As odd as it is to say it, Pascal Dupuis finds himself in an unenviable position as Sidney Crosby's winger. Playing alongside one of the NHL's premier talents would be a boon for most, but not for Dupuis.
After all, if you are Pascal Dupuis, you are the target of occasional hostility from a vocal minority of fans of your own team. Not hate or even real dislike, mind you, but a certain sense of frustration that you are the best that the Penguins can provide at your position. You are now on the top line, sure, but you shouldn't be. It is more the result of a Ray Shero gamble gone awry, opting to build through the center of the rink and on defense while leaving the flanks open to interpretation. But that's through no fault nor planning of your own, and you've spent your tenure in Pittsburgh successfully adapting.
In 2008, you arrived from the Atlanta Thrashers. You were something of an add-in, but a solid one - a player who could fill a hole on the third line, suddenly unoccupied by Colby Armstrong,who went to Atlanta as part of the trade.
But Marian Hossa signed with Detroit in the off season, and in the blink of an eye went from Option No. 1 to Public Enemy No. 1.
During the 2008-2009 season you spent just about as much time with Crosby and Malkin as you did with Matt Cooke and Maxime Talbot. Your time atop the lineup sheet wasn't so much the result of you showing the ability to produce offensively as it was a punishment for the many skilled options the Penguins had who weren't bringing their top game on a nightly basis. Michel Therrien, and later Dan Bylsma, knew that you wouldn't float.
One-and-done winger Miroslav Satan, aging, injury-prone Petr Sykora and the enigmatic and similarly injury-bitten Ruslan Fedotenko all had very uneven results. But you? You brought effort, energy and intensity on a nightly basis. When a known, relied-upon quantity was asked for, you delivered. Not points, but consistency.
With the stopgaps failing to stop many gaps, Shero made a big move, bringing in the Anaheim Ducks' gritty winger Chris Kunitz and well-regarded prospect Eric Tangradi, both wingers, for defenseman Ryan Whitney, one of the organization's prized talents. Soon after, veteran winger Bill Guerin arrived and, suddenly, Crosby had a line tailor-made for success.
A Stanley Cup followed during a playoffs where you were derided, and rightly so, for your incredibly ineffective offense performance. But you still managed to find your way onto the ice more often than not, killing penalties and providing your proven assets: speed, grit and a nasty slap shot.
But soon after the the Penguins sipped Lord Stanley's brandy, new questions arose. Sykora and Satan would not return. Kunitz had only posted a single goal in 24 playoff games, not enough for a $3.725 million winger attached to Crosby's hip.
Filling in the holes, the Penguins re-signed Guerin, nearly 39 at the time, and Fedotenko, coming off of a strong playoff campaign, to one-year deals. Guerin would play with Crosby and Kunitz. Fedotenko would skate with Malkin and whoever was the flavor of the month at that time.
Surprisingly, that flavor of most months would be you. Sporting a new Penguins tattoo, your game sprung to life. Those fundamental assets you brought on a nightly basis began to produce points. As Kunitz was hit by the injury bug and Fedotenko succumbed to inconsistency, you fought your way up the depth chart. More ice time, more responsibility.
Skating even strength with Crosby, doing additional dirty work, sharing his defensive burden and opening up room with your speed, your resume boasted a variety of skills. On the penalty kill, only Maxime Talbot could match your willingness to give up the body. You had found your niche on the team. The 38 points you put up were well-earned, and the most you had scored since your second NHL season in 2002-03.
But, once again, it wasn't enough. The Penguins needed a top-line winger and it wasn't you. Those fans would call the radio stations, write to the papers, post on the message boards and make it abundantly clear that you weren't good enough for the job. But it wasn't your job to begin with. You were just there when no one else stepped up to take it, and that's what made you so valuable.
This past off season the Penguins halfheartedly tried to fill the gaps on the top lines once more, bringing in a reclamation project in Mike Comrie and hoping that Eric Tangradi would be ready for a long stay in the NHL. Comrie is missing in action, yet to score a goal, and Tangradi's stay was short lived.
What you provide to the Penguins is worth of praise, not derision. For the incredibly reasonable cap hit of $1.4 million, you can be plugged into any wing spot on the team, be it as support and energy on the scoring lines, speed and commitment on the checking lines, or sacrifice and discipline on the league's top penalty-killing unit. While management searches in vain for an answer on the wings, you continue to provide coach Dan Bylsma with solutions on a nightly basis. That's all that we should ask for.