Penguins players prefer standing pat at trade deadline

Trades made under GM Jim Rutherford June 27, 2014: James Neal for Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling Dec. 5, 2014: Philip Samuelsson for Rob Klinkhammer, conditional fifth-round pick Jan. 2, 2015: Rob Klinkhammer, first-round pick for David Perron Jan. 27, 2015:...

Penguins players prefer standing pat at trade deadline

Trades made under GM Jim Rutherford

June 27, 2014: James Neal for Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling

Dec. 5, 2014: Philip Samuelsson for Rob Klinkhammer, conditional fifth-round pick

Jan. 2, 2015: Rob Klinkhammer, first-round pick for David Perron

Jan. 27, 2015: Marcel Goc for Maxim Lapierre

Feb. 25, 2015: Zach Sill, two draft picks for Daniel Winnik

March 2, 2015: Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy

March 2, 2015: Robert Bortuzzo, seventh-round pick for Ian Cole

July 1, 2015: Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling and two draft picks for Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, second-round pick

July 28, 2015: Brandon Sutter, third-round pick for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, second-round pick

Dec. 14, 2015: Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley

Jan. 16, 2016: David Perron, Adam Clendening for Carl Hagelin

Feb. 27, 2016: Third-round pick for Justin Schultz

June 25, 2016: Beau Bennett for third-round pick

Nov. 2, 2016: Mike Condon for fifth-round pick

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Updated 37 minutes ago

Shortly after the coaching change that brought Mike Sullivan and months before the Penguins turned into Stanley Cup champions in 2016, captain Sidney Crosby regularly cited the “desperation level” in the dressing room as a reason to believe better days were ahead.

Other elements contributed to the Penguins evolution into Cup contenders last January, February and March, of course: They tweaked their systems, called up speedy prospects and acquired winger Carl Hagelin and defenseman Justin Schultz. Through it all, Crosby championed the importance of desperation.

A year later, with a 3 p.m. trade deadline looming Wednesday, that's the ‘D' word — not deal, depth or draft picks — that continues to resonate most with Crosby.

Crosby is not unique among the Penguins in this case. None of the players nor Sullivan clamor for a last-minute change to a roster general manager Jim Rutherford kept almost completely intact during the offseason to pursue a Cup defense. All involved like their chances to repeat.

“I think as a group, we want to find another level,” Crosby said. “It's not going to happen overnight. I think it's a mindset. We're getting there. As far as execution-wise, maybe we haven't quite been there. But I think our desperation level is starting to climb a little bit. You see it kind of late in games and things like that.”

Shortly after he made a move Thursday to acquire defenseman Ron Hainsey from Carolina, Rutherford indicated he remained open to getting another. He also acknowledged the difficulties created if he brought in another defenseman on an NHL contract only to likely welcome Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley back from injuries just before the end of the regular season.

“We'll stay in the mix right up until the deadline and see what happens,” Rutherford said. “There's always ways to figure out a deal if it's there. But like I said, it'll be very creative.”

While the general manager mulls whether the Penguins' roster calls for creativity, the coaching staff must concentrate on fine-tuning a lofty message to a group of players that occupies second place in the NHL standings and averages a league-high 3.48 goals per game.

“We all have to elevate our games,” Sullivan said. “Our coaches have to continue to strive to be better, to prepare this team the right way. I think everybody has to take ownership for what they bring to the table to help this team be successful. When we do that, I think we're a very good team that can play against anybody.”

There's only so much more the Penguins can ask of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or goalie Matt Murray, all of whom are producing at or close to the best levels of their careers.

Setting aside the stars, many Penguins in search of untapped potential entered this winter with enough incentive to strive for new heights.

Forwards Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen's contracts expire after this season. Ditto for defensemen Trevor Daley, Chad Ruhwedel, Steve Oleksy and Cameron Gaunce.

Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin also stand to gain better contract arrangements as impending restricted free agents.

Will late-season competition stir these players in a way their contract opportunities do not? The answer likely depends on the individual. Fortunately, the Penguins' decision-makers pride themselves for maintaining dialogue with players.

“They do a good job of letting you know where you stand,” said Gaunce, who wonders if another trade for a defenseman will send him back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “It makes for a lot less internal contemplation going on.

“If they believed change needed to be made, they would've made another one. And they still might. But so far they've been happy enough with how we've been playing. … If anything, it makes you want to do even better for them.”

When the Penguins acquired Schultz a couple days before the 2016 trade deadline, their justification for the move largely centered on depth. No one dared to predict the defenseman might develop into the high-scoring, top-four option he now embodies.

Might that tempt the players a bit more to imagine what's possible for the Penguins with the right roster tweak? Not really, Ian Cole said.

“Schultzy, that worked out unbelievably,” Cole said. “He's been so productive and so positive of a move for this team. Are you going to find that every time? I don't know. But so far, everything that we've done, everyone has really liked it.

“It's very exciting to be a on a team where everyone in this room thinks that we can make another run. I saw it a lot in St. Louis where the talking heads pick you to win the Stanley Cup, and that really doesn't matter. It's about what the guys in the room believe and how determined they are to accomplish that.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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