Tuesday, April 24, 2012

GTOG readers weigh in on the Penguins' lost season

By GTOG Staff (follow Artistry and Finesse on Twitter)

We don't have the most readers on the internet but we definitely have some of the smartest and most dedicated.  There is a reason we solicit comments -- we get a lot of passion and insight into things that we've never thought about.  So in that spirit, here are some of the best comments and emails we've received since the disappointing end to the Pens' season, or as we like to call them, free labor.  Thanks to everyone for your support.

Randy! (With GTOG since the beginning)
Clearly this team is less than the sum of its parts. That's on Ray Shero. It's going to be a huge off-season for the organization as a whole.
P.Co (Steady. Hardcore. Analysis)
Thanks for the podcast. Every time we're knocked out of the playoffs it feels like your girlfriend just broke up with you.  
I thought Fleury was totally out of gas coming into the playoffs. I wrote in a comment about a month ago that this is the first time we see his game slip in March instead of improve. Don't compare him to other goalies - he did play more games than in any other year. Worse, in some of these games he came in relief of Johnson, meaning he couldn't get his his scheduled rest. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I want to believe that a fresh Fleury can carry this team in the playoffs next season.  
The horrible PK - I think it starts with Fleury, too. A shaky goalie kills the confidence of a defense. They don't challenge the d-men as much, they don't forecheck as deep as they are used to, because they're afraid, or rather know, that if the forwards get behind them, it's a sure goal.  
I'm just afraid the Pens now enter the Sharks-Canucks-Caps club, where the regular season doesn't matter anymore. You can get 60 wins during the season, but people will only be interested in whether and when you fail in the post-season, and everything short of an SCF, or even a Cup, is considered a failure. This mindset eventually destroyed these three teams. The only difference for the Pens is that they don't dominate their division as Vancouver does and Washington and SJ used to.  
Yeah, this was definitely a wasted opportunity. Last year was frustrating because you couldn't help thinking what might have been had everyone stayed healthy. This year everyone came back just in time and we were just waiting to get our due chance. And we botched it. No one to blame this time. October seems so far away....
More from @CouchPenguin, Brandy, P.Co again, and a guy who hates Paul Martin after the jump...

