We've been waiting for this moment for what seems like weeks, if not months - Jim Rutherford strongly alluded to a trade to shake up this team, especially if it continued to trend the way it has been for the last while.
That is - an inability to string wins together, or score goals on a consistent basis. Since making those surprising remarks about making some kind of major trade, the Penguins haven't gotten better - things have remained status quo.
The big name on the market was and still is Ian Cole. Reports that Mike Sullivan doesn't see eye to eye with the rugged defenseman have been plentiful, and to this day, nothing seems to have changed in that regard.
On Sunday, Ian Cole was scratched with Brian Dumoulin returning to the lineup. Cole would be a top 4 defenseman on most teams, at worst a bottom pairing player, but definitely not a healthy scratch.
In response to what he looks for when choosing which defensemen to dress, the head coach had this to say.
“We're looking for smart, efficient, calculated decisions back there,” Sullivan said, according to Jonathan Bombulie of TribLIVE. “I think when we play that way, I think we're harder to play against because we don't turn the puck over as much. That's what we're asking of all of our defensemen.”
It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines here. When you publicly describe the qualities that you want in your defensemen, and proceed to scratch Ian Cole, given the history between the two, there's little doubt that this was a subtle shot.
There are actually a few major signs that a trade may finally be on the horizon for Pittsburgh.
First of all - with Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel returning from injury, the Penguins finally have eight healthy defensemen. The major obstacle in trading him away over the last several weeks was the lack of healthy players on the blue line. Now that everyone's back, Rutherford has the flexibility to deal Cole for scoring depth.
Another indication is the fact that the win against the Boston Bruins on Sunday night propelled the Penguins back into a wild card spot. It's a weak hold on the playoff position, but it's a step in the right direction - giving Rutherford more hope that a deal of this magnitude will benefit the team rather than cripple it.
The last indicator is that the team is now entering its bye week. The rest will help everybody, but it also gives Rutherford some added time and flexibility to get something done while the team is off.
The Ottawa Senators are the likeliest of trade partners at this point, with Jean-Gabriel Pageau being a prime target, but at this point, who knows what Rutherford is cooking up - and with whom.
HOW TO GO INTO THE BYE WEEK IN STYLE
Evgeni Malkin's OT heroics against Boston set a franchise record for regular season overtime goals (12).
The Penguins are finally back in the second wildcard spot - but the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers all trail them by a single point - each with games in hand. Extremely tight race, but the Penguins enter their bye week on a high note.