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Archive for July, 2017

Could Rick Tocchet’s departure cost the Penguins a third title in a row?

Could Rick Tocchet’s departure cost the Penguins a third title in a row? Few people think of an assistant coach as an important piece to a championship puzzle. Like any machine, every component plays a vital role and is never recognized until you are missing it. Think about the Jesus nut found on the UH-1 helicopter. What does Tocchet’s departure mean?

For starters, Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh blog notes another writer’s perspective on the relationship between Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan. Mark Madden, the author Hooks refers to, hints at a contentious relationship between Kessel and Sullivan as noted by this, “But Sullivan was often less than pleased with Kessel. Tocchet, however, served as a buffer and conduit between Sullivan and Kessel, and did his best to steer Kessel in the preferred direction. He also talked Sullivan off the ledge regarding Kessel.”

The next hint comes from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Okay, I do not think highly of Cook, but he’s in Pittsburgh and I am not. He in his article of July 11, 2017 says we shouldn’t be surprised if Kessel is traded. He connects this to chemistry concerns and Kessel’s contract. Cook sees Malkin as unhappy at playing alongside Kessel and Crosby has no chemistry with Kessel. There is his belief that management was unhappy with Kessel’s performance during the playoffs. There is one element that connects Madden’s article to Cook’s and that is Cook’s belief that Kessel drives Sullivan crazy.

How does Rick Tocchet play into this. The blog by Hooks Orpik basically states that Tocchet was the buffer between Sullivan and Kessel. In other words, Tocchet translated Sullivan’s frustration into a meaningful explanation for Kessel. Tocchet was the glue that kept the two together. How much of this is valid and how much of this is Kessel baggage?

Kessel’s time in Toronto gives us a clue, and there will be no references to elongated food items. Watching video of Leafs games with Kessel, you could see Kessel take games or shifts off that led to stupid opportunities and goals for the other teams. Coaches were frustrated in the level of play by Kessel. His work ethic was and continues to fall far behind of Sidney Crosby, but how many others suffer the same issue on this topic. Kessel’s defensive play is far from the level Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Roman Josi, and P.K. Subban.

I really haven’t seen others stating a major issue between Kessel and Sullivan, but that does not mean it isn’t there. The reality is that there is some Kessel baggage here but also a standard coach versus player issue. If you watched Penguins games, then you did see Tocchet with Kessel quite a bit on the bench. It is reasonable to believe that Sullivan is not satisfied with Kessel’s output and is pushing Kessel. Placing more shots on net is a valid request by any coach. How the request or any request is communicated becomes the issue. If Tocchet was the intermediary, then the communication between Kessel and Sullivan just got more difficult.

Since Tocchet worked with the forwards, he was closer to Kessel and could figure out how to communicate with Kessel while Sullivan managed the team and provided the strategy for playing. Losing Tocchet doesn’t indicate bad things to come because of Kessel. It is more likely that Tocchet’s tactical coaching will be replaced by another coach while Sullivan’s gameplan strategy remains unchanged. The new coach will be the intermediary between coach and player.

There are several ifs. If there is a relationship issue between coach and player, then Tocchet may have been a vital cog in the Penguin machine, and if the new assistant coach cannot succeed in this, and there is a frosty relationship between Kessel and Sullivan, then you have a Penguins team falling short of their third cup. If the Penguins are truly unhappy with the Kessel run during the playoffs, then you will see a trade much sooner than later, and we can conclude Tocchet never had such an important role as Mark Madden believes. For me, there is an element of truth for both scenarios. Kessel appears to be frustrating at times, and he didn’t lead the playoffs in goal scoring. He was only five behind Guentzel with his eight goals to young Jake’s 13.

Stick a Fork in the Washington Capitals?

The Washington Capitals once again failed in the playoffs. Their standard nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, once again knocked them out, and if it isn’t the Penguins it is the Rangers. Did the window officially close for the Caps?

The Capitals enter 2017 shorthanded. If we look at CapFriendly, we see the Capitals with 17 players on the roster with three being RFA. The cap space is roughly $12.5 million. The team needs to sign Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov while Philipp Grubauer is less important, and they are in need of a sixth defenseman. This does not give the team much room unless they look to Hershey which is likely where they will look to for filling roster spots. The loss of players through free agency has hurt this team depthwise Justin Williams is now in Carolina and a few others are enjoying life elsewhere, too. T.J. Oshie is an expensive signing, but he may be an overpriced purchase.

Defensively, the Caps are hindered by an old anchor in Brooks Orpik. Here was a guy that was on his downside with the Penguins during his last two years with the team, but the Caps thought him worthy enough for an outrageous contract. In the attempt to defeat the Pens and Rangers, Orpik was signed through next year. The team does have Niskanen, Orlov, and Carlson to continue to support the defense. All three heavily paid players (Orlov was recently signed for six years) need to compensate for a horrible bottom three. Taylor Chorney’s advanced stats show that the Capital’s defense should be considered suspect. The loss of Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt will hurt this team. The defense is a weak link for the Capitals and will hinder Braden Holtby’s numbers.

Offensively, the Captitals are reliant on Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom and TJ. Oshie provide additional support with Marcus Johansson helping out, too. Tom Wilson isn’t going to save the season and neither will Jay Beagle. The Caps should have two strong lines; however, their third and fourth line will be suspect. The forwards present the strongest element to their game. Holtby can’t score goals. There are some AHL players that will be expected to chip in from time to time as I expect the Capitals will need to supplement their lineup due to injuries.

