Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Playoff Hockey Rocks

I don't post too often about other teams' games(unless it involves Caps humiliation), but I have to say that I love the Tampa-Boston series, and it is a prime example of what makes playoff hockey the best game around. While much of yinzer nation is busying waxing Wines Hard's genitalia, I after a brief period mourning that he did not tear an ACL while "winning" DWTS went back to the greatest game on earth, and was not disappointed. Tonight's 5-4 win by Tampa forced a game 7 for the right to join Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals. This game came down to the wire, with Boston pressing hard and dominating play over the final six minutes in an effort to tie the game, while Tampa dug in and held on to a one goal lead. The action was fast and physical, a very small snapshot of what it takes to win the big silver trophy. You have to win 16 of those wars for a chance at that! This series has it all. Tampa starts off with a convincing 5-2 win, and looks invincible. Boston promptly takes the next two games and a 2-1 series lead before jumping out to a 3-0 lead in game 4. Things looked bleak for Tampa, and I wondered aloud if the glass slipper had been broken. Roloson, the main reason the Lightning were here, looked bad, and was replaced by Mike Smith. The next thing you know, Teddy Purcell scores two goals in 64 seconds, the place goes nuts.....GAME ON! Tampa then completes the comeback scoring 3 more unanswered goals to take a 5-3 win, and tie the series! Boston looked defeated, and many thought a collapse like that would spell doom for the Bruins. How do you recover from blowing a lead like that? So what happens now? Boston comes out and beats Tampa again, 3-1, chasing Roloson for the second game in a row. Smith again gives up zero goals, and most think he may have taken the job from Rolo. Boucher shows some courage, and give Roloson the nod in tonight's tilt despite the fact that Rolo looks like he might be fading. He did not look too good actually, and the way Thomas had been playing, Rolo coughing up 4 goals would normally spell doom for them. Not tonight! In a back and forth game, a game that started with a goal in the first minute by Tampa, you saw the best of playoff hockey unfold. Boston answers the Tampa goal with two of their own, dominating play for an extended period and going up 2-1. Tampa then scores three unanswered to go up 4-2. Boston scores to close within a goal, and just as you say Tampa may be in trouble, Downie sets up St. Louis and they get the back breaker as they restore a two goal lead seconds after Boston closed to within one. Boston had other ideas though, and they close back to within one goal with 6:32 left in the game. After a furious onslaught, and some epic net front battles, Tampa survives to force a Game 7 for the right to play for hockey's holy grail. If you don't like playoff hockey, perhaps a lobotomy is in order! Fun stuff for Friday night, and a dilemma for me. On one hand, I would like to see a friend of mine experience the thrill of watching his Bruins win the Cup for the first time in his lifetime. That would be cool to see! On the other hand, I HATE Colin Campbell and watching his son skate with the Cup would be kind of like that feeling you get when you zip your jeans BEFORE everything is safely put away. Ouch! Add to that, I kind of like Guy Boucher, Steve Yzerman, and Martin St. Louis. So, I think I will kick back Friday with a cold one or three, and watch one of the best events in sports, a game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even better, I can enjoy the outcome regardless of who wins!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Penguins Tidbits

Pens news remains predictably slow, but I will give some updates as they come. The first issue is probably the Tyler Kennedy free agency talks. It is being said the the Penguins are comfortable looking at TK in the 1.4-1.5 M per year range, but rumors are that the Kennedy camp wants 2M per year. Shero, while not stating this specifiically about Kennedy, did say in a conversation related to Kennedy that when teams cannot come to terms with an RFA, they will typically not go to arbitration, but will usually be traded on draft day. I would think that Kennedy has a good situation here in Pittsburgh, and would be smart to take a deal at 1.5M if the Pens hold firm there, which I think they should. Related to that, my favorite possible Penguin in free agency, Curtis Glencross, signed a 4 year, 10.2M deal to remain a Calgary Flame, leaving only Torres, Tanguay, and Leino in my opinion as realistic and attractive possible UFA forward signings for the Penguins. I get the sense that the Penguins may be very conservative in the market, electing to retain key players of their own, and bank on the improved defense, and the hopeful health of Crosby, Malkin and Staal to make them a contender again. They only had those three on the ice together for 4 periods of hockey this past season. On that note, this may be a big year for the Penguins to evaluate and decide on the long term future of their three center model. The Penguins went to the Finals in 2007-08 with Malkin, Crosby, and Staal still on their entry level contracts, and they won the Cup in 2008-09 with Malkin and Staal at least still on an entry level contract. In the two years since all three went off an entry level deal and now eat up 21.4M in cap space, the Penguins have been eliminated in the second and first rounds of the post season. Now, as noted, this past year was not a real fair test of the team's ability to compete with so much money tied up in the three centers, as the injury bug never allowed all three to really be on the ice for more than one complete game. But, with Staal's contract up at the end of 2012-13 season, and Malkin's the year after, this season may be pivotal in the Penguins formulating their longer term strategy. If they cannot make a deep run this season, and if they cannot afford to put enough quality at the wing to take advantage of the center depth, they will likely have to decide if Staal at 4-5M per year has more value than Malkin at 8.7 M per year to create the cap space necessary to field a dynamic and balanced top six forward group. Some variables to consider in that mix is the fact that both James Neal and Chris Kunitz, their two most talented wingers are UFA at the end of this season. Other variables include the retention and further development of Tyler Kennedy, and the ability of Eric Tangradi to progress to the point where he can be a productive top six forward. In addition, will top forward prospect and RW Beau Bennett be an option in the next two seasons, or Tom Kuehnackl, their other top RW prospect? Can Letestu or Jeffrey develop enough to be a productive full time third line center in the NHL? This coming season could be a pivotal one for all of the above referenced players, as I am sure Shero and crew want to decide how to build the team for the coming seasons with the pending free agency of Jordan Staal.

