Pens Preview: Tyler Kennedy

30 07 2011

Tyler Kennedy. Tyler effing Kennedy. Be honest with yourself for a few minutes. Think to the start of the season. Raise your hand if you expected Tyler Kennedy to be one of the best offensive weapons down the stretch.

It’s OK. I’ll wait.

I know I didn’t expect much out of Kennedy beyond what we got used to seeing from him – solid, if unspectacular offense, no PK, no PP, and the occasional oddity in behavior, such as licking one’s stick. Previously Kennedy’s strongest year in goal scoring came in 2008-2009 when he netted 15 goals. He also produced 20 assists for 35 points with a +15 rating and 171 shots on net. Overall a pretty impressive stat line for a 3rd line player. He took a step down in production the following year, but so did the rest of the team, to be frank. 2010 saw him drop to 13G and 12A. Not nearly as impressive or as good as any had hoped, especially given he was playing with the same line mates.

And then 2011 happened. Let’s take a look at the year that was and what we can expect from Tyler Kennedy……….Kennedy

Lick stick, kiss Cup.

Tyler Kennedy, though actually a center, has been a mainstay as one of the Pens players on the right wing on the third line. We all like to make our jokes and comments about the wings and lack of depth therein, but Kennedy has been a fixture at the position for four years now and has his name etched on Lord Stanley’s fabled Cup. Kennedy has consistently played with Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke and the three combined to be a dangerous line, mixing grit, speed, and skill. Unfortunately, we got to see what Kennedy looked like on the top line this year. Even more disappointing, it wasn’t alongside Sidney Crosby, but instead alongside Staal…or Letestu..or Neal…or Kovalev. It was a weird year. I still feel like I need to sleep off that hangover.

When the rest of the team was shrinking (and I never thought I would say these words), Kennedy stepped up and put the team on his back. If not for TK, Fleury, and killer defense from Z, Martin, and Orpik the team doesn’t make playoffs. Haters gonna hate, but TK can high step his way to S&T Bank with Jerome Bettis and his new $2M contract per year for the next two years. Let’s take a look at 2011 from a statistical perspective.

80GP, 21G, 24A, 45P, +1, 37PIM, 234S, 9S%, 7PPG, 7PPA, 0SHG, 0SHA, 2GWG, 14:32TOI

In terms of actual play, Kennedy was one of the healthier players this season by appearing in 80 games and all seven playoff games. Equally, he was one of the best forces on offense (though his defensive coverage was a little lacking) by generating 45 points, which was good enough to rank him 4th overall on the team in point production. Likewise, Kennedy was third on the team in goal scoring, placing only behind Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz (Sid with 32 goals, Kunitz with 23, and Kennedy with 21).

It’s hard to deny that Kennedy became an offensive force this past season, but was it because of playing top-line minutes or was it because coach Bylsma pulled him aside for a length of time during an optional practice in which TK was the only player to dress and took the opportunity to coach him up a little? Maybe it was a little from both of those columns. Statistically, yes, Kennedy had his highest TOI average of his professional career, but it wasn’t a drastic change. In 2009 he averaged 13:46 in ice time, which dipped to 12:35 in 2010, but ticked up to 14:32 in 2011. Realistically, TK only played about one minute more per game than he previously was averaging (though, I admit, those numbers are slightly skewed because he played less with Sid and Geno in the line-up and more when those two were lost for the year).

Was the uptick in offense because of more ice time? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Was it because of Bylsma’s pep talk one day? Could be part of it. Was it playing with talent better than Cooke and Staal (even though he continued to play with Staal at times)? I would say that was largely the case. While I love Cookie and the Gronk, we aren’t exactly talking about world caliber playmakers and offensive juggernauts who need to be respected at all times when on the ice. When playing with guys like Neal or Kovalev or Letestu or Jeffrey, yes, Kennedy became a much more viable threat because he was no longer THE offensive threat on the line. Amazing what happens when the talent has been spread out a little.

234 shots, however, is an incredible number. The only player to shoot more than TK was Letang, and he only had two more shots on the season. More astonishing is that TK learned to take different and better shots instead of the attempts he was known for, almost all of which sailed ~4 feet wide of the cage OR went straight into the goaltender’s chest. He did still post 21 goals and have a shooting percentage of 9. We can joke all we want, but watch this again and thank your lucky stars that he signed at $2M, especially when compared to some of the other deals signed this year.

What can you say? The man learned how to score goals on the rush, cleaning up garbage, from unreal angles, and by getting in good positioning to accept passes for one-timers/making the goaltenders move. He also, in classic Penguins and Bylsma fashion, bangs bodies. Sweet baby Jesus does he go out there and bang bodies. I think we all remember seeing him on 24/7, too, being a vocal leader and trying to get the rest of the team ramped up and playing.

Bang bodies. Score goals. You want to know how important TK was? This video should raise a few red flags as to just how important he was:

“5 goals in 7 games.” “A power play goal.” Remember when we used to score goals on the PP? I know, you have to go back a while to see one of those. Oh, wait, whoops, he also scored the one and only PP goal the Pens scored in the playoffs. Like I said, we all like to make jokes about TK and there was lots of doubt surrounding him, but he was statistically one of the best players on the team, both in the regular season and the playoffs. TK was tied for 2nd on the team in PPGs with 7 (Kunitz also had 7, Sid, of course, had 10).

