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What Tumultuous Offseason?

August 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Julia Stumbaugh recently wrote an argument about the Penguins and their 2017 offseason changes. She correctly notes a rather minor offseason change for the Penguins of 2016 offseason when compared to the 2017 version. She lists a bunch of changes and notes the players that hurt the Penguins.

According to Julia, Fleury, Kunitz, Bonino, Daley, and Cullen hurt the Penguins. I am stuck with what she considers to be so damaging. Fleury, Kunitz, and Daley were instrumental for the injury plagued team while Cullen had a noticeable drop in skill the past two seasons. Even Bonino had a major drop. What is so glaringly wrong now that these players have moved on?

She states there is a significant loss in the veteran presence? First, this is an often overstated claim usually made by those who do not look deeply into what makes a team run. Veterans do add an element to a team, but after two Stanley Cup victories, I would say Sheary, Rust, and Dumoulin are veterans in some way or is it age based? She lists four current stars as the veteran presence, but this contradicts the idea of what a veteran is.  Is she trying to say that star players are veterans? If so, then the loss was truly insignificant. Fleury was the closest but he was relegated to more of a minor role this past season until the injury of Matt Murray. An assistant captain doesn’t mean the loss of a veteran. How long had Kunitz held this role? Don’t you think this is overplaying the assistant captain role for a guy that not only dropped in lines but also playing time?

Second, she mentions the high-quality backup goaltender. This is only an issue when your main goalie is injured. Just about any team in this league will suffer if their main goalie goes down. Why not include the scrubs or development players if you are going to include a backup? She is basing the future on the past. Anyone familiar with sports is well aware that the injury bug is not predictable

Julia concentrates on the point production for players lost but doesn’t dig deeper into other issues. She could have made a case about Bonino but doesn’t. Where she could strengthen her argument she ignores while plopping fluff to support her argument. She falls flat on her face with her article.

She doesn’t use the term leadership in her article. It is here where she could have mentioned Kunitz, Bonino, Cullen, and Fleury. But is leadership someone who is willing to give all as these players did? If so, then why include Malkin as he takes a backseat much of the time.  There is so much to dig into with this element.

The truth of the matter is that the players lost were becoming minor role playing partners on the team or were not in a position to push the team forward. Fleury was more of an aberration this past post season and the other players were more fortunate than skilled in helping the team. This isn’t to say their skill didn’t help, but my argument is there are other players out there that could have done the same thing. Kunitz’s series winning goal against Ottawa was not because he was a veteran. It was the fact he was in the right place at the right time and with a little luck, his end over end shot went in. This is similar to 2016 Stanley Cup Finals game two goal by Connor Sheary.

Julia does not know the Penguins players with much detail or she could have provided more information to support her weak argument. This is typical of most writers of any sport. They misguide the reader and claim they know what they’re talking about. The 2017-18 may suffer from weakened the 3rd and 4th lines, but their success is ultimately dependent upon the core players. The counter argument is that the 3rd and 4th line was getting progressively weaker anyway.

The team has gained veteran depth with younger players winning two cups. When you are playing 23 playoff games, you gain experience and doing it two years in a row provides much to build on. No, I don’t say Sheary, Rust, and Dumoulin are veterans, but they are on their way to being veterans. Who you cannot exclude are Hornqvist, Cole, Hagelin, and Kessel. Losing role players doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom. The Penguins lost periphery players that had to shine when injuries took their toll and some players were sadly overrated. Hey, I like Bonino, but his name to fame was the HBK line and a Punjabi goal chant. His 2016-17 season was mediocre at best, so what are the Penguins giving up? Cullen is another year slower. Daley was a minor role player for the team as injuries riddled his time with the team.

The Penguins will fight for the Stanley Cup next season and the team will have to battle improved opponents in order to win the Stanley Cup. If they do not win, it will be their opponents who earned the victory while the Penguins squandered their chances.

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.

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row?

