It is almost a rite of spring, the annual pre-trade deadline move by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero.
It doesn’t always have the intended result -- think Alexei Kovalev or Alexei Ponikarovsky in 2011 and 2010, respectively -- but it has worked often enough -- Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin and Marian Hossa come to mind during the Pens’ twin trips to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, the latter ending with the team’s first championship since 1992.
But if you don’t swing, you don’t hit. And Shero was at it again on Sunday, setting the pace ahead of the April 3 deadline by acquiring pending unrestricted free agent Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars along with a third-round pick in the upcoming draft for defensive prospect Joe Morrow and a fifth-round pick.
The Stars’ captain since 2006-07, Brenden Morrow was also a member of Canada’s gold medal Olympic team in Vancouver in 2010, sharing the Canadian dressing room with Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. The move, coming just a little more than a week before the trade deadline, gives the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins another element of grit and character -- qualities so often sought-after by Stanley Cup-hopeful GMs at this time of year.
Morrow scored 33 times in 2010-11 but has seen his production slip due in large part to injury the past couple of seasons. He played just 57 games last year and has just six goals and 11 points in 29 games this season.
Still, Morrow isn’t being brought to Pittsburgh to score goals. Not really.
He is coming to Pittsburgh to fill in the edges, to help hold things together when things get hairy in the postseason as they invariably do.
That’s the plan at any rate. Yes, he could end up playing with Evgeni Malkin and former Dallas teammate James Neal on one of the team’s top two lines or he could settle into a third-line role or he could end up doing a little bit of everything.
As always, a move like this has a ripple effect.
From the Stars’ perspective it signals a willingness by Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to consider moving at least some of his potential free agents. Forwards Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr can also become unrestricted free agents this summer. And while the Stars remain very much in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference with a month to go in the regular season, it is clear the Stars do not want to repeat the scenario of two years ago when they kept center Brad Richards only to miss the playoffs on the final day of the regular season and then watch Richards sign a long-term deal with the New York Rangers in July.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Nieuwendyk’s phone is lighting up right now, especially with calls from Eastern Conference teams who will want to keep pace with the Penguins’ acquisition of Morrow.
To that point, Shero’s move on Sunday will exert even more pressure on Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, whose Bruins have lost three of four and recently lost to Pittsburgh twice in less than a week. Sources told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun that the Bruins had some interest in Morrow. But it’s believed they would be more interested in Calgary’s captain Jarome Iginla, whom they believe would be a good fit provided the price isn’t too exorbitant.
Chiarelli, like Shero, has not been shy about finding those key ancillary parts, and his additions at the trade deadline in 2011 -- including Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly -- were instrumental in the Bruins’ Cup run that spring.
Although the New York Rangers’ top priority isn’t to add up front (they would prefer to bolster their blue line). they would also like to add some gritty depth to a forward group that seems to be missing that element. Add in the simple fact that an Atlantic Division foe and potential first-round playoff opponent added to their brick pile puts pressure on the Rangers to improve themselves as well.
Although Morrow and Iginla are not the only players that provide an attractive blend of skill, grit and experience, there simply aren’t many on the market. Ryane Clowe in San Jose would be one, but the bottom line is there are few available and now there is one less.
As for the asking price for attractive rental players like Brenden Morrow, Joe Morrow was a first-round pick of the Penguins but Pittsburgh is rich in young defensive prospects and thus were trading from a position of strength.
Iginla has more offensive up-side at this stage than Brenden Morrow, at least in theory, but is not producing at his historic pace with just eight goals and 21 points.
Still, with Morrow off the market, perhaps this works to Feaster’s advantage: supply and demand. Supply changed with the Penguins’ move Sunday and demand will only increase around the league between now and April 3.