Friday, May 4, 2012

The Case Against Trading Sidney Crosby

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Operating under the hits-generating premise that Mario Lemieux kidnapped Ray Shero and forced him to trade one of the Pens big-3 centers, Artistry made the case that the one who Shero should deal is Sidney Crosby.  Despite the hedging and caveats throughout his post, the mere mention of trading a guy like Crosby was very emotional for Artistry, culminating in text messages such as, "Having hard time doing Sid post even though I know it's right, so depressing" and "Staying at the same hotel as Delmon Young this weekend. So sorry I missed him" and "EW divulges Bachelorette contestants, good luck to Emily on her journey."

But I have a different opinion on what Ray Shero should do if taken hostage by Mario and forced to trade one of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jordan Staal.

He should say no.

As the saying I made up goes, "when the window is open you have to jump."  The saddest part about the premature end to this Pens' season is that it was an unforgivable waste of a roster that, blessed with temporarily good health, could have won the Stanley Cup.  The window was wide open and instead of jumping, the Pens started punching people and not killing penalties.

But if the window was open wide this season, guess when it's open even wider?  Next year.  All of the key pieces of the team are coming back except for Matt Niskanen (let's get him re-signed), Steve Sullivan (buh-bye) and Arron Asham (thanks for not much).  Crosby should benefit from a normal summer of rest and training, Geno's knee is only going to get stronger, Jordan Staal is still growing, and the early exit gives Fleury a few extra months to talk to a sports psychologist.  With upgrades to the defense (we'll get to that) and a non-meltdown by Fleury in the playoffs, the Pens team that scored 26 goals in 6 playoff games should be an even bigger threat to win the Cup next year.

And when an opportunity like that presents itself, you take it.  Ray Shero doesn't need to go-all in in 2013.  He needs to stay all-in.

Much more on the three centers and why we need to keep Sid, after the jump...

The main reason why Shero should stick with the Three Center Model is that it works.  Here's what this model has produced over the last 5 seasons.
  • 2008: 12-2 record in Eastern Conference playoffs, gave an admirable fight to a superior opponent in the Finals.
  • 2009: Historically great series win over Washington, demolition of rest of Eastern Conference, well-deserved Stanley Cup.
  • 2010: Cup hangover, ran into a hot goalie, still made it to Game 7 of the second round which isn't terrible.
  • 2011: Bodies strewn about like Appomattox, doesn't count.
  • 2012: Best regular season record of Crosby-era, led the league in goals per game, ran into a supremely motivated and uber-talented opponent, lost composure for two games, Sid not 100%, got no defense and less-than-no goal-tending, bounced by team that might win the Cup.
With the exception of 2010, none of the disappointment is attributable to anything wrong with the Three Center Model.  When these three lines are balanced properly -- you know, like how Bylsma should have given Kunitz to Sid in the playoffs as we suggested repeatedly -- the Pens never have a bad match-up on the ice.  Offensively, the Pens are your worst nightmare.

And the best thing about how the Pens' forwards are constructed is that Shero left plenty of room to construct a great defense.  He just f'd up doing it.  And now his challenge is to clean up the Martin & Michalek mistakes without uprooting the entire foundation of the franchise.  Pull the plug on Qwikster without selling Netflix.

 Glen Sather found a way to get Montreal to take Scott Gomez's contract.  Martin & Michalek are not bad hockey players and although they are overpaid, they aren't so wildly overpaid that one of the fourteen teams that has over $20 million of cap space this offseason couldn't use one of these guys both on the ice and as a way to get to the cap floor.  And maybe there will be an amnesty clause in the new CBA.  The point is that it may be hard, and you may get minimal return, but it's doable.  Once you have that space you bring up Despres, sign some guys from this list who will actually make your defense hard to play against in the playoffs (in other words, anyone on this list except Milan Jurcina), and hope Kris Letang remembers to fill his Benzodiazepine prescription.