 @CouchPenguin (epic two-part comment)
Nice work on Twitter this season, and thanks for the podcasts. 
I'm sure there will be people who will point to this series -- and game 6 in particular -- as some sort of Crosby failure, but I wouldn't go too hard on him. That Malkin hit in game 5 looked like it hurt (so did ramming into the post), and let's not forget what 87's been dealing with since 1/1/11. Physically & emotionally, I can't see how he's as playoff-ready as he would have been with a full, healthy season behind him. We know he's a big moments kinda guy, and today, he couldn't muster that big moment. It may be a while yet before we see what Sidney Crosby play the way he should be playing as a 24/25-year-old superstar. He's still hockey's best -- let's give him time to settle back in. 
Malkin... I love Malkin. I love the big year he had, the big goals he scored, the big plays he made, and I love that he doesn't take any crap from his opponents. But he couldn't hit the net in the first half of the series, and he was too reckless too often. He took dumb penalties. He played too close to the edge of dirty, instead of playing the perfect, intense, dominating hockey we saw in the regular season and in the '09 playoffs. He's a big guy with a big heart, he has talent to spare, but he was mostly out-of-control for too long against Philly. I was disheartened to see him screaming at Neal in front of the cameras today. 
Neal needed to score some big goals, and a lot more of them. He did not look like a 40-goal man in this series. He had to be better and more effective than Briere or Jagr. 
Other forwards... Staal was great, but too late. And that game 1 OT gaffe is not what we should expect from him. Kunitz was not the grinding force he needed to be, and was largely ineffective. Sullivan did not play smart hockey often enough -- and that giveaway early in game 6 hurt badly. Cooke was in danger of being outplayed by Tangradi.
The point about Fleury being worked too hard through the regular season is a good one. Johnson was miserable this season, and the pressure that put on Fleury was immense. It might not fully explain 29's horrendous collapse, but there just might be something to it. This is a goalie who hadn't struggled since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. Suddenly, he caves as the playoffs approach. Coincidentally, he didn't seem the same to me after he got hammered by Paul Martin in that game against the Isles on March 27. Just another bit of bad Martin mojo... 
Speaking of him, he was the number one liability this team had this year, and through the first half of the series. Yeah, Fleury was bad, but Martin's nonsensical, ineffective pinches and general bad play were easy to exploit. Three years left on his $5-million-per deal, and he's the one guy I never want to see in a Pens uniform again. 
Michalek might not have been stellar (and yes, I really miss Scuderi & Gill too... never mind Talbot & Rupp), but he wasn't as miserable as Martin. The one guy who might have been as wretched as Martin was Lovejoy. He gave away game 2. This series might show why he's not NHL material. Engelland was decent, Orpik was Orpik, Niskanen was pretty brave & effective when he returned, and Despres & Strait did okay when thrust into a terrible situation. 
But let's finish by talking about Kris Letang. Brilliant defenseman. 
We know what he can do at both ends of the ice. Problem is, he sometimes suffers from inconsistent, sloppy play which can come across as cavalier. And if there's a word I would have used to describe what I saw from the Penguins when they had the leads in games 1 & 2, it's cavalier. They played Kris Letang hockey. 
He has to grow up, play every shift, and stop taking unnecessary risks. When Kris Letang plays smart, solid hockey, he's unstoppable. Same with the Penguins. 
Learn. Adjust. Return. Win. 
I love my team. I want them to feel the sting of this one, though. Feel it burn, then turn it into something positive. Be hungry. Want it more than their opponents. 
A lot more.
Brandy (Every Brandy comment is like Ninety-Five Theses nailed to our inbox)
I always gave this team a pass for the Montreal series, with the assumption that the big boys were exhausted from two consecutive finals and an Olympics. This team has fought through so much the last couple of years, to watch all of its stars act more like petulant children (Letang, Sid, Geno, I'm looking at you) than hockey players is just sad. My thoughts: 
1) Hard to disagree about M&M. My sort-of reasonable dream for the defense is to unload their contracts for a 2-4th rounder, resign Nisky, bring up Despres for good, and throw your chips in for Ryan Suter (I could probably lengthen or improve this list if I had a better sense of whose contract was up). Nash has to keep Weber, and I don't know that they'll be willing to fork over the money for both. (We should also hope for this reason that Nash gets ousted shortly.) By the time Orpik and Tanger's contracts are up, hopefully Morrow and Harrington will be NHL-ready and on cheap contracts. 
2) How was the exact same defense as last year so much worse? Repeat question for M&M. 
3) Before we bash Shero for the M&M contracts, it should be at least noted that he was building a team for the new NHL, not the new dead-puck era we're playing in now. Officiating is to the point where an offsides call falls into the "let the boys play" category. And I really wish I was exaggerating. 
4) Ditto for Bylsma's system, although I do think he got significantly out-coached and has built systems to complicated to adapt when necessary. Obstruction has limited the speed and fore-checking the approach depends on. A lot will need to change systematically next year. 
5) I get your view on Kunie. But we have exactly 1 legitimate top 6 winger if we get rid of him. I also think we'd miss his physical presence. If you can replace it, fine. But you'd best be getting something similar in return - or in return for M&M. 
6) Speaking of physical presence - when did this team become allergic to hitting? I heard that they were told to limit hitting in the defense end, so that they didn't get out of position. Fat lot of good that did: they are so easy to play against. 
7) Is it time to trade a big boy? I get the hesitation, but still... The Bruins got two first rounders for fricking Phil Kessel. Imagine what we could get for Geno. Seriously, I can't even fathom. And the team would be so much more balanced. Sid was limited this series because he had nil help on his wing - while 3 of our 4 top 6 forwards got shut down by Sean Couturier (or more accurately, one got shut down trying to do a lot of fancy stuff and rendered his linemates useless). 
8) I'm not even saying we should trade one of the big 3 - BUT if it becomes necessary to stay under the cap, you let Geno restock your entire (empty) prospect pool and keep Staal. He's more mature than Geno and his skill set can't be replaced. And I still think (maybe unfairly) that Geno will go back home at some point significantly before retirement.
P.Co (never to be outdone by Brandy)
I usually agree with you guys (and gal) about almost everything, but not today. 
Still not over it.
1. Our chocolate covered peanut defensemen are both signed through 2015. On the flip-side, their cap hits are high by Penguins standards but not relative to other high-end d-men around the league (remember how much Gonchar was signed for by Ottawa in 2010). This means that a) they're going to be tough to move; b) what's out there is not that much better. 
