jersey to Washington.

The few playoff teams that made deals yesterday paid a significant price in the form of either high draft picks or top prospects. Arnott cost the Capitals David Steckel and a second-round pick in 2012.

Had Shero held simply to avoid bringing more uncertainty to the Penguins, well, that would have proven a sensible decision.

After all, the only sure thing about the Penguins is they will finish the season having not once fielded a lineup with the players Shero envisioned being regulars.

After a game Wednesday at Toronto, the Penguins (37-21-6, 80 points) will have lost nearly 250 man-games to injury.

In the lineup against the Maple Leafs will be seven players who helped the Penguins win Game 7 of the Cup Final at Detroit in 2009: Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury; forwards Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Max Talbot and Craig Adams; and defenseman Kris Letang.

Those seven players will eventually get help by the returns from injury of two other Cup winners, left wing Chris Kunitz and defenseman Brooks Orpik, and playoff-tested veteran defenseman Paul Martin.

The Penguins will add players responsible for 18 goals (Kunitz), 21 points (Martin) and 117 hits/88 blocked shots (Orpik) after the trade deadline. No other NHL team can claim such impact additions after today.

Still, by not making another pre-deadline move, Shero has entrusted two rookies - center Mark Letestu and left wing Dustin Jeffrey - with the responsibility of helping fill offensive voids created by the losses of Malkin and Crosby.

The combined 16 goals from Letestu and Jeffrey are one more than Malkin had scored before he went down for the season with a right-knee injury, and half of Crosby's total since he last played because of concussion symptoms.

Maybe Shero is showing too much faith in a couple of players who were prospects before this season.

His other option was to place blind faith in players from other teams who yesterday would have cost the Penguins either picks or prized prospects.

"We're going to stick with Jeffrey and Letestu," Shero said, "and we think we'll be better for it."

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