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Blue Line Buzz: Save the Penguins

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Save the Penguins

Being a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins is bearing quite a resemblance to being a real-life penguin in the fact they are becoming an endangered species.

First, star blue liner Kris Letang goes down with a lower-body injury in Tuesday's win over Montreal, then Paul Martin suffered a broken wrist and is out the remainder of the regular season. That's 49 points and nine goals in 61 games from the blue line. Letang is playing at a point-per-game pace and is due back sometime this week whereas Martin was on pace for a career-best season.

Before moving on, there's a mea culpa to be made about Martin. Unless I am wrong, but I'm never wrong, Paul Martin. Yea, I didn't think Paul Martin's production was going to continue. The former Golden Gopher star began the season on a tear for the Penguins and was continuing to put up solid numbers  (21 in 33) for the soon-to-be-crowned Stanley Cup champion Penguins before his injury. (That's the only logical conclusion following their trade for Jarome Iginla. Weren't the Pens everyone's darlings heading into last year's playoffs too?) What's been surprising about Martin this season was that he was essentially the Penguins' whipping boy for their ills last year after struggling to adapt following his arrival from New Jersey. Martin delivered for Pittsburgh this season and likely will earn himself a spot on Team USA for Sochi next winter.

With news that Kris Letang will miss some time with a minor injury, Martin was slated to continue manning the point on a power play with James Neal and Jarome Iginla, to name a few. However, Martin will not get that chance the remainder of the season, and with Kris Letang slated to come back soon, don't be in too much of a rush to grab Matt Niskanen.

Also known as the throw-in in the James Neal-Alex Goligoski trade several years ago, Niskanen has provided the Pens valuable depth on their blue line and could see some time with the team's lethal power play. However, remember that both Neal and Iginla are capable of manning the point on the man-advantage and Evgeni Malkin has returned to action, another man who likes firing from the blue line.

Niskanen could have some value from running the team's second unit, also featuring some rather talented players. Martin's absence will raise Niskanen's value, but with Letang coming back soon and Malkin back in the Pens lineup, Niskanen won't see a huge bump in production, however, he should be a target for those looking to replace Martin in their lineup. However, with the recent news that Sidney Crosby will be out indefinitely after suffering a broken jaw in Saturday's win over the Islanders, Niskanen could see more opportunities, but don't count on it.

He's Free, But Not Quite

After a week of campaigning by his agent through both the media and Twitter, Jake Gardiner is back with the Maple Leafs; the Maple Leafs who are sitting solidly in sixth-place in the Eastern Conference. Gardiner has shown flashes of brilliance in several games with the Leafs, expertly dishing the puck and notching two assists over a four-game period only to then see himself a healthy scratch.

Gardiner also made several ill-advised plays in his own end, which hurt the Leafs more than any goal he helped create, thus forcing coach Randy Carlyle to remove Gardiner from the lineup for the team's last two games, wins over Carolina and Ottawa. Gardiner had an impressive 11 points in 18 games under Caryle last season when the former Ducks' boss started patrolling the bench at Air Canada Centre. However, Gardiner began the shortened season recovering from a concussion, played two games with the Leafs and was then banished to the Marlies before he was called up two weeks ago.

It's peculiar that Gardiner was in the lineup for several days but then scratched in favor of fellow AHL refugee John-Michael Liles, a player you have to believe the Leafs would love to move before Wednesday's trade deadline. Perhaps Liles is in the shop window, but he was out of the lineup for two games with a minor ankle injury earlier this week. He has an assist in two of the last three games and a modest eight points through 22 NHL contests this season.

Gardiner clearly has the upside on the Toronto blue line, but until the former college star ceases to squander playing chances, he's going to disappoint owners, as well as the Leafs and their ever-supportive fan base.

Moving Day

With the NHL trade deadline approaching on Wednesday, there is still quite a logjam among the final few playoff spots in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. There likely will be more buyers on Wednesday than there are sellers, as teams will be forced to decide whether they are in contention for a playoff spot or not. Calgary has clearly decided they need to dump salary and rebuild, so don't be surprised to see names like Michael Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay and Miikka Kiprusoff thrown around.

-Odds are high that the Flames will also move veteran defender Jay Bouwmeester, who's in the midst of one of his better offensive seasons with 15 points through 33 games, although he's grabbed just one assist in the last five games, (none in the last four), going a minus-8 over that span.

-The Islanders may not be moving Lubomir Visnovsky after all, as the veteran puck-mover who didn't want to play for the Islanders in the first place inked a two-year extension last Friday. Visnovsky has nine points through 23 games since his arrival on Long Island, but has no points through the last five games. The question now has to be whether the Islanders will trade Mark Streit, who's slated to become a restricted free agent after this season. The team is close to an extension with Streit as noted by Newsday's Arthur Stape. The 35-year old can still move the puck and owns a steady 17 points through 35 contest this season. He can help a contending team with a need for a puck-moving defender, but the Islanders are tied with the Rangers for eighth in the East heading into Monday's contest with the Devils, not exactly making them prime sellers.

-Jordan Leopold goes from Buffalo to St. Louis in a trade for several draft picks, but the odds of him contributing much offensively are low given the presence of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo on the Blues' back end. Leopold has cracked 10 goals in each of the last three seasons but has a modest two through 24 games this season. A change of scenery could help and Leopold should see some power-play time, but don't count on more than a handful of points from the former Flame.

-The Oilers locked up Ladislav Smid on Monday, to a four-year deal worth roughly $14 million, preventing teams from acquiring the veteran. While he wouldn't have been a boon to a team's attack, Smid could have given contending teams a veteran presence on the blue line.

Question of the week: Which player traded at the deadline will have the biggest impact?

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