Why is it accepted that Chris Kunitz is a legitimate top-6 forward and deserving to play with Sid without question, but Kennedy’s season was a complete fluke? I don’t think it was purely coincidence that both Kennedy and Kunitz had oddly similar statistics. The only major difference was efficiency with shots. Kunitz was far more efficient with his shooting, but that’s also a product of the type of player. While I agree that Kunitz is a top-6 forward and is a perfect complement to Sid, I would love to see Kennedy get an extended look on Sid’s wing. We’ll never know unless we try.

Let’s take a look month-by-month at how TK stacked up.

October: 2G, 2A, 4P, +3, 0PPG

November: 2G, 4A, 6P, -3, 0PPG

December: 1G, 5A, 6P, +5, 0PPG

January: 2G, 4A, 6P, 0, 1PPG

February: 7G, 2A, 9P, -6, 4PPG

March: 5G, 5A, 10P, +3, 1PPG

April: 2G, 2A, 4P, -1, 1PPG

Clearly the loss of Sid and Geno allowed TK to step up, but that is evident when one looks at his role on the PP after both had been lost. Sid goes down in January and Geno was ailing, TK gets put on the PP and scores a goal. February? No Sid, lose Geno, TK scores 4 PPGs and scores 3 others. March? 4 goals even strength and another on the PP. Hell, he even managed a PP goal in April where there were only a few games. Maybe, just maybe, Tyler Kennedy was a missing piece on the power play for the last year or so. If nothing else he is what the PP is lacking – unadulterated greed. Kennedy takes shots like a bro at a party. He doesn’t pass up an opportunity to take a shot, something the PP has been severely lacking.

Games in which TK scored a PP goal the Pens went 5-2. Not a bad record. When a plus player, the Pens went 14-6. As a minus player, the team went 9-12. When neutral, the team’s record was 26-14. Combined as a plus or neutral player the Pens went 40-20. When the stars are plus players the team does well. Imagine that. Even when looking at individual teams and divisions, TK’s production was pretty evenly spread and equal throughout. He performed the best against the Atlantic division, but that is solely because of playing more games against those teams. For what it’s worth, his performance was actually disappointing vs Atlantic teams given how many more games were being played.

Tyler Kennedy had an absolutely unreal year in 2011, and I don’t feel it was by chance. Looking to next year, assuming Kennedy is given his opportunity to play with the stars and get some PP time, I think we can expect another great year from no. 48. My prediction for next season:

74GP, 23G, 27A, 50P, +9, 42PIM, 208S, 11S%, 9PPG, 4 PPA, 0SHG, 0SHA, 14:41 TOI

Let’s go Pens.

 





Fearless

28 07 2011

I had a number of things I wanted to talk about, but I’ve been having a bugger of a time putting things into words today. I started writing a different entry this morning. I just haven’t had the focus I needed to put into words what I was thinking. Unfortunately, that feeling is nothing new to me. It has been one of those things I’ve had to deal with before and I like to keep reminding myself how much it sucks. Good for a little perspective at times.

Originally I was going to post about my pond I’ve been working on (I promise I will and will post the photos soon), but it felt a little lazy and disingenuous, especially when compared to some of the other things I’ve discussed. Outright I didn’t have the concentration or ability to work on a new Pens Preview. I really enjoy writing those, but they require some serious focus and dedication to examining details and working through tons of stats and various numbers. I’m feeling edgy right now, no way would I be able to write one of those.

Then I saw something that got me going. Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame Re-tweeted a link to a video early today. He linked to this video.

Generally speaking I avoid listening to commercial radio and/or Pop music/Top 40 type stuff. Just not really my style (that, my friends, can be another post where I get on my snobby soapbox about the lack of talent, or more appropriately, the inability to sell a record based on talent because the consumer is a tasteless assclown). Honest to goodness, the most exposure I get to pop music is when it is covered by the people on Glee (haters gonna hate). The most exposure I had to this song was from Glee’s rendition of it or the random and sparse occasions when I would be in a shop or someone else would have a radio tuned to a top 40 station. With such limited exposure to it I never really considered the lyrics or, frankly, who the artist was. I had to look up that the track is one of Pink’s songs. What makes that even more depressing is that I really enjoyed Pink’s 1st record and was so-so-to-happy with her second major release. She just kinda fell off my radar as time went on, but that’s nothing new to any who know me.

I watched the video and I really enjoyed it. So I watched it again. Then another time. Each time I was noticing something about it, but it wasn’t about the actual video of the people featured in it. I was noticing the lyrics to the song. As mentioned previously, I don’t often find much value in pop music. In all likelihood this song, too, will be forgotten in a relatively short stretch of time, but I wanted to give it a few moments of my time because it speaks to something I like in my music, literature, etc – it empowers.

You may laugh, and I may look like a fool for saying so, but it is a song that I feel is something of an anthem for people, or at least a rallying call. Obviously there is a party element to the song, but I see it all as a carpe diem type mentality. More importantly, I see the call for individuality and being oneself. The repetition in the chorus calling for all the underdogs and those who are “wrong in the right ways.” This is a common thread with those of us who are a one-off type personality.

I am an odd bird. I don’t deny this. I pride myself on being, well, a little strange. Those who have come to know me over the years can attest to the fact that, well, I’m pretty darn weird. Not a bad weird or a creepy weird, just…odd. I don’t often see things the way others do, nor do I often have a popular opinion on things. I am a self avowed geek of all trades. I don’t deny it and I was one of the few who embraced being an oddity at a younger age. It worked for me and I try to encourage people to be themselves in this life instead of what other people want them to be.

