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Starkey: Shero's trades defy belief

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Penguins' James Neal celebrates his game winning goal against the Flyers in the first period at Wells Fargo Center Jan. 19, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Penguins'  James Neal celebrates his game winning goal against the Flyers in the first period at Wells Fargo Center Jan. 19, 2013.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Forward Eric Tangradi plays against the New York Rangers on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Penguins traded Trangradi to the Jets on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Forward Eric Tangradi plays against the New York Rangers on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Penguins traded Trangradi to the Jets on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

At some point late in the Penguins' thrilling victory over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, it struck me: Ray Shero is the best trader in the NHL.

What's more, he is the best trader in Penguins history — better than Craig Patrick.

Even before Brandon Sutter's dramatic game-winner, a quick glance at the Penguins' lineup was enough to blow your mind. In a league where teams are desperate for goals, Shero has reeled in James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Sutter. The four have combined for 54 goals this season.

The miracle isn't that Shero gets the guy he wants but that he always seems to get a little something extra. Neal for Alex Goligoski would have been a wonderful trade. Shero somehow got Matt Niskanen, too.

How did that happen?

Merely acquiring Marian Hossa from Atlanta in 2008 would have been impressive even for a package that included a former first-round pick and a fresh one and even though Hossa only stayed for a cup of cappuccino. His arrival helped to transform the Penguins' mindset — signaling it was time to win now — and nearly helped them win it all. Lost in the mayhem was that Shero secured a throw-in named Pascal Dupuis, who ironically has become “Sid's winger,” or at least one of them, and that was the role Hossa was supposed to play.

How did that happen?

Some of this is luck, of course. And nobody should compare Dupuis to the magnificent Hossa, but it's worth noting that since the beginning of last season, Hossa's 40 goals barely eclipse Dupuis' 36.

Kunitz for Ryan Whitney, straight up, would have been another emphatic win for Shero given what has transpired since. But a prospect named Eric Tangradi was sprinkled in, and although Tangradi did not pan out, it was worth a try. He was parlayed into a draft pick.

Shero's coup de grace was the Sutter deal because he basically made it with a gun to his head.

Jordan Staal had one skate out the door last summer. The Penguins stood to lose him as an unrestricted free agent after this season. Carolina was the most realistic trading partner.

It wasn't exactly a high-leverage situation for Shero, who nevertheless held his ground. He made it known he would not budge unless Sutter was included in the deal. Staal for Sutter straight up would have been understandable, if disappointing, from the Penguins' perspective.

Naturally, Shero not only got Sutter but also the eighth pick in the draft (used on elite prospect Derrick Pouliot) and another promising defense prospect in Brian Dumoulin.

How did THAT happen?

The verdict on the Staal deal, of course, won't be known for some time. Referendums will recur every spring in the playoffs. So far, though, Sutter's eight goals and 13 points look pretty good next to Staal's six and 18 — especially considering how big at least four of Sutter's goals have been.

I haven't even mentioned some lesser deals such as Gary Roberts for Noah Welch, Bill Guerin for a conditional pick and Hal Gill for picks.

Shero hasn't been perfect at the trading table, mind you. No GM is. Nils Ekman, Jordan Leopold and Alexei Ponikarovsky were all quite forgettable. Daniel Carcillo for Georges Laraque (who, once he arrived, suddenly decided he'd try to play hockey rather than fight) didn't work out as hoped.

But what did the Penguins really lose? Pretty much nothing — though I'm sure somebody's still panicking over the loss of Luca Caputi, who got off to a wonderful start with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL this season and now plays in the AHL.

What separates Shero from Patrick, to this point, is that he has avoided the epic disaster — the Markus Naslund-for-Alek Stojanov or Glen Murray-for-Eddie Olczyk type deal.

Don't get me wrong. Patrick made some legendary, Cup-winning trades in 1991 and '92. Those will stand forever. But I'll take Shero at this point. And, don't look now, but the Penguins organization is flush with young, swift, offensive-minded defensemen, the kind every team craves.

It's only a matter of time before Trader Ray pulls the trigger again.

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