What a difference a year makes. Eleven months ago Penguins fans were dancing in the streets following GM Ray Shero’s blockbuster deadline deals for Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow, and Douglas Murray.
Shero tried to add some glitter. He vigorously pursued Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, only to be rebuffed. Nor was he able to land speedy Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky (traded to Ottawa) or puck-moving Devils defender Marek Zidlicky, two other prime targets.
Still, the Pens didn’t come away empty handed. Shero swung deals for a pair of foot soldiers—Florida center Marcel Goc and Flames winger Lee Stempniak. The black and gold surrendered two third-round picks (2014 and 2015) and a fifth-round pick (2015) in return.
Perhaps the everyman approach will work where the star-power method failed.
A native of Germany, Goc was San Jose’s No. 1 pick in the 2001 Entry Draft. Although not a big-time scorer, he’s a solid third-line center who wins draws (52.8%), kills penalties, and provides occasional offense (11 goals). Versatile and quick, the 30-year-old can play on the wing as well.
Stempniak employs a rugged, straightforward style that should blend nicely with coach Dan Bylsma’s puck-possession game. While not a huge scorer, the Buffalo native has a pair of 20-goal seasons on his resume. After joining Phoenix at the 2010 trade deadline he ripped home 14 goals (in 18 games). Stempniak’s also an established and respected leader.
Goc figures to slot in at wing or center on the much-maligned third line. Stempniak likely will join the top unit with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
The newcomers make the Penguins better up front. However, Shero neglected to shore up the club’s weak underbelly—a suddenly shaky defense. Given the potential long-term absences of Kris Letang and Paul Martin and the recent struggles of veterans Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, the oversight could cost the Pens dearly come playoff time.
Backup goaltender remains a question-mark. With veteran Tomas Vokoun practicing but still on the mend and rookie Jeff Zatkoff the only viable option, it’s Marc-Andre Fleury or bust between the pipes.