Tuesday, October 5, 2010

GTOG NHL Season Preview Part II: NHL Inbox

By Finesse

Our inbox is always full so at this time of year, you can imagine it is bursting at the seams.  We've decided to go with an All-Pens edition, given the time of year.  So, after you go back and read Part I of our NHL Preview giving you the relevant "over/unders" for this season, take a look at what the fans had to say...

Q: Hey guys, love your work. Really, I love it. Anyway, where does TK [Tyler Kennedy] fit on this team? It seems like once Staal is back, the only potential vacancies would be in the top 6 or on the 4th line…what will his role be?
Dom G'Nassi, Oil City

A: Thanks for the question Dom. This is a popular topic among Pens fans these days because Kennedy has become somewhat of a polarizing player - some people love his energy, but others (like me) get frustrated that this energy doesn’t translate into more production. There is no question that Kennedy tries hard, but the last time in your life that you should be rewarded for trying hard is when you’re 6 years old and force yourself to pee before your dad straps you into your hockey equipment for your first learn-to-skate lesson. We should all try hard at what we do. The frustrating thing about Kennedy is that he can be such a feisty player that his level of energy stands out - he is noticeable when he is on the ice - but he rarely buries it when he has to. His energy, while always welcome, has become somewhat stale. It’s the same move (forehand hesitation) every time. At this point in his career he is an undersized forward with a limited arsenal, so unless he can up his production he is at the exact point where management may decide to give someone else a shot. The thought here is that with the Staal injury, Kennedy will start the season with Geno and Comrie on the second line (assuming an Asham-Talbot-Cooke third line). But if he doesn’t produce, I have no problem sending him to the 3rd or 4th line…or worse.

Q: Do yous do fantasy hockey?
Pauline McMurphy, Wexford

A: Pauline, great question. We do some fantasy sports, but for all 4 of us, hockey is off limits. Fantasy sports is great for things that you wouldn’t otherwise care about (i.e., most NFL games and the NBA), but for something that is already perfect like the Penguins’ season, why ruin it with fantasy? The only way to do well in fantasy hockey is to be objective, and being objective would require you to take Ovechkin with the first pick. Well you know what? I don’t want to be happy when Ovechkin scores. I want to be pissed.

More after the jump...

Q: I’m really sick and tired of hearing the same old story lines with the NHL - Crosby/Ovechkin, dirty hits, CBA problems, etc.  Is there anything you guys are sick of?
Jo-Ette Rizonski, Fort Mill Run

A: Jo-Ette, glad you brought this up. Although I have no problem with the NHL not being as popular as the other team sports, one of the frustrating aspects of it is that there are only a few storylines that are accessible to a widespread audience and you hit most of them on the head. But on a more local level, I can think of 5 often told storylines that simply don’t move my meter:
  1. The Montreal Canadiens. In case you forgot, which I almost did, it was the Montreal Canadiens who prevented the Pens from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals and having a shot at eliminating the Flyers from the playoffs for the 3rd straight year. But strangely, I don’t find myself caring all that much about having lost that series. Of course I wanted the Pens to win and was as crushed as ever when the Pens lost…but looking back, a second round playoff loss was probably what the Pens deserved last year. The Pens were about 70% of the level that they were when they won the Cup. The fact that we had the opportunity to last year to reach the Finals by playing the 5, 8, and 7 seed seemed too good to be true…and it was. Other than Mike Cammalleri’s stupid smile, I’m completely over that series.  By the way, in case you missed Cammalleri's vicious slash to the ankle of a rookie in a preseason game, here it is.
  2. The Pens’ Winter Classic jerseys. When I was at Consol for the Pens intra-squad scrimmage a couple weeks ago and I checked out the tag of the authentic jerseys in the Pens Gear shop - $375 dollars. I don’t even know how to begin to describe how offensive that is to me.
  3. Marian Hossa. This may be about 2 years too late, but we put the Hossa thing to rest when the Pens beat the Wings in 7. I was upset when he left, but he did what we always say we want athletes to do - go somewhere to win and leave money on the table. Well, it sucked when the team he left was the Pens so his salty tears tasted sweet when he went goal-less in the finals. But when Hossa was with the Hawks and won last year, I didn’t care. Not even a little bit. So at this point, I won’t care about Hossa again unless we trade for him at the deadline.
  4. How many games Eric Godard dresses. As much as we all enjoy a fight, you won’t read here about whether Godard needs to dress because the Pens are playing the Flyers or the New York Derek Boogaards - we don’t care. The Pens are better than those two teams on the ice. There is no reason to fuss about whether Godard needs to be there to protect Crosby and Malkin because they do fine taking care of themselves.
  5. The Washington Capitals regular season. As annoying as it is to say it, the Caps will probably get the #1 seed in the East this year and have the inside track on the President’s trophy again. They’ll hang banners, Ted Leonsis will proclaim that the Caps are not just “generationally great” but are now “millenially great,” and Mike Green will complain that he was left off a team that he should never have made and that won without him. That will irritate us, we’ll make significant fun of it, but we’ve also realized that it's probably inevitable. So why worry? I’m not going to watch Caps games and I’m going to try not to care about them. It’s all about the playoffs at this point.
The "Uranus" joke of banners.  Always funny.
Q: Who among the Pens' players has the most pressure on them this year?
Belle Bitus, West Run

