by PuckStopsHere on 03/28/13 at 09:02 PM ET
The Pittsburgh Penguins have more wins than any other team in the NHL. With a 26-8 record they lead the East Conference. Earlier this month I called the Penguins the single team most likely to Stanley Cup this year. They are trying to pull out all the stops to make sure that it happens. They are collecting some talented veteran players who are available without giving up any key roster players.
On Monday the Penguins traded with the Dallas Stars to obtain former Stars captain Brenden Morrow and a 2013 third round draft pick in exchange for Joe Morrow, who had been the Penguins first round draft pick in 2011 and is yet to play an NHL game and a fifth round draft pick in 2013. Brenden Morrow is in the final year of his contract and waived a no trade clause to be moved.
On Tuesday they obtained defenceman Douglas Murray from San Jose. The cost was their 2013 second round draft pick and conditionally their 2014 second round draft pick if Murray (who is in the final year of his contract re-signs or if Pittsburgh wins two or more rounds in the playoffs).
Yesterday they picked up potentially the biggest jewel available by trade this season in Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames. The cost was Pittsburgh's first round draft pick in 2013 and college players Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski. Both of the college players are still young but neither is seen as top level prospects.
Pittsburgh added Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla and they didn't give up a single player on their roster. They have a few more days to continue their shopping spree if they can fit some more players under the salary cap. At the trade deadline, capgeek projects the Pens to have over $18 million available to spend. As long as they acquire expiring contracts there is no issue regarding the dropping salary cap next season.
This Pittsburgh team is already a strong one. They already have future Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby (who is likely to win the Hart Trophy this season) and Evgeni Malkin (last year's Hart Trophy winner) and both of them are in the primes of their careers. Jarome Iginla is another future Hall of Fame player who is still a strong player but he has passed his prime years. Defenceman Kris Letang is likely on a Hall of Fame track though he will need a few more years to confirm that. It is quite possible that four members of the Penguins are future Hall of Famers.
However they are not an elite team based on my long-standing definition of an elite team (historically elite). They do not have elite goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has been around long enough to show us that he can win if Pittsburgh plays well enough in front of him but they don't win because he is a top goalie (he isn't one). His back-up in Tomas Vokoun was that elite goalie earlier in his career but he spent those years in Nashville and Florida where he had little chance of winning big and little recognition for his efforts. At age 36 those days are done. He has been Fleury's backup this year and not managed to post as strong numbers as Fleury has.
Elite teams don't exist in the salary capped NHL. It is too hard to keep one together given all the constraints of the system. As fans we never get to see these teams. Pittsburgh may be the closest we get to an elite team in a while. If they continue to play at their current top level with their new additions, they may not make it to the level that teams of the past in the more fan friendly systems did but they could come close. The shame is that as fans we will have to be happy with teams that are close to elite. It's the best we are getting in the current NHL system.
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