There’s something different about this Penguins team. For the first time in the Sidney Crosby era, the arrow is teetering, and by season’s end, it may be pointing down. Crosby is 26. Evgeni Malkin is 27. They are great, generational talents, but particularly in today’s NHL, not even the best players can single-handedly carry a thin team to a championship. And whatever you can say in praise of these Penguins – despite their showing this weekend, they are still a juggernaut in the regular season even with like 8,000 man games lost – they are undeniably thin. As in, two injuries away from Taylor Pyatt being your number one left wing thin. As in, when this team loads up all of its big guns on one line, Lee Stempniak is on it thin.
|One of the Mega-Powers, Apparently.|
Let's examine where Shero made a wrong turn.
We'll begin by addressing a popular theory -- that the Penguins have drafted poorly. Not really. The Pensblog took a fairly comprehensive look at the Penguins drafts under Ray Shero and concluded that they’ve been a major disappointment. But to fully understand how the Penguins have fared at the draft table, you can't look at their drafts in a vacuum. You need to compare them with similarly situated teams, and those that regularly draft in the 20-30 range in the first round are lucky to find one guy per draft who makes his way onto the roster.
Take the gold standard: Mike Holland and the Detroit Red Wings. You know how many players the Wings have drafted during Shero’s 2006-2013 tenure who have had more than a cup of coffee in the NHL?
|Joakim? Is that you?|
With that bit of perspective, now look at who the Penguins have drafted under Shero, ignoring his two picks in the top 10 (Jordan Staal and Derrick Pouliot) and focusing solely on players taken with the 20th pick or later:
There are a number of other names you know, guys who never made it but were flipped in deals for actual NHL players (Angelo Esposito, Luca Caputi, Ben Hanowski, Joe Morrow, etc.). Here's the bottom line: based on the quality of draft picks they've had, Ray Shero's scouts have done about as well as can be expected and maybe better. We'll have to see how players like Scott Harrington and Philip Samuelsson and Tristan Jarry turn out.
If you want to build your team through the draft, you better have picks in the top 10 and hit on those picks. See, for example, Boston (Kessel, Seguin, Doug Hamilton). This isn’t rocket science.
In our view, the real issue is Shero's asset management over the last calendar year. It's been poor. Faced with a diminishing salary cap in the summer of 2013, Shero came to a fork in the road. Would he commit to aging but productive veterans or try to retool the roster by bringing in some new blood, particularly young wingers with size and speed? Would he let Pascal Dupuis walk? Would he trade Chris Kunitz, who still had a year left on his deal at a very attractive number? Would he trade Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang for a bundle of assets, including a young top 6 forward and a top prospect? Would he finally let Craig Adams go?
Of Kunitz and Dupuis, we wrote:
"Look, if you have two guys you love of comparable value -- and who are both important complementary but not core players -- looking for deals in the $4 million a year range that will take them through the age of 38, you need to pick one and let the other go. As we've said repeatedly, aging all-star teams don't win in today's NHL. The Pens need an infusion of youthful swagger."
When the Pens followed up the Kunitz and Dupuis deals by signing Rob Scuderi and Craig Adams, we wrote this:
"It's as easy as can be to make the case for all of these moves, but it doesn't change the fact that the Pens already tried and failed to win the Cup with an aging all-star team. It also does nothing to address the glaring holes in the bottom 6, where Matt Cooke, Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla, and Tyler Kennedy used to reside. Now we're looking at Jokinen, Glass, Vitale, Dustin Jeffrey, and Adams, with no legitimate depth beyond them. Anybody think Brandon Sutter is going to carry this group? Anyone? This is the first time I can recall that there is no realistic chance for any minor league forward prospect to make the team out of camp. Who's going to do it? You Dom Uher? You Tom Kuehnhackl? There needs to be a youth infusion, and the bet here is it's still pending."
You might even say we were ahead of the curve on the whole "The bottom 6 is terrible" thing. The youth infusion never came. The reinforcements never arrived. Instead, Shero tried to plug holes with retreads like 32-year-old Taylor Pyatt. We're not telling you that a window may be closing because the Penguins failed to follow our advice. We're just a couple of oddly prescient, charismatic guys with a highly readable blog. What we're saying is this: there's an old maxim about hockey being a young man's game. Where did Ray Shero go wrong? He forgot.