The song, however, really caught my attention when I saw it paired up with the video of the cosplayers from the Comic-Con. Comic readers, cosplayers, video game players, etc have been at the fore of groups deemed socially unacceptable and generally seen as a strange underclass of weirdos that nobody likes. I grew up reading all types of comics. I am a video game collector. I’ve been to a number of E3 conferences. I go to toy and collectible shows. I’ve even been known to dress up for events before in costume (William Howard Taft being one of my more famous appearances). I know the looks I’ve gotten from people for being, well, all of those things I listed. They are even more shocked when they actually talk to me and realize I am sociable, rather intelligent, don’t smell like dirt that’s been humped by a hobo, and cast a wide net when it comes to things that interest me.

This video, though, got me really thinking about how these people, my people, really are wrong in all the right ways. We don’t belong but we also don’t really care. We are, as the song says, a bunch of “dirty little freaks.”

The people featured in this video are everything I like to see in others and like to see in myself when I can. These people are fearless.

They know the type of reactions they get from the general society and just how many people could possibly see them lip sync-ing to a Pink song on Youtube and they all said “fuck it” and just went with it because of being sure of who they are and what they do for themselves. I admire the Hell out of all of them for doing as such and I wish more people were confident in what they do in this life. It is like the old saying of sing/dance like nobody can see you. Just go out and do your thing. Be yourself. Be empowered. Be fearless.

I know that some of this has been poorly worded and phrased. I apologize for that. Like I said, I’ve been real edgy and unable to focus. Additional apologies as this has gone from one idea to the next. It’s been one of those days. In light of yesterday’s events and the milestone marker it was, I’m surprised I’m as together as I am. I also want to take a moment to thank everyone for their kind words and their thoughts over the last few days. I know I allow myself to get down about things and sometimes lose the perspective that I do have a number of good people in my life who genuinely care about it. It doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated, even if I am terrible at expressing it sometimes. But that’s who I am and you all have accepted me for who I am, just as I try, try, try to accept all of you for who you are.

Fearless. Not cocky, not covering up shortcomings, not a sleight of hand. Unafraid of what criticism may come and being in one’s glory. What a feeling. I hope I can continue to be fearless about things in my life. I hope you all, too, get to experience that. Be without fear and you will live forever.





Ten Years Later

27 07 2011

A lot of things have happened to me in the last ten years. A lot of things have happened the world over in the last ten years.

Pretty much the entirety of the Bush administration, the first half of the Obama administration, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, multiple Olympic games, all variety of other unfortunate terrorist attacks, the Pirates haven’t had a winning season, the Steelers won 2 Super Bowls, the Penguins won a Stanley Cup, the rise and fall of the Democratic and Tea Parties, numerous high-profile court cases, many births and deaths.

Personally, in the last ten years I graduated from high school, cooked through 3 serious girlfriends, bought a new car (after refusing to give up on my 1983 Olds until the transmission gave out), graduated from college with a BA in English Literature and a professional certificate to teach in Pennsylvania public schools, grades 7-12, worked for a variety of employers (both in a professional sense and in a part-time throw away type job), witnessed a large swatch of people come into and leave my life for any variety of reasons. I’ve done a lot of growing, I think, but there’s always more room to grow and develop. Today I finished the assembly on the pond I was building (photos to come tomorrow). I’ve genuinely done a lot of things that I am both proud of and ashamed of in the ten-year span.

Why ten years?

On July 27, 2001 my life was inexorably changed.

I awoke on the morning of July 27, 2001 to find a sight I will never, ever be able to forget. Something that will forever stay with me, for good and bad. I awoke to the hum and buzz of a variety of paramedics scurrying about the house. I saw my lifeless father on his back in his bed, being attended to by the paramedics. There was nothing that could be done. He had been gone a few hours before anyone woke up. Outside of some general health concerns that we knew about there was no indication that he was grossly unwell or nearing his end.

The night before/morning of his death I was cleaning my bedroom. The last thing he said to me was something about making sure I finished cleaning and gave me something of an exasperated look. This was in the early morning hours and he must have passed sometime between then and the early morning hours. Obviously neither of us were aware that would be the last time we spoke to one another. I don’t want to get into some “oh, well, you never know when the last time will REALLY be the last time” type speech. We know it. We’re all human and we do what we do in this life. I did not expect to wake to such horror. I wish I could forget, at times, the things I saw that morning. I wish I didn’t have to tell my aunt that her brother had died. I wish I didn’t have to live through my teens and 20’s without him or a major male influence in my life.

But I think he’d be proud of me and all that I’ve accomplished. I know I disappoint myself with some regularity, but I’m also an incredibly harsh critic of myself. I think he’d be pretty happy with how I turned out and what I was able to do in my time.

People tell me all the time how much I look and sound like him and how when they see me they can’t help but see him. I don’t mind that because he was a good man, outside of faults that have been discussed previously.

There hasn’t been a day since that has gone by where he hasn’t been in my thoughts in some way, shape, or form. I don’t expect that will change, either.

9/30/1950-7/27/2001





sfdhgfshdgfs

27 07 2011

I’ve got a full day of things today, but if I get a few moments tonight (and can let my bile recede) I will discuss this more at length.

Wow.

Youtube took the video down. Whatever.

On to the next one.





Pens Preview: James Neal

24 07 2011

If ever there was a deadline pick-up that caused more elation, then frustration, then more elation, then abject hatred, then more (un)conditional love followed by even more anger and hostility than James “The Real Deal” Neal, I do not remember who this individual was or why we were so excited and then hate-filled.