Another interesting dilemma may come at the blue line. 2009 first round pick Simon Despres, a 6'4" 225 pound blue liner has continued to develop since he almost made the team out of camp in September. First, he made the Canadian U20 World Junior Team, where he won a silver medal as a member of that team's blue line. There were concerns in camp that Despres was too much of an offensive defenseman, who could be high risk to represent Canada in the IIHF World Championships. Despres however worked his way on to the squad and earned more and more ice time by proving his ability to be responsible in his own end, improving his gap control, and playing a defense first game, where you jump up into the play when appropriate. Having a successful World Juniors campaign is another step in Despres' development. In addition, after another successful season with St. Johns, where Despres played in 47 games scoring 13 goals, 28 assists, and 41 points, while playing to a plus 15 rating, Despres' Sea Dogs won the President' Trophy as QMJHL champs. Despres averaged .87 points per game this season, and is now playing for the Memorial Cup Championship. Some impressive developments, and considering he almost made the team last season, you can figure that he will press for a roster spot again this year. Add to that, top AHL Blue liners like Bortuzzo, +28, Strait, +22, and Sneep, +17 all figure to press hard for a spot on the blue line. I think any of the four could make it hard for the Penguins to NOT try to move Niskanen's 1.5M contract to add more cap room for a top 6 forward.

Add to all of that, decisions that remain with regard to the signing of Dupuis, Rupp, Adams, Asham, and you can see that the summer months will start to heat up soon relative to Penguins news. In the meantime, check back periodically for updates here!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Silicone and Beer

Hockey Game Boobs - The best video clips are hereOkay, the hockey news locally is slow........and the girl at the Canucks game last night that bared her chest for Ben Eager led me to this little side show. It really is the combination of beer and silcone as the original poster noted. Not sure why I posted this but it does kind of amaze me that one would pick a hockey game for this..I am not attempting to marry sports and porn, just found this a curiousity....enough said. Get a laugh, real hockey news coming soon. Work has been too crazy for me to get too serious about good posts, but soon enough! As the conerence finals heat up, draft day looms, and free agency is coming, there will be better news to report. But for now, live my silicone and beer post.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

JJ Come Home

There has been a lot of talk this past week about Ray Shero visitiing the World Championships, with one objective at least to get Jaromir Jagr back as part of the Penguins family. In reality, the major focus is to get the franchise's second best player in history to feel comfortable being part of the Penguins family, and hopefully to lead the eventual hanging of the #68 in the rafters of the Consol Energy Center. There has been a lot of speculation about the prospect of Jagr playing for the Penguins again. Though he is 39 years old, Jagr is supposed to be in great shape, and a 6'3" 243 lb RW with some scoring touch to be added to a line with Malkin at center, and James Neal at LW would be FUN to watch for Penguins fans. Don't count on it though. First off, the Penguins don't have the room to pay Jagr more than about 2M to sign, and I personally do not think for a second that Jagr would accept that kind of pay in return for his services, he is a guy who is a lot about the money. Second, he really does not play a style that will be well recieved by Disco Dan, so despite his skill set, his style of play would likely frustrate both he and Bylsma to the point of insanity. So, Pens fans, what I hope to see is the group of you who still hate Jagr for his infamous "dying alive" quote, those who booed his every return to the Mellon Arena to remember that despite that ill advised, and frankly overblown comment, he is truly one of the top players in NHL history, currently number 9 all time in scoring, and the second best player in Penguins history, behind only 66. Crosby and Malkin may have something to say about that before their careers are over, but for now, Jagr is only behind LeMagnifique. Jagr is a guy who always hustled, and brought his A game to the post season every season. Who can forget his game tying goal in Game One of the 1991-92 Finals late in the third, where he walked out from the wall, and left four Blackhawks hung out to dry before burying a game tying goal that blew the top off of the Mellon Arena. What about the 1995 playoffs where he single handedly willed the Penguins past the top seeded Devils in the first round of the playoffs, despite being hobbled by a significant leg injury? His heart and desire could not be questioned, even if his maturity at times could. The kid won 5 Art Ross Scoring Championships! When you think about Jagr's accomplishments as a hockey player, it is amazing that we have been lucky enough to have him for his best years, along with Lemieux, and now we get Crosby and Malkin to boot. Let the following accomplishments and statistics sink in for a moment when you think of Jagr:

Jagr is one of only 24 players to be a member of the Triple Gold Club, which includes winning the Stanley Cup, IIHF World Championships, and an Olympic Gold Medal. Jagr won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins(1991-92), two IIHF World Championships (2005-10), and an Olympic Gold Medal in 1998.

