Stud of the Week 02/20/13

We created this award to recognize the best player for the Penguins in the past week. This doesn’t have to be the leading scorer or anything like that, this is the guy who contributes the most to victory–it could go to a guy who was dominant in the faceoff circle, who drew a bunch of penalties that resulted in goals, or laid some game changing hits.

Pens went 3-0 this week and, generally speaking, they won three games they should have won. Admittedly none of these were that simple: Ottawa, especially before losing their two best players, were occasionally dominant, and still ought to be considered a playoff contender. Playing the Jets in Winnipeg is never easy and coming from behind with less than 10 minutes left in the game is no mean feat.

With that said there does not seem to be one guy who stood above all others this week, so what follows are several strong candidates.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Problem with Engelland-Despres

There’s a problem emerging with the Penguins third d-pairing. So far this year Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres have provided 10:13 and 9:57 time on ice per game. As such Engo and Despres are 4th to last and 3rd to last on the team, ahead of only the much maligned Eric Tangradi and the ill-used Dustin Jeffrey. And that’s not good. The Pens’ third pair rank 195th and 196th out of 204 defensemen who have played at all so far in the NHL this year.

ice time-engo despres
By comparison last year’s third pair of Engelland/Niskanen averaged 16:08 and 17:56 respectively. In limited NHL action even Despres typically played 14:13, four and a quarter more minutes per game than he’s gotten so far this year. What follows is an examination of why the Pens third pairing have received so few minutes (and they aren’t all bad reasons) and whether or not the Pens can/should/could rely on the third pairing. Read the rest of this entry »


Penguins Season Preview: D-Men

t’s finally here, we are actually previewing the actual guys who will be donning the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater this year. Yesterday we previewed the goalies, today we move onto defense, and yet to come are wingers, and then the centers, before finally making our BOLD predictions for the year. We’ve attempted to look at each player from a point/counterpoint perspective–that’s not to say that we are going to totally disagree on each player, far from it, we want to examine both the statistical expectations for each guy AND express our “feel” or read of the player. We hope you enjoy and we would love for you to get back to us with your thoughts and feelings. If you haven’t read them yet, please check out our series on Advanced Hockey Statistics: Goals Versus ThresholdPoints per 60 Minutes, and Player Usage Charts (including Corsi numbers). Get the business after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »


A Look at the Alternatives

We’re running headlong towards the official start of the free agent signing period, although Ryan Suter announced on Friday that he will not be talking with teams on Sunday. What that means is that the three quarters of teams who really believe they might be able to sign Suter probably won’t do anything until Monday (including the Penguins). That being said, at this time I want to look at some of the other alternatives in this free agent class. If you read Pensblog, this might look familiar, however, I settled on my list on Wednesday but haven’t had the opportunity to write about it in light of the Crosby news from Thursday.

Forwards:


PA Parenteau: Is there really any question that this guy is going to be the second most coveted forward behind Parise? Dude has played his whole career for the Islanders yet his 67 points last season are only 2 short of Parise’s 69 (although they’re 10 short of Ray Whitney, but he’s 40). Admittedly, his 18 goals would rank behind Matt Cooke and yes he is a “playmaker” and not a “pure scorer” like Parise is, but when you’re playing with Sidney Crosby, I can’t see how that is going to matter. The best part about Parenteau is that he’s approximately the same age as Parise, he put up nearly identical numbers as Parise, yet he’ll probably command half the salary. If you’re hoping that the Penguins will sign Suter, Parenteau is your best friend right now.


Shane Doan: the Pensblog made fun of him but I’m going to do the opposite. Yes, he does have a tendency to cry when his team isn’t getting calls but he is an absolute warrior, and he can definitely hit some people. This is a guy that’s in the last couple years of his career and he’s yet to really have a chance at a Cup. That could be good motivation to come to Pittsburgh. Last year he still put up 22 goals and 50 points playing with Radim Vrbata, think about what he could do with Sid…


Jordin Tootoo: definitely not a top 6 forward and definitely not “a winger for Sid,” but he is as tough as they come and can be just as big of a game changer as either of the guys listed above. Can you imagine a third line of Tootoo, Cooke, and Sutter? If I were Claude Giroux I might wet myself with anticipation of going up against those guys. Some outlets are suggesting that the Pens need two forwards in free agency, I hope Shero remembers this guy.

Defense:


Bryan Allen: people were talking him up and down in Pittsburgh during the trade deadline and with good reason. He’s a hitter. As I have long contended, the Penguins need a more physical blueline presence. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that we went to the Stanley Cup Finals in back to back years after Hal Gill joined the Pens and Brooks Orpik, and since Gill left the Pens haven’t made it past the second round. Further, although Allen is a little bit older (although no older than Brooks or Paul Martin) that might benefit the Penguins. At the worst you would have to conclude that the team is at most one year away from Simon Despres really ascending to be a permanent fixture on the Penguins blueline, we’re probably 2-3 years from Joe Morrow and/or Scott Harrington and one more from that for Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, in other words, we don’t need to sign a younger guy (like Matt Carle) to a long-term deal. We really need a 2-3 year stop gap and Allen could fill that role perfectly.


