Monday, June 27, 2011

Best Week Ever: Pens Draft; #Crosbywatch; #Malkinwatch; #Jagrwatch

By Artistry

It's one of our favorite weeks of the year at GTOG. The NHL draft, paradigm-altering trades, the free agent frenzy. It's a hockey oasis in the summer desert. Let's take stock of where we are as we begin the countdown to July 1.

- Anyone who tells you he has a substantive reaction to the Penguins' draft is probably either paid to scout teenagers or Joe Morrow's coach. All we really know about these kids is what other people say about them, and we're not particularly interested in hearsay or speculation. What we do know today is there is more to Ray Shero's draft philosophy than taking the best player available. Some patterns have emerged. Here's the philosphy behind the philosophy:

     1. Mobile Defensemen, Mobile Defensemen, Mobile Defensemen

Shero has made no secret of his view that guys who can retrieve the puck and quickly transition the other way are the most valuable commodities in today's NHL. Enter Brian Strait, Alex Grant, Simon Despres, and now Morrow and Scott Harrington. Stockpile as many of these players as you like; you will never have too much inventory. You will always find some team willing to give you their James Neal for your Alex Goligoski or their Nathan Horton for your Dennis Wideman. These players are so in demand, you'll even find some team willing to take Brian Campbell's $7.1 million salary cap hit off your hands. [Shaking head in disbelief.] There is something to be said for this approach particularly when drafting late in Round 1, when future success becomes so much harder to predict.

Already Coveted by Florida GM Dale Tallon
     2. Gamble on Skill

Certain 18-year-olds are pegged as franchise forwards only because they have the body of a grown man to go with their fully formed offensive game and uncanny hockey sense. Needless to say, if you're regularly drafting outside the top 10, you're not getting those kids.* Instead, a team like the Penguins can wait to grab players who have the skill and the hockey sense, but don't necessarily have the build or the pedigree. This year's 6th round choice, Josh Archibald, along with recent draft choices like Tom Kuhnhackl and Ben Hanowski, may fade into obscurity.** Or they may end up regularly potting 40 goals on Sidney Crosby's wing. You don't know, and it won't hurt you to find out. Call it the Robbie Brown Axiom.

     3. Steer Clear of Europe

I don't think Ray Shero has anything against Europeans, per se. I'm pretty sure if he were in Craig Patrick's shoes in 2004, he would have selected Evgeni Malkin. On the other hand, no one can argue that there's been a pretty pronounced shift in draft strategy since the days when Patrick took Milan Kraft and Konstantin Koltsov in the first round. It may just be a coincidence, but we now have a six year sample size to go on, and put it this way, the Penguins are not going out of there way to find Sweden's answer to Josh Archibald. There's much less certainty that a European player will ever make his way overseas, and that may be all there is to this. It's just a slightly riskier play.

- Positive news Monday on the Crosby and Malkin injury front. Although it's heartening to see Sid "progressing in his activity," as Jack Adams Dan Bylsma puts it, talk to me after he's been through a week or two of full contact drills.  Then you might see some smiling going on at GTOG headquarters. Until then, we're all business. 

- Anticipation builds as #jagrwatch continues.  Is Bro-tistry now in the studio recording an original Jaromir Jagr song?  I'm not going to tell you he isn't.  Stay tuned.

"See you on the power play. I'll be open on the half boards."
- Is there any such thing as a terrible contract in the NHL these day?  I wonder.  I thought for sure Glen Sather had dirt on Bob Gainey two years ago when he somehow managed to get Montreal to take on Scott Gomez's $7.4 million contract.  But then last week Chicago dumped Campbell on Florida.  Hey, enjoy that $7 million cap hit through 2016.  Sure, the Panthers needed to make a dramatic play to hit the salary cap floor, but Brian Campbell wasn't even a top tandem defenseman for the Blackhawks.  The lesson:  never underestimate the ability of an NHL GM to shock your sensibilities. 

- If by the end of this week the Penguins have both Tyler Kennedy and Jagr on the roster, Ray Shero gets a statue downtown.


* Unless one of them falls, precipitously, as in the case of Angelo Esposito.  If an Esposito falls, there is probably a reason for it, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take him and flip him in a package with two other overrated players in exchange for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. We always support this kind of move.

** Let's face it, they are already pretty obscure.

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