His list of NHL Awards includes the Hart Trophy(MVP) in 1999, and he was nominated as a finalist also in 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2006;

The Art Ross Trophy (Scoring Champion) in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001;

Lester B. Pearson (Players MVP) 1999, 2000, 2006;

NHL All Rookie Team 1991;

7 Time NHL First Team All-Star;

1 Time Second Team All-Star;

Other Awards include both a Gold and Bronze Medal in the Olympics and Two IIHF World Chanmpsionships.

Jagr's list of NHL records is also quite impressive includeing the following:

Most assists by a rookie in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1991 with 5;

Most regular season points by a RW in 1995-96 with 149;

Most regular season assists by a RW in 1995-96 with 87;

Most regular sseaon points by a non Canadien in a season in 1995-96 with 149;

Most all time regular season points all time by a European with 1599;

Most all time regular seaon goals by a European with 646;

Most all time regular season Overtime goals with 15;

Most consecutive 30 goal seasons with 15 from 1991-2007;

Most consecutive 70 point seasons with 15 from 1991-2007;

He has played in 1273 regular season games scoring 646 goals, 953 assists, and 1599 points , while adding 169 playoff games played, with 77 more goals, 104 assists, and 181 playoff points!

Now, where does Jagr stand in Penguins history with some key statistics? After Mario Lemieux's 85, 70 and twin 69 goal seasons, Jagr's 62 goals are the highest ever in a season for a Penguins' player. Jagr's 439 career goals as a Penguin are second only to Lemieux's 690, and his career 640 assists as a Penguin are second only again to Mario's 1,033 assists. Jagr's 149 points in 1995-96 is the second highest point total by a Penguin not named Mario Lemieux, and his career point total as a Penguin of 1,079 is second again, only to Mario Lemieux. Jagr's 110 power play goals as a Penguins is also only second to Number 66. Jagr is the all time leader in career game winning goals as a Penguin with 78 game winners, and his 12 GWG in 1995-96 is the most by a Penguin in a single season. JJ is also the Penguins career leader in plus/minus at plus 207. Jagr also is the career all time game winning goal leader in the PLAYOFFS for the Penguins with 14 playoff game winners in his time as a Penguin. He is also second all time for the Pens in playoff scoring with 147 playoff points as a member of the Penguins. Jagr is second all time to Mario Lemieux in playoff goals with 65 playoff goals to Mario's 76 playoff markers. Finally, Jagr leads the Penguins all time in even strength playoff goals with 44 to his credit, leading Mario by 4 even strength goals. As you sit and absorb all of this guy's accomplishments as a Penguin and as a professional hockey player in general, you should WANT this guy to take his rightful place in the Penguins family as an all time great. You should also raise the roof the night they raise his jersey to the rafters in the CEC. I know I will. There are few more deserving players in the world. That said, those who think that Jagr will be a Penguin next year scare me. This guy will be offered 7-9 M by teams in the KHL, and both New York and Montreal, the other two teams he would like to play for in the NHL can afford to offer him much more cash. At any rate, forgive the fact that as a young man, he was somewhat immature, and thank him for the effort and memories he gave his teammates and Pens fans!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eastern Conference Rivals and Free Agents

After watching another big Penguins rival get bounced out of the playoffs, I thought it may be a good time to discuss the general free agent situation with the other Eastern Conference rivals as I see them. Let's start with the cross town Flyers, since their elimination is so fresh. They have some interesting decisons to make in the offseason. They looked to me like a team that would take the experience of last season's Finals run, and the addition of Andre Meszaros in the offseason and Kris Versteeg at the trade deadline to take another run like last year, and perhaps get over the hump. But, alas, Paul Holmgren is following in Bobbie Clarke's mold by ignoring the most important playoff position, goaltending. Hey, they made a run last run without a true stopper, falling two games short of the holy grail, BUT that is an EXCEPTION, not the rule. Going into next year, they have several key UFA's. Included in that group would be Zherdev at 2M, Leino at 800K from their group of forwards, and Sean O'Donnell at 1.3M, and Nick Boynton at 500K on the blueline. Add to that, Bryan Boucher at 925K in the net. Carcillo, Nodl, and Powe are notable RFA role players for Philadelphia. The Flyers need a goaltender in my opinion to take the next step, and they are right up against the cap. Add to that the fact that they would dearly love to keep Ville Leino, but he will command 3 times his current salary I am sure. I would think that they will not offer Zherdev a deal, so that is 2M that they could put toward Leino, but that still leaves a hole in net. It will be interesting to see what they do about that. To bring in a top notch goaltender, it may take a trade as opposed to a free agent signing, and the Flyers do seem to possess the depth up front to do this.

Washington has a number of pricy UFA players to deal with during this offseason. Arnott at 4.5M, Sturm at 3.5M, Laich at 2.06M, Bradley at 1M, and Boyd Gordon upfront at 800K are all UFA. I have to believe that Laich is their priority from this group. On the blue line they have solid blue liner Scott Hannan at 4.5M as thier only UFA defenesman, but Karl Alsner an RFA making 1.675M could be due a raise. I am not sure what to think about Washington this off season, as they have big issues in my opinion. They may have big money to throw around, or could be very active in the trade market. In addition to expensive UFA's noted above, they have several players who are softer than a baby's ass making big money such as Mike Green, Alexander Seminbreath, and Niklas Backstrom. I don't think they sign Sturm again, the rest may depend on the market for some of their high priced players. I actually hope this keep this group together, but I dont know how you can given the past three year's playoff disappointments. If it were me, I keep Arnott a reduced rate, and Laich upfront, Alzner on the blue line, and attempt to trade Green and Semin for a player who two with male genitalia.