I know I have said some unkind things about the general Pens’ fan base before. I don’t have a problem with bandwagon fans. I don’t have a problem with “new” fans because everyone has to start somewhere. I do, however, have a problem with ignorant and/or senseless fans. I’m not saying people should not get emotionally involved with the game and let their emotions sometimes get the best of them. If everyone watched the game from up on high and took themselves completely out of the game it wouldn’t be fun. Sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment or we make comments about a player because of one thing or another. James Neal has shown so many people need to be on mood stabilizers. In the span of 27 games Neal went from savior and to villain. I’ll be first to admit that, yes, he did need to put a few of his chances in the back of the net, but he was also one of the few players on the depleted roster generating offense and making the most what was being offered.

Not pictured: Everyone's unreal expectations of James Neal

I, personally, was a fan of James Neal while he was coming up with Dallas. I never imagined the Pens would be able to peel him away from Dallas. I likened him to Jamie Benn in the Dallas organization and it would take a gross overpayment to get him out of there. Shero was able to get Neal and Niskanen for Alex Goligoski. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Goose and I thought he was unnecessarily shat upon by many fans, but I would make that trade every single day of the week. It was a good hockey trade, too, as Dallas was in desperate need for a puck-moving offensive D-man, and Pittsburgh was in need of legitimate top-6 forwards to play with those guys named Crosby and Malkin, once each got healthy.

And therein lies the rub. Neal wasn’t brought in to be the entire offense and to carry the team. He was brought in to play alongside one of the top line centers and make space, rush the net, bang bodies, and clear a path for the star players all the while keeping the opposing teams honest because he isn’t afraid to shoot and you disrespect his skill at your own peril. The argument has often been made that Staal could play top-line center for just about any team in the league. He was afforded, unfortunately, that opportunity for about 1/3 of the season this year, and while he had a productive year, he clearly was out-of-place. Neal-Staal-Kovalev was not exactly the line anyone had expected, nor was it the line one needed to worry about defending. Neal complements the center, Kovy played without any hustle, and Staal was the scoring threat on the line.

Maybe in NHL from EA Sports that line would put up unlimited goals and be a combined +28498, but in the real world the player styles are a little too different to make things work. Need I remind everyone, Mark Letestu was playing top line center minutes. That’s how messed up it was. Was Neal’s season with Pittsburgh simply a culmination of too many unkind variables? Maybe. Did people, on the whole, have unrealistic expectations about what he could bring in ~20 games? Absolutely. Neal came up playing with defensively minded and “safe” coaches in Dave Tippet and Marc Crawford. Moving to Bylsma’s style and system is a hard transition. I feel people lost sight of that fact. There are other variables, too, in the mix. Neal’s off-season training is with none other than Gary Roberts. I have my concerns that the training regimen is a little too harsh or too rigid. Steven Stamkos, too, trains under Roberts and both he and Neal had the same issues — fading down the stretch. The work rate is there, but the skill level drops off some from earlier in the season. May be from wearing down, may be from other things. Perhaps this is all just baseless conjecture, too.

With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at the season by the numbers (outright, combined between Dallas and Pittsburgh)

79GP, 22G, 23A, 45P, +7, 66PIM, 212S, 10.4S%, 5PPG, 5PPA, 0SHG, 0SHA, 3GWG, 17:30TOI

We’ll start with the obvious stuff. Playing 79 games is no small feat, especially given the game Neal plays. If you need a reminder as to what that looks like, just watch this video a few times and then imagine what that will look like with Sidney Crosby and, potentially, Chris Kunitz. My God.

To bang bodies like he does and go to the dirty areas for goals, it takes a toll on one’s body. The upside to the Roberts School of Domination is that it does allow Neal to play that way and not become so overly worn down that he needs to take time off and that his body heals quickly. The downside, as mentioned above, is that constant pounding like that can have a long tail and maybe cause a drop off in pure skill plays.

Offensive production, too, is impressive, if a little skewed. 45 points in 79 games is about .6 points per game. Not bad production at all. 22 goals in 79 games puts him squarely in the mold of 1 goal every 3-4 games. Would like to see that tick up to the goal per 2-3 games, but I’ll take 20+ goals regularly. 23 assists is nothing to sneeze at, either. It should not be lost on anyone that his goal production AND assist production are nearly identical. He is scoring, but he’s also setting up the scoring.

Looking deeper into the goal scoring, and this is specifically dealing with his time with the Pens, he wasn’t as disappointing as people made him out to be, but it was a little bit of a letdown when only one goal is scored when he was able to do that 21 other times with Dallas. On a more positive note, in the two games (playoffs included) where Neal scores a goal, the Pens went 2-0.

After being acquired by the Pens, Neal was a minus player 7 of 20 games. In those 7 games, the Pens went 5-2. As a neutral player, the Pens went 3-5. As a plus player, the Pens went 4-1. No real discernible pattern emerges from looking at the trend line. Unlike a Michalek or even a Cooke, looking at +/- doesn’t hold any type of forecast for the Pens and probability of winning or losing outside of “when your top player is a + you typically win.” Simply put, Neal was a minus player 7 times and a neutral or plus player 13 times. Given how few goals the team was scoring once he was acquired, I would say that’s pretty solid two-way play for a guy not necessarily known for being a pure two-way player, like Jordan Staal.

What is mystifying about Neal is if you look at his entire season of production by month.

October: 5G, 5A, 10P, +6

November: 5G, 6A, 11P, +6

December: 3G, 5A, 8P, -1

January: 7G, 1A, 8P, 0+/-

February: 1G, 1A, 2P, -4

March: 1G, 4A, 5P, 0

April: 0G, 1A, 1P, 0

How a player can go from being an absolutely dominant force for the first four months and then become a snakebitten corpse in the point production is truly something to wonder. Is it possible that fatigue was setting in? I believe that was a contributing factor. Add in the fact that he was playing in a new system and playing with guys who were in way over their respective heads attempting to do more than they ever should have been expected to. It was a dangerous combination of things that all came to head and caused many shortsighted fans to call for Shero’s head because Neal didn’t score 30 goals in 20 games.

