Wednesday, June 25, 2014

PODCAST: Pens hire Mike Johnston; we discuss Jim Rutherford's reign

Taking stock of the Pens' offseason. This is a good podcast.

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  1. 1) I do think the Pens need some personnel changes, but I think you underestimate the change in coach. The Pens teams since the Philly series have had no identity. By last year they didn't score unless it was off the rush. And the biggest reason was that the system discouraged supporting the puck. That's why the team - the whole team, not just Letang - repeatedly turned over the puck. Bylsma's system constantly left guys on an island with no good choice to make.

    Johnston emphasized that his system encourages "traveling in a pack" to give the puck carrier options. Bylsma's system sucked - and the attempts to tweak it into success just made things worse. The Pens have essentially traveled the same route as the Capitals, just less extreme: an attempt to be more "defensively responsible" that ultimately made their players less than they were and left the organization with no sense of direction. If this system is implemented appropriately and Johnston is competent - then the Pens have returned to their roots, for the better. (Though admittedly, I'd think anybody was better than Bylsma. Anybody.)

    In short, the Pens need to follow the Hawks as a model, not the Kings. I think this hire could be a start, although we won't know for sure for until this time next year.

    2) I sort of see your point about both Neal and Kunitz. But as far as trading Kunie when the chance is ripe - who do you see as playing with Sid? If you trade him for a couple of pieces (a third-line guy as you said and seems probable), you've upgraded your third line but left the best player in the game without a competent left wing. And perhaps without a competent right wing, given that Duper is coming off major knee surgery at 35 yrs old (a guy who relies on his speed to be effective, to boot). You've upgraded the bottom-6 by gutting the top two lines. You've got Sid, Geno, Neal, a injury-prone, question mark in Bennett, and a 35 yr old Duper who may no longer be a competent top-6 guy. Sounds awesome.

    If a trade is made, it's going to have to come out of the defense, probably a young, almost NHL-ready prospect for a young, almost NHL-ready prospect.

    3) I'm tired of the hyper-analysis of everything Rutherford does. FAs care about money - and this franchise doesn't have the cap space to offer it. The mood of this fan base is so toxic it would perceive literally any move made by anybody in the franchise as its total destruction - despite being completely uninformed about it.

    I'm honestly not trying to be a shit - but so much of the criticism of Rutherford speaks to a pretty horrifying ageism. The man ran a sports franchise as both president and GM for decades - and all Pittsburghers can do is make jokes about how he doesn't know how to use his phone. As if he's an idiot, not a multimillionaire who's survived in an industry with incredible turnover. That at least warrants the benefit of the doubt until he's had the chance to do something - not being patronized as the "Wizard of Oz." Seriously, read some of the comments sections on articles about what's happened the last few weeks. The language chosen is utterly pathetic - and speaks to how little respect Americans show anyone over the age of 60. You'd think he had dementia.

    Sorry to rant, but it's been bothering me since he's been hired.

    I'm feeling a little whiny, but I'm tired of the overwhelming pessimism and criticism regarding this team. I don't feel like I'm one who buys into everything this franchise does. But for the first time in years, we could see a rejuvenated team, one that looks like it enjoys playing hockey for the first time since the Philly series. I'm willing to be hopeful for now, instead of expecting the worst. Most of the fan base just seems to want to wax nostalgically on the decline of the franchise. So how about a little optimism, guys?

  2. Last thoughts:

    4) As far as the over-delegation - the management structure is set up as it is because guys the organization wants to keep are being trained. It's good for the long term health of the business. So I'm not surprised that Ron Burkle allows it. I feel pretty confident he was instrumental in putting together the plan. The Pens front office could be set for decades under Botterill, Guerin, and Fitzgerald.

    5) Rutherford can't trade the rights to the FAs, given that teams are now allowed to talk to them a week ahead of time. Notice the only idiot that traded for someone's rights this year was Garth Snow. That just won't happen anymore, as there's no point to it, now that contact can be made before July 1. Who would give up a 5th round pick for something that they'd be able to do anyway?

    1. For the record, I love that Rutherford is over 60. Experience is extremely valuable. No ageism here. The issue is whether Rutherford's particular experience is going to be beneficial. His record is very mixed. But, since he hasn't had to do anything yet, no one can say for sure whether he will be good for the Pens. I don't really think anything he's done or hasn't done yet is really going to matter, but it hasn't made anyone think "wow, I really like this guy, he seems to have his shit together." He was a last-minute addition to the GM search, and it's clear that he's still trying to get his feet under him.

      One more thing about the age issue. I actually think that I would have cared more about the age of the GM had the Pens hired Botterill or BriseBois, because the biggest asset those guys had (to some eyes) was their age, as if young is necessarily better. In our last post: " The only thing we've heard about Botterill and BriseBois is that they're young, as if being under 40 is itself an asset. Glen Sather is 70. Dean Lombardi is 56."

      Bottom line is that Rutherford's age means that he gets the benefit of his experience, and the criticism that comes with having a long track record.

    2. I agree completely - and at this point, I'm just deferring any judgment. GMJR might suck, but I understand why ownership wanted Botterill to take over under less tumultuous circumstances. Could you imagine what the coaching search would have been like had someone with no experience done it? People are freaking out that it was a disaster and the only real, controllable misstep was GMJR telling the media he had someone in mind - without even mentioning a name. This is way too sticky an environment to send someone into who has never run a franchise.

      The ageism issue genuinely was not directed at you guys so much as a general observation about the way the fan base has responded to the hire - why its been looked on as such a bad decision, even though he hasn't had a chance to do anything yet. We'll see is the only appropriate response. Frankly, I am truly looking forward to this season, if only to see what the team looks like, how they respond, what their new identity will be. I didn't feel that way last year.

  3. Revisiting your discussion about doing the Staal trade in reverse, there's one big downside: Staal's $6M cap hit for the next 9! seasons. Granted that deal will start to look a little better in say, 2-3 years as the cap ceiling continues to rise, but it's kind of difficult to fit that in to the current roster construction/cap situation.

    1. Staal is a player who should age relatively well. That wouldn't worry me. Agree that this year would be tricky in terms of getting under the cap, but maybe that's where a proposed Kuntiz trade would help. In any event, it's not happening. Just a fun thing to think about.