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row? I will go further and say it is possible that they could win four in a row. This does not mean that I am not aware of the difficulties with winning three let alone four. What I am aware of is the luck the Pittsburgh Penguins had over a decade ago.

When you at the Stanley Cup winners and their rosters of the past decade, only one team stands out and they are the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have without a doubt the two best players in the league for over a decade. Sorry Ovie, you were never one or two. As much as I like Jonathan Toews, he is not one of the five best players in the league. We hear Patrick Kane, Carey Price, and Erik Karlsson but they have their limitations. Kane cannot take over games like Malkin can, though, I am sure Blackhawks fans would disagree.

For most of Crosby and Malkin’s career, teams had to deal with two lines. Only Penguins poor coaching hurt these two, not to mention David Steckel’s hit to Crosby’s head that took him out for over a year. Talk about poor officiating. I guess Victor Hedman had a part in it, too. Correcting the coaching situation after six seasons, the Penguins appeared to play as a team people expected to see when Bylsma was coaching. The point is the Penguins have two of the best offensive players playing on their team.

When you look at the past Stanley Cup winners, they simply do not have two. Chicago has Patrick Kane. What did Los Angeles and Boston have? Detroit only won the Cup because of a very young and inexperienced Penguins team. The Wings were a veteran team that ran circles around the young whippersnappers. Of the teams that lost in the finals, there are no outstanding players. Joe Thornton is on the downside, Henrik Lundqvist is also at the tail end of his career. In fact, goalies are limited in the fact they are a defense only even though Pekka Rinne may want to argue that.

If we look at the Leafs or Oilers, they have a player each that will be the next great players. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are only one player on their team. After these two, most people will find it difficult to name another star player let alone another player at all. Patrick Kane is all alone on the Hawks. Ovie has shown that having good talent around you doesn’t win cups. Having a great offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson hasn’t won Ottawa the cup. Carey Price of Montreal is only one man. No, there is no team with two great players on their roster.

The Penguins have the fortune to have two great players to build around and have done so with their three Stanley Cup victories. These two players make it difficult for teams to play against and with the support they now have, there is no reason why they couldn’t win two additional cups before they retire. The Penguins won back to back cups because of two players and their supporting cast. Though possible, it doesn’t look like any other team is in a position to win two in a row without having two great players. Winning a third and possibly a fourth remains the reality for the Penguins alone.

Supporting this idea of four in a row is the goaltending. The Penguins have it in Matt Murray. With Kessel, Guentzel, and the additional young cast members the supporting offensive strength is there to help push the Penguins further. The Penguins could have two or three offensive line. The checking role is supported by youth and experience. There is no worry here. The defense has been the main weakness as stated by the media and anyone with a mouth or ability to construct sentences. Somehow the Penguins won two cups with this defense. The key here is goaltending. The defense doesn’t have to be great, just good enough and this is what the Penguins have. Injuries have shown the Penguins to have depth, and this depth is created by the leadership of the veterans and coaches.

Finally, I believe Mike Sullivan to be a better coach than Bylsma and many of the opposing coaches he faced in the playoffs. Jacques Martin is an undervalued coach who has helped Mike Sullivan. In fact, maybe he is why the Penguins do not need a great defense. Then there Rick Tocchet is another issue for me, however, I have heard positives about him such as helping Phil Kessel. The fact remains that the coaching staff is stable and a very important reason to why the Penguins have won two cups in a row.

What makes the Penguins special are Crosby and Malkin. Other teams have the same or similar attributes the Penguins have but do not have these two players. Having one of these players may get you a cup win or maybe two in three years, but it will not give you the possibility of winning three or four Stanley Cups in a row. Penguins fan or not, it would be great to see a dynasty once more.

Is Jake Guentzel Good?

Tied for the most points by a rookie in postseason scoring. Led the playoffs with 13 goals. Won a Stanley Cup. Was fourth in playoff scoring with 21 points with only Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel ahead of him. Is Jake Guentzel the next superstar in ice hockey?