Additionally, none of the games this season were offensive blowouts to possibly skew the numbers. Neal only had one 3 point game all year (11/18 – DAL v SJS). All others were 2 or fewer points.

Also, for the record, Neal had an assist and was a +1 in the 5-2 romp vs the Penguins, when this memorable moment occurred:

Remember how Sid went on an unreal point scoring tear after that game? Oh, those were the days. It became even funnier that the Pens picked up Niskanen along with Neal to bring it all full circle.

There is no one team which Neal has dominated against, either. That is less of a concern as the majority of his games came against Western Conference teams the Pens will only see one or two times each year. He did, however, prove to be a shootout ace. I know everyone liked to make jokes about how he could only score goals in the shootout, but as long as regular season games are determined by a skill competition, I’ll gladly have him on the team. I had jokingly commented during the season that Neal needed to take a page from Ovechkin’s playbook and cherry pick  past center read and wait for the home run passes from Michalek or Martin and just score on breakaways by pretending it’s a shoot out attempt.

Seriously, though, I’ll never forgot him making Brodeur look like a fool in this attempt:

As far as playoff performance went, well, I think we all remember the work that Neal put in each game. He didn’t have an atrocious game all series (the worst coming in the 8-2 loss, in which he was a -2 with only 1 shot on goal). In game 7, when all the chips were down, he did manage 6 shots on goal. It wasn’t for lack of trying or effort. Of course, we all remember game 4 of the series and the absolutely insane and prophetic talking of Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey.

Another aspect of Neal’s game is the time spent in the penalty box, or, more appropriately, the lack of time spent in the penalty box. He racked up only 66 total minutes in penalties all year, 19 of which came in a single game vs. Edmonton. Throw out the game vs EDM and he had 47PIM in 78 games. That is impressive, given the totality of the game being played and the fact that he is solid defensively, too.

Ultimately, Neal is only in his 4th year in the NHL. He’s still an incredibly young, up and coming talent. He played with stars on the Stars and put up great numbers. He played with chumps and guys out of  their element in Pittsburgh and put up not so great numbers. We could see what type of skill he had when the shoot out rolled around, but you can’t always count on playing to the SO each game. If one truly wants to evaluate whether Neal was an excellent pick-up, especially given the depth we had on D and how Goligoski became expendable, I suggest you wait until after he gets a full training camp in with the team. We can revisit his performance with the Pens once the All-star break rolls around next season. People have been willing to forgive players like Fleury and Letang for every misstep “because they are young and have a lot to learn.” The pendulum swings that way with Neal, too. He’s a young buck who, frankly, is playing better hockey than can be expected from such a young guy who has been part of a somewhat crummy organization since being drafted.

We won’t really know how the trade worked out until the end of next season. Neal getting to play with guys like Sid and Geno could be exactly what he needs to be a 30+ goal scorer and 60+ point getter. Or maybe he just doesn’t fit the Pens system (I disagree, I think he is the perfect definition of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin) and we’ll go our separate ways. I expect a big year out of him, provided Sid and/or Geno are healthy.

Looking ahead, assuming the stars are playing and the situation is normal, I expect the following out of Neal

77GP, 31G, 28A, 59P, +15, 82PIM, 225S, 13.7S%, 4PPG, 9PPA, 0SHG, 0SHA, 18:17TOI.

For good or bad, I feel the spotlight will be squarely on Mr. Neal this season. Let’s hope it is all for the good and we have the long-term solution and replacement for Kunitz on Sid’s wing (or we keep both Koon and Neal…my God…bodies will be banged, history will be made).

Let’s go Pens.





7/23: Griggsy’s Gripes

23 07 2011

Welcome to Griggsy’s Gripes 2: Electric Boogaloo. It’s the only chance I’ll get to say it, so I couldn’t pass that up. Apparently, quite a few people decided my first attempt at this was worth reading. I thank you all for that, very much. Hopefully, there will be no sophomore slump. Anyways, without further ado, this is what I’m griping about this week:

->The weather blows! I know, I know. All of you are either so sick of the weather yourself, or so sick of hearing others complain about it. But I can’t help but complain. And if you’re wondering why, it’s because I can’t get away from the heat. When I’m outside, it’s a killer. But inside, it’s even worse. That’s right, I don’t have air conditioning in my house. Fans aren’t helping. And the one-room A/C unit in the house only helps so much, because I can’t possibly stay in that one room all day. Hell, I can’t stay in there for more than two minutes if I want to be productive at all.

It also doesn’t help that I am a fat guy who sweats when it’s 12 degrees outside. 95+ degree weather is like the Ninth Circle of Hell for me. The only good thing? Maybe I can sweat off a couple (hundred)

pounds as I sit here. Can’t hurt, right?

->This is my first real chance, so please allow me to gripe (and praise) the relevant moves in NHL free agency. Obviously, Jagrwatch was the most captivating story in our world. Jaromir Jagr would’ve helped the Penguins. Without question, he would have had an impact skating on one of the top two lines for the team. But, by choosing the Philadelphia Flyers, he simultaneously cut all positive ties with his past in Pittsburgh and chose the worst possible team for himself as a player. OK, maybe a little hyperbolic, but I say that with good reason. The Flyers got rid of their two best natural centers (Mike Richards and Jeff Carter), while the Penguins are getting their two best centers back from health issues. Jagr may very well be able to play at an average to good level in orange and black, but he will never do as well as he could have in black and gold.

