Expectations even higher now for Pens
Sidney Crosby knows the Pittsburgh Penguins will be considered Stanley Cup contenders so long as his familiar No. 87 hangs in the dressing room.
”We’re always in the conversation as far as favorites,” Crosby said.
At the moment, a case could be made the Penguins are the only ones in it.
Riding a 14-game winning streak following a 4-0 romp over Winnipeg on Thursday, Pittsburgh’s quest for the franchise’s fourth Cup will receive a rocket-fueled boost when newly acquired six-time All-Star forward Jarome Iginla arrives from Calgary sometime this weekend.
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero surrendered the rights to a couple of prospects and a 2013 first-round draft pick to grab Iginla, a pittance for a future Hall-of-Famer still searching for his first championship after 16 seasons in western Canada.
”Talking to our coaching staff, as a group, we said if there’s a chance to get Jarome Iginla … we want to try and get Jarome Iginla,” Shero said. ”There was no doubt if we could try and add this guy, we were going to try and add him.”
The stunning deal capped a furious four-day stretch for Shero, who brought in veteran forward Brenden Morrow from Dallas on Sunday and bruising San Jose defenseman Doug Murray on Monday. In the span of 96 hours, the Penguins added three players with a combined 1,682 points and 189 playoff career playoff games.
And they did it without giving up a single player on a roster that has put together the NHL’s second-best record with a month to go in the regular season.
”I’m pretty cognizant of the fact, this team on paper, that’s a pretty good team on paper,” Shero said.
The key now will be finding a way to make it work on the ice. Iginla could make his debut in Pittsburgh as early as Saturday barring any immigration issues, capping a frantic week in which the three-time Olympian agreed to part ways with the only franchise he’s ever known.
It wasn’t an easy decision for the 35-year-old, who is Calgary’s all-time leading scorer with 1,095 career points. Yet Iginla knew the struggling Flames needed to rebuild and understood he could help get the process started if he agreed to be traded.
He did not suit up for Wednesday night’s game against Colorado – snapping a streak of 441 consecutive games played – and waited for the phone to ring. At one point it appeared he was headed to Boston. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli believed he’d ”won the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes” around noon on Wednesday before Iginla – who had to sign off on the trade – apparently had a change of heart.
Ultimately, the chance to be reunited with Crosby won out. The two became fast friends while playing for Team Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Iginla set up Crosby for the game-winning and country-shaking goal in the gold medal game against the United States.
”When it comes down to the choice I had, one or the other, it’s really hard to pass up the opportunity to play on a team with Sid and (Evgeni) Malkin,” Iginla said.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma is keeping quiet on who gets the first crack at taking the ice with Iginla, though it appears unlikely Bylsma would break up the trio of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, the highest-scoring line in the NHL.
More likely is Iginla joining Malkin and All-Star forward James Neal on the second line though Bylsma understands nothing will be set in stone. He has five weeks to figure out what combinations work and will experiment heavily even as the Penguins try to lock down the top seed in the East.
Though Bylsma is aware tinkering with a group that entered Thursday unbeaten in March comes with its potential pitfalls, he pointed out that Iginla, Morrow and Murray all had no-trade clauses in their contracts. All three waived them for the chance to pull on Pittsburgh sweaters this spring.
”We’re talking about players choosing to come to Pittsburgh and be a part of our team,” Bylsma said.
That should put to rest any concerns about whether Iginla and Morrow – both former captains – will mesh with a dressing room where the unquestioned leader is all of 25.
”We’ve got great acquisitions but I think (chemistry) is probably one of the biggest priorities,” Crosby said. ”But it helps that nobody in the room is leaving. I think we have great chemistry here. Those guys are going to add to it.”
While Shero acknowledged the Penguins will become public enemy No. 1 in the league – if they weren’t already – Crosby downplayed the notion the last four days have affected the pressure to win.
”If anything, it should motivate us even more knowing that we’ve added some guys that are going to help us and we’re a better hockey team,” Crosby said.
One that has certainly put the rest of the league on notice about its intentions.
”They are not afraid to load up,” said Nashville defenseman Hal Gill, who helped the Penguins win the Cup in 2009. ”I think that is good for hockey to have teams that are willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win the Cup.”