When Ray Shero sat down to do the math involved in trying to decide who to acquire for the Penguins stretch drive to the playoffs, it didn’t take a genius to see how the numbers added up. Trading for Eastern European goal scorers(Kovalev, Poninkarovsky) = Playoff flame out whereas acquiring North American, hard nosed, gritty, leadership types(Roberts, Guerin) = Stanley Cup Finals. And because the numbers never lie, it was easy to see why Shero targeted a player like Brenden Morrow.
Morrow has Roberts and Guerin written all over him: Aging North American veteran (and one who has yet to drink from the Stanley Cup – The dream of every Canadian youngster), member of Canadian Olympic team, Captain of his former team ie, considered to be an excellent leader and a player not afraid to go to the dirty places.
Now that he has been acquired, the looming question is, “Where to play him”? Coach Dan Bylsma is way too smart of a hockey coach to mess with the number one line of Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis which, by all accounts, is considered to be the best line in hockey right now. That leaves the second line to which, at some point, Evgeni Malkin will eventually return. Even the most uneducated hockey fan would know better than to remove James Neal from this line so that leaves young Beau Bennett. He’s the obvious choice, right? 21 year old rookie playing in his first season in the NHL, has no playoff experience, in fact, hasn’t really even had a chance to gel with Malkin as his Center due to Malkin’s recent injury. Before you jump to that conclusion, take a look to see that with his assist in last night’s game, Bennet now has nine points in his last 14 games, eight of which were played without Malkin as his Centerman. If you slot Morrow onto the second line, the only real option for Bennett is to be sent back to Wilkes-Barre for the remainder of the season. It would do neither him nor the Penguins any good to have him logging third or fourth line minutes or being a healthy scratch in the press box every night. The kid has to play, and he has to play top six minutes every night if he is going to continue to develop into the type of scoring forward the Penguins haven’t developed on their own in too many years.
That leaves Brandon Sutter’s third line. Now the question would be, “Who gets kicked off the line, Tyler Kennedy or Matt Cooke?” I guess it is at this point that you would have to decide what is the purpose of the third line. Usually, it is to shut down the other team’s top line. Is this what Brendan Morrow was acquired for? If that is the case, then Kennedy has to be the one removed as a Morrow-Sutter-Cooke line would be a force for any other team’s top line to have to play against. If you’re looking to try and get a little bonus offense from this line, then Cooke has to be the one taken off.
I have a hard time believing that the Penguins acquired Morrow to be a third line guy though especially when you consider that the team will be one player over the limit when Malkin returns. That leaves the team three options: 1. Hope another player gets hurt who can then be put on the IR. 2. Send a player back to Wilkes-Barre. They currently only have two players they can do this with, Simon Despres and you know that’s not happening and Beau Bennett. 3. Place someone on waivers and hope no one claims him. Can you say Dustin Jeffrey?
Even though Morrow’s offensive skills along with his speed have dropped a bit in the last couple of years, I love the fact that Shero looked and saw what worked for the Penguins before and what didn’t. And while past success is no guarantee of future results, I think the Penguins are a better team today than they were on Saturday.