But whether the Three Center Model works really doesn't matter.  You don't trade Sid.  And you don't let him go as a free agent.

The most obvious reason is that he's Sidney Crosby and he's really good.  The guy came back from a 15-month absence and led the league in points-per-game.  He had 8 points in 6 playoff games, numbers that look bad compared to Giroux's 14 points but that would be heroic if the Pens could actually participate in a low-scoring game.

"I'm sooo jeal of how easy it is for you guys to score right now."
Now, as Artistry pointed out, there is no question that his points came in a different fashion.  Gone was the Sid who dug pucks out of the corner, did 4 loopty-loops with an exhausted defender on his hip, then flung a blind backhander under the crossbar.  But along came the Sid who was more judicious in picking his spots, avoided high traffic areas at times, and still, sometimes effortlessly, found wide open teammates routinely.

If the argument is that the concussion has changed Sid's game from one built on bullish and dogged determination in the corners, the thigh power of a sprinter, and a wicked release at full speed into one built on finding open space, creating open space for his teammates, and launching an endless stream of backhanders at the goalie, the question becomes: so what?  The effort and production are there; it doesn't matter where it comes from.

Sid is a player who has always known his limitations and worked within them while working to expand them.  Remember when he had a weak shot?  He fixed it.  Remember when he was bad at faceoffs?  He fixed it.  If there is any player in the league with the talent and mind to adjust his game -- if it needs to be adjusted at all -- it's Sid.  If he morphs into a Peter Forsberg-Henrik Sedin hybrid with a lower center of gravity, that's still the guy I want anchoring my top line.

Of course, there is an enormous "if" associated with keeping and re-signing Sid.  What if he takes a bad hit again?  We saw the effects of the collision with Malkin against Philly and it definitely was concerning.  But it's far too early in his recovery process to make a decision as important as actually trading the guy based on not reacting as well as we would have liked to one collision.  It should serve as a reminder that this is a slow recovery process that might be laden with setbacks, not as a reason to wave the white flag.  There's no denying that Sid is "one hit away" from something very bad, and that the hit could be something rather innocent looking.  But everyone is one-hit away.

So while there are "ifs" associated with keeping Crosby, there are also incalculable "ifs" associated with trading him.  What if you traded him too soon and he plays at his all-world level for another 10 years?  What if the guys you get in return don't pan out?  What if you trade Crosby but Malkin leaves anyway?  Or Staal leaves anyway?  Or even worse, what if Malkin stays and then he gets hurt?  Superstar insurance is a luxury that almost no other team has.

Like we all should, I root for the team over the player.  But I root for the player when I think he gives the team the best chance of winning.  As currently constituted, the Pens are built to compete for another decade, and that's largely because of Sid.  Crosby would be so coveted on the market that there might be a move that the Pens could make to be even more competitive next year than they would be by keeping Sid.  But will that move keep the Pens a contender in 3 years?  5 years?  10 years?  As risky as it may be to rely on Sid to be the centerpiece in 5 or 10 years, the grass isn't always greener.  And truthfully, no matter what you do, there's still one thing that could make it all for naught...


In August 1988, the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million, and some picks.  The City of Edmonton wept.  Peter Pocklington was burned in effigy.  Two years later, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup.

But then Mark Messier demanded out, Jari Kurri went to play hockey in Italy and Grant Fuhr was suspended for doing copious amounts of "substances."  The Oilers haven't been relevant since.

Ask an Edmonton fan whether they'd make that trade again.


  1. Epic. Long live the 3 center model!

  2. Guy I'd want us to sign? Shane O'Brien. He's been a top-4 on two separate playoff teams in the last three seasons, and he wouldn't cost a heck of a lot.

    Think D-Pairings should look like this next year.

  3. I agree that you keep all three if possible, which is why I say sign the first two up for renewal (esp with no CBA) and deal with Geno when the time comes.