The Penguins, rebuffed by Jagr, chose to go with Tyler Kennedy and Steve Sullivan as their two Top 6 right wings. It puts a lot of pressure on those two gentlemen, and they may not be able to live up to that. Both have clear flaws that may hold them back, and by proxy, hold back Crosby and Malkin. Kennedy has been inconsistent throughout his career in the NHL, with the only exception the last three months of last season. Can he keep up that hot finish, or will he slip back into that inconsistent style that he couldn’t shake for so long? Sullivan is older, has a checkered injury history, and is undersized. He’s certainly got statistics that show he could be perfect alongside one of the talented centers, but the question marks are worrisome. Will he work out like Mike Comrie did in ‘10-’11, or will he work out like Petr Sykora did in ‘07-’08 (and beyond)?

The Pens also let a handful of role players walk away. Chris Conner, Max Talbot, Eric Godard, and Mike Rupp all left the Penguins, with all but Godard going to rival teams. Godard, while useful in his role during his time here, won’t be missed terribly. This was reinforced when the Pens signed enforcer Steve MacIntyre to a two-way deal shortly after Godard signed with Dallas. MacIntyre will be shuttled frequently between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre, something the team couldn’t do with Godard. Conner moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, lowering the team’s average age significantly. While Conner was lauded in some circles for being plucky and tenacious, he had no place on the Pens’ roster going forward. He wasn’t skilled enough for a Top 6 role, and wasn’t a long-term fit in a Bottom 6 role, due to size issues. He’ll likely make a bigger impact in Detroit, but that’s because the fit is much better than it ever would’ve been here.

Talbot left for the Philadelphia Flyers, signing a 5-year deal. The Penguins would never have signed Talbot for that term, based on injury and inconsistency. His signing in Philadelphia made for a divide within the ranks of Pens’ fans. Some supported Talbot, stating that it was simply a business decision. Some hated Talbot, stating that it’s unforgivable for a player to leave the Pens to play for the hated Flyers. Originally, I was in the middle, not choosing a side. After hearing interviews Talbot gave after the fact, I firmly moved into the hate category. If the Philly contract was the highest-paying one, I would have understood. But he confirmed what had been reported at the time of the signing, which was that he left deals with other teams on the table that offered more money. According to Talbot himself, he signed with the Flyers because they gave him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup. That makes it a non-business decision. Unforgivable, indeed.

Lastly, Mike Rupp left the Penguins for the New York Rangers. There was no way to keep Rupp, as many teams (reportedly nearly half the league) had made offers with great financial terms and with more length than Ray Shero was willing to offer. It just upsets me seeing Rupp in a Ranger sweater, for obvious reasons. However, don’t expect to see Rupp live up to those contract numbers. I am a firm believer that Rupp maxed out his play on the ice with the Penguins. There are some guys who are perfect in smaller doses, but struggle when over-exposed. Rupp’s age, physical style of play, and penchant for taking penalties all don’t translate to doing well with bigger minutes.

Speaking of the Rangers, Glen Sather is still a joke. He signed Brad Richards to an absurd contract of 9 years and $60 million. For a guy with injury risks, and inconsistency issues, that contract is unfathomable. Which, of course, means he fits in perfectly with the Rangers.

Looking around the Eastern Conference, the Sabres and Capitals overpaid for decently talented players; the Flyers and Rangers appeared to rearrange deck chairs on their own personal Titanics; the Devils and Islanders didn’t really do much of anything impactful; the Lightning and Bruins kept their teams relatively the same, which isn’t a bad thing for them; the Canadian teams didn’t do anything overwhelming, which is a bad thing for them; the Hurricanes improved slightly; the Panthers overpaid to hit the salary floor; and the Jets’ only big move was taking the franchise from Atlanta to Winnipeg.

If you made me rank the teams from top to bottom, I would go: Boston, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Washington, Buffalo (and that is where I draw the line of conference title contenders), Philadelphia, New York Rangers,

Carolina, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Toronto, Florida, Winnipeg, Ottawa.

I await your criticism for that list.

->So, where does this leave the Penguins roster, heading into next season? The seven defencemen and two goalies are pretty much set (assuming that Orpik gets healthy prior to October). As for the forwards, I don’t see Tangradi or Jeffrey starting the season with the big club, nor do I see MacIntyre at the NHL level right away. So, the lines (in my mind) are as follows:

Neal-Crosby-Sullivan

Kunitz-Malkin-Kennedy

Cooke-Staal-Asham

Dupuis-Letestu-Adams

This can change, based on what happens at training camp, but those lines are what I would want to see headed into opening night.

Anyways, enough hockey…

->Job-hunting is the most frustrating process known to man. Or, well, known to me, at least. I have an Economics degree, but I might as well just not have a degree at all. Anything in the field requires experience that I don’t have or licensing that I can’t get due to financial problems (yay, student loans). So, my search must expand outward. So, I end up at a disadvantage against people in their own chosen field. I can’t even tell you how many applications I’ve put in and how many resumes I’ve sent out without getting an in-person interview. I don’t think I’ve had a single in-person interview in 2011. For someone with a fairly high IQ that has a college degree, it makes me feel really worthless at times.

I’ve had friends tell me about job opportunities in other parts of the country, but I just don’t think I can do it. I love Pittsburgh. My family’s here, my closest friends are here (with very few exceptions), the area is beautiful, this is just ‘home’ for me, as hokey as it sounds. The roots are too deep for me to pull them out, even if just for a brief length of time. So, I really keep hoping that something will appear out of thin air for me to jump all over and make it my career. Fingers crossed.