Montreal Canadiens-The interesting thing about the Habs is the fact that the only blue-liners from last year's team under contract are PK Scissorskates and Sissy er, Jaroslav Spacek. Also Josh Gorges. That may actually present more of an opportunity for the Habs, as they have some defenseman who make quite a bit of dough for their production. Notable blueliners as UFA for Montreal are Andre Markov at 5.75M, Roman Hamrlik at 5.5M, James Wisniewski at 3.25M, Brent Sopel at 2.33M, Hal Gill at 2.25M, and Paul Mara at 750K. To me Wisnieswski is worth a similar deal, and Paul Mara up to 1.25M. The rest are guys whom I think are overpaid, though Markov is extremely talented. Yannick Weber and Alexandre Picard are also RFA. The Habs have a glut of high priced back end talent potentially on the market. Along with their blue liners, Andre Kostitisyn is an RFA at 3.25M.

Tampa Bay Lightning-They are still in the midst of a playoff run, but will have some interesting decisons to make next year. Eric Brewer, a key component of the blue line is a UFA at 4.25 M. I have to think that Stevie Y wants Brewer back, and that he may be due a bit of a raise after this run. The other key blue liner who is UFA is power play specialist Marc Andre Bergeron, at 1M. Up front, Simon Gagne at 5.25 is UFA, as well as third line playoff star Sean Bergenheim, who earns 700K. With a history of head injuries, not sure if I would bring back Gagne, but I am sure they will pay more than double to have Bergenheim back. They also have second liner Teddy Purcell as an RFA. He is making 750K, and that will like more than double, but they will bring him back. Their most interesting call may be in the nets. Both goaltenders, Mike Smith at 2.2M and Dwayne Roloson at 2.5M are both UFA. Roloson looks GREAT in the net right now, but how much do want to put into a net minder who will be 42 years old next season? I would not be surprised to see Smith get a deal in a similar area, and Rolo to get a one year deal as well. I expect Gagne to be gone in favor of a younger less injury prone replacement. With the core of St. Louis, Stamkos, LeCavalier, Malone already signed they will remain a dangerous team for the coming season.

Buffalo Sabres-Buffalo seems to be a city that is destined for disappointment, nevertheless, the Sabres were a playoff team this year, so I had to comment. Their biggest UFA is Tim Connolley, a 4.5M UFA forward. Drew Stafford, who pumped home 31 goals a RFA, making 1.9M, a number likely to approach 4M if they hope to keep him. Other notable UFA's up front include Mike Grier at 1.5M, and Rob Niedermayer at 1.25M. On the blue line, Steve Montador at 1.55M is UFA. I expect that Sabres to sign everyone but Niedermayer.

New York Rangers-They seem to be a team who is always turning over high priced talent, with the same result, an early post season exit. This season should be no exception. Notable UFA's upfront include Frolov, at 3M, Vinny Prospal at 2.5M, and Rusland Fedtotenko at 1M. They have 3 notable RFA forwards in Ryan Callahan at 2.3M, Artem Anisimov at 820K, and Brian Boyle at 525K. All three are big parts of the team, and all three will get significant raises, especially Callahan who seems to be the heart and soul of the team. On the blue line Bryan McCabe at 5.75m is UFA as is Steve Eminger at 1.25M. I expect both to be back. It never seems to matter though.

Boston Bruins-The Bruins have some key parts of their team who will be UFA next season. Michael Ryder is the most notable forward at 4M who is UFA. Mark Recchi also at 1.9M. I think they will keep Ryder, but I expect Recchi to maybe be a casualty due to age. Brad Marchan is a notable RFA at 821K who will be due a nice raise as well. On the blue line, the Bruins picked up notable offensive defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who will be UFA at 4.25M, and I expect him back, as well as Shane Hnidy a 500K UFA, who will be due a raise. All in all, the B's look like they will be able to keep this group together for next season as well

I think the Eastern contenders who will be most intersting to watch will be the Flyers, and the Leino/goaltending situation, the Habs and their blue line, and the Rangers are always a drama queen. I also think an eye on the Craps will be fun, as they have many big time players that could be on the block, as well as their coach and or GM. The Pens should stack up well assuming 87 is back in the fold!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Penguins Off Season Free Agent Possiblities

Now that the Penguins are in their offseason, I wanted to take a look at some possible free agents for the Penguins this summer. I truly believe that the Penguins biggest priority is assessing their own players and deciding who to keep. I would think that Tyler Kennedy as an RFA is going to stay. If the Penguins give him an offer sheet of at least 110% of what they paid him last year, any team that would want him would wind up losing some signficant draft picks to acquire Kennedy. If they can get him for reasonable money, I love the idea of keeping him, and going back to the three center model with Kennedy and Cooke flanking Staal. If they get the sense he may want to go to arbitration, then some of the UFA wingers below may make sense. The top line of Crosby, Kunitz and or Dupuis/Jeffrey/FA and a second line of Malkin Neal and Tangradi/FA would make sense to me also. I think this alignment gives the Penguins three lines who can come at you with offense. I hope our fourth line ends up being Rupp, Asham and Adams, but I get the feeling that the Penguins will not heavily pursue Asham. Given the fact that the Penguins could use a bit more scoring, but have some cap issues, I looked at UFA wingers that could add some punch, but potentially still be in the ball park of what the Penguins could afford. My list of possibles is as follows:

