Recap: Draftday #2: Fundamental Changes, Admitting I Was Wrong

I guess I need to fess up and say that everything that I hoped and predicted was completely wrong on the Jordan Staal issue. Also, because of a lack of close fact checking, I have finally realized that I screwed up the contract situations for Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. As it turns out, Suter is an unrestricted free agent this; Weber will be a restricted free agent. What it ultimately comes down to though is that they are both physically intimidating defensemen with offensive upside, they both play for the same team, and they’ve both expressed the same interest to leave that team because it’s located in Nashville. What is also true, and what I correctly identified, is that the future of said defenseman was inextricably linked to one of two things: the desire to pick up the mantle left behind by Nick Lidstrom in Detroit, or if the Penguins could dump the high salaries of their underperforming defensemen. According to a major stream of tweets (which of course may or may not be true) Suter is only allowed to sign a contract with the team called Detroit or the team called Pittsburgh. I honestly don’t like to brag every time I make a random prediction that ends up coming true or is supported, at a later date, by official commentary from the “pros,” and as I said, I totally got the Staal case wrong, but the simple fact is that as I build this blog and attempt to form a core of dedicated readers I need to show that the trust you place in me is justified. I’m not an expert, I haven’t even played competitive hockey since I was in eighth grade, but as I’ve tried to demonstrate, when properly guided I can hit the mark a lot. Get more by clicking on the HyperText Markup Language link. Read the rest of this entry »


Recap: Draftday #1: What Just Happened?

Wow, this is not the way I predicted the first round to go. The picks weren’t all that surprising, but wow, just wow. Jordan Staal is gone in comes Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumolin, and number 8 overall pick Derrick Pouliot. The Penguins also drafted Olli Matta with their normal 22nd pick. Dumolin, Pouliot, and Matta are all defensemen and although that might seem like a waste, it really isn’t.

According to all the experts Dumolin is literally Brooks Orpik except younger, he even went to Boston College, just like Brooksie. Looking at the stats, the resemblance is uncanny, Dumolin is 6’4” 210 lbs. He’s a large man, he will hit people. The experts further contend that he’s even more NHL ready than Despres and other Penguins defensive prospects. That’s good news.

Derrick Pouliot has a pretty funny connection to the Penguins. He plays for the same team, in the same pairing as last year’s first round pick Joe Morrow. Some people think that the Pens actually stretched to take him at the 8th spot, but he exactly represents what the Penguins hope to satisfy on defense. Oh yeah, he’s at least matched if not exceeded Morrow’s production despite being younger. I will say that the Pens could have taken Filip Forsberg, the third best offensive prospect in the entire draft, but as I said recently, it isn’t hard for the Penguins to recruit offensive talent to Pittsburgh, the issue is in the defense, and when you have so many “prospects” needing one way contracts next year, the Pens did well to restock. Just try not to get pissed when Forsberg scores some huge goal for the Capitals against the Pens.

I’m a little more interested in Olli Maatta compared to Pouliot if I’m honest. Maata is another pretty big, physical defenseman. But that’s what he is and that’s what matters. I feel like between Letang, Niskanen, Despres, Morrow, and now Pouliot the Pens are plenty deep at puck moving defensemen, now they need to work on getting physical. It should also be noted that Maatta is the linemate of last year’s second round defensive pick Scott Harrington. Just a little food for thought.

Of course the biggest piece of the Jordan Staal trade that the Penguins got in return is Brandon Sutter. Sutter was taken with the 11th pick in the 2007 draft and is probably the quintessential Jordan Staal replacement. He’s big, he’s a two-way center man, and he can produce pretty well. His career best season saw him record 40 points, 10 shy of the mark that Jordan set last year, but it should also be considered that Sutter hasn’t played on a team that is anywhere near as good at scoring goals as the Pens. He only has one 20-goal season, but so did Pascal Dupuis until this year and Pens fans don’t seem to complain about him too much.

I am confident in saying that this was in fact an act of Ray Shero magic. It was a hockey trade in its purest sense, and although Carolina could be pretty impressive led by two Staal brothers, the fact that Shero was able to salvage anything from what was quickly becoming a train wreck is incredible. Let alone to get two important pieces that can help the franchise from day one, another stout prospect, and still have your own first round pick left over.

