One good thing about the trade deadline being, as of this writing, less than 28 hours away, is that rumors and fan-trades (trades created by fans who always undervalue opposing teams' players while overvaluing their team's players) will end.
What caused me to write this post and create the scenario that I'll get to shortly was not a trade proposal from a Penguins fan, but a statement. Los Angeles Kings winger Alexander Frolov recently became "available" - or has been available all season, depending whom you ask - and the Penguins would very much be interested in him. What this one individual proposed, however, was that Pittsburgh not even begin to discuss trades with Los Angeles unless 24-year-old captain Dustin Brown, an up-and-coming, very talented power forward, was included with Frolov in any trade.
After I read that statement, I just had to shake my head. I jokingly thought, "Why not demand Jack Johnson then too?"
I figure there are only two, maybe three, assets the Penguins have that would get Brown AND Frolov out of LA: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury the "maybe" third. Which got me to thinking about my own fan-trade. If you're Penguins general manager Ray Shero, do you offer the Kings Crosby in exchange for Brown, Frolov and Johnson, a potential franchise defenseman? If you're LA GM Dean Lombardi, do you accept?
If I'm Pittsburgh, you know what? I'm tempted to make that trade. Aside from the fact that the Penguins have won their last three games without Crosby, it seems that Evgeni Malkin steps up his game tenfold when Crosby is out of the lineup. He did it last year and is duplicating that again during this stretch. He's also got 13 more points than Crosby anyway. When Crosby's in the lineup, Malkin isn't usually as overpowering. There's a sort of alpha-dog status going on there. Malkin tends to defer to Crosby even though Malkin might be the better player.
Imagine these two lines for Pittsburgh in the case of this trade: Petr Sykora-Malkin-Brown the top unit, followed by Chris Kunitz-Jordan Staal-Frolov. Each of those lines has a sniper (Sykora, Frolov), each has a rugged forward who will throw his weight around and can also score (Kunitz, Brown), each has a center capable of creating his own offense (Malkin, Staal), each line has balance with two left-handed shooters and one rightie.
Staal also gets to play in his preferred role of center on a top-two line and perhaps regain his form from his rookie season. He and Kunitz have formed a nice little duo in two games so far, prompting jokes that Shero needs to find a new winger for Crosby, since Kunitz "belongs" to Staal.
This returns Max Talbot to center of the third line and puts Pascal Dupuis on the third line where he belongs, rather than the first line.
Without Crosby, there would also be a lot less hatred directed at Pittsburgh from other players (let alone fans; when Adam Burish is taking shots at Crosby, there's a problem somewhere.)
Pittsburgh's salary cap situation would also improve. The three Kings currently make less than Crosby. Brown is locked up for $3.175 million for a few more years, Frolov would be due a raise from his $2.9 cap hit after next season, and Johnson's in the final year of his entry-level contract, but his on-the-ice performance hasn't done much to merit a huge increase.
Even if the three combine to make more than Crosby after their new contracts, that's still money tied into three key players rather than one.
Which leads us to, "Do you accept the Penguins offer, Mr. Lombardi?"
Los Angeles gets one of the league's elite players (despite what Mr. Burish believes.) The Kings give up a lot, and that is one problem - who would Crosby play with. But considering who he's currently lining up with in Pittsburgh (well, when he's healthy), I feel confident the Kings can find some scrappy role player in the fold of a Dupuis, or a washed-up has-been like Miroslav Satan (who's been playing a little better lately, I'll grant him that) or go after someone in free agency (LA has plenty of cap space).
The pressure wouldn't be all on Crosby either, not with Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan around to form the second line. There is also a solid defense corps even without Johnson in Drew Doughty, Kyle Quincey and Matt Greene. Jared Stoll is a solid two-way center with some offensive skills.
The other question would be, would LA potentially be giving up too much? I love Brown and Frolov, but I don't think either will grow to become as good as Crosby, the youngest player involved (he's 21; Brown is 24, Frolov 26, Johnson 22). The two Kings forwards have one 30-goal season apiece under their belts. Crosby has a pair of 100-point seasons, two seasons of 35+ goals, one high-ankle sprain away from adding to each of those numbers, and can still put up 100 this season.
Brown and Frolov each have room to grow. Or they could falter off like Jonathan Cheechoo (whose goal total over the last four seasons reads like this: 56, 37, 23, nine.) You just don't know. The guess here is they won't suffer that same fate.
The wild card is Johnson. Does he become the next Nick Lidstrom? If he does, and if you know for sure he will, then I'd probably have a tough time making that trade if I'm Lombardi. But that's the thing, you don't know. Do you trade potential for a given? Johnson is undeniably very talented. A shoulder injury cost him much of this season, which would've been his second full season in the NHL. Defensemen take a while to develop, so are you willing to wait for him? What if it means getting Crosby? There's no guarantee he'll turn into the player many experts believe he will.
There could be draft picks thrown in by each side, or another lesser player or two. From Pittsburgh's end, two downsides I see are, first, a public backlash, but depending who you ask on any given day, or after any given loss, some people won't be upset to trade Crosby, and second, if Staal doesn't become the offensive force people expect him to be (note: he's 20.) Oh, and there's also the whole, "Trading Sidney freaking Crosby" thing.
For LA, you might be giving up two potential franchise players in Brown and Johnson, along with a very good winger, but getting a marquee franchise player in return. They'd need to find a winger for Crosby, but again, they have more cap room than most teams in the league. Or trade Stoll for one.
Marketing, locker room chemistry, shock value and whatnot had little to do with my reasoning. I'm thinking purely from an on-ice standpoint to improve a team. (Although now that I think about it, there's this: rather than be the face of the NHL, Crosby could become the King of the NHL. Get it? The King? Because he'd be playing for the Kings?)
Joe Thornton was traded. Brad Richards was traded as a salary dump (which a Crosby trade would partly be). Some guy named Gretzky was traded. No reason why Crosby should be excluded from the list.
Chances of this happening? About the same as me wooing Giselle Bundchen away from Tom Brady. Intriguing to think about? I'd say yes.
(P.S. I can't wait for the rumorboards to start throwing this out as a legitimate trade. This was pure hypothetical speculation. Crosby and Brown are going nowhere. Johnson probably isn't either. Frolov? Maybe.)
Sidney Crosby (60 GP, 23G, 56A, 79P, plus-3)
Dustin Brown (60 GP, 23G, 25A, 48P, minus-8)
Alexander Frolov (62 GP, 26G, 20A, 46P, minus-3)
Jack Johnson (21 GP, 4G, 1A, 5P, minus-12)