Teddy Purcell-RW-17 G, 51 points, and +5-currently makes 750K;

Sean Bergenheim-LW-14G, 29 points and currently makes 700K-he has 7 playoff goals currently;

Ville Leino-LW-19G, 53 points, +14 and currently makes 800K;

Nikolai Zherdev-RW-16G, 22 points, and +5-he currently makes 2M;

Alex Tanguay-LW-22G, 69 points and even player-he currently makes 1.7M;

Curtis Glencross-LW-24G, 43 points, and he is a +6-he currently makes 1.2M;

Chris Higgins-LW-13G, 28 points and a +5-he currently makes 1.6M;

Raffi Torres-LW-14G, 29 points and a +4 player-he currently makes 1.0M;

Drew Stafford-RW-31G, 52 points and he is currently a +13 player who makes 1.9M- Stafford will likeyl get offered big money;

Each of these players could potentially fit in under the cap for the Penguins dependent upon which of their group that they keep. The Penguins top three lines LW is set it would appear with Kuntiz, Neal and Cooke all playing LW. The most intriguing players to me from this list include Teddy Purcell, as he would seem to be relatively affordable, is a natural right wing and has some scoring ability. I really like the idea of Curtiss Glencross, who plays a solid forechecking game, is effective on the penalty kill and pumped home 24 goals last season for Calgary. Ville Leino would be an intriguing option as well. As much as Philadelphia likes Leino, they may really need to put their money into a goaltender, making it tough to retain Leino as well. Alex Tanguay could be a unique option as well, perhaps the Sykora like veteran looking for a Cup run at a reasonable rate. Finally Sean Bergenheim would be an interesting option, and his playoff performance has been lights out. Stafford a RW, who put up 31 goals would be a great fit, but I think he will command too much money. I am not sure that any of the other UFA wingers would have a chance at fitting under the salary cap, even if the Penguins were interested, UNLESS they made a trade that opened up cap space. I also like the idea of getting rid of Niskanen's 1.5M salary and letting some of the young guys come up from Wilkes Barre. If they felt that they needed a veteran defenseman to shore up the blue line, Nick Boynton from Phildadelphia who makes 500K could be an option. I don't know what the Penguins are thinking, and who they think they want to keep. I have to believe that they want to give Tangradi and Jeffrey a real shot at regular ice time this year, and it is time to find out for sure what they are. They also seem to be enamored with Letestu, Connor and Johnson, so they have some young guys who would be cost effective to plug into the lineup. It will be an interesting off season, where they have to balance the group of current veterans, as opposed to younger cheaper home grown options, while hoping to add one more sniper for the top six. As I look at the players who are available to the Penguins in a price range they can likely afford, I would be most interested in a guy like Glencross, while doing our best to sign our UFAs.

Some More Love for the Red

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Now that was fun. Watching Alexander Semin hold his chin and cry to the ref all the way up the ice instead of getting back into the play, while Martin St. Louis buries the puck and the puts the final nail in the coffin of the Caps was BEAUTIFUL!! Watching Ovagkin lay in the crease with three seconds left knowing that he would again be the captain of the biggest disappointment in the post season was GLORIOUS. Watching the fat little pig answer questions about the failure of his team in the postseason again was PRICELESS!! Many are hoping for the head of Boudreau, and though it would look nice in my gameroom with a candle in its mouth, I sure as hell hope that Leonsis and McMole, or McPhee I mean keep old Brucie right where he is! For the second year in a row the Caps made a big splash at the deadline, bringing in character guys to help prop up the talented, but utterly gutless core of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, and Green, but Butterball could not get them to commit. Ovechkin tries to beat everybody one on one, and the other three don't have a single nut to share between them. They disappear faster than cats outside a Chinese restaurant when the games get tough. This is the third year in a row that the Capitals were supposed to win the Stanley Cup. First, the Pens came back from a 2-0 series deficit to dump them in 2009, then after winning the President's Trophy, the 8th seeded Canadiens bounce the Craps in the first round in 2010. This, not long after their idiotic owner declared that they had arrived. I kind of enjoyed that too. Then, this year.......ahhhh, after their idiotic fans infected Heinz Field at the Winter Classic, and Steckel ended Crosby's season, watching the third straight early exit for my least favorite humans was just plain old great! The fact that they were humbled in a SWEEP even better. So please, keep that young core of talented but SOFF players intact. Let Meatball Face continue to bring in deadline saviors that fail, and let those two idiots Boudreau and Evason keep coaching them. Please?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fuck the Red, Tomorrow it's Dead

I found myself rooting as hard tonight for Tampa as I do for the Penguins. I hate the Capitals organization and MOST of their fans so much I can taste it. Mike Green's tweet about still being in the playoffs, are you is ringing kind of hollow right now huh? God I hope Leonsis, McPhee, Boudreau and the Russian Tool Chest are MISERABLE tonight.........I loved the elbow by Ovechkin on Bergenheim late in the game. It was blatant, and it was to the head, and it drew no penalty. We don't even have to ask if the Garage League will do anything about it, we know the answer to that. Ovagkin is about as dirty as Cooke, but it rarely matters. I am not a religous man, but I will pray tonight for the end of the season for those front running slugs from our nations capital. God cannot love me enough for them to be swept, can he???

