Pens Re-Up with Robert Bortuzzo for Two Years

bortz-goal

Image from Wikimedia.com

The Penguins and Robert Bortuzzo were able to avoid arbitration (which was scheduled for August 1) when they came to terms on a new 2-year deal that will pay $600k annually. You have to figure that the Pens didn’t truly pay anything less for Bortz than he would have had they gone to arbitration. With a scant 21 NHL games under his belt it’s tough to know what Bortz is really capable of, and as I understand the arbitration process, the only basis for analysis would be his NHL play. Surely, we know what Bortz can become: he could easily mature to be a Hal Gill-type player. Really big, really physical, and just ultra-safe in his own defensive end, but again, I don’t necessarily think the arbiter would be assigning a contract value based on what he “can be.”

Nonetheless, $600k is not going to break any professional sports team’s bank and the fact that he’ll be back for 2 seasons is a major win for the Penguins. So who knows, maybe the Pens would have saved $25k if they had waited to go to arbitration (seems really weird to say that) but they also picked up exceptional value by getting Bortz locked up for 2 years. This is a testament to the notion that “value is a fluid term,” or whatever economists would tell you.

According to Josh Yohe, the Pens are actually pretty big on Bortuzzo, even though he was their least used defenseman in the regular season and playoffs.

 

If all is to be believed Bortuzzo really could have a shot at earning the final starting defense spot once the Penguins trade Matt Niskanen or some other defenseman to return to cap compliancy. That’s good because the limited doses we have been able to see of Bortuzzo have been very good. Consider this: for as much “potential” that is bandied about when talking about Simon Despres, he managed 7 points in 33 games with the big Penguins last year. Bortuzzo managed 4 (including the same goal output as Despres: 2) in 15 games. Oh, and Despres had the opportunity to play with Kris Letang for extended periods of time, Bortz was lucky to play 12 minutes a game with Deryk Engelland if he dressed at all. He’s also shown a willingness to stand up for any teammate at anytime, something the Pens have missed in recent seasons.

Now before you start blasting me for claiming that Robert Bortuzzo is a better player than Simon Despres stop. I did not say that. What I’m trying to establish is that Bortuzzo is no less deserving of more playing time than Despres, and that’s why the only logical solution for the Pens to get back to cap compliancy is to trade a defenseman, and frankly that more than likely has to be Niskanen. Against all odds Niskanen has been a granite-solid 4 or 5 defenseman in Pittsburgh, he went from probably crashing out of the NHL to a guy with decent trade value who would belong on any NHL team, but it’s also time for the Penguins to commit to finding out what talent they have in their system.

Although Development Camp has provided us with some encouraging signs about the future forward depth for the Pens, there would be a much bigger hole left in the lineup if the Penguins were to trade Jussi Jokinen or even Tanner Glass (yes that Tanner Glass). Sure Jokinen seems to stand in the way of Beau Bennett nailing down a full-time top-6 role, but what would the Pens do on the third line without Bennett and Jokinen? They would have to play Glass there, and the only thing worse than playing Tanner Glass at all is playing him on the 3rd line in high leverage situations. And with Glass, people like to hate him, but just remember, the guy who would replace him is the much more despised Harry Zolnierczyk.

And what’s worse is that if you had to move forwards up the depth chart like I just described you would notice the drop off in ability whereas with the defense things aren’t so desperate. Replacing Matt Niskanen with Robert Bortuzzo will result in less offense but who cares, especially with a promised bigger role for Simon Despres. At worst you’ll see a net zero exchange, at best Despres will be better in the offensive aspects of the game than Niskanen and Bortuzzo will be better than Niskanen in the defensive aspects. Change for the sake of change is dumb. Finding room for Robert Bortuzzo is not that.


Penguins Announce Full Roster for Development Camp; We Use it as a Reason to Examine the Pens’ System

The Penguins announced that 37 players will attend development camp. You can get the story from the Pens themselves right here. You can get a sheet on the attendees right here. But that’s not the point of this post, this post is a look into the Penguins farm system, at the guys who will be at this development camp and who could one day don the Black and Vegas Gold for real inside of Consol Energy Center. I make no claim to being an expert on predicting a player’s ability to be successful at the NHL level and I really don’t spend much time on prospects except for like a week before the draft. As such, this post is just going to draw attention to a few guys that I would think are worth watching in camp and in their junior/collegiate/minor league careers. Read the rest of this entry »


Penguins Sign Matt D’Agostini to One Year Deal

 

 

 

A couple of hours ago I completed a long analysis that I turned in over at The Farm Club on potential free agent “values” that could come in and play on the third line for the Penguins for the coming season. I’ll be the first to tell you that I had no idea that Matt D’Agostini was (a) a free agent, or (b) looking for such a small money deal. If I did I likely would have included the one time 20-goal scorer, but I didn’t.