Matt Carle: Pensblog described him as like Paul Martin except younger and better, every person I know from Philly has described him as Paul Martin except worse. The choice is yours but I’d rather pass on this one.


Jason Garrison: sort of came out of nowhere to put up 16 goals from the blueline for Florida last year. Spent most of this year playing with Brian Campbell and that’s probably who he best resembles, a big time puck mover who eats minutes, but he also sometimes does those things to an annoying and self-destructive level. He could make sense here under two conditions: if you really were hoping to bring Ryan Suter in for his offense more than his all around game, Garrison could be a cheaper version of that. Further, if you don’t think you’ll be coming to terms with Steve Sullivan, Garrison could be a great asset on the point along with Letang.
That’s my list. Certainly there are other guys out there who will get some headlines and some attention, but I think these guys constitute the best alternatives specifically catered to the Penguins on the UFA market. Is it just me or is a Paul Martin trade looking less and less realistic?

Also: late breaking, Matt Niskanen has officially come to terms with the Pens on a 2-year, $4.6 million deal. First, off, I said $2.5 million so I was pretty close, and secondly, this is a really good deal for all involved. That mean’s the Pens have six NHL d-men under contract right now, overall they have 19 players under contract and still have $12.5 million to spend. Neal with it.


Gameday: NHL Draft, Round 1

Home game.

Today does start the NHL Draft. And, oh yes, it’s being held in Pittsburgh. I’m glad it’s being held here and I’m glad that a lot of people are really interested in it, but I can also say that I don’t think you could pay me to sit there and clap nicely while names that I’m completely oblivious to are called, but that’s just me.

To get you ready, here are some links to some places who know a lot more about the top rated picks than me:

NHL.com’s official draft page.

ThePensblog’s annual draft preview compliments of Face-off Factor.

Faceoff Factor’s website, man do they know a lot about the draft.

TSN’s DraftCentre, this is also where you can get all of Bob McKenzie’s wisdom.

Okay, that’s probably enough, if you need more, just search “NHL draft 2012” on Google, you’ll get 92 million results. From what I’ve read, I’m confident that the Penguins will be drafting a forward, who that will be though, is anyone’s guess. If you read the Faceoff Factor article you will see that there has been a great deal of inconsistency with the rankings so only time will tell what will actually happen.

There are plenty of good headlines surrounding this draft: will the Oilers trade the number one overall pick? Will the Pens trade any of their defensemen, and will they be NHL players or prospects?

If I were the Oilers there is nothing I would want to do more than trade the first overall pick. I believe that Nail Yakupov will be an absolute stud (he might be better, especially right out of the gate, than either Taylor Hall or RNH), but again, how many teams really need a scoring forward three years in a row? Well maybe I could think of a couple of teams, Nashville, Phoenix, Winnipeg, Islanders, maybe even Detroit, but definitely not the Oilers who already have more top 6 forwards than they know what to do with. I don’t know that a deal will happen for the Oilers but they need to be trying, any of those teams could step up with a big time NHL defender and the Oilers would be wise to take it.

I think the Penguins will move at least two defenders between now and early July, who they will be is highly subjective. Assuming the Pens simply will not entertain offers on Kris Letang, which they aren’t and won’t, the most movable players will be Matt Niskanen and Simon Despres. As I’ve been saying since March, Niskanen is coming off essentially a break-out season, and there’s no doubt that Despres will be a regular starter in the NHL by the end of next season no matter where he is (be it in Pittsburgh or elsewhere). If the Penguins really believed they could move up 5-10 spots in the draft to secure a scoring winger who will be ready for the NHL by the 2013 season, don’t be shocked to see a move like this. If they don’t, it’s a total crap shoot. The other prospects might be harder to move and I don’t know if the return on investment would be worth it to the Penguins. As I’ve said, the issue with Strait, Sneep, Bortuzzo, and the like is that they’re all Restricted Free Agents, (and yes I know, Niskanen is too). Although the Penguins have either already made offers or will make offers to them and all could likely be signed for cheap and be ready to compete for an NHL job, they still won’t likely garner anything better than a 4th round pick. Maybe Strait could get a third because he does have a slightly longer NHL career, but that’s about it.

