On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed tireless winger Pascal Dupuis to a two-year contract worth $3 million. The signing is a win for all parties involved, as the Penguins hold onto one of their most important role players at a reasonable sum and Dupuis stays in a city to which he has very clearly grown attached.
The signing also confirms that Ray Shero "won" one of the most hotly debated trades in Penguins history. But first, let's jump back for a second.
It's February 2008, and the NHL trade deadline is quickly approaching. The Atlanta Thrashers are clearly sellers and the most coveted chip in their pocket is one Marian Hossa, a supremely-talented winger nearing unrestricted free agency. Atlanta knows it can't re-sign him, so they dangle him as a carrot for prospective suitors.
There are many. The Penguins are not supposed to be one. Ray Shero, not yet known for his tendency to make moves at the deadline, has intimated that the Penguins will not be major players on the trade market.
On February 26, the Penguins acquire Hossa and Dupuis, considered to be a throwaway at the time, in exchange for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The move propels the Penguins to a berth in the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, while the Thrashers stock up on youth and prospects.
Part of why Shero pulled the trigger on the deal was that he felt the Penguins could re-sign Hossa in the offseason. However, when Hossa ended up signing with Detroit, the question quickly became (almost to the point of meme status on message boards), "Was the trade worth it?"
Three years later, I can now definitively say, "Yes, it was worth it."
Regardless of the fact that Atlanta no longer has a team, the Thrashers received four flawed players in return for an elite rental and a reliable, flexible player who the Penguins should have in their possession for parts of six seasons.
Armstrong, a first-round pick of the Penguins, looked to have the makings of an impressive power forward when he scored 40 points in 47 games as a rookie skating with Sidney Crosby. But his play regressed over the next two seasons. Armstrong's a decent player, but one who has been plagued by injury and a nasty habit of disappearing for long stretches of time. He finished last season with 23 points in 50 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Christensen was fawned over for his heavy shot and skills on the shootout. Otherwise, he was a complete liability in the defensive zone and a startlingly poor team player. Christensen left Atlanta via trade when he was sent to Anaheim for a prospect and, after being a bust in Anaheim, was picked up off of waivers by the New York Rangers, for whom he finished last season with 27 points in 63 games.
Esposito was the classic 'high-risk, high-reward' player, a prospect who was once highly-coveted, but fell in the draft over issues relating to his commitment. As a 22-year-old, Esposito played his first full season in the Thrashers' farm system in 2010-2011, scoring 13 points in 57 games for the AHL's Chicago Wolves, numbers not exactly screaming 'high-impact forward.' The first round pick was used on Daultan Leveille, ranked the eighth-best prospect in the Thrashers/Jets organization.
Not a single player in the deal played for the Thrashers last season.
Dupuis, meanwhile, has become one of Dan Bylsma's most relied-upon players, used on every line, and as one of the top penalty-killers on the NHL's best penalty-killing unit last season.
Further, he is a player who is truly committed to the Penguins (or does his tattoo not give that away?) and, by signing at below market value, he affords the team room to maneuver during the offseason. Armstrong will make twice as much as Dupuis next season while providing many of the same things that Dupuis does, though most are at an equal or inferior level.
Plain and simple, the Penguins won the trade. Not simply by bringing in Hossa, the best player in the deal, but by acquiring Dupuis, a versatile player who manages to avoid injury and bring the same impressive effort to the rink on a nightly basis over the long term.
Dupuis has proven beyond doubt to be anything but a throwaway.