Statistically speaking, Jake had 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games for his first year. Combine this with his 25 playoff games and Jake played 65 games, scored 29 goals for a total of 54 points. In an 82 game season, he would have scored 37 goals and have 68 points. The 37 goals are close to Sid’s 39 goals and beats Malkin’s 33 goals as rookies. The guy Jake reminds me of the most, Patrick Kane, scored 21 goals in 82 games and had another 9 goals in 16 games during his rookie year. These two are close, but does this indicate stardom for young Jake Guentzel?

I would say the new rating systems of hockey analytics would bear out that Guentzel is a good players. Compared to Crosby and Malkin, Jake comes close to their analytics numbers. If you look at the postseason metrics, Jake’s CF% (Corsi for % in all situations) is 5 below Sid and 1.8 below Malkin. The relative Corse is worse for Jake, and the same positioning and range is similar when looking at Fenwick. His metrics match that of Phil Kessel more so than that of Crosby or Malkin. What about Patrick Kane, the player I say Jake resembles? Jake’s stats are actually better than Kane’s and Jonathan Toews for that matter.

Even though this is a very shallow study of Jake Guentzel, I believe this indicates his future potential. His 40 regular season games and 25 playoff games provide a good first year set of data to analyze young Jake, and the stats indicate a very good player was found by the Penguins organization. His AHL stint shows that Jake’s performance at the NHL level isn’t a fluke. During the 2016 AHL playoffs, Jake scored 5 goals and 9 assists in 10 games. He was tied for the team lead in goals and led the team in points during the playoffs. During the 2016-17 AHL season, Jake had 21 goals and 42 points in 33 games. He finished 12 points and 3 goals behind Tom Kostopoulous who played 74 games that season.

I conclude that Jake Guentzel is a good hockey player and the statistics show this. In fact, I imagine he will continue to get better. I do not expect him to be a Crosby or even a McDavid level of elite player, but Jake is good enough to be feared like all good offensive hockey players.

NHL Top 100

The Stanley Cup Finals ended with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being, in the media’s mind, as legends now cemented in greatness with their third Stanley Cup. The talk about the NHL’s top 100 players came to the forefront, and the discussion about Malkin’s not being in the top 100 started once more. In February, it was discussed and now once more it is being discussed. What will it take for him to move up in the list?

I am not a fan of this type of list. If we look at Sidney Crosby and his greatness as a hockey player, one element to his game that often mentioned is his work ethic and determination that is not related to scoring. Without watching him play, it become difficult to see this. A few Youtube pundits have mentioned how great he is when you see him live at the arena instead of the tely. His skill as a hockey player magnifies for those that have seen him. Sidney represents a problem with these types of lists. He is on this list because we can see him, but what about players from the past?

The first issue about this list is what determines greatness. This is not very objective as there are different requirements. Even if we develop an objective list, how do we rate players from the past? How do we rate Georges Vezinas? How many of us has seen him play in a consistent manner? We hear about how great he was, but compared to what? Consider the earlier years of the NHL where teams like Montreal could stack their team with homegrown talent. Is the Rocket Richard great because of the team around him or was he truly a great player? Is offense the main key to rate a player? If so, then why is Ovechkin in the top 100 and not Malkin? Offensively, Malkin is better. If it is about goals then we can find other examples. Do we include goalies or defensemen? These players do not score much.

There is the time period players played in. We only need to go back to the 80s and early 90s when everyone scored and compare to today’s scoring where 100 points is an amazing feat. What about the Original Six years or the period before that. Rule changes have altered how players play as have goalie equipment.

Rating the top 100 of anything or even the top ten is a waste of time but a boon for the fluff writers. These people talk hockey but spend very little of their writing, speaking, and gesturing about actual hockey. Most of these people see very little hockey or have a limited scope of what they see. Even I have a limited scope as I cannot watch every team with any consistency. The NHL Top 100 is a subjective rating where players are placed not on their skill but team achievements and current popularity. Is Jonathan Toews or Alexander Ovechkin better than Evgeni Malkin? How do we know Milt Schmidt is better than Malkin? We don’t and may never know.

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