Matt_DAgostini-234x300Here’s what we know about D’Agostini: he was a 6th round pick in the 2005 draft (Crosby’s draft) of the Montreal Canadiens. He’s from Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario which is where Wayne Gretzky played his Junior Hockey. It’s also the same hometown as Tyler Kennedy. Like Kennedy D’Agostini is a right-handed shooter, however, he’s a natural right winger, which just happens to be a hole the Pens need to fill. Fortunately for the Penguins he is considerably bigger than TK standing 6’0” 201lbs. And now I’m done talking about Tyler Kennedy.

D’Agostini’s best season in the NHL came in 2010-11 when he scored 21 goals and 25 assists in a full 82 games season with the Blues. However, after Ken Hitchcock’s arrival in St. Louis D’Agostini plummeted down the depth chart until ultimately he watched most games from the press box. In March of 2013 he was traded to the Devils but failed to make a dynamic impact with them, as such, they did not offer him an RFA tender which would have seen him make at least $1.6 million (100% of the AAV of his last contract, which he signed after his 46 point season).

Check out this piece from Rossi and the accompanying tweet stream for some interesting news.

netwolf-rossi

 

So in other words it looks like Double-J will get a look at the second line before Beau Bennett. Just saying but that probably means the Penguins have plans of trading Jokinen, otherwise they wouldn’t give him an opportunity to prove how good he can still be. If they wanted to keep him for a while they would likely bury him on the third line so they could re-sign him for lower money after this season.


Goodbye From Pittsburgh Matt Cooke and Jarome Iginla

This is a story about two players. In fact, it’s really directed at these two players.

I certainly won’t claim to speak for the whole City of Pittsburgh or the whole of Penguins-nation, but I think I speak for a lot of us and I want to say thank you Matt Cooke and Jarome Iginla. You’ve both left for greener pastures now: Cooke has signed a 3-year, $7.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. And that’s great, that’s one more year and probably a million dollars per season more than the Penguins would have thought about offering you. And you deserve it.

We in Pittsburgh know you better than probably any other team in the NHL. We know full well what you’ve done in the NHL, but we also know who you are outside of the NHL, you are a father, a family man, a humanitarian, and a leader in the locker room and the community. You were paid to play the game a certain way, that doesn’t define who you are. So we say thank you for all the great moments, all the horrifying moments, and everything in between. Thanks for the Cup.

For the Haters

For the Haters

Jarome Iginla: Iggy, we aren’t spiteful, even if you did sign a contract with Boston. You’re the only right winger on their roster right now, they need you more than we do, we in Pittsburgh need Beau Bennett right now. We’re just sorry we couldn’t get you that Cup. We’re sorry no one let you play right wing in Pittsburgh, but it’s just tough. We need to look at stats a little bit: James Neal has scored 61 goals in his last 120 games on Evgeni Malkin’s right wing. Over the last two seasons you only have 46 goals and you played 126 games. And then there’s Pascal Dupuis, maybe the Penguins should have moved him and Kunitz around to put you on Sid’s wing, but I mean Duper was the leading goal scorer for the Pens in the postseason, something just seems wrong to do anything to screw with your leading scorer on your top line. And I know you aren’t bitter. You said as much when you addressed the media after you signed with Boston, and we in Pittsburgh believe you.

(Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

(Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

It would have been nice to come to terms on a new deal with you, but it was never going to work out. This was a run at the Cup and you knew it. Neither you nor the Penguins are getting any younger and that’s the biggest reason why you need to move onto another team. It’s just too bad that you won’t go down as a legend of Pittsburgh sports lore. And it’s too bad that everyone hopes you get “Hossa-ed” next season (including me), but, well, we do. You’ve moved on and there’s certainly no love lost for the Bruins, even if you play for them now.

So to Iggy and Cookie, goodbye and good luck.


The Piece Comes Home

The Piece Comes Home

The Piece Comes Home

Rob Scuderi is back in the Black and Vegas Gold and that has caused us lots of mixed emotions. On the one hand this is exactly the kind of move the Penguins have been struggling to make since they foolishly let Scuds walk away following the 2009 Stanley Cup win. Conversely, Scuderi is 4 years older, 4 years slower and his contract: $3.375 million over 4 years, is no real bargain for his former team.