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Off Season

In order to make sense of the offseason issues it is important to consider a couple of things. The biggest issue is health. IF Crosby fully recovers over the summer, along with Malkin , and the Penguins can open the season with with both of them plus Staal, they are instantly a better team than they were all of last season, a year in which the three of them were on the ice in the same game for a total of 4 PERIODS. I also think Neal will thrive in a contract year flanking either Crosby or Malkin. The next thing that is important to understand on a team short of scoring depth from the wings, and full of free agents is to see where the scoring has come from. The team is loaded with blood and guts players, and short of goal scoring, so those players who can put the puck in then net are critical. First, lets look at the players who are free agents in the offseason:

Alex Kovalav-UFA-currently making 5M per year-the answer is simple here. Do not let the door hit you where the good lord split you;

Pascal Dupuis-UFA-currently making 1.4M-the negative for Dupuis may be that he is making more than 1M on a cap strapped team, and they may want to save money for another "scoring" winger-I think that if they can sign Duper to a two year 2.5-2.75 total contract you have to keep him-he has scored 18 and 17 goals each of the past two years all at even strength, he fits in on the top line with Crosby from a chemistry standpoint, but can play on any of the four lines and contribute-he kills penalties and is a team guy-his versatility and desire to keep his family here make him a very possible candidate to be retained;

Max Talbot-UFA-currently making 1.05M per year-a guy everyone loves-who can forget the two goals to win Game 7 of the 2009 finals or the SSSHHHHHH moment that seemed to turn Game 6 of that years Eastern Conference quarterfinals?-Talbot is a gamer come playoff time, but does not do enough for this team to warrant paying him what he is likely to get from a team short on character guys-despite the fact that everyone loves Mad Max, it will likely be a sad day when he gets his "Randle El" contract that makes it impossible for him to say no and for the Pens to say yes;

Mike Rupp-UFA-currnently making 825K per yer-Rupper is another character guy who shows up in big moments-I think they keep Mike the Rupper due to his affordability, his size and character, If they can keep Rupp for around the same money, he along with Engelland and hopefully Asham can handle the tough guy duties while playing regular shifts in the NHL; I think Rupp is one of three they think they really have to sign if possible, along with Adams and Kennedy;

Eric Godard-UFA-currently making 750K per year-Godard is one of the league's better heavyweights. a team guy who is loved by his teammates, and a fan favorite-he fulfills the role he plays with all of his heart-however, he played in 19 games last season total, and his 750K cap hit may come in handy as far as keeping other more valuable players-like the Talbot day, the day Godard leaves the Penguins will be a sad one for me, but I think a necessary one IF they keep Asham and Rupp to complement Engo in the toughness department;

Tyler Kennedy-RFA-currently making 725K per year-Kennedy after a poor year last season, stepped up big time and netted career highs in goals with 21 and points with 45-more important he did it down the stretch in the abscence of the big guns-once TK simplified his game and went to the blue paint he became a very valuable commodity-this one will depend on a lot-if the Penguins let this go to arbitration, Kennedy may be priced out of the market, but if they give him some term and double his salary into the 1.5 to 1.75M per year area, he may be retainable-even if they have to hit 2M, 20 plus goal from the wing on this team is hard to let go out the door on this team, unless they think they can replace it with say a Curtis Glencross, a name that has come up since this past trade deadline;

Arron Asham-UFA-currently making 700K per year-after an injury prone regular season in which Asham scored only 3 goals, he played very well down the stretch, and was the Pens leading scorer in the playoffs with 3 G and 1 A in seven games-I like Asham and hope he signs here but this one is 50/50 to me as to what I think the Pens will do-he seemed to be in the dog house at times during the season, but just like last year with Philly, Asham was a factor in the playoffs, and though not a true heavyweight, he will contribute in the toughness area as well;

Craig Fucking Adams-UFA-currently making 550K per year-I think and surely hope that the Pens sign CFA again for similar money-Adams is the consummate 4th line grinder, character guy that every team wants/needs on the 4th line-he is a 2 time Stanley Cup Champion with the heart of a lion for basically league minimum, making him a no-brainer to keep if you ask me;

Chris Connor-UFA-currently making 550K per year-I like Connor's grit and "want to," I do. But I don't think the Pens should sign him given their wealth of grinders-Connor is a smurf at 5'8" and 180 lbs, and his 7 goals in 60 games will not be missed in comparison to other areas of need-good kid, coachable kid who hustles, but I think they need to pass here;

Dustin Jeffery-RFA-currently making 509K per year-Jeffrey only played in 25 games this season, but looked pretty solid when he played-he netted 7 goals during those 25 games and looked liked an NHL player-his ability to play both center and wing will help him too, as well as his size at 6'1" tall and 205 lbs, though he does not play tough-If they can get him to sign again in this range, he is worth looking at again, as he did not look at all out of place this season;

Mike Comrie-UFA-currently making 500K per year-Comrie was hurt most of the year so it is tough to evaluate him-he looked good with Geno in the preseason, then he looked bad in the regular season due to his injury-despite his pedigree as a 20 goal scorer in the past, and his willingness to play for league minimum money, I think the Penguins will pass on this player in favor of some of their young guns in the system, who fit better in the Byslma plan, and I cannot argue that much;

