It's no secret that the Penguins need to find some help before the March 4 trade deadline. They're currently ranked 9th in the NHL and 5th in the Eastern Conference in Goals per Game at 3.02, which is respectable even for the new NHL (Detroit leads the league with 3.55).
But they also rank 23rd in the NHL (12th in Eastern Conference) in Goals Against per Game with 3.02. Boston leads the NHL with 2.12 GA per game.
Looking at these numbers it seems clear Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep the puck out of the net, and hopefully that will come with an offensive punch.
The latest rumor has Pens GM Ray Shero talking to Florida Panthers GM Jaques Martin about Jay Bouwmeester. The rumor has Bouwmeester going to Pittsburgh in exchange for Ryan Whitney and draft picks.
It wouldn't be a bad trade for Bouwmeester, who is having a career year with 11 goals and 16 assists in 49 games played (his career highs are 15 goals in 2008 and 41 assists in 2006). Playing on the top line will give the UFA-to-be plenty of chances to get on the scoresheet with Malkin and Crosby in the lineup. But for a team struggling to keep the puck out of their own net, a defenseman with a career +/- of -23 isn't exactly a good solution.
By contrast, the Penguins give up Whitney whose career +/- is -8. Scoring-wise Whitney's best year was 2006-07 where he netted 14 goals and tallied 45 assists. This year Whitney has only played in 18 of the Penguins 51 games. He's played well, but not spectaculor.
The catch in this swap of 2002 first rounders is that Whitney still has 4 years left on his contract, and will count $4 million against the cap in each of those years. Looking at the positive, Whitney has been a consistant player when he's been healthy the past two years. He followed up his career year in 06-07 with 12 G and 28 A in 07-08, and his current numbers would put him at 45 points if he played the whole 82-game schedule. There is also the fact that Whitney is guaranteed to be with the team the next four years. Bouwmeester's current salary of $4.8 million may be more than Pittsburgh is willing to pay, and if he demands more as a UFA this summer it could leave a huge hole in the lineup for Shero to fill.
On the other hand bringing in Bouwmeester could help the team right now. If Pittsburgh keeps Whitney they may have to choose between their home-grown defenseman and Forward Jordan Staal, whose contract expires the same year as Whitney's. And if the Pens can't sign Bouwmeester in the offseason, the hole could be filled by rookie sensation Alex Goligoski. It might not be as big of a hit as it appears.
Now for the other catch... Trading for Bouwmeester depletes a roster that doesn't have much to offer in trades. Sergei Gonchar won't be healthy until after the deadline, and he's not likely to be traded as a top d-man for the Pens. Crosby and Malkin aren't going anywhere. Staal isn't going anywhere either after signing a 4-year extension earlier this year.
Forwards Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora, Defensmen Hal Gill, Philippe Boucher and Rob Scuderi and backup goalie Mathieu Garon are all UFAs-to-be. The Pens will probably try and resign Sykora, Gill, Scuderi and Satan. Boucher is a new face and may be let go to make room for Goligoski if Whitney is still around. Fedotenko has not lived up to his potential, mostly due to his recent injury. Who knows what Shero will do about that situation.
Ultimately the team that needs help has plenty of UFAs to shop with, but can ill-afford to lose any of them before July 1. They will have to get creative in dealing prospects and draft picks.