Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Letang, Dupuis, Ovechkin, and all the other happenings in the NHL

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

A lot has happened since our last post on Monday, so let's get to it.

The Letang Extension

The more we think about it, the more we like it.  At the beginning of Kris Letang Trade Week, we said that the Pens' best course of action was to sign Letang for 8 years at $7M per season.  They got him signed for 8 years at $7.25M, so we can't really complain.  It must have been incredibly tempting for Shero to see what he could get for Letang in a trade, but regardless of the return, here's the landscape Shero was staring at that made it clear Letang was a must-sign: an 82 game schedule where the Pens would be dependent on Paul Martin to be the team's best offensive and defensive defenseman for 26 minutes a night.  We're as big of PM fans as anyone, but that's probably because we've always maintained realistic expectations about his role.  And number one defenseman is not Paul Martin's role.

All things considered, not bad.
If the Pens had traded Letang in exchange for anything less than a bonafide top-2 defenseman, the Pens immediately become a team in desperate need of another minutes-eating defenseman.  And desperation leads to overpaying someone from this incredibly underwhelming list of free agent defensemen.  Basically, this is the classic "a maddeningly frustrating but uber-talented French-Canadian defenseman in hand is better than an overpaid Jeff Schultz and Andrew Ference in the bush" situation.

While a $7.25M cap hit is high, remember the following: the extension doesn't kick in until after next season when the cap is expected to rise.  And if you have been paying attention to some of the huge contracts being thrown at much lesser players than Letang (Lecavailer, Streit, etc), there are two takeaways: either other owners are wildly overpaying mid-level players again, thereby making the Letang signing look even better, OR economic models are very bullish on the NHL's revenue growth, which would make the Letang signing more affordable long-term.

It's a big financial risk, no question about that.  Letang has a ton of issues, and it's clear from the fact that almost all of his mistakes are mental that he isn't being coached properly by a coaching staff that is returning for at least another two years.  But it also wouldn't be surprising if Letang pocketed a few Norris Trophies during the next 9 years.  Of the Pens' three mega-deals, Letang is the only one who still has upside.  Good signing.

More on Dupuis, Bylsma, Ovechkin, and Shero after the jump...

The Pascal Dupuis signing: 4 years, $3.75M/year cap hit

This is a closer call than the Letang extension because Dupuis is 34 and is not the potentially transcendent talent that Letang is.  But before we dive into the weeds on his deal, a global point: it's not a bad thing that Pascal Dupuis is on the Pens for the next 4 years.  The guy is one of the most efficient scorers in the league, he kills penalties, and he can play on any line on either wing.  He's also durable ("doorable" as Pittsburghers would say), having missed a total of 13 games in the past 5 seasons.  Worst case scenario is he's a 40-50 point guy for the next 2 years (all at even strength), then drops to a 3rd-line caliber player for the final two years.  There are worse things than Pascal Dupuis on your 3rd line.

But it is a long commitment to a 34 year-old.  Hockey players can decline rapidly, and it's not like Dupuis has a singular skill he can fall back on to remain useful if his body starts to go.

Like the Letang extension, the landscape and trajectory of the Pens necessitated this deal.  The pressure on the Pens to win another Cup is enormous, and the Pens' best chance to do that this year or next is with Pascal Dupuis.  Whatever the consequences of this deal are in 3 or 4 years can be dealt with in 3 or 4 years.  Dupuis-Kunitz-Crosby was the best line in hockey last season, and there's no reason it can't be the best line in hockey again next season.  You don't let that walk.

Dan Bylsma will coach Team USA

The other choices were Peter Laviolette, who might not be that good of a coach, and John Tortorella, who just got fired by the Rangers and is an enormous asshole in public, thereby disqualifying himself from the honor of representing his country on the international stage.  Bylsma was a no-brainer.

This is now the second time that Laviolette and Tortorella were passed over for a job in favor of Dan Bylsma -- you'll recall that both guys were out of work when the Pens tapped DB to replace Michel Therrien and there were reports that both were interested in the Pens job (as we discussed here).  The world awaits whether Laviolette and Tortorella will be passed over for the assistant coach positions, or whether Team USA will do the gutless thing and pick them.

Alex Ovechkin makes the All-Star team twice

If you missed it, here is the quick summary of what happened:  The Professional Hockey Writers' Association, consisting of approximately 180 of the most important people on the continent, selected Alex Ovechkin as first-team All-Star right wing and as a second-team All-Star left wing.  Apparently the NHL kept Ovechkin listed as a left winger even after he switched to the right side early in the season.  (In a related story, Alex Rodriguez's lawyer is considereing the "switched to the right side" defense for his client in the Biogenisis case).  The PHWA had to send out a memo to its members that Ovechkin should be considered a right winger for awards purposes.  Nevertheless, 45 writers voted Ovechkin a left wing, enough for him to earn a spot at both sides.  Read about it here for more clarity.

What makes this so embarrassing is not that people voted for Ovechkin as a left wing (the PHWA's procedure seems terrible), but that the PHWA or the NHL didn't just step in and say, "Oops, our bad.  We sent out a late memo and his position was listed as LW on the NHL site so we apologize for the lack of clarity.  But because he won first-team RW anyway, we'll just throw out his LW votes and everyone wins."  There is not a single person in the world, other than maybe Ovechkin, who would have objected to this idea.  By allowing Ovechkin to be nominated twice, the NHL and PHWA created a problem out of nothing.

Our official position: IT'S THE ALL-STAR TEAM WHO CARES.

Ray Shero's luster

Ray has lost a little bit of his "In Shero We Trust" luster over the past few years, but here's why he's one of the best GM's in the league: he doesn't do anything crazy, and he rarely overpays.

The Iginla-Morrow-Crankshaft moves were risky, but they were calculated and well-timed risks.  That they didn't result in a Cup doesn't necessarily make Shero less of a GM -- it means those risks didn't work out.  Sometimes when you split aces you lose both hands.  Eventually you go broke, but not yet.

The Malkin, Letang, and Dupuis extensions are also calculated risks that might not work out as well as we want them to in 4 years, but it doesn't mean they aren't risks worth taking.  Letang and Dupuis have reasonable cap hits.  Malkin's $9.5M cap hit is higher than it should be (he probably should be at $8.7M with Sid), but at least it's overpaying for Evgeni Malkin, not David Clarkson, or Mark Streit, or Zach Parise.  Worst case scenario is you're getting $7M in production from Malkin -- but it's still $7M in production.

Where Shero is most susceptible to criticism is with the draft and developing young players.  Other than Beau Bennett, who is promising but far from a sure thing, is there any other forward prospect in the Pens' system with a reasonable chance of cracking the lineup and making an impact this season?  And all we hear about is the Pens' plethora of young defensemen ... but can we actually see that start to bear some fruit?  Shero has rightfully been aggressive in trading away draft picks and prospects for win-now players because the Pens are a win-now franchise.  But he's also drafted and acquired a lot of players.  It's time for them to play.

We should know who this is.

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