Don’t get us wrong, as long as he has a pulse he will help this team and he can serve as a stabilizing and aspirational mentor for the myriad of young defensemen the Penguins will hope to develop in the next several years. He’s a great veteran leader and he simply understands his job. As Kevin Allen said in regarding the Pens as one of the most improved teams through free agency:

The addition of defensive-minded Rob Scuderi is a specific, targeted move made to solve a problem. With Scuderi returned to the team, the Penguins should surrender fewer scoring chances next season. He keeps the puck out of his team’s net. It’s that simple.

As far as Scuds’ game is concerned, it really is that simple. He refers to himself as a “Defensive Plug” and basically all he does is block shots and kill penalties (he averaged 3:13 of PK time per game last year). That’s a lot.

The fear is still the length of the contract and the dollar figure. The Penguins have seemed to embrace a move towards more veteran players, but 4-years for a 34-year old is a long time. There was a time where Ray Shero wouldn’t have given a 4-year contract to a 30-year old (ahem, part of why Scuderi left in the first place) let alone a 34-year old, when you’re talking about a shot-blocker there’s always a possibility that he could wear out fast. And that would be bad news. It doesn’t really matter though, if the Penguins are smart in their handling of Scuds (which is of course a big IF today) then they have nothing to fear. There are two ways they can use Scuds and they are as follows.

  1. Play him with Letang. Scuds took a conference call with the Pittsburgh media yesterday. When asked what kind of role he could play in Pittsburgh he commented “I played with Doughty & Voynov, both world-class players with offensive upside. If that’s what they have planned then that’s fine.” That seems to suggest that some think he’s destined to play with Letang. Which is fine because it will definitely help Letang to have such a rock behind him. It will be like when Letang and Eaton played together during the regular season, except it will be better because Rob Scuderi is really good and Mark Eaton is a journeyman who never really played in a Top 4 role until he was 35. Of course if he plays with Letang the expectation will be that he’ll continue to play well over 20 minutes per game. That could cause some fatigue and even if he doesn’t show it this year, by the time he’s 38 there’s no chance that he’ll be able to keep pace with the pace of Letang and others.

  1. Higher leverage/lower minutes. Three and ⅜ of a million is a lot of money to pay a third pairing defenseman, but maybe it’s not so crazy to try to conserve Scuds’ ice time. During the Cup run years Scuds played almost exclusively with Hal Gill and they were the go to guys anytime the Penguins were in a high leverage situation (in other words, defensive zone faceoffs, penalty kills, and shutdown assignments). I see no reason why the Penguins cannot breed Robert Bortuzzo, who physically resembles Gill, and is the most deserving of a chance at the #6 spot, to fill those shoes. If the Penguins can go a long way to starting Scuds in the D-zone and having him end in the offensive zone his actual minutes likely won’t make a huge difference. He’ll have done exactly what he was paid for.

The Penguins have needed a stay-at-home Top 4 defender since Rob Scuderi left in 2009. As Shero said:

 

They’ve tried to replace him with Jay McKee, Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Leipold, Mark Eaton, Douglas Murray and more to no avail. For the first time since the Martin/Michalek signings in 2010 the Penguins have addressed defense first and this is a step that will likely see them compete at a level we haven’t seen since, well, 2009.


Riding the Trade Letang Train, Redux

Waiting for the other shoe to fall. That’s where Penguins fans (and probably many of the players as well) are stuck, still, even weeks after the team’s acrimonious fall from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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There is an anticipation of change, but the two easiest scapegoats: Marc-Andre Fleury and Head Coach Dan Bylsma have both been saved for next season by reassurances from General Manager Ray Shero. With Evgeni Malkin set to sign an 8-year contract extension, complete with a full no-movement clause the masses have congregated around one last sacrificial offering: Kris Letang. But they’re right, because the Penguins biggest responsibility this offseason is to get smarter.

Allow me to break the fourth wall, last week I wrote a piece on why the Penguins should trade Kris Letang and to which team they should trade him to in order to address their existing organizational needs. I don’t point this out to draw traffic to my blog, it is only to express that there is more than one way that the Penguins can improve their team by distancing themselves from Kris Letang.

The Concept of Hockey IQ

It’s a cliche to say that you have to be “smart” to succeed at the highest level of sport. It’s also an inaccuracy (see Aaron Hernandez for an example or any of the other 26 NFL players who have been arrested in the last four months). What all athletes need to possess is the ability to make decisions faster than their competitor and most importantly, to make the RIGHT decision. What it all means is that you don’t have to “outsmart” you have to “outquick” your opponent, the player needs to anticipate his options and make the best decision available to him.

