It's been quite a while since we have seen a contending team like these 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins; one that has such an incredible gap in its top-line talent and its bottom-line talent.
They have two outstanding lines led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that pretty much carry the team, and a bottom-six combination that gets crushed every single night. When you see just how little depth this team has, particularly at the forward positions, it's a little difficult to comprehend how they have managed to build such a lead in the Metropolitan Division, and how they compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Then again, Crosby and Malkin are so good that they can cover up a lot of flaws.
Pittsburgh will face a problem if a team is able to shut those two down in a short playoff series (or if they simply have a couple of off nights). Who is going to be there to pick up the slack? Right now, nobody.
Going back to the three-center model
The Penguins have been one of the teams connected to Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler, and as Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers pointed out last week such a move would allow the Penguins to recreate the three-center model they had for so many years with Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Let's face it, even though they have similar box score numbers Brandon Sutter is not anywhere near the player that Staal is and at times has been overmatched in trying to carry Pittsburgh's third line. A player like Kesler would go a long way toward fixing that.
Even if they were to land a player like Kesler, they still need a couple of more forwards. That seems like a strange thing to say when you're talking about a team that scores so many goals, but almost all of their offense comes from the same five players: Crosby, Malkin, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz. The salary cap, as well as some poor drafting when it comes to forwards and an inability to replace guys like Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy has left the Penguins as a two-line team when it comes to offense.
Think back to the 2009 team that won the Stanley Cup and remember that their fourth line had players like Pascal Dupuis, Miroslav Satan and Petr Sykora skating regular shifts in the playoffs. This team, as currently constructed, would be relying on players like Taylor Pyatt, Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass and Craig Adams.
There's also the issue that comes with Dupuis, a regular on Pittsburgh's top line, being out for the remainder of the season, creating yet another hole up front.
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What about the defense?
For as many holes as there are up front, the defense has its own set of question marks. Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are showing their age and have had struggled mightily this season, while Paul Martin is expected to miss four-to-six weeks after suffering an injury at the Olympics. Expecting anything from Kris Letang this season as he recovers from a stroke might be more than a little optimistic.
The Penguins at least have some options here and might be able to get by without a move, especially if they come to their senses and give Simon Despres a legitimate shot to play in the absence of Martin and Letang.
They are always active
One thing is for sure, general manager Ray Shero is going to do everything he can to fix these holes, as nobody is more active at the deadline than him. Over the past few years, however, the activity hasn't always paid off.
Shero built his reputation as the master of the trade deadline by swinging major deals for Kunitz, Marian Hossa and Bill Guerin early in his tenure with the Penguins, resulting in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances. Over the past four years, however, it's been a bit more hit-and-miss. The James Neal-Matt Niskanen trade and last year's Jussi Jokinen trade with Carolina were obvious home runs.
But several other deadline deals over that stretch haven't gone as planned, including the trades for Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jordan Leopold, Alexei Kovalev, and last year's deals for Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, and Jarome Iginla (who never really seemed to fit in at all).
They're going to need much better results this year if another Stanley Cup run is going to be made.