Sunday, March 2, 2014

Quick Question: Why is Taylor Pyatt on the Penguins?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Do you ever find yourself watching the Pens and wondering to yourself, "what on Earth is Taylor Pyatt doing on the Penguins?"  We do.  This is not intended to be a shot at Pyatt.  He has a tragic but heartwarming backstory, and he's lasted 840 games in the league.  That's a significant accomplishment, regardless of whether he ever gets another contract offer after his deal expires at the end of this season.

But really, why is he on this team?

General Manager Ray Shero claimed Pyatt off waivers from the Rangers on January 2nd as the Pens were dealing with injuries to Chris Conner, Andrew Ebbett, and Jayson Megna.  Pyatt's stats at the time -- 1 total assist in 12:39 of ice time per night over 22 games with a -9 rating -- put him on the same torrid scoring pace as Tanner Glass in 2013.  Well, if he can't score, at least he'd be cheap, right?  Wrong.  At age 32 with a $1.55M cap hit, he was actually five years older and a million dollars more expensive that Matt D'Agostini, who the Pens waived for no apparent reason in November despite D'Agostini needing only 8 games with the Pens to collect his own singular point.

Some players bring intangibles that can't be measured with numbers alone -- surely that's why Shero claimed him, right?  I turned to my friend Ben, a Rangers fan who watches every game.  A sampling of his G-chat scouting report on Pyatt:

  • "pyatt is bad. very bad. he was like a 4th overall pick too."
  • "hes awful.  he played a lot for us too in the beginning. and every fan was going nuts."
  • "he used to get quality minutes on the rangers while the entire fan base was like get this fucking guy out of here. then he got elbowed in the head and was out and the team was playing better so they never put him back in. but he is god awful."

Since being claimed in January, Pyatt has 2 goals, no assists, and only 18 shots on goal in 16 games.  He's a -11.  To put in perspective how unproductive Pyatt has been this season, here's a list of the four least productive players who have played at least 350 total minutes over at least 35 games (an average of 10+ minutes/night).

I'm not even sure John McCarthy is a real person -- he sounds like a U.S. Senator from the 1950's -- and Rinaldo and Konopka are two of the worst players in the NHL.  Yet they're Pyatt's peers this season.

Sadder still is that Pyatt's failure to produce is not that surprising.  Last year he had only 11 points in 48 games despite playing over 13 minutes per game.  He's also 32 years old, 230 pounds, on his 6th different team, and he's played over 840 career games.  It's not exactly the profile of a guy with a lot left in the tank.  Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, of all the players who have played at least 85 games and 850 total minutes, here are the 11 guys with the fewest points. 

Tanner and Craig sighting.
Obviously the Pens were hurting for bodies in early January, but is this really the best Shero could have done?  A 32 year old with a $1.5M cap hit and Zenon Konopka numbers?  A guy who doesn't appear to have any particular skill set, let alone one that could emerge with similarly untalented linemates?  Did Shero claim him just because he's big?

The truth is, when you look at the big picture of how the Pens have tried to assemble a bottom 6 this year, a very unflattering light shines right back on Shero.  Knowing that the cap was falling this year, he spent his money on Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, and Rob Scuderi.  Individually, and at the time, each move was arguably defensible, even though Adams and Scuderi made the Pens older and slower.  He also re-signed Malkin and Letang to extensions that kick in after this season rather than moving either guy for a stockpile of assets, meaning that the roster was left with a few really good (and really expensive) players but, almost literally, no one else.

That strategy is risky but workable if you can strike gold on a few of the league minimum types that you have to bring in to fill out the roster, or get contributions from your own guys on entry-level contracts.  And this is where Shero has laid the biggest egg of his career.

Of the 18 different players who have suited up at one time or another as part of the Pens' bottom six, none of them have been good.  In fact, they've been the opposite -- a rotating cast of liabilities.

Brandon Sutter
Joe Vitale
Tanner Glass
Deryk Engelland
Brian Gibbons
Craig Adams
Jayson Megna
Chris Conner
Beau Bennett
Harry Zolnierczyk
Taylor Pyatt
Chuck Kobasew
Andrew Ebbett
Matt D'Agostini
Dustin Jeffrey
Zach Sill
Nick Drazenovic
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

In the prime of Crosby's and Malkin's career, Shero is batting 0-for-18 when it comes to rounding out a roster than can at least hold the fort while those guys do what they do.  Maybe you can make a case that some of these guys belong or that we just have to be patient with some others.  Fair enough.  But the case for Taylor Pyatt?  We'd love to hear it.

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