With that said, you should be able to start to see that Kris Letang is not a player that this author or many others would categorize as particularly strong in hockey IQ. He’s prone to mental mistakes: he pinches at the wrong time, he doesn’t react to turnovers with any particular swiftness, and he often gets burned on his positioning.

Telestrating Hocey IQ

Take for example this goal from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals:

LetangTelestrator1

Letang is the lone black jersey at the top of the screen. Although he starts off in good position he somehow reads that he should close on the puck carrier Horton despite the fact that Lucic has clearly made the play into a 2-on-1 and Letang has no defense partner in position to cover Lucic (let alone Krejci, who Murray planned to cover).

LetangTelestrator2

LetangTelestrator3

Although Letang did manage to get a piece of Horton he quickly abandoned his check (for completely inexplicable reasons) to pursue Lucic. Although Douglas Murray’s foot speed is a major issue on this play, he seemingly correctly deduced to go to the greatest threat, which was Lucic. For the first time all play Letang seems to notice Murray’s existence and turns off from pursuing Lucic. As if it couldn’t be worse Letang takes a lazy, circuitous path back to the actual puck carrier, but the damage was done and Horton and Krejci stood in front of the net with only Jarome Iginla to provide any defense at all.

LetangTelestrator4

That is a play not becoming of a number one, franchise marquee defenseman seeking a new contract that is rumored to pay him $7 million per season. Especially on a team that is predicated on smart, quick transition hockey.

Getting Smarter

Kris Letang is not the only player who lacks the decision making needed to improve this Penguins team. Think about how the Penguins magically lost the ability to crash the net against Boston: you can blame coaching but it is not a coaching point to convince players to get to the net (at least not after Peewees). It’s about possessing a hockey sense, finding soft areas in the opponents defense and capitalizing on that. Although Letang is not the only player at fault in this, he is the only player that can be moved and fetch the kind of return that the Penguins need in order to make an organizational effort to be brighter.

In the salary cap era the Penguins have to move from a position of depth (puck moving defensemen) to fix their problems. What better than to trade their biggest pawn and receive a king’s ransom of an established stay at home defenseman and young prospects that can be molded and educated into the Penguins system.


Penguins Acquire Harry Zolnierczyk, Many Ask Why?

Harry_Zolnierczyk

The Penguins have traded Alex Grant to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Harry Zolnierczyk. Zolnierczyk is probably most famous in the NHL for trying to purposely hurt Penguins, like this time earlier this year when he boarded Robert Bortuzzo, and assorted other incidents like these:

(Okay, he’s clearly not a very good fighter…)

Oh, also he’s a pending RFA and the Penguins would have exactly one week to give him an offer sheet if they have any intention of signing him to a new contract.

And are you ready for this: as though he didn’t have a strangely ’70s porn-star name to begin with he was once charged and issued a conditional discharge for his part involving the production and distribution of a pornographic video involving an underage girl. And two counts of “electronic voyeurism.”

But I’ll be damned if I don’t like this acquisition. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on his past infidelities. It’s funny because I happen to know of a hot shot hockey player who got in trouble for very similar reasons when I was in high school… And what he brings to the Penguins is significant: he’s a pure agitator, something the Penguins can’t claim to have had in at least 3 years. And the cost for him was a guy who hasn’t even locked down a full-time position in the AHL yet, despite several years of professional hockey under his belt.

I doubt Zolnierczyk has been brought in to be a starter: Seth Rorabaugh pointed out that he doesn’t have much history of killing penalties (and he takes a lot of them) so he hasn’t been brought in to replace Craig Adams or Matt Cooke. What he’s been brought in for is to be mean. Which is a lot more than recent tough guy flops: Steve MacIntyre and Tanner Glass who seem afraid of actually stepping up for their teammates when that’s exactly what their job entails. Even then Zolnierczyk is different than those two: again he’s an agitator, more in the vain of classic Matt Cooke or Brad Marchand (although not as good at actually playing hockey) he’ll push the boundaries, and probably occasionally cross them. He’ll get in the head of opposing players and cause them fits like we saw in the Boston series at the hands of Marchand and company.

By no means do we like “dirty players” and he would probably easily qualify for that moniker. But the Penguins do need more passion, more intimidation, they need to be a little less predictable. That’s what Zolnierczyk has the ABILITY to do for the Penguins. WILL he do it? Well I was pretty wrong on Tanner Glass’s ability to help this team last year.


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