    I do think that people are way to quick to assume that our defense will look wildly different next year. Do I think it needs much more grit? Oh, yeah. Would I have any issue with Martin or Michalek being traded? Nope, none at all.

    But both players have limited no-trade clauses. Of the teams with all that cap room, how many do you think will make their list of 8? None? One, maybe? I think the city of Pittsburgh should brace itself for the virtual certainly that at least one of these guys will start the year in a Pens jersey, regardless of whether anyone wants them to or not. Just given the logistics, I actually expect to see both in training camp.

    I also wonder, as folks seem quick to assume, if our defense will actually be better by trading them both. Maybe, depending on what comes the other way. I sure hope the Pens are looking to see what they would get for one or both. And I definitely think Despres should start the season with the big club and that you keep Nisky.

    But I also suspect both players are getting scape-goated for what was primarily systemic flaws. The Pens defense was designed to limit shots, instead of goals. They were told to limit hits for fear of getting out of position, and to cede the blue line way to easily, all in an effort to keep things to the perimeter. And they were successful in doing that. Their SA were quite low; it just made them really easy to play against. I hope this changes more than I hope M or M gets traded.

    Both players undoubtedly had bad years and sure look overpaid, but I question the assumptions that anything we get will automatically be better. Or I might just be trying to will myself into believing that we'll see the 2011 versions of these players in training camp - because I think they'll be there, like it or not.

  4. I'm with you. I don't think that "addition by subtraction" is necessarily at play automatically with M&M. It all depends who we get. I think there are some $2-$3 mil guys, however, who could give us at least the same as M&M, plus some grit, and at a cheaper cost. But if it's Paul Martin or Brian Strait/Robert Bortuzzo? I'll keep Martin.

    System and coaching is definitely part of their struggles, but with Martin I'll throw another theory at you that's based on nothing but pure speculation. PM was supposed to be on the US Olympic team in 2010, but missed it with a broken arm. Then we signed him. Since he's been here, he's been so weak on the puck and hasn't been close to as good offensively as he was in NJ. I wouldn't be surprised if there are lingering strength and/or pain issues with the arm.

    1. I know we identified this as a possibility last year, though I am too lazy to look for the post.

    2. Maybe. Dude does have the biggest muffin of a wrist shot I've ever seen.

  5. I love that you guys get provocative with this sort of stuff. And the way you analyze really brings depth to the blog. So, kudos.

    I won't blorge on and on about the case for keeping Sid. He's this generation's player. Period. He needs time to get his legs again, and odds are he's going to be more than fine. He'll be Sidney Crosby, and no one else is Sidney Crosby.

    No one -- not 66, not 99, not 4, not any of the great 9s in NHL history -- could have come back after about 14-of-15 months on the sidelines and produced a full-potential playoff effort. Let's give 87 some space, and let's give him a break. He's more than earned it. He IS the franchise.

    We all get wound up about disasters of the moment, and heroes of the moment. But the smart call is the long view.

    The latest hero of the moment was Claude Giroux, the one-round wonder who did a great job against the Penguins, but is now struggling against the Devils. His second-round performance is more notable for a cheap-shot than any points-scoring. And a lot of people were ready to anoint him hockey's new best player after a good game 6 a few weeks ago.

    Patience, fellow Penguins fans. The bandwagon is for people who think Wilkes-Barre was the guy who sang lead in the Bee Gees. Let's let the team reload for another shot... with Sid firmly in charge on the ice.

    1. I'm ready to run through a wall for @couchpenguin right now.

    2. No need to do that. Just follow my boring & vacant Twitter feed. I'm dying to have an 11th follower. I might get to 15 by December. YOU NEVER KNOW.

    3. i agree with most of that but come on 66 came back after beingout from 97 to 01 and had what three points in his first game and averaged over a point per game for the rest of the season? 66 could come back from anything and dominate cancer back problems retirement even death.

      i dont mean to take anything away from 87 but what he did just made him more mario like. 66 was the orignal come back king.