->I wanted to avoid talking about the NFL lockout, because millionaires and billionaires fighting over millions of dollars does nothing for me whatsoever. However, the stunt that the owners pulled on Thursday night made me sick. They purposely voted on their own proposal (which of course, passed easily), knowing that the Players Association would never agree to it. They pulled a PR power play to win the public opinion, getting fans back on their side with the tired angle, “We’re trying to get something done. Why aren’t they?” It’s ridiculous.

As a fan, I am sick and tired of it all, but I am now insulted by the owners more than anything. To think that people wouldn’t realize this move for what it was, it’s a slap in the face of me and any other fan that has a couple of brain cells. Of course, the problem is that too many fans don’t have the brain cells necessary to realize it. So, this just might actually work. Not good.

One last bit of irony from this move is the fact that there was one owner who abstained from voting. That owner was Al Davis. At first, I thought he was just looking out for himself, as always. But, was he actually making a statement about how he knew this was just a PR move? Hmm.

->A dream of mine has died. The last planned space flight for NASA has come and gone. When I was a young boy, I dreamed of being an astronaut. When I got into high school, that dream morphed into being a rocket scientist. As I started college, Aerospace Engineering was my original major. My goal was to be a part of NASA, and while there, I wanted to figure out how to colonize either the moon or Mars. I wasn’t able to make it as an engineer, but I still had the dream that someone, maybe one of my smart former classmates at Penn State, would be able to make this possible. As funding keeps getting cut, and space flight gets de-emphasized in the United States, it seems like this will never happen, at least not in my lifetime.

It’s not just my dream in particular about colonizing another planet that depresses me, though. It’s the fact that so many people’s dreams are dying. There are so many men and women who looked to space as the next frontier. The space program in the United States has been getting declining funding for years and years, and this may be the death knell for the program. It’s tough to come back from this, and I get the feeling it never will.

->Another dream of mine, however, is very much alive and kicking. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in contention for the playoffs! Headed into their weekend series against Saint Louis, they are tied for first place in the National League Central division. The last time they were in first place this late in the season, I was 9 years old. I feel like this is an alternate universe I’ve stumbled into. How is this happening? To be honest, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.

First, the pitching staff, especially the starters, are pitching completely above their heads. I’m not a stat geek, so don’t expect mentions of xFIP or BABIP or any “IPs”. But suffice it to say that Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, and Charlie Morton aren’t nearly as good as their performances suggest. And James McDonald, the one who has a ton of natural talent, has struggled to find consistency the entire season. Over the course of the season, these guys are so likely to regress to their actual talent level. At this point, if you’re a Bucco fan, you have to hope that this regression doesn’t fully happen. If it does, goodbye first place.

The other half of the pitching staff, the bullpen, has been just as impressive, with just as little natural talent. Evan Meek, the Pirates’ lone all-star last season, has been injured and/or ineffective all of 2011. So, without Meek, who’s been getting it done in the bullpen? Joel Hanrahan’s been great as the closer, but he hasn’t done it alone. He’s had help from Jose Veras, Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, and Tony Watson. Look at those names again. And then pick your jaw up off the floor. It’s unreal that this squad has done so well together. They are getting reinforced now. By Joe Beimel and Jason Grilli. Yep, I said those names as reinforcements. The bullpen has really benefited from great starting pitching, allowing them to have less innings to fill, less pitches to throw, and less pressure to feel. If that doesn’t keep up, though, there may be trouble for the relief corps.

The one thing the Pirates can’t control is their opposition in the NL Central. And on paper, the three teams in contention with the Buccos should be far ahead of them. The Saint Louis Cardinals have Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, a resurgent Lance Berkman, and a good pitching staff. The Milwaukee Brewers have Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, among many talented players. The Cincinnati Reds have great hitters, and they won the division last year. Somehow, none of these three teams have run away with the division. If you cheer for the black and gold, it’s a major worry that one of these teams will get hot, and run away with things in the next month or so.

Now, this is going to sound strange, but the weakest aspect of the Pirates may be their saving grace down the stretch. With how great the pitching has been, the hitting has been awful to an equal degree. Outside of Andrew McCutchen, and occasionally Neil Walker, the offense has been inconsistent at the best of times. They are getting nothing out of right field, first base, catcher, and shortstop. They are also not getting nearly enough out of third base and left field. That’s 75% of the hitters, not counting the pitcher’s spot. So, you’re surely wondering, how is this a good thing? Simply, they can’t hit this poorly the entire season. Even if the pitching does come back to Earth somewhat, the offense can make up for that with even a slight improvement.

Ultimately, what’s my gripe here? It’s unlikely that the Pirates will win the division, and it’s no guarantee they’ll finish above .500 for the first time in nearly two decades. As much as I’ll be cheering for it to happen, it’s a tall order to turn things around to the tune of 25 extra wins from last season. And the gripe comes in here: These players, this manager (Clint Hurdle, love the guy), this team deserves to end this generation-long funk in 2011. It will really suck if they can’t get to those goals this season, because some will view the season as a failure. They deserve better than that this year.

I really hope they can prove me wrong, because I’ll be happy to call myself out right here come October….





Are You Coming to Bed or Not?

22 07 2011

Preface:

I am a shit writer, or, more appropriately, I feel like I am a complete crap writer. I know I am my harshest critic, but I also happen to know it to be true. There are 94809587394857 errors in this. You can feel free to rip it apart, from an editor’s stand point or because it is complete trash, just know that it was something that was rattling around in my head for the last week or so and I really just wanted to get it out of my brain. This is a first (and likely only) draft that has ZERO revisions in it. This is as raw is it gets. Mind the typos and the changing verb tense (I know it runs rampant). This is the first in what I hope to be many “microfiction” works – I understand that microfiction doesn’t have a set definition or applicable size, so, just roll with me.