There’s no question in my mind that Brandon Sutter can be Jordan Staal for the Penguins. He’s considered a great locker room presence and Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke will be notable improvements on Sutter’s normal linemates, plus he’ll likely get the opportunity, like Staal in recent years, to play up with Crosby and/or Malkin. He’ll be your top penalty killing forward. Further, just like Staal he really grew into his role as a two way forward, however, there is less fear of him outgrowing the role as happened with Staal.

I’ve seen at least three times when he’s gone to that move. It’s dirty.

Make no doubt about it, I’m going to miss Jordan Staal like crazy, but this is a move that has fundamentally improved two teams and it came from a situation where the Canes almost didn’t have to do anything. The crowd reaction to the trade was entirely supportive and that was good. I think it was a declaration of support for Jordan and for Ray Shero. Dejan wrote a minor masterpiece on the issue, and I can’t say it better than him.

This would be a win as is, but that wasn’t the only big time deal to go down for the Penguins. Shortly after the first round ended Twitter and the NHL Network were blowing up again with another Penguins move. Gone too is Zbynek Michalek, back to Phoenix where he thrived for years before coming to the Pens. In return is yet another defensive prospect, Harrison Ruopp, a dude who’s supposed to be bad to the bone, an AHL level goalie (which is good), and a third round pick in the draft this year. It was a salary dump and it cleared up $4 million on the Pens NHL cap. Further, it eliminated 50% of the biggest failure of Shero’s career. I’ve heard plenty of griping about how Z wasn’t the biggest failure, not like Paul Martin, and of course I’ve written about this before, and I don’t want to say I told you so, but I did. You can challenge the decision, you can challenge Shero, but I’m stoked on this decision, and we’ll deal with that in just a few minutes.

There was talk that both Shero and Phoenix GM Don Maloney were interested in making a hockey trade with either Keith Yandle or, less ambitiously, Rosti Klesla (who I think would be a great player in Pittsburgh and thought the Pens should have targeted in the 2010 offseason, when they signed Z and Martin) that would have seen another Penguins roster player moving to Phoenix, I bet you it would have been a forward, and more than likely I bet it would have been someone akin to Chris Kunitz, especially if the target were Yandle. Would the cost have been worth it? Probably. But that’s likely why Michalek is the player who is gone right now and Martin is currently still a member of the Penguins. You can only make a trade if you have a partner and I have my doubts that Paul Martin would make up a significant part of a real hockey trade (except for maybe Malone).

That said, don’t be shocked if Martin isn’t gone by the time Free Agency opens up. So far the Pens have shaved approximately $6 million in salary. Under the current collective bargaining agreement with the cap tentatively set at $70 million, the Pens are up to $14.6 million in free space. Imagine if they dropped Martin’s $5 mil contract. Even if the new collective bargaining agreement were to “shrink” the cap so that it stayed the same or actually went down slightly, this would still afford the Pens ample room to negotiate a new contract with Sid and whole-heartedly attempt to sign Zach Parise or Ryan Suter from free agency. Maybe even both, since it is reported that Parise and Sid are great friends, and presumably the two could work together to sign mutually beneficially contracts. For this reason, the move is brilliant, the Pens right now are prepared to sign the best player in free agency, and fully address their biggest position of need, scoring wingers, and they won’t need to wait on Filip Forsberg to develop.

Draft day 2 is underway. Go Hockey.

Ray Shero: “I have no plans to trade Jordan Staal.” Jordan Staal: “I have no plans to sign a new contract.” Hockey is back, yes…

Well I’m disappointed in myself that I couldn’t finish my opinion on Ray Shero’s statement from earlier in the week that he would not trade Jordan Staal, before well what do you know, Jordan Staal turned the hockey world upside down today.

If you haven’t heard, Staal reportedly flat out rejected a “mega deal” from the Penguins today. Admittedly, the deal is rumored to be 10 years at $6 million per season. Yes $60 million is a healthy chunk of change, but realistically speaking it is probably a million a year too low, at least, and that should come as a surprise to no one. What we don’t know is why Jordan so flatly rejected it. It’s easy to make conjectures: he doesn’t want to be in Pittsburgh anymore, he hates the Penguins organization, he feels stifled in this city. You can’t prove any of it.