Nick Johnson-UFA-currently makng 500K-I don't know much about him other than he was one of the WBS Scranton Penguins leading scorers before being called up to Pittsburgh-he was hurt in the debacle on the Island and has not played since-Bylsma likes him and they say Geno likes playing with him-I have no opinion here personally;

It is tough to know what the Penguins think they need to do with the above players. I would assume that Rupp and Adams fit the bill for both FIT/DESIRE to be Penguins, and they will likely fit financially. I assume that Kennedy is a definite player they WANT to keep, but I don't know if they can afford him or what the market is for him. I would think the same of Duper, and again versatility helps Pascal and he wants to be here for sure. What I don't know yet, is who is available from other teams that the Penguins may want. One name to look out for is Calgary's Curtis Glencross who is a UFA making 1.2M. The Penguins were linked to trying to obtain him from Calgary at the trade deadline, and his name keeps coming up. I have no idea what the market is for him, but I do know this. He plays a hard forechecking game, has speed and desire, and is an excellent PK guy. Prior to this year, he was a guy like Cooke, 15 goals all at even strength, great PK, and forechecker. This year he got more minutes and a look on the second line and he finished with 24 goals, third most goals for Calgary. As I noted, I will look closely at the UFA market as we get closer to July 1, but Glencross is intriguing, as he is a good sized player who has all of the Bylsma characteristics, and could fill a second or third line role quite well. Not signing Godard and somehow getting rid of Niskanen's 1.5M contract could free up up to 2.25M in cap space to work with for other players. I like Engo and Lovejoy as the third pairing with Bortuzzo or Despres as the 7th defenseman. They could even look at a veteran free agent looking for one year in the 750K range to shore up the blue line if they are not sure Bortuzzo is ready. Or you can start with Bortuzzo on the team as your 7th and if you think you need to make a move later in the year for a veteran you can do so. My point is that you have Bortuzzo, Stait, Despres, and Sneep on the blueline, all of whom you think could be ready for the big club. Why not save some money and see what one or two of them bring to the table?

In summary, the Penguins have 7 NHL experienced defenseman under contract, the top 2 pairings amongt the best in the league, and the other 3 all YOUNG. Engo has the dual role of tough guy and the only other really physical blue liner besides Orpik, and he makes under 600K. Lovejoy is also in that range, and really came on as the year drew to an end. He also plays well with Engelland. With 4 other younger defensemen ready for the NHL, or VERY close to it, to me that makes Niskanen expendable. The forward situation is this. Out of their top 7 scoring forwards last year (using full season projections), in order Crosby, Malkin, Kuntiz, Neal, Staal, Kennedy, and Dupuis, the top 5 are signed. Also, numbers 8 and 9 in goal scoring, Letestu and Cooke, are also signed. So in effect, there are 7 forwards signed out of the 12 roster spots available. That means there are 5 spots on the big team open, and some depth roles on WBS. Competing for those 5 spots in my opinion will be another guy who is signed, Eric Tangradi, and then a number of free agents, including Rupp, Adams, Asham, Kennedy, Dupuis, Johnson, Jeffrey. Add to that, any possible free agents they could sign. Assuming that they sign Kennedy, their top 9 forwards will be a pretty formidable looking group, and would allow them to either load up with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, and Staal on the top two lines with a winger to be named later, either Kennedy, Johnson, Tangradi or a UFA, and have a third line of Letestu, with Cooke and Kennedy, or they could have a balanced 3 line attack with Crosby between Kunitz and Duper or Jeffrey or a FA, and a second line of Malkin between Neal and either Johnson or Tangradi, along with a third line, that could be most team's second line of Staal, between Kennedy and Cooke. Adding a Glencross and retaining Duper would add other options. As noted, a 4th line of Adams, Rupp, and Asham would be a grinder's delight. So the offseason figures to be very interesting for the Penguins, but the core of the forward group is in intact, the goaltenders are intact, the defense is intact. The group of role players is deep, now it is up to Shero and Bylsma to decide how they want to play their hand! This should make for an interesting summer. In the meantime, pull for the WBS Penguins in their run to the Calder Cup!

Some things I think I think

I have now had a few days to reflect on this past season and the playoffs, and though I will refine these thoughts and add some offseason posts relative to free agency etc., here are some thoughts as currently formulated.

I have not changed my general perception that this team simply ran out of gas after playing what amounts to 4 months of playoff hockey more shorthanded than any playoff team could have ever expected. I suspect that it is also no coincidence that the Pens lost 3 of its final four games after learning that Crosby was not likely to return at all during this post season. I think the regular season run was largely predicated in their minds on just gettng to the dance, and WHEN Crosby came back, look out! Then it was let's win this series, and when he comes back anything can happen......and then it was, welll he isn't coming back, and I think that may have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

I stick with my support of Coach Disco in general, and believe him to be the Jack Adams winner for my money, though I doubt he wins it. And I support his decision to leave Kovalev on the bench during the final 6 on 4 in favor of lesser skilled players, but ones who compete. As I read the articles written, and hear various opinions, I would make two observations/criticisms in general. One is that we did not make any adaptations to the lineup based on not having success, ala Engelland for Niskanen, or Tangradi for Connor. Engo would have helped with some physicality and played will all year with Benny, and The Big Dog went to the net, and in fact was right in front of it on the two power play goals the Pens scored all month. Connor, while game, is a midget who works hard, but really has no skills. Finally, the power play is a total abortion, and really has been since 2008. Time to evaluate the whole scheme and start over. Please hire a PP specialist, because even clicking at 10% v less than 2%, we may be in the second round. All in all, give me Disco, he is a positive force, a leader, and a fierce competitor.

