Monday, April 23, 2012

GTOPG: Lingering thoughts on Pens' wasted season

By GTOG Staff (follow Artistry and Finesse on Twitter)

As we continue to digest this distasteful end to a season of high expectations, we keep thinking of things we want to say.  We have no idea how many thoughts will trickle out over the next few days, but here's the first batch.  For full emotion and analysis, be sure to listen to our podcast recapping Pens-Flyers.

- Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each had 8 points in 6 games (110 point pace over 82 games).  That's far from being "shut down", but unfortunately when you are so bad defensively that you require at least 5 goals to win every game, it looks like you're being "shut down" if you don't have 2 points per game.  This is not an excuse for those guys not producing yesterday -- it's the Pens fault that they became a team that not only couldn't win a low scoring game, but couldn't even play one.  But it does illustrate how rightfully high our expectations became for these guys...and how they didn't live up to them.

Why we shouldn't crown Claude Giroux, and much more, after the jump...

- Claude Giroux was easily the best player in this series and may prove to be the best player in the league by the end of the playoffs.  But let's slow down on the coronation for just a moment.  He just took advantage of a team with a porous defense and a goaltender -- much credit to him for doing it, but it's not like he was torching the '95 Devils out there.  If we were masochists and wanted to go back and watch the highlights, there's a decent chance we'd find that several of Giroux's points were the direct result of the Wilting Flower.  And while we're being bitter nitpickers, let's also not make his first shift yesterday out to be heroic.  He made a great hit on Crosby and a perfect shot past Fleury, but the shift is barely noteworthy without an all-time terrible unforced turnover by Steve Sullivan.

- After sleeping on it, we still believe what we told you on the post-game Raw Emotion Podcast: Martin, Michalek, Kunitz, and Sullivan are the most likely candidates to be out the door by August.  Let's take a quick look at how and why it makes sense to clear some $14 million in salary.

Martin and Michalek

There seems to be a total consensus on Martin, and probably the majority of observers agree on Michalek.  There is just no way Simon Despres and $3-$4 million veteran replacement don't represent an upgrade over what those two gave the Penguins this year.  If you can clear them out, you need to do it.  The only question becomes what you can get in return, but based on the potential cap savings (probably more than $5 million over the next three years), we're not particular. Draft picks, prospects, and/or a big young defensive forward with an angry disposition would be delightful.  The Penguins don't have anything resembling a Sean Couturier or even 2010 model Matt Cooke - someone who makes life miserable for the opposition's top forwards.  That needs to be a priority.

Far from alone in sucking.


From being a key component of hockey's "untouchable" trio to representing maybe the Penguins' best off-season trade chip?  Yep. He's 32-years-old and under contract through 2013-14 at $3.725 million per. That's plenty manageable for any team looking for grit, leadership, experience, and 25 goals a year.  If that sounds like something the Penguins shouldn't give up, take a closer look. He's right at the tail end of his prime, his offensive zone penalties have become his trademark, and he's one expendable piece that other teams will genuinely prize.  Combine his salary with that of Michalek, Martin, and the next guy on this list, and the team has some serious room to balance out a what is still hockey's best core of young veterans with some youthful energy and speed. Hands is like the mascot of this site, so don't think for a minute this is easy for us. We're just telling it like it is.

Not Handsy anymore?

We appreciate what the impending UFA brought to the power play, but at even strength, particularly in the playoffs, Sullivan was too often a liability.  We still don't understand why Dan Bylsma couldn't see what we thought was obvious:  the Flyers were happy to match up their top line against Crosby-Dupuis-Sullivan.  That line's quickness was too often overshadowed by an inability to defend against rangier lines like Giroux-Hartnell-Jagr.  We're pretty sure the last time Steve Sullivan put a body on somebody it didn't happen during a hockey game.  Find another point guy.  Or groom Despres or Niskanen for the role.  Clear Sully's $1.5 million from the books, and add someone who will get in Giroux's face next season.


  1. 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).

    7) 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.

  2. Brief thought in agreement: Sid's awesomeness is not up for discussion, but any line with Dupuis & Sullivan should not be considered a match against the #1 unit of capable opposition. This was a gift to the Flyers.

  3. I usually agree with you guys (and gal) about almost everything, but not today.

    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.

    1. I meant to say Rask and Krejci plus a player or a first rounder. But neither is going to happen, so never mind.