Be Serious…

Jordan hasn’t asked for a trade, he hasn’t threatened to sit out the season, he’s never even suggested that he actively wants to leave Pittsburgh, all he did was reject a contract offer that your grandmother could tell you is not even close to fair market value, he knows that he would make more (a lot more) in free agency, even if the exact dollar figure is up in the air. And who can blame Shero for trying? Josh Yohe had this to say about Staal and Shero, “If there was a Mt. Rushmore of Ray Shero’s four favorite players, I bet Jordan Staal would be on it.” I bet he’s right. For all the fame and accolades that Sid and Geno have brought to the Penguins organization, nobody (except for maybe Brooks Orpik) represents what Shero wants the Penguins to resemble more than Jordan Staal. He’s big, he’s North American, he can kill penalties and score goals in equal measure, further, he was Shero’s first pick in Pittsburgh. The 2006 draft was basically the only draft that Shero has had with the Penguins where he had full autonomy to pick the player he wanted, and his choice was Staal. In other words, this was probably little more than Shero trying to extend a measure of good faith to one of his players.

With that said there is a lot more to consider. Staal’s agent has said that Jordan doesn’t want to negotiate at all right now. I fail to see why that’s an issue given that right now is still 8 days before the very first day that he is allowed by the league to actually conduct negotiations. Further, Saturday is Jordan’s wedding, I’m sure his thoughts are on the complete opposite of hockey right now.

I’ll mention that apparently Jordan has officially said that the only team he would consider a trade to is Carolina. A lot of people look at it as wanting to reunite with his brothers Eric and Jared (who is a prospect in Carolina’s system). That misses the point. The Staal parents have basically moved to North Carolina permanently and it would be a big family reunion minus Marc, who could always follow suit when his contract runs out. You have to remember this, Jordan has basically been on his own since the day he turned 18, it would be impossible for any of us to claim that he doesn’t deserve the opportunity to move closer to his family.

So let’s recount where we’re at right now. Jordan Staal turned down an offer from the Penguins today. The money was low, the years were long, and it came two days before his wedding, and 8 days before he could legally commit to the contract under the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement. Everyone relax.

Here are some other things we know. If Staal doesn’t want to negotiate with anyone excepting maybe Carolina and the Pens, then the Pens really can’t trade him. Nobody is going to make an offer on a 23-year old Cup winner and 6 season veteran if they don’t believe with reasonable certainty that they can sign him to a long-term contract. So thus, what Shero promised on Tuesday is still true, is likely still true, he won’t be trading Jordan Staal. There’s only one team in the NHL who would realistically feel confident in their ability to work out a deal with Jordan, and the cost of acquisition still isn’t going to be cheap. The Canes would need to give up Brandon Sutter, probably their first round draft pick, and a defenseman. Some analysts have predicted a defensive prospect (woo hoo!), but I feel like Shero could orchestrate a little magic and up that to Jamie McBain or another NHL defenseman.

Here’s one more, Jordan Staal is 23. I’m 23. I’m still in college and I don’t exactly have every step of the next ten years of my life planned. Why should he? Isn’t it okay for Jordan to not be sure what he wants or what he’s going to do?

One more nugget from Buccigross:

A Little Bit About Trading Jordan Staal

Well I said last week that I didn’t really want to deal with team turnover until we got closer to the NHL draft and maybe even closer to the July 1 free agency period. Unfortunately the professional hockey media has decided to change my plans for me and start talking about it already. So we’ll just take a look at a couple things. Check it out after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Gameday – Quarterfinal Round #4 – Flyers

Wells-Fargo Center, Philadelphia

As you undoubtedly know, the Penguins won last night 10-3. They’re now down 3 games to 1, but the series is coming back to Pittsburgh Friday night. I don’t feel the need to recap the game exhaustively, and even if I wanted to, I didn’t get the chance to record my thoughts last night, and I missed the second period from about 5 minutes left until the third period with about 5 minutes left. Anyway, I’m still going to deliver some thoughts.

How about Jordan Staal? After becoming the unwitting focal point of the Penguins’ “locker room troubles” when Alan Robinson tweeted that he was unhappy in Pittsburgh and wanted out, he responds with a huge hat trick, the first of which ended up being the game winner. I’ll say this, if Staal does leave, whether it be this offseason, next offseason, at the trade deadline next year, or after another several years, I certainly won’t blame him. He is a class act and a great leader. It’s obvious that he could be a number one or number two center on pretty much any team in the league, he put up a new career high in points despite missing 20 games this year, essentially entirely because he got to play top line minutes. Beyond that though is his leadership potential. Not only could he be a top line center, he could be a captain on pretty much any team in the league. The way that he responded to that criticism is just great. I would be really really sad to see him go, but I would likely always be a fan (unless he went to an Atlantic Division team, just being honest).

