PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins could be quiet at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline despite facing needs at multiple positions.
Injuries to three key players -- top-line right wing Pascal Dupuis, 2013 Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang, and defenseman Paul Martin -- leave Pittsburgh with a lineup consisting of several American Hockey League call-ups. With Letang (stroke) and Martin (broken hand) each sidelined for at least the next month, the defense is in a state of flux.
Martin is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, and Letang's return is uncertain. Despite those holes, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said he will take a more subtle approach at the March 5 trade deadline than he has in the past.
"With [Martin] being out now, along with Kris, I think it goes back to where we were during the course of the season where we're giving some of these younger guys opportunities," Shero said. "They certainly did a good job for themselves and that's part of the growth process."
The Penguins have won eight of the 10 games they have played without both Martin and Letang in the lineup this season. Injuries on both ends have forced Pittsburgh to experiment with its defensive pairings, pairing Robert Bortuzzo with Rob Scuderi recently, and playing defenseman Deryk Engelland at right wing on the fourth line.
Though Shero said Pittsburgh "would certainly prefer to have" Letang and Martin, he is confident in its current group.
"We'll see what happens over the next week or so as far as further injuries. Hopefully, that won't happen," Shero said. "But at this point, adding any NHL defenseman for any team is going to be difficult, and we go back two or three months and the number of injuries we have had has given these younger players opportunity and experience to potentially help us down the stretch or into the playoffs.
"We'll evaluate the next week or so, but I'm comfortable with what we have here on the roster right now and certainly down in the farm."
Despres, who averaged a career-high 18:55 of ice time in 18 NHL games this season, impressed early in his first stint with Pittsburgh, but his performance dropped significantly prior to his last game on Jan. 10. But the team seems comfortable with his potential return to the lineup, which is in line with Shero's narrative.
"I guess at this point, you're kind of numb to [the injuries]," Scuderi said. "I broke my leg when a lot of the other injuries happened [earlier in the season], so I wasn't playing at the time, but just the feel in the locker room is just a next man up mentality.
"Certainly, you want the team to be on the ice that you planned to play for in the offseason, but sometimes things happen."
Matt Niskanen has been one of the Penguins' most reliable defensemen this season and said he expects the 20-day period between games to affect the team more than the lineup changes.
"It's been a long break," Niskanen said. "We have to get back into playing hockey again and we have to do it quick. We'll have a good test on Thursday with Montreal. I don't expect we'll be on the top of our game for the first 10 minutes of that first game, but the quicker we can get everybody going, the better for our team."
Pittsburgh's forwards have faced similar difficulties. Dupuis isn't expected to fully recover from a torn ACL for another 6-8 months, while Beau Bennett sustained a setback to his wrist/hand injury and is expected to return in 3-4 weeks, Bylsma said.
Shero has traded for a top-six forward at or near the deadline in recent years, including Jarome Iginla last season. But he said a similar trade will be "a bit far-fetched" this season.
"Replacing Pascal Dupuis, I don't know if that's going to be possible," Shero said. "In terms of this trade market, there's probably only four teams that are really out of a playoff spot at this particular point. In terms of the assets to grab players or try to make a play for players, we know it will be steep, and again it goes down to cap space and what you have available.
"We've played a number of games without Pascal. We're certainly better with him, but other guys have got opportunities and certainly have done a good job for us."
Shero said he isn't sure how much cap space the Penguins have due to "moving parts," including if Letang will be able to return, and expects that to play a pivotal factor in what moves the team can make at the deadline.
"I have not, and he has not, made a decision one way or the other as to whether or not he's coming back or not, but that possibly does exist," Shero said. "If there is a chance for him to come back with the information we have at that point [March 5], I certainly want to make that space available for Kris Letang so he can come back and play games prior to the playoffs.
"Some of that might just depend on the trade market, the asking price and what we do have for cap space."
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