A: Thanks for the email, Belle.  The Pens' young stars are in the enviable position of having already proven that they are capable of winning the Cup at a really early stage in their career.  Here's what I mean...if Sid never won another Cup (God forbid), his career would definitely be somewhat disappointing, but at least he would have 2009 to fall back on.  Same for Geno, Staal, Fleury, and even Dan Bylsma.  That doesn't mean these guys have nothing to prove, it just means that their urgency to do so is less than some other young stars who have yet to have playoff success (can you think of any?).  With that in mind, here are three Penguins who have the most to prove this year (in reverse order):

Max Talbot.  In the 2008 and 2009 playoffs, there was no one more clutch and fun to root for than Talbot.  He scored huge goals, he said funny things, and he put himself out there so that he could absorb some of the enormous weight that otherwise would have been carried by Sid and Geno [LINKS in this sentence].  He was everyone's favorite player, even receiving the loudest ovation on opening night for the 2009-10 season.  But last year was a different story.  He only had 2 goals in 45 games and was often a non-factor.  Clearly he was frustrated by constant nagging injuries, but the bottom line is that for a guy like him who doesn't have 20+ goal talent, he has to get by on simply being a presence and being noticeable every time he is on the ice.  Talbot is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and as much as I don't want to see him go, Ray Shero gets paid a lot of money to make the tough decisions that fans don't want to make.  Here's hoping that Talbot bounces back and makes Shero's decision this off season an easy one. 

"Hey Finesse, remember this?"
Dan Bylsma.  How could a coach who won a Stanley Cup after coaching about 40 NHL games have pressure on him?  It stems from the whole "do it with your own players" mentality that led to Job Gruden never getting the full credit for winning the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Bucs becuase he did it the season after Tony Dungy left with all of the guys that Dungy had coached (strained comparison, I know).  When Bylsma took over the Pens, he took over a team that had the pieces to make a run at the Cup but was woefully underachieving.  I give Disco Dan full credit for changing the team's attitude and taking them to the Cup, but he did so with guys who had learned a ton of good habits from Michel Therrien over the previous three years.  Bylsma's job was to be a fresh face to inspire the Pens to combine those lessons with his more up-tempo approach to the game -- and it worked perfectly.  But last season was a step backward, as we saw terrifying lapses in defensive zone coverage and overall attention to detail.  The team was still good, and maybe a slight decline from two consecutive Stanley Cup Finals' was inevitable, but it still left us fans wanting and expecting more.  At no point this year or next will I or anyone else at this site advocate firing Bylsma, but we are curious to see what he can do with a team over a long tenure.

"We just have to get to our game.  Chip pucks in deep."
Marc Andre Fleury.  'Tis the season of honesty and if we're being honest, then it must be said that the Pens would have beaten the Canadiens had they gotten just a little bit more from Fleury.  I'm not going to research the bad goals he let up, but we all know they happened.  I love Fleury.  I want him to be the Pens' goalie for a long time.  But I also want him to stop giving up maddeningly frustrating early goals, long range wrist shots, and weird caroms because he is flopping on the ice.  He's a great goalie and he's good enough to win a Stanley Cup...but is he good enough to win multiple Stanley Cups?  With a much improved defensive corps in front of him, this could be the year we find out.