The next thing I want to touch on in is the fan base and some of the whipping boys they pick. I spent a lot of time these past two years defending Goligoski and his value when it seemed much of Pensville bashed him. I feel completely vindicated, first in the value his deal brought back, second in his success in Dallas, and third, in the step back our power play has taken since his departure. The new whipping boy seems to be Jordan Staal. I keep reading how he is soft, how has NO touch, how at 23 years old, he has already peaked, and how the team cannot afford to pay 4M for a "third line center." To all of that, I say.......bullshit you morons! Yeah, I was disappointed that Staal was not more of a factor in the post season, and I am a big fan. People were bitching about his offensive production, with Staal not getting his first goal until the 6th game of the series. Well, no less a player than Mike Richards of Philadelphia just scored his first goal in Game One of the second round. He has some pretty good linemates that he played with all year too. Do you think the Flyers are thinking of trading him? Listen, Jordan Staal scored 29 goals as an 18 year old rookie, 7 of those goals were short handed. After a subpar sophomore season in which he scored 12 goals, he scored 22 goals in in 08-09, 21 goals and 49 points, while playing to +19 in 09-10. After coming back from multiple surgeries, he was pacing to 22 goals and a career high 60 points this season, while playing to a +7. Add to that his strength on the PK, faceoffs, and his iron man status, playing in virtually every game possible until PK Scissorskates severed his tendon. For 4M per year, trust me, Shero would get 29 phone calls within 24 hours of making it known Staalsy was available. As far as the third line center commentary, if your third line center can score 50 plus points, kill penalties, shut down the other team's top lines and score 20 plus goals, yes you can afford him. Maybe Staal was not ready to be THE guy offensively in light of the absence of Crosby and Malkin, but 60 points will get you an auditon on most team's second lines. He also has 17 goals in 67 playoff games, though curiously his playoff career plus/minus is minus 16. Jordan Staal is and should be a big part of the Penguins future. Some of the yinzers should stick to pierogies and kielbasa, and leave conscious thought to others.

With regard to James Neal, I am glad he will play for Team Canada, and I hope he gets his scoring touch back. I firmly believe that Neal will be a big part of the Penguins next season, and love his forcchecking, hitting and all around play. He does however need to get his scoring confidence back. Next year is a contract year for Neal, and he will be with one or the other of two world class talents at center ice, so I still expect big things from the Real Deal.

Another guy in the spotlight to me is Kris Letang. He started the season with a bang, and halfway through it he was in the mix when people spoke of Norris Trophy winners. At his best, he was scoring in bunches, leading the rush, and shutting down the other teams top lines. The second half of the season, he played AT TIMES as if his pregame meal was Wild Turkey and Miller Lite. We should all have expected his offensive production to drop with Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup and off the power play, but his decision making and defensive lapses were tough to watch. I firmly believet that Tanger is a Norris quality player who is YOUNG, and tried to do too much in the absence of the star power. I think he will rebound next season, and make a run for the Norris trophy. If I am Tanger, I spend the offseason working on getting my shot on the net more often, and I think the return of the stars will take care of the rest.

Matt Cooke on the penalty kill may have made a difference in the series. It does not sit well at all with me that Colin Campbell's Kangaroo Court suspended Cooke for 10 games PLUS the entire first round of the playoffs. When I see the meager suspension, or non-actions that occurred on hits post Cooke-McDonagh, the assclown's assertions that they were now taking a hard line on hits to the head, rings as what I knew what I was. I lie to cover the big middle finger they were giving Lemieux for actually speaking out about the idiocy of their discipline. A few timely penalty kills and you never know. Despite the fact that it presides over the professional version of the greatest game on earth the NHL itself was, is and will likely remain a Garage League.

The addition of James Neal, and the performance of Letestu during the season, along with both Kennedy and Staal makes me favor the 3 center model for the Pens. The "third line" of Staal, Kennedy and Cooke would now feature TWO 20 plus goal scorers in Staal and Kennedy, plus a solid third part in Matt Cooke. They kind of functioned as a two line for the Pens at times late this season effectively enough. With the pressure off, and matched up against lesser lines due to the addtions of a Crosby line(to me it remains Crosby flanked by Kunitz and Dupuis and Malkin flanked by Neal and either Tangradi, Jeffrey or Johnson). This would give the Penguins three very good lines who can score, and I love the idea of a fourth line of Adams, Rupp, and Asham.
You could also move Staal or Kennedy up to one of the top lines, and have Letestu center the third line. A little less balance but a very dynamic top two and a solid bottom two lines.

Finally, the offseason will mean the exit of some of the more beloved figures from the past few seasons, almost assuredly Max Talbot, and maybe Duper and/or Tyler Kennedy. In additon to those guys, Godard, Rupp, Asham, Adams, Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie and Alex Kovalev are free agents. The Penguins have some interesting decisions to make. I will do a preliminary post on the free agents next, and work on that more over the summer. Keep checking back, Mazmania is not closed for the season!!