Friday, February 28, 2014

Today in Bad Ideas: The Penguins Trading for Ryan Kesler

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

Friends of GTOG - Mike Colligan and the guys at Pensblog - broke the news earlier this week that the Penguins are hot and heavy in pursuit of Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler.  You can read their excellent work on Pittsburgh's desire to return to a dominant three center model here and here. Then, last night came this tweet:

Hey, wow, we're hearing that, too. We all must read the same blogs. In any event, this strikes us as a bad idea. Not that we don't like Ryan Kesler and think he brings a lot to the table. He's a true shut-down center, rugged, a perennial 20-goal scorer (he had 41 in 2010-11), and yes, pretty much exactly the kind of third-line center you want in a playoff series against Boston. We've seen the arguments for acquiring Kesler even at a steep cost. Here are the reasons Ray Shero needs to take a deep breath and take his finger off the trigger:

1) Kesler does little to address the Pens' weaknesses.

If you watched last night's episode of "My God, that Bottom 6," you are well aware of what we've been talking about since October.  A team that regularly dresses Tanner Glass, Taylor Pyatt, Joe Vitale, Craig Adams, and Chuck Kobasew is not beating Boston, let alone winning the Stanley Cup.  Consider: Carl Soderberg, a bottom 6'er in Boston who plays 14 minutes a night, has the same number of points this season as Glass, Adams, Pyatt, Kobasew, Megna, and Ebbett COMBINED.

And you'll notice that our catalog of the Pens' most undesirable pieces does not even include Brandon Sutter, who himself is on pace for fewer points in 82 games than Soderberg already has in 50 games.  If you read this blog, you know we're often disappointed with Sutter's play, but he's the one piece of the Bottom 6 that actually brings something to the table - including good penalty killing and the occasional big goal. And HE'S the guy we're going to replace? Not that we wouldn't advocate the right Sutter trade, but the big weaknesses for the Penguins right now are the third-line wings and the hole on Crosby's wing left by Pascal Dupuis, in that order.  One of those spots may be filled by Beau Bennett and his glass wrists, maybe not. But one thing is certain: the Penguins need more capable bodies up front. It wouldn't take much to buy a significant 3rd line upgrade like Sean Bergenhein.  What the Pens don't need is to take a perfectly serviceable if mostly uninspiring player like Sutter and replace him with a similar - though, admittedly, far more impressive - 29-year-old model with a ton of wear and tear who might even be seriously injured.

The new Richard Park with a dog picture
Which leads to the second point...

2) Ryan, have you met Taylor and Tanner?

If word out of Vancouver's media is to be believed, the Canucks have struggled to pair Kesler with suitable linemates. It seems they're not getting enough out of him while he plays with guys like Chris Higgins.  Um...

May have been relevant NHL players in 1975 when you didn't need to have talent.
Side tangent: can anyone explain why Ray Shero signed Taylor Pyatt?  Anyone?  He counts 1.55M against the cap and brings absolutely nothing to the table.  Is there a quota limiting how many tiny horrible players you can have such that Shero was forced to diversify into having a huge terrible player?  Has Shero ever made a more inexplicable move?

3) He's probably cost prohibitive

We don't take the rumors of a Sutter, Pouliot and #1 pick package terribly seriously, though we don't doubt that might be the Canucks' opening bid. If the Pens believe in Pouliot as much as we think they do, it's hard to believe Shero parts with all these assets in one deal.  It doesn't leave much in the way of assets to upgrade the aforementioned areas that desperately need it.  What could the Pens get for their number one pick alone? What about for Simon Despres alone?  A mid-round pick alone?  The bet here is that for those three assets, you can bring in three players better than Pyatt, Kobasew and Adams.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dan Bylsma to blame for Team USA 'embarrassment'? Hardly. (PODCAST)

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Check out our Olympic recap podcast below. We touch on Team USA's failures, Team Canada's dominance, and what it all means for the rest of the Pens' season.  Listen below or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.


We are not Dan Bylsma apologists -- his flaws as a coach are often apparent, and there's plenty of blame to go his way for the Pens' flameouts in recent playoff series.  But we are also realists about how much blame a coach should shoulder when his team loses a hard-fought 1-0 game to a team with vastly superior talent.  Not that much.