Big Save
Q: What's up with Jordan Staal's foot?  When will he be back?
Perry O'Shizanski, Coraopolis

A: Take it from a guy who once had a yeast infection in his toe (seriously) - foot infections hurt.  We've gotten nothing but silence or bad news about Staal's foot all summer, and it doesn't look like any end is in immediate sight.  This will be really troubling if it lasts for more than 20 games, which at this point is where my money is.  We tackled this in yesterday's over/under, but any time "withering legs" are involved, it's not good.  By the way, thanks for the email, Perry.

Q: Puck Daddy did a post asking, "Who are the least valuable players in the NHL?"  Who are the least valuable players on the Pens?
Chrissy, a salon college in Robinson

A: Thanks, Chrissy.  Not surprisingly, no Penguins made the list because Ray Shero has proven that he is about one thing - value.  He pays players what they are worth, not what they were worth or might be worth or what other teams think they are worth.  That's why the Pens are in great salary cap shape, despite having tons of players who could potentially break the bank.  But let's take a hard look at the Pens' players and ask, who is the least valuable?  If you didn't already know the answer when you read the words "least valuable," then you just aren't paying attention.

Chris Kunitz: Nice guy.  Not valuable.
It sucks to call any Penguin the least valuable, but in terms of bang for the buck, this one isn't even close.  Kunitz makes $3.725 million and has scored 25 goals exactly...once in his career.  Last season he had 13 in 50 injury-plagued games which is respectable, but not what you want from a top line guy.  Kunitz has enough production that an argument could be spun that he isn't the least valuable guy on the team.  However, never has an opposing team thought, "boy, we gotta keep our eyes on Kuntiz tonight" and that has to count for something.  I usually don't give Kunitz a lot of crap when he isn't scoring because I like the way he plays and think that he was a huge part of the reason the Pens won the Cup despite only scoring one goal in the playoffs.  It's just hard to stomach it for that much money.

Q: Finesse, why are you being so negative in this Inbox?

A: I don't know, I just noticed that, too.  Sorry.  I love the Pens, I really do. 

Q: Will the Pens ever get a "scoring winger for Sid?"
Syl McMahon, Pittsburgh

A: Getting a "scoring winger for Sid" is at the top of every Pens' fans Christmas list, but there are a few huge obstacles to getting him one: Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc Andre Fleury, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and...Sidney Crosby.  In today's NHL, however, GM's have to make choices with their budget and Ray Shero has chosen to spend his on young, dynamic, talented, home grown players (and Paul Martin, too).  This system has worked, so he should stick with it.

Shero has tried to get a "scoring winger" at the deadline the past three seasons and it only technically worked once.  In 2008 he acquired Marian Hossa, and regardless of what one thinks now of Hossa, it worked.  Big time.  Hossa was the perfect compliment to Sid - great scorer, incredibly smart, defensively responsible, and unbelievably strong with the puck (probably only a slight notch below Sid).  Shero tried very hard to resign Hossa, offering to commit to him for 7 years.  We all know that Hossa turned it down, but all is well that ends well.

"Scoring winger for Sid"
The Hossa experiment could only be done once, as the Pens had more and more players to sign.  The way the roster is currently constructed, the max the Pens can really afford to spend on a winger is $3-4 million.  And they did that by acquiring Kunitz who we all like as a player, but as described above is clearly not the "scoring winger" we all say we want.  And then there was Ponikarovsky, which is like saying and then I defaulted on my mortgage, got veneral disease, and watched my little sister go to prom with Ben Roethlisberger.

Bottom line - I'd rather have Sid + Geno, etc. than the prototypical "scoring winger."  The best scoring winger the Pens can afford is a home-grown talent.  Can Tangradi be that guy?

Q: What's the latest on the hockey movie "Goon?"  You guys broke the Seann William Scott news the last time...any updates?
Phil Connors, Punxarawney, PA

A: Glad you asked, as we had another scoop this past Sunday.  Check it out.

1 comment:

  1. I am 100% in with Talbot and Bylsma, but Fleury had his best year ever on the PK last year. That means when his team hung him out to dry, he was there for them. In '08 and '09 he had solid defenses in front of him and went to the Finals. In '10 he had a terrible defense in front of him and still made it to the conference semi's. The only thing I feel justified in criticizing this guy about is his decision making outside the crease, which is terrifying in how bad it is.