Operating under the hits-generating premise that Mario Lemieux kidnapped Ray Shero and forced him to trade one of the Pens big-3 centers, Artistry made the case that the one who Shero should deal is Sidney Crosby. Despite the hedging and caveats throughout his post, the mere mention of trading a guy like Crosby was very emotional for Artistry, culminating in text messages such as, "Having hard time doing Sid post even though I know it's right, so depressing" and "Staying at the same hotel as Delmon Young this weekend. So sorry I missed him" and "EW divulges Bachelorette contestants, good luck to Emily on her journey."
But I have a different opinion on what Ray Shero should do if taken hostage by Mario and forced to trade one of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jordan Staal.
He should say no.
As the saying I made up goes, "when the window is open you have to jump." The saddest part about the premature end to this Pens' season is that it was an unforgivable waste of a roster that, blessed with temporarily good health, could have won the Stanley Cup. The window was wide open and instead of jumping, the Pens started punching people and not killing penalties.
But if the window was open wide this season, guess when it's open even wider? Next year. All of the key pieces of the team are coming back except for Matt Niskanen (let's get him re-signed), Steve Sullivan (buh-bye) and Arron Asham (thanks for not much). Crosby should benefit from a normal summer of rest and training, Geno's knee is only going to get stronger, Jordan Staal is still growing, and the early exit gives Fleury a few extra months to talk to a sports psychologist. With upgrades to the defense (we'll get to that) and a non-meltdown by Fleury in the playoffs, the Pens team that scored 26 goals in 6 playoff games should be an even bigger threat to win the Cup next year.
And when an opportunity like that presents itself, you take it. Ray Shero doesn't need to go-all in in 2013. He needs to stay all-in.
Much more on the three centers and why we need to keep Sid, after the jump...
The main reason why Shero should stick with the Three Center Model is that it works. Here's what this model has produced over the last 5 seasons.
- 2008: 12-2 record in Eastern Conference playoffs, gave an admirable fight to a superior opponent in the Finals.
- 2009: Historically great series win over Washington, demolition of rest of Eastern Conference, well-deserved Stanley Cup.
- 2010: Cup hangover, ran into a hot goalie, still made it to Game 7 of the second round which isn't terrible.
- 2011: Bodies strewn about like Appomattox, doesn't count.
- 2012: Best regular season record of Crosby-era, led the league in goals per game, ran into a supremely motivated and uber-talented opponent, lost composure for two games, Sid not 100%, got no defense and less-than-no goal-tending, bounced by team that might win the Cup.
And the best thing about how the Pens' forwards are constructed is that Shero left plenty of room to construct a great defense. He just f'd up doing it. And now his challenge is to clean up the Martin & Michalek mistakes without uprooting the entire foundation of the franchise. Pull the plug on Qwikster without selling Netflix.
Glen Sather found a way to get Montreal to take Scott Gomez's contract. Martin & Michalek are not bad hockey players and although they are overpaid, they aren't so wildly overpaid that one of the fourteen teams that has over $20 million of cap space this offseason couldn't use one of these guys both on the ice and as a way to get to the cap floor. And maybe there will be an amnesty clause in the new CBA. The point is that it may be hard, and you may get minimal return, but it's doable. Once you have that space you bring up Despres, sign some guys from this list who will actually make your defense hard to play against in the playoffs (in other words, anyone on this list except Milan Jurcina), and hope Kris Letang remembers to fill his Benzodiazepine prescription.
But whether the Three Center Model works really doesn't matter. You don't trade Sid. And you don't let him go as a free agent.
The most obvious reason is that he's Sidney Crosby and he's really good. The guy came back from a 15-month absence and led the league in points-per-game. He had 8 points in 6 playoff games, numbers that look bad compared to Giroux's 14 points but that would be heroic if the Pens could actually participate in a low-scoring game.
|"I'm sooo jeal of how easy it is for you guys to score right now."|
If the argument is that the concussion has changed Sid's game from one built on bullish and dogged determination in the corners, the thigh power of a sprinter, and a wicked release at full speed into one built on finding open space, creating open space for his teammates, and launching an endless stream of backhanders at the goalie, the question becomes: so what? The effort and production are there; it doesn't matter where it comes from.
Sid is a player who has always known his limitations and worked within them while working to expand them. Remember when he had a weak shot? He fixed it. Remember when he was bad at faceoffs? He fixed it. If there is any player in the league with the talent and mind to adjust his game -- if it needs to be adjusted at all -- it's Sid. If he morphs into a Peter Forsberg-Henrik Sedin hybrid with a lower center of gravity, that's still the guy I want anchoring my top line.
Of course, there is an enormous "if" associated with keeping and re-signing Sid. What if he takes a bad hit again? We saw the effects of the collision with Malkin against Philly and it definitely was concerning. But it's far too early in his recovery process to make a decision as important as actually trading the guy based on not reacting as well as we would have liked to one collision. It should serve as a reminder that this is a slow recovery process that might be laden with setbacks, not as a reason to wave the white flag. There's no denying that Sid is "one hit away" from something very bad, and that the hit could be something rather innocent looking. But everyone is one-hit away.
So while there are "ifs" associated with keeping Crosby, there are also incalculable "ifs" associated with trading him. What if you traded him too soon and he plays at his all-world level for another 10 years? What if the guys you get in return don't pan out? What if you trade Crosby but Malkin leaves anyway? Or Staal leaves anyway? Or even worse, what if Malkin stays and then he gets hurt? Superstar insurance is a luxury that almost no other team has.
Like we all should, I root for the team over the player. But I root for the player when I think he gives the team the best chance of winning. As currently constituted, the Pens are built to compete for another decade, and that's largely because of Sid. Crosby would be so coveted on the market that there might be a move that the Pens could make to be even more competitive next year than they would be by keeping Sid. But will that move keep the Pens a contender in 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? As risky as it may be to rely on Sid to be the centerpiece in 5 or 10 years, the grass isn't always greener. And truthfully, no matter what you do, there's still one thing that could make it all for naught...
In August 1988, the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million, and some picks. The City of Edmonton wept. Peter Pocklington was burned in effigy. Two years later, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup.
But then Mark Messier demanded out, Jari Kurri went to play hockey in Italy and Grant Fuhr was suspended for doing copious amounts of "substances." The Oilers haven't been relevant since.
Ask an Edmonton fan whether they'd make that trade again.