Dan Bylsma is finding himself a convenient scapegoat for Team USA's failure to win a medal in Sochi.  Puck Daddy calls the whole tournament an "embarrassment" and says "Bylsma oversaw the worst 24 hours in recent memory for American hockey."  Sunbelt Hockey Journal blames Dan Bylsma for the failure to medal because he gave Brooks Orpik too many minutes.  Dejan Kovacevic calls the performance disgraceful and doesn't think Bylsma will be asked back to coach Team USA.  Etc, etc, etc.

The problem with assigning blame to Dan Bylsma for Team USA's "embarrassment" in Sochi is that it rests on a faulty premise and conflates two performances that have nothing to do with each other.  When the U.S. lost 1-0 to Canada, it was frustrating, not embarrassing.  The Bronze Medal game against Finland was an atrocious performance, but to claim that it was an embarrassment that sullies the reputation of Bylsma and the stature of USA Hockey is disingenuous and punishes them for not caring about winning something that they understandably didn't care about winning.  Let's take them in turn, after the jump...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Random thoughts on the Olympics heading into USA vs. Canada, plus predictions

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Because Twitter is only 140 characters, here are some of our thoughts on the Olympics so far as we head into USA vs. Canada on Friday ...

- Chris Kunitz's inability to score naturally makes people think about the guys who could be there instead.  (Our passionate rebuttal to the anti-Kunitzites is here).  The most notable snub is Claude Giroux, but having watched a lot of the tournament, I'm not sure he would have been the most logical choice to pick instead of Kunitz.  The big ice pushes everything out wide to the boards, which is where Giroux likes to set up and operate.  He'd have tons of room out there, but he'd likely be doing the same things Crosby and all the other uber-talented Canadian forwards are doing -- setting up his point men for long-range slapshots.  What Canada is missing is guys that find open space in the slot and  BURY THE PUCK with reckless abandon.  That's why James Neal would have been a more sensible alternative to Kunitz -- he is a better player than Kunitz and also has the experience of playing with Sid.  Giroux would have made sense as a replacement for Stamkos (instead of St. Louis).  But not for Kunitz.

- Speaking of setting up point men, the big ice basically forces everything to the outside, meaning you can get a lot of shots, albeit from far away.  You would think this would lead Mike Babcock to dress stud offensive-defensemen P.K. Subban over Dan Hamhuis, especially since Hamhuis is getting 4-5 minutes of ice time.  But so far it hasn't.  From a distance, it seems to us that Babcock is coaching tight, constantly switching the lineup to find some elusive chemistry.  The best solution is to get your best guys on the ice -- and Subban is certainly one of them -- and let them play.  A pot of water is never going to boil if you keep moving it from one burner to the next.  You have to pick one, step away, and wait.

- If the incubation period is too slow for Babcock's liking, it might help to give your best players more ice time.  Sid had 10 minutes through the first two periods against Latvia.  If you think he's your best player -- and, despite his underwhelming performance so far, he is -- then his minutes should reflect that.

- Russia's elimination is a huge choke job, even if it came at the hands of an excellent Finnish team.  There's no positive way to spin it, and no way to pin enough blame on any single person to absolve any other person of his share.  And that certianly includes Evgeni Malkin, who did nothing offensively after the first period of the first game.  Creating chances doesn't count as doing something.  Finishing them counts as doing something, and his inability to finish the amazing chances that he creates is a problem that is creeping more and more into Geno's game as he gets older.  Sure, he could have had 10 goals this tournament.  Just like he could have had 10 against Boston last year.  But he didn't.

- Thankfully for Geno, Ovechkin will get most of the ink for Russia's failures.  Deservedly so, too.  If you're in line to get all the credit for a win -- and you know his big fat head would be on the cover of every sports publication if the Russians had taken the Gold -- then you get the blame, too.  Ovechkin played fine, but like Malkin, he didn't score.  Ovechkin is a one-dimensional hockey player, and I don't mean that entirely as a knock, given that his dimension is being better than everyone except Stamkos at scoring.  The problem, though, is that when that dimension isn't working, Ovechkin has no second pitch.  You know that scene at the end of Rookie of the Year when Henry Rowengartner loses his fastball but still has to get three guys out, so he pulls the hidden ball trick and throws the Floater?  Ovechkin would have kept chucking 46 mph fastballs.

- There's some worry that the Olympic disappointment will have a negative impact on the Russian players when they return to the NHL.  If that impact is physical, then it's at least understandable.  But if it's mental, that's a huge problem.  Think about if you were an owner and your star player came back from the Olympics (where he was risking injury) and his performance fell off because he was upset about losing.  And you had to write him the $9.5M check.