2. Let's tease the two apart for a moment - Martin has been a failure, no question. He wasn't as bad this year as a lot of people say, but he didn't deliver what he was supposed to. He was brought in here as a versatile blue liner who can carry the puck and not be a defensive liability. He was a replacement for Gonchar, not to Gill. Everyone was talking about his offensive upside, being (I think) the top defensive scorer on the Devils "and just imagine what he will do in an offensive-minded system in Pittsburgh". What he did is go off the powerplay in a hurry and score like 4 goals in 2 years. And his defense was Gonchar-esque at best. Again, he wasn't a disaster, he did finish the regular season a plus after a terrible start, but he was bad enough to disappear from the lineup in the last three games of the playoffs. Bottom line - he was signed to deliver a certain type of game and failed to deliver it. 
3. Michalek just doesn't fit the Pens' system. He was signed as a puck magnet. Not overly physical, not lightning quick, just a pure shot blocker. It worked great for Tippett's Coyotes, but the Pens' have a pinch-in system where most of the chances against them come off the rush. This is why Letang has flourished under Bylsma, because he is arguably the best in the League in breaking a 2 on 1. Michalek is a great stand-up player who often gets lost in the up and down game this team plays. Last year with all the injuries, the Pens adopted a slower style which was perfect for him. This year, not so much. 
I wish we could replace both of these guys. But it won't be easy (unless some team emerges like Florida and Columbus did last summer and hands out inflated contracts. Maybe Dallas with its new ownership? The CBA situation makes this option very unlikely). 
4. What can Shero do in the off-season? I agree that Suter becomes an option if you can dump one M through an amnesty clause in the new CBA and trade the other one. I don't see anyone else, though. The Pens are rich in defensive prospects but none are both Gill-Scuderi types and NHL ready. And even then, there is still one more slot to fill. I hope Despres sticks around this time, but he's not the anchor in front of the net we (and half the league) are looking for. 
5. When we talk about pesky physical forward who can make life miserable for other teams, aren't we talking about Chris Kunitz? Why do we need to trade Hands for a guy exactly like him (sans hands)? The only reason I can think of is to shed his salary and get a cheaper player.
6. Trading for picks - Not gonna happen. We were bounced off in the first round, but we are still playing for now. The Pens will start trading roster players for prospects and draft picks after the current group will have finished its course and left town. 
7. That said, there's no way in hell 87 or 71 go anywhere, barring a toxic situation in the room. But someone reported that Staal is getting edgy about his limited role and that he could be a #1 center on most other teams in the league. Really? If this is true, then I say do it. If we can get for Staal what you would get for a #1 center then the Pens should go for it. Would you trade Staal for Patrick Kane? for Tuuka Rask and David Krejci? for TJ Oshie and Carlo Colaiacovo? I would. I don't want to Trade Staal, but I would trade my third-line center if people see him as a first-liner. 
Rant over. Back to work.
**I meant to say Rask and Krejci plus a player or a first rounder. But neither is going to happen, so never mind.**
Jesse, Artistry's friend who hates Paul Martin (via email)
I feel this is right on. btw you may recall i told you last summer from [a source] the two pieces they were trying to deal were martin and kunitz....the latter being the one with actual value. The issue then...and much more so now...is martin. the reason i've harped on the martin disaster for so long is simply about money. Certainly i don't blame shero for trying to get a good solid steady defenseman in free agency but whiffing that badly for that much money costs us in more ways than just on the ice. This isn't an i told you so by any means but it was plain to see FROM DAY ONE this guy on this team was disatrous. He looked intimidated playing with great players. Jersey was a totally different situation. In pittsburgh he didn't believe in his skills and frankly the level of energy he showed night in and night out made me want to slap him across the face. At least show us that you give a fuck. I dont' recall one game in two years that i said "good play paul martin". maybe the money fucked him up...really no way of knowing what happened. Point is I'm really not sure there is a place for him in this league. Thats how low i feel about him. If i was an nhl scout evaluating his play what could justify assuming that much cap space for that long? To me its wade redden, kablerle, souray, hamrlik all over again. Boy do i hope i'm wrong but i think they're fucked. Only thing i could say is perhaps there is another player who is equally as disappointing who makes a fair bit of money that a team would consider swapping out. Savings of 2mil perhaps and i'd still take that all day long. Like you wrote, a mean defensive forward who was overpaid? cant think off the top of my head who that might be but its a possiblitiy. Not a defensive centerman but ryan malone perhaps? At least he's tough to play against. 
Jesse, Artistry's friend who hates Paul Martin
Michalek certainly a disappointment but his contract and skill set make him more movable. again, he's a guy i chalk up to getting paid, buying a big house, and then all of a sudden beocmes the chek republic version of roger dorn. I'm not sure i ever saw him block a shot this year. i could actually live with him staying on the team...as average as he's been. Martin though isn't really an nhl player caliber player anymore. i'm being totally serious. Look at his skill set and tell me what he does? Decent skater but what else? I think the flyers salivated every time he was on the ice. Which is why eventually he wasn't on the ice anymore. 
The league is getting infused with good young players now more than ever. again, like you wrote, depres strait whoever would be a better subsitute for the money. But wyy would somone else be stupid enough to make a mistake like that? change of scenery....eh. we've seen guys with huge cap hits gets dealt before on that theory with virtually no success. The other issue is if i'm another gm why would i give the pens a reprieve? So they can get more cap space and add to already awesome team? fuck that. Shero has made some awesome awesome moves as gm (which is another reason why its harder to make a deal with him) but this miss is gonna continue to haunt us unfortunately for quite some time. hope i'm wrong. 
last thought. A guy they could move is orpik. He had a pretty down year ( hurt?) but still is looked at as a commodity. reasonable salary as well.
Thanks again for reading everyone.  Stay with us over the summer, and tell a friend or ten.


  1. Haha. I guess that's what happens when you give a keyboard and love of hockey to someone who studies and teaches argumentation for a living. I'm not sure whether to apologize or think I'm a absolute badass. I do, however, really like the idea of finding a lightening storm and leading the hockey world in a spiritual revolution.

  2. You're a badass of the highest order. Love your comments.

  3. HAHAHHHAHAHAHA!!!! SUCKERS!!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbimI4sklCc

    1. It's a sad thing when the best mocking a fan base can do is that one of their players got a hat trick in a regular season game.

      This, on the other hand...STUNNED.