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.
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.
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:
“It was a mistake to let Scuderi go on my part. To have the chance at a do-over & bring Rob back…I think that’s a good day for us”–Ray Shero
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 5, 2013
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.