- Dan Bylsma's stock is at an all-time high right now heading into the semis.  It looks like he has the best team, and it doesn't seem particularly close.  But the Canadians are an entirely different animal than a dysfunctional Russian team or an over-matched and tired Czech team.  Flaws aside, the Canadians are the best collection of talent that has been on the ice at one time since ... the last Olympics.  A dominant performance from the USA over Canada is highly, highly unlikely.  But if it happens, get used to Dan Bylsma behind the Pens bench for the next 10 years, because he isn't going anywhere.  And get excited about it, because he'll belong there.

-  The best part of the Olympics is seeing guys play who you hear about, but don't get to see a lot when they aren't playing the Pens.  Some awards:

- Phil Kessel - best player who we already knew was great
- James van Riemsdyk - guy we've always thought was really really good, and it turns out he definitely is
- Ryan Getzlaf - least entertaining superstar
- Corey Perry - I've referred to him as Chris Perry a half dozen times.  First sign of aging; also a sign that he's been nearly invisible.  Sidney Crosby finished only 32 points behind MVP Corey Perry in 2010-11.  In 41 fewer games.
- Alexander Radulov - least likable individual ever, and this category isn't limited to hockey players
- Pavel Datsyuk - could take a dump at center ice and NHL writers would say it was beautiful
- Ilya Kovalchuk - maybe the most overrated player to come through the NHL in the last 15 years. What has he ever done in a big spot?
- Drew Doughty - what Kris Letang should (could) be
- Paul Martin - America's Prime Minister
- Patrick Kane - amazing talent, but if he was ever on a bad team, he'd do a lot of things that would cause you to roll your eyes
- Patrice Bergeron - player I'm begrudgingly coming around to like
- Ryan Kesler - maybe the perfect player for Dan Bylsma to coach
- John Tavares - we feel so bad for h...[cut to us furiously scouring the Islanders' Capgeek page for trade targets]

- The size of the ice is only the second worst part of the ice.  The worst part is the ice itself.  The puck looks like a racquetball.  No doubt that the Russians were too proud to bring in the Edmonton ice guy.

- Russia's elimination makes the tournament significantly less interesting.  They were the villain, and every good story needs someone to root against.  Are you going to root against Sweden or Finland?  On what basis?  Boy, those Sedins are gettin' on my nerves!  Just doesn't feel the same.

- Olli Maatta is rightfully getting lauded for his performance at these Olympics.  He led all Finnish defensemen in ice time against Russia.  He has his bad moments -- he got toasted a few times against Canada -- but he is so far ahead of where most 19 year olds are at this point that you almost welcome those growing pains because you know he's going to get better because of it.  He should be getting close to 20 minutes a night for the Pens when he gets back.

- Predictions:

Finesse: Canada 3, USA 2.  I think USA has the better team, but it just feels like we're due for a market correction.  Team Canada will bury some chances, and Team USA won't be able to rely on JVR to score on bad angle shots.  The offense that Canada has been getting from its defensemen is not a fluke.  Doughty buries the winner in OT.

Artistry: USA 4, Canada 2. Canada is wound tighter than they were in Vancouver, ABICT. And if you treat your team like a bunch of robots with interchangeable parts and everyone playing 15 minutes a night, that's how they'll play.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Everybody Hates Chris: Defending Chris Kunitz from malicious and pernicious attacks

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Chris Kunitz is under siege. For many columnists lacking other ideas for an angle after an unremarkable 6-0 win by the Canadians over a vastly outmatched Austrian team, Kunitz's apparent discomfort playing alongside world class talent is bubbling as topic du jour. Many are calling for Kunitz to sit for Canada's next game against Finland, and others are congratulating themselves for predicting he would be overmatched.

Beyond the absurdity of making definitive declarations after six periods of hockey, here's what we know: While Kunitz hasn't looked comfortable, he shares one major thing in common with nine other forwards -- Patrick Sharp, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, and Martin St. Louis -- in that none of them have any goals.

And it's not surprising that Kunitz doesn't shine in what is essentially an all-star exhibition game against inferior talent -- he's not as creative as his teammates, nor is he as naturally gifted.  Those guys can reach deep into a bag of tricks to humiliate inferior opponents.  Kunitz doesn't have a bag of tricks.  He wears carpenter jeans with a hammer in the loop and measuring tape clipped to his belt.