The Capitals will score goals during the 2017-18 season, but they won’t win the President’s Cup or even finish first, but they should make the playoffs where luck can carry a team to the finals. Help from Hershey could keep the team strong as I am not certain Oshie is the solution or that he will shoot 23.1% for the season, so don’t look for 33 goals. Burakovsky and Kuznetsov should net additional goals for the team. The Oshie signing tells us that the Caps aren’t quitting, but they will need a lot of luck such as the Penguins and Rangers meeting in the first round. In fact, the Penguins and Rangers need to not make the playoffs. Let’s just say the team needs a tons of luck much like Oshies’s 2016-27 shooting percentage. Their best chance has past them by but luck has a way of rewarding.

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July 1 Free Agency: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time in two years. As the free agency loomed, it was wondered what pieces of the Penguins puzzle would remain. So far, four players are gone with one looking at retirement. How has this truly affected the Penguins?

Ron Hainsey. Ron was a valuable piece to the Penguins for the simple reason that the team was short on defensemen. It appeared as if he found a fountain of youth as the Penguins went deeper, but he was at times an anchor for the team. We just don’t see it as much as the limping defense struggled to perform. At 35, he was slow and needed time to adjust to his pairings. For a team in need of players, Hainsey did well and contributed to the team’s victory. With that said, he is an unimportant piece to the Penguins system. He is too old for the way the team plays, though if you are in a pinch, you would take him. The Penguins will not miss him.

Speaking of old, defensive players, there was Mark Streit who should call it quits. He would get three games in the playoffs but would never play a game in the Stanley Cup. Simply stated, he is too old. His value has diminished with age, and this past season shows it.

Christ Kunitz. Chris has been a valuable member of the Penguins for almost ten years. Fortunately for the Penguins, these were his best years. He benefited from being Crosby’s linemate, however, he didn’t really light it up other than his 35 goal season. I was advocating for the Penguins to be rid of him for the past several years as his value was not on the first line. His statistics show the past three years that he is beyond his prime and indeed beyond playing full-time in this league. Why Tampa signed him is beyond me. I get it, he was effective in some of the 20 playoff games he played in this year, but was it worth it when a better player could have taken his place. He really didn’t fit this team unless it was on the fourth line. There are younger, faster players to take his place plus Ryan Reaves looks to me as a tougher version of Kunitz which was a very expensive trade. Off topic, is the true Rutherford coming back?

Trevor Daley. This was a man I was see happy to arrive the year the Pens won their first cup. First, the Pens got rid of the snail in Rob Scuderi. This second time around showed how Scuderi was even slower that Streit. Another reason was the potential offensive capability of Daley even at 32. Defensively, he wasn’t the best, but he did compliment the Letang injury issues. We had offense when Letang is out. Sadly for the guy, he was knocked out of the playoffs in 2016 and spent nearly a third of the season injured. His 2016-17 season and playoffs was not as good as expected. He appeared slow at times and hesitant on decisions. The playoff output was disappointing. Overall, he underachieved in my eyes. This has left me wondering if he has peaked and is now ready for the decline. It could be that injuries have curtailed his talent this past season. Whatever the reason, the Penguins have Letang and Justin Shultz for the firepower from the defense. Somehow, I still think Olli Maata has the ability to provide offense and better defense. Losing Daley does nothing to hurt the Penguins.

Matt Cullen. Here was a guy that I dreaded when Rutherford signed him. I thought, “old guy with nothing to give but willing to take.” Okay, I was wrong. His proved valuable as a fourth liner with faceoffs and the occasional scoring. He was the energy of the fourth line and the most important piece of the fourth line. This past playoffs his age began to show as he appeared slow at times and worn out. At age 40, you would expect some of this. Faceoffs were his forte and this will be greatly missed. I see him as one of the better faceoff players on the team. I don’t know if you can maintain a spot for him if he should play one more season once he decides to do so in August. The Pens will miss his faceoffs, but that can be overcome.

Nick Bonino. This is the biggest prize as he is only 29. Penguins fans will likely remember him for three things: HBK line, blocking shots, and the Hockey Night Punjabi call. If his faceoffs are to be missed, then Matt Cullen will be greatly missed. His faceoffs are not great as he has been mostly under 50%. You can expect 15 goals from him during the season and mediocre faceoffs. In the playoffs, he is great on blocking shots and isn’t bad on the penalty kill. When you are in need of a third line center, I guess you could miss him, but how much? It would have been nice to retain him simply for the chemistry, but Nashville has greatly overpaid him. I really do not think the Penguins will miss this guy other than the Punjabi calls. You can likely replace Bonino with any young centerman and get similar results. If the Penguins can trade for Matt Duchene without breaking the bank, again (think Reaves), then people will ask, “Bonino who?” Nick Bonino isn’t a great third line center but of the players they lost, he hurts the most. The upside is the pain is more psychological than anything else.

Re-signing Justin Shultz was the biggest move in helping the Penguins to continue. Also important to the Penguins are Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin as they are young with growing potential. What they have lost are mostly aging players if not beyond their playing days then very close to them. The Penguins have unloaded slower, aging players, and this helps the team. What remains is the core team and that is what really won the past two Stanley Cups.