In the five years since the Penguins unceremoniously broke ties with long time GM Craig Patrick, Ray Shero has become a nearly cult-like figure in Pittsburgh. A quick Google images search will provide photoshops depicting Ray's badass-ness. He's basically become the most trusted figure in the city since Mr. Rogers.
Fred Rogers donning his pimpin' shoes.
Shero's cavalier attitude, coupled with his talent-spotting abilities (which must be a genetic trait) have rocketed him to beloved status. Even the trainwreck that was the Alexei Ponikarovsky acquisition last year, support for Shero hasn't waned.
But it is without question that 2011 will be the most difficult year for Ray-Ray.
The casualty list in Pittsburgh makes All-Star teams look as if they lack depth. The injuries to Crosby and Malkin only begin to scratch the surface. Somehow, behind the clearly superhuman leadership of Dan Bylsma, the Penguins have retained their grip on fourth in the Eastern Conference. The team's resilience has put Shero in an intriguing spot. When you have the second most points in the conference, no matter the injuries, packing up before the playoffs is not an option. So what does Shero do? Trades the most expendable player at the most expendable position on the team for something the Pens have desperately needed since the departure of a player to be mentioned later in this post (it's not Hossa, he can suck it): a talented, goal scoring winger, and clearly the next spokesperson for Crest Whitening Strips, James Neal.
Dude has albino teeth. Crazy.
Not only did Shero address a need by trading a talented defenseman who is prone to mental lapses, he somehow got Dallas to throw in THEIR talented defensemen who is prone to mental lapses, Matt Niskanen. There's nothing funny about him, except that he's from a state within a state (Virginia, Minnesota).
Both Neal and Niskanen will be Pens through 2011-12, and given their young age (23 and 24, respectively), they are decidedly not "rentals". Neal could be the finisher that Crosby has never had, and Niskanen might not suck.
And then yesterday, Shero did what everyone in Pittsburgh wanted him to. He pretty much traded a hockey stick an a Tim Horton's donut for someone the organization is a bit familiar with.
Terrible Omen of the Millenium: As I was trying to post this video, Safari completely crashed and took me about 20 minutes to fix. Shit.
The scary part of all of Shero's dealing?
We still have days until the deadline. Hold on tight.
Edit: TSN's Darren Dreger just released a report in regards to the possibility of Crosby sitting the remainder of the season. Looking more and more likely.