Geno getting on track. I’ve said it before, but this really is Evgeni Malkin’s team this year. Sid looks healthy and fit, but still, Malkin is primary target number one for opposing teams to stop. The Flyers have made that perfectly clear by constantly matching their top checking line against him all series. Malkin finally broke out a little bit yesterday getting 2 goals. Now that we’re going back home for a game, Malkin should get some more favorable matchups, especially if the Penguins continue to role with seven defensemen, rather than keying on Malkin coming out with his normal linemates he’ll get more some time with other matchups as well, which could get him away from Couturier, who looked surprisingly like a rookie for the first time last night. Let’s just sit back and watch.

Marc Andre Fleury is the root of all evil. Yes last night’s game could have hardly started worse for MAF as he got torched for another 3 power play goals, but then there really seemed to be a calm that settled over the Flower. The Pens played well defensively, they did a good job of insulating, and once the Pens adjusted to the way the refs were calling the game, the Flyers really weren’t a huge threat. But even then they got some chances and this time Fleury stood his ground. When people say that Fleury isn’t a “clutch goalie” I think they’re crazy. That’s what he is. It’s the fact that he often struggles when a situation isn’t “clutch” that can be irritating. Clutch goalie play down the stretch in this series might be the goalie who can limit the other team to three goals. For my money, I’m betting on Fleury.

Big Dog with a big game. Eric Tangradi got to play in his first postseason game of 2012 last night, and it was in his hometown of Philadelphia. I don’t know his TOI but he seemed to play well when he was out there. He got the primary assist on Staal’s game winner and really made it possible to get a goal out of the situation. If that had been Tyler Kennedy in front of the net hacking at the puck, he would have gotten knocked down and the Flyers likely would have broken out on a 3-on-2 or something like that. Instead it was the Big Dog, and he just stood his ground. I don’t know that he’ll ever be the top six guy that we’ve dreamt of, but he is learning to play strong in front of the net, and that’s never a bad thing. Again, I’m an admitted Tangradi apologist, but if you ask me, he’s a guy that should be playing, at least in this series. He backed up those claims last night.

How much do these coaches hate each other? The answer is at least, “a lot.” Obviously going back to Laviolette in the “gutless” game, Laviolette in the first game of this series yelling at the Penguins bench again, Bylsma letting his team goon it up in the third game, and even more with this game last night, these coaches might hate each other more than any of the players on the teams. Bylsma calling a timeout in the second period with his team up 8-3 was incredible and so asinine. Laviolette allowing Rinaldo to do what he did was just vicious. It’s amusing, you just hope that Disco will have it under control for the rest of the series.

Seven defensemen: and it worked. The Pens went with seven defensemen last night, including Brian Strait and Simon Despres. They both played admirably, and this was the perfect opportunity to get them some real, NHL playoff experience. They got to experience the tribulations of the first period, the ups and downs of playoff hockey, but then they were really able to settle in and soak up some minutes late in the game. This was of course a famous strategy that Bylsma employed in the 09 campaign. It seems to be working again. I hope the Pens will stick with it, but it also will be really hard to do so. Obviously Neal and Adams will be in the lineup tomorrow night, but then who comes out to make room for them? My estimation is that Vitale and Tangradi will sit, the Pens will continue with 7 d-men and Richard Park will continue to play, but only time will tell.

One game at a time. The Penguins had the perfect mentality for last night’s game. As per usual, nobody could have said it better than Sid himself,

It’s a terrible situation being down 3-0. But we all believe we can come back, and I think this is the time you lean on your fans the most.

The Pens as a team, and especially us as fans need to remember to continue to take this series, and however many games may be left for the Penguins this year, one game at a time. I know the temptation is there to say, well hey we delivered a much bigger blowout than anything the Flyers have done. But we’re still definitely the team that’s up against ropes. We’re still the team on the verge of elimination. We need to go three for three down the stretch. They just need to win one game. Don’t look past Friday night. Wherever you may be, whether it’s in Consol, on the lawn, at your house, at a bar, or a thousand miles away, just remember that we need to win one game.

Bottom Line. The Pens get to play at least one more time. We as fans got to see the Pens play “Penguins hockey” one more time this year. It was glorious. We as fans need to deliver the same love and support again on Friday. From there, who knows what will happen.