The Things Chris Kunitz Does (title of Tim O'Brien's next book) are not the things that are necessary when beating on the Austrians, but they're going to be increasingly necessary in tight games against better competition: hammering defensemen, taking abuse in front of the net, deflecting pucks, and falling over when trying to stickhandle too much. It looks kind of awkward when he tries to fill that role against Austria and Norway, just like it would have looked awkward for Dennis Rodman to do Dennis Rodman things when the Dream Team was beating the Croatians by 50.

Team Canada is not the Dream Team. Things are about to get a lot tighter, and the role that Kunitz fills is going to be increasingly important. So yeah, he's an $80 Timberland boot in a closet full of $500 Ferragamo loafers. On a sunny day, he's clunky and awkward looking. But when the weather turns, the guys in Ferragamo loafers are up to their ankles in slush trying to hail a cab. Chris Kunitz is stomping through the ice at full speed.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Kris Letang Had a Stroke: What Do The Pens Do Now?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Though many on Twitter were issuing explicit instructions to the contrary, most people are capable of processing two things at once -- the seriousness of Kris Letang's injury and its impact on the Penguins.  Thinking about the latter does not mean you can't appreciate the former and, even if it did, we don't feel like waiting for the "now's not the time to think about hockey" crowd to let us know when it is time.  The news of his stroke is a serious blow to Letang, to his family, and, yes, to the Pens.  We've qualified ourselves to talk about one of those things, and so talk about it we shall.

Even though the timeline of "at least six weeks" would allow Letang to play 13 games before the playoffs in a best-case scenario, you'd have to think that the Pens are probably going proceed as if they can't count on Letang to be available that soon, if at all this season.  And that means that our reasonable discussion on our podcast with Adam Gretz of SB Nation about moving Scuderi, or Orpik, or Martin can probably be thrown out the window (hold that thought) ... one of either Bortuzzo or Engelland is enough for the playoffs, thank you very much.  And it also means that Matt Niskanen will become Matty Niskanen (Pierre McGuire calls Pens' games in the playoffs), even though Niskanen remains the one asset the Pens could move to get at least one of the multiple forwards needed to smooth out the imbalance up front.

It's an open question whether Matty can continue Matt's solid play into the postseason.
More after the jump...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Podcast: Adam Gretz of SB Nation joins us to take stock of the Penguins at the Olympic break

Adam Gretz from SB Nation (@AGretz) joins us to talk Pens. We discuss the bottom 6 vs. top 6, how the Pens can upgrade at the deadline, what's going on with Orpik and Scuderi, and whether the Pens are the favorites in the East. And we even save time at the end to talk about the Capitals.  It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Elusive composure escapes Pens' grasp; Pens lose, 3-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Full disclosure: I did not watch the game, so this is based solely on tweets and text messages from Artistry.

I actually don't know who the Pens' 3 best players are (is Neal or Letang the 3rd?), but it doesn't really matter because both Neal and Letang can be crazy, so really it's 3 of the Pens' 4 best players who can't control themselves.  And you could easily make the argument that it's all 4, because Sid is not one to sit back and watch everyone else melt down without getting in some slashes, sucker punches, and testicle-spears of his own.

Is this issue fatal to the Pens' Stanley Cup chances?  It's impossible to say one way or the other.  But three things are clear:

1) The lack of composure problem that killed the Pens in the playoffs the last two years is not going away.

Which leads to the next two things:

2) If there is one aspect of Sid's captaincy that's fair game for criticism, it's that his team can at times appear to be mentally soft.  Should one guy making $9M have to babysit another guy making $9M, a guy making $7M, and a guy making $5M?  In an ideal world, no, but such is life as a captain.  Change the name on the back of Sid's jersey to, say, Ovechkin, and, well, you know.

3) The most compelling argument for breaking up the Pens' core -- which realistically can be done in only one way: trading Letang -- is that hoping your 4 best players don't go Chernobyl after the opposing goalie makes a couple big saves is no way to go through life.

In a vacuum, none of this is a big deal, and there are no shortages of excuses to be made (and actually being made) for each particular incident.  But as a great man once said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

The counter-argument of course, is that having Crosby-Malkin-Letang-Neal as your four best players means you have four pretty f'ing great players.

Let us know your thoughts.