Johnston on NHL: Penguins sending a message

Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates with left wing James Neal (18) and centre Sidney Crosby (87) after scoring.

Your move, Peter Chiarelli.

Or maybe moves as in plural.

Throughout most of the shortened season it’s been clear that the rest of the Eastern Conference is at least a step behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and it appears the same dynamic will apply to the trade deadline as well.

How do you think rival general managers felt when they heard that Ray Shero had acquired Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks on Monday afternoon? Remember, he’d already gotten a jump on everyone by landing Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars a day earlier.

And while there’s room for debate on how much impact the pending free agents will have on the Penguins lineup, what really can’t be argued is that Shero surveyed a weak trade market and swooped in to land his targets before anyone else could do the same.

“I think we identified what we wanted to accomplish,” Shero told reporters in Pittsburgh. “It’s usually supply and demand, as we say, but Economics 101 in this case is demand and supply. The demand is greater than the supply.

“If you can identify that certain player and again you’re willing to pay the price … (then you make the deal).”

Nowhere did the moves strike more of a chord than in Boston, where the Bruins certainly look like contenders similar to the Penguins — but contenders that are in need of some kind of spark. Prior to hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Monday, Bruins coach Claude Julien observed: “We’re not playing the type of game that we should be.”

That obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed by Chiarelli, the team’s GM, who almost certainly wants to make some kind of move to both bolster his lineup and send a strong message to his players about the organization’s commitment to winning.

He was involved in trade talks with Dallas for Morrow and will be among the bidders for Jarome Iginla’s services. There are other depth forwards to consider out there — Ryane Clowe? Jaromir Jagr? — but there are also other teams pushing to make a deal, especially now that Shero has pushed over the first two dominoes.

With every regular-season game being played within the same conference this year, the dynamic between rival teams is even more pronounced than usual.

And you can bet Chiarelli is keenly aware of what Shero is doing, especially after seeing the Bruins lose two head-to-head matchups with Pittsburgh earlier this month. They might still end up playing for the Eastern Conference title as well.

What was most telling about the pair of trades by Pittsburgh is that a strong seller’s market clearly exists around the NHL. The prices are steep. The contenders have to be bold.

Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said it took roughly “24 to 36 hours” for his deal to come together with Pittsburgh on Sunday, one that saw the Penguins give up highly touted prospect Joe Morrow to get Brenden Morrow, a gritty winger and former Canadian Olympian who has been slowed by injuries in recent years.

The teams also swapped draft picks.

In the wake of Monday’s trade for Murray, Sharks GM Doug Wilson noted that Shero was “aggressive” in their dealings. The Penguins gave up two second-round draft picks — the one in 2014 will turn in to a third-rounder if Pittsburgh doesn’t re-sign Murray or win two playoff rounds this spring — to acquire the rugged Swedish defenceman.

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic surrounding the deals is the fact the Penguins are currently riding a 12-game winning streak and expected to get reigning Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin back from a shoulder injury soon.

That makes them a pretty formidable opponent.

In fact, after arriving in Pennsylvania amid the hot run, Morrow joked: “I just don’t want to screw it up.”

At age 34, this represents his best chance to win a Stanley Cup, which is why the father of three waived his no-trade clause to facilitate the move. He already won an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver while playing with Sidney Crosby and hopes to add to more hardware now that they’ve been reunited.

“Knowing Sid and what drives him, I don’t think he’s happy with one Cup — he wants to win numerous Cups,” said Morrow.

There is nothing to suggest the Penguins are done making moves yet, either.

Shero was certainly non-committal about his future plans when contacted by sportsnet.ca on Monday, which suggest he’s willing to at least entertain the idea of another trade.

Make no mistake about it: The Penguins are taking another hard run at a championship.

“I believe we have a good team,” Shero said. “I’m not talking about any Stanley Cup here. What we’ve talked about is getting to the playoffs and winning four games. Just win four games, then we’re going to get on to the next four games.

“You have to have the right compliment of players to try to do that, to give yourself the best chance.”

With nine days to go until the trade deadline, the only team that has accomplished that so far is Pittsburgh.

Boston, you’re on the clock.