It is entirely possible that the Penguins could move either Michalek and or Martin at the draft but that will just get more complex. You would likely have to move a number of NHL pieces as well. A proposed trade that I’ve seen a lot of recently has Paul Martin going to Tampa Bay in exchange for Ryan Malone, I think that if both teams were willing to swap their first round picks as well this could happen. It is a move that makes sense, the Penguins get a big, physical, goal scoring winger and the Lightning get a good NHL defenseman who was truly a stud playing in the defense first system of New Jersey for so many years. Don’t believe me? Navigate around on this page for a while. He leads all active American-born defensemen by 18 points in plus/minus (2nd overall behind Mike Knuble in all active American players), he’s among the top ten of all defensemen in the league today in plus/minus, he was on the 2006 US Olympic team and was one of the first defensemen chosen for 2010 but he couldn’t play because he was injured. I don’t mean to turn this into a pro-Paul Martin argument, but I do guarantee you that no matter how you figure, he is a much better player than he’s looked to be in Pittsburgh. That’s why I think the two teams would need to swap first round picks. Yes both Martin and Malone have struggled in the cities that they play in now, but it is almost assumed that Martin could be amazing in the 1-3-1 that Tampa plays, Malone’s fall from grace is somewhat more inexplicable though and the Penguins need to protect themselves. Swapping draft picks means that the Penguins would have a top ten pick with which to take a top ten forward, the Lightning wouldn’t be hurt too bad because if there’s one thing that the Penguins have proven, its that you can find good defensemen late in the first round. Too bad it probably won’t happen.


A Look at the Pending Free Agents

Josh Yohe from the Trib had some tweets recently about his understanding of the contract situation for the Penguins’ pending free agents. The good news is that in terms of the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, there are 5 old men and one RFA. The bad news is that with the exception of Simon Despres and the younger guys who haven’t played in the AHL yet (Morrow, Harrington, Beau Bennett), almost all of the farm system is at the end of their rookie contracts. Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, Carl Sneep, Eric Tangradi, even Brad Thiessen and Cal O’Reilly. Luckily that isn’t a real big deal though, I’m sure the Penguins will tender all of them pretty highly, and if no one was willing to make the tender offer on Steven Stamkos last year, I’m not too worried about a team trying to steal some of our young defensemen.

But so back to the actual pending free agents. As it stands the list of UFAs is Steve MacIntyre, Arron Asham, Richard Park, Steve Sullivan, and Brent Johnson. Given that the Penguins have already bought a new backup goalie we know that Johnny is gone. No word was given on MacIntyre but if he comes back that will be news of the century. Yohe reports that Asham has said he wants to return and that Steve Sullivan is not going to retire. Park was considered the likely odd man out. I don’t know about this, I understand that you need someone who is as tough as Asham even if most teams are turning away from full on fighters, but if you really have to choose between Park and Asham, I’ll take the Korean who can literally play with anyone on the ice rather than the bad guy from Kindergarten Cop who cross-checked a man in his throat in the last game he played. There’s no doubt that Sully experienced a rejuvenation in Pittsburgh, and you hope that so long as he can remain healthy and productive, the Penguins will continue to be able to work out one year contracts with him, just like the Pens did with Billy G a few years ago. One thing that could work in Sully’s favor (that didn’t help Billy G) is that he doesn’t play in front of the net getting beat up every game. One thing that could work against the Penguins while negotiating with Sullivan is that they aren’t as ascendant as they were when Billy G came to town. Then it was a total no-brainer for him to stick with the team even if he made less money. What is to stop Sully from seeking a similar contract with another team given the Penguins recent playoff woes?

The only RFA on the Penguins NHL roster this year is Matt Niskanen. As I’ve radically changed my opinion about Nisky throughout the course of the season it will come to you as no surprise that I believe that it is absolutely imperative for the Penguins to resign Niskanen with the expressed interest of expanding his role on the team. Ultimately his numbers weren’t at his career best from the 2008-09 season he had with Dallas (6G, 29A), but perhaps more importantly, rather than finishing -11 like he did in that season, he was a +9 this year mostly playing on the Pens’ third pairing. For what its worth, Niskanen was even a plus player in the playoffs for the Penguins this year (+2) although he also missed two games. Niskanen was a first round pick in the same year that Sid went first overall, so clearly there were people who believed in him then, and from what I’ve seen of him this past year, he might be the right fit for our system. It won’t be cheap to sign Nisky, expect a raise to about $2.5 to $3 million per season, but I think it would be money well spent.

Letang and Niskanen, they could play together…

Dave Molinari shed some light on the Free Agent situation for the Pens today, most of which corroborates what Yohe had to say:

Penguins have, or are expected to, extend qualifying offers to Niskanen, Tangradi, Veilleux, Strait, Bortuzzo, Grant and Sneep.

So in other words, these guys have either already been “resigned” or will be. I totally forgot about Alex Grant, another solid d-man who was hurt for most (if not all) last year. Man the Pens are deep at defense.

Shero says Sullivan and Asham “have been good players for us” and that he plans to discuss their futures with their agents next week.

I have a feeling that we’ll know a lot better about all of these guys come July 1. I really can’t wait.


Matt Niskanen: The Ultimate Equalizer

Okay, so a somewhat scary trend is starting to emerge. The Pens have gotten lit up in three of their last 4 games. I don’t know if they’re starting to grow idle a little bit, their only win came against the team that is actually the 4th best in the East (Devils), compared to their losses against the 7th ranked Senators and 13th ranked Islanders. Again I’m not necessarily worried about the Pens, but this isn’t how you expected a team this good to deal with the possibility of still possibly capturing first in the conference and maybe even the President’s Trophy. Read the rest of this entry »