Though it wasn’t the huge splash they made last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were once again buyers at the NHL’s trade deadline, trading draft picks for Florida Panthers center Marcel Goc, as well as Flames winger Lee Stemniak.
Rumored to be the potential landing zone for a few big names like Ryan Kesler or Ales Hemsky, Pittsburgh instead decided to improve their bottom six by trading a two third round picks and a fifth round pick for Goc and Stempniak.
Goc has 11 goals and 23 points in 62 games for the Panthers this season, while Stempniak has 8 goals and 23 points in 52 games. Almost identical stat lines for two players that will almost certainly see duty on the third line along with center Brandon Sutter.
Playing with Taylor Pyatt and Tanner Glass, Sutter’s third line has been an absolute black hole for Pittsburgh this year, arguably Pittsburgh’s biggest Achilles Heel. The acquisition of Goc and Stempniak almost certainly improves it, that is, if they both play there.
Goc is a natural center, but has expressed that he would also feel comfortable playing on the wing.
Goc is a nice pickup for Pittsburgh, and while Stempniak has potential to be another Alexi Kovalev from 2011, both were acquired on the cheap and are UFA’s at the end of the year. It’s a low risk, high reward situation for the Pens, who could ill-afforad to waste assets they didn’t have on a pair of rentals.
Injuries have forced AHL call-up Brian Gibbons on to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Speculation has circled that head coach Dan Bylsma could bump Gibbons down to the third line and replace him with either Goc or Stempniak. Neither one is Pascal Dupuis, but at least now the Penguins have a few decent options going forward.
Honestly, so much of this team’s make-up is entirely dependent on injuries. Dupuis is done for the season, but if Beau Bennett, Paul Martin and Kris Letang are able to rerun from IR before the playoffs, it’s anybody’s guess what could happen.
All in all, the Penguins came out winners at the deadline. Do Goc and Stempniak now make the Penguins legit Stanley Cup contenders? That remains to be seen. GM Ray Shero did just about all he could do at the deadline given his salary cap and injury situation. How far the Penguins go in the playoffs is now entirely up to their stars.
For the Pens to reach the final, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have to be on top of their games in every series they play, something both have struggled with in recent years. If they are, they have just as good a chance as anyone in the East. On the other hand, if they don’t, another early playoff exit looks to be imminent.