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.


The Curious Case of Zbynek Michalek

I have said that the Penguins would be wise to trade Zbynek Michalek this offseason. Others disagree with me. But I think there are a lot of mitigating factors that get in the way of what Big Z means to the Penguins compared to what he could mean to other teams.

I’m not saying this because I don’t like Z or because I don’t think he’s a good player. I don’t think that of Paul Martin either, I think they both got paid fair market contracts for what they are capable of doing and what role they could have on a given team. I mean it’s a cold hard fact that Michalek was one of my absolute favorite defensemen when he played in Phoenix, and I literally had heart palpitations when I heard that Ray Shero had worked a little magic and brought him to Pittsburgh. What it boils down to though is that Michalek does not play well in front of Marc Andre Fleury. Get the “More” after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »