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March 24, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Best. Trade. Ever.
Sure, losing Colby Armstrong hurts. He's Sidney Crosby's best friend and an incredibly gifted commercial actor, but he ain't Hossa.
Team chemistry is great and all, but you can hold hands off the ice. I mean, it's not like Colby died. They can still have sleepovers and hang out at the mall and stuff. Cell phones. Text messaging. Emails. Make it work. You know, I'm sure I'd be good friends with Mark-Linn Baker, but I don't get to work with him every day.
No doubt, Armstrong is beloved in the dressing room and community, quite possibly being the second-most popular player behind Crosby. He embodied the work ethic of the city, and his affable demeanor won over even the harshest critics. But he's a third-liner. Third-liners don't win Stanley Cups.
If nothing else, Armstrong's departure will teach the young Penguins that hockey is, indeed, a business. The goal is to win championships, not make friends. It was a lesson they had to learn at some point. Today was the day. Get over it.
Christensen is a complete non-factor. He's a minor-leaguer. Unless they start deciding playoff games with shootouts, he's no loss whatsoever. And call it a hunch, but I think the Penguins will be okay in shootouts with Hossa, Kid Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.
Esposito has bust written all over him. After initially being considered the top prospect for the 2007 Draft, he plummeted in the ratings, falling all the way to Pittsburgh at No. 20. His stock took another hit when he was cut from the Canadian Junior Team. This season with the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), the 19-year-old Esposito has 26 goals and 55 points in 48 games. Decent production, but it ranks him fifth on his own team. He's hardly a sure thing. Pittsburgh traded him at precisely the right time, cashing in before his value vanishes.
And while first-round picks always sound impressive, the days of Pittsburgh selecting in the top 10 are solid gone. That choice will fall somewhere between 25 and 30, making it a glorified second-rounder. Who cares?
In acquiring Hossa, Pittsburgh is boldly declaring its Cup intentions. They're going for it this year. The rebuilding process is officially over. And any team with Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa has to be considered a legitimate Cup threat, especially in the wide-open Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh also snagged Hal Gill from Toronto, adding needed size and toughness to the blue line. Gill can be ripped for his lack of mobility and puck skills, but I don't know of one star player who looks forward to playing against the 6'7" behemoth. Gill used to torment Jaromir Jagr when Puff Nuts was in Pittsburgh, and he's still capable of shutting down the best in the game, logging 20:42 of ice time a night with the Leafs.
Gill will definitely improve Pittsburgh's 25th-ranked penalty killing. Hossa's a dynamic penalty-killer in his own right, boasting 12 short-handed goals over the past three seasons. Pascal Dupuis, who was a throw-in with Hossa, will also help the cause, easily filling Armstrong's minutes on the kill. Overhauling the penalty-killing unit was a necessity, and all three additions address the need in spades.
It will be interesting to see how Michel Therrien utilizes all the talent. My guess is he'll double-shift Jeff Taffe and Tyler Kennedy in his ongoing tribute to minor-league hockey, but even Therrien couldn't screw this up, right?
It would make sense to keep Malkin with Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora. I'd move Jordan Staal back to left wing to skate with Crosby and Hossa. While Staal was born to be a center, he has more offensive upside than anyone else on the roster, and he'd give the unit a sound defensive conscience. That would leave Max Talbot centering the third line, which is where he belongs, with Dupuis and Jarkko Ruutu on the wings.
As important as it was to find a winger to play with Crosby, it was just as vital keeping Hossa away from Montreal and Ottawa. The Penguins, Canadiens, Senators, and Devils are log-jammed at the top of the standings, separated by only four points. Hossa will swing the balance of power.
Ottawa and New Jersey did virtually nothing. Montreal actually subtracted from its team, trading its No. 1 goaltender to Washington for a draft pick. Pittsburgh is now the team to beat in the East.
Of course, there is a downside to the trade. Hossa seems intent on becoming an unrestricted free agent after the season. I monkeyed with some numbers, and it simply isn't feasible to give Malkin and Hossa comparable deals to Sid. It just won't work. Sid signed for $8.7 million. It would be swell if Malkin agreed to $7.1 million and Hossa took $1.8 to keep the number theme rolling, but that seems unlikely.
Dany Heatley got $7.5 from the Sens. That's where negotiations will begin with Malkin and Hossa. They could afford to give Hossa $8 million or so next year with no problem; the trouble would be in 2009-10 when Malkin and Staal start new contracts. And don't forget, Marc-Andre Fleury is restricted after this season.
Personally, I'd do everything possible to sign Hossa. It's not that letting him walk would be devastating to the franchise. As mentioned earlier, they basically gave up nothing to get him. The problem is you're not going to find a better winger anywhere else. And Kid Crosby needs a winger.
I'd give Sergei Gonchar the boot after the season. His $5 million would go a long way to securing the Big Three. Then I'd try like hell to get Staal to agree to a long-term deal for less than $4 million a year.
Sadly, in all likelihood, Hossa will bolt. And that's cool. The Pens would still have their core of Crosby, Malkin, and Staal. They'd be no worse off than they were yesterday. But they would have gained a Stanley Cup run. A gin in hand is worth two in the bottle.
Live for today. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Enjoy watching Crosby and Hossa. Let the future take care of itself.