I am also very well aware of the influence Raymond Carver has had in my writing style. Haters gonna hate.

———-

 

“Where were you today?”

“Hmm?”

“I asked you where you were today” he said again, in relaxed tones.

“Oh, you know, the usual” she replied, looking into her coffee cup.

He stood from the table and walked to the counter, taking only a few strides as the house they were living in was considerably small, especially given the financial status of both of them. His stride, while not bounding, was also not like floating. It simply was, and that was much the way he presented himself.

He reached into the cupboard and withdrew a rocks glass moments later.

“Do you want one?”

“No, I think I’ll be just fine” she replied as she held up her coffee mug, a boring brown mug that could be seen in nearly any greasy spoon, no-name diner. She put her mug back on the table and clasped both hands around it. The light above the table was somewhat harsh and unforgiving, but it also made everything seem very real, and with the realness came the happiness and despair.

With glass in hand, he walked back over to the refrigerator and freezer, swung open the freezer door and placed a few ice cubes in his glass. He rattled the glass and ice as he closed the door and went searching for his bottle of whiskey, which was tucked away in the usual place. The kitchen, from where he was standing, was only a few feet across and a few feet long, no more than his height in both directions. The countertops were old and worn in places and the sink was in desperate need of a new faucet. The cabinets, few as there were, were also in need of a new coat of paint.

He poured his whiskey and held the class and the amber fluid up to the light above the table, the light refracting through the cubes and liquid. “This,” he said, “this reminds me of a kaleidoscope I had when I was a little boy. Did you ever have one of those and just stare into it and see all things you wanted to see, even if they weren’t there?”

She looked up from her coffee, her normally bright eyes, a piercing gray like a polished steel, seemed dim. Her hair was long, to just below her shoulders, and dark, somewhere between deep, dark walnut and black. On this night, as she had been doing lately, she wore it lightly curled in certain areas, with the rest remaining wavy. She sat at the table staring into nothingness.

“Did you?” he asked.

“Did I what?” she replied, raising her eyebrow.

“Did you ever have a kaleidoscope when you were a child? Did you see all types of things and imagine them to be there even though they clearly weren’t?”

“Oh, no, I can’t say I ever did. Well, no, that’s not true. I did that with the clouds or when I closed my eyes at night. I could see all types of shapes, animals usually. I could see them and point them out to others and they…they just couldn’t see them.”

He took his glass and turned out the kitchen light, leaving just the light above the table and a distant table lamp in the bedroom, casting a warm glow in the hallway. He joined her at the table, sitting across from her. They both had long since changed into casual clothes for the evening, he into a pair of blue jeans, wearing thin in the knees, and a beat up t-shirt that used to have the logo of his old hockey team on from his time playing; she was in her favorite old gym shorts and her sweatshirt from her college sorority.

They sat there in silence. One would sip from the drink in their hands and the other would fiddle with something. They sat and stared out of the window in the kitchen. They stared into the darkened sky through the branches of the tree by the house. They sat and the they stared at one another.

“Do you remember the first time we met?”

“Where is this leading?” she asked.

“Nowhere in specific. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I do.” She took another sip from her coffee. He watched as the raised the cup to her lips, thin and pink like rose petals. “I remember it. You. You were so nervous, but you didn’t let it show. You just presented yourself as you were, take it or leave it.” She lowered the mug, having talked in to it, and continued. “You showed up ten minutes late, which you did apologize for, and then just…just kinda acted like yourself. I liked that about you.”

He took a deep drink from his glass. “Mm-hmm. And we sat in the corner of the bar, away from all the noisemakers and people making fools of themselves. We sat and talked for, what? Two hours? About nothing. Just complete get-to-know-you stuff while we measured each other up.”

“How did we get to this?” she asked him, somewhat mystified.

“What do you mean?”

“This,” she said, as she simply spread her arms out, indicating the totality of their lives, from the house to the drinks to the beat up old clothes. “We’re both professionals. We make enough money. Why can’t we move to somewhere nicer? Why can’t we go out like we used to? Hell, we don’t even kiss and play around like we used to. Where did the spark go, or did this just become the logical next step and safe business decision for both of us?”

“You know the answers to, well, most of those questions. I told you, I just need to get through this year and I’m looking at a decent bump in salary. Sure, we could afford something nicer, but this will do for now.” He looked down at his glass, which was now empty. His hair, getting long and somewhat scraggly, fell down in front of his eyes. He pushed his hair back out of his way and looked back up at her. “I wish I could give you the life you wanted, or rather, the life you deserve, but I just don’t know if I can. I like what we have here. We built this from nearly nothing. It may not be impressive, but it is ours.”

She sighed as she flicked her hair back. “I know. I know. And that does mean something, but don’t you feel, you know, something is missing? Doesn’t it feel different now than it did a few years ago?”

He couldn’t deny that things did feel different now.

“What do you suggest?” he asked.

“I really want to move. I think a change of scenery would do us both a lot of good. I love this town, but I think we need a shock to the system, or at least somewhere we won’t get shocked every time one of us goes to use the clothes washer.” She chuckled and smiled as she said the final part.

“Yes, but where would we go? We both have jobs here. Good jobs, mind. There isn’t a decent town within 40 miles. Besides, I really like it here. I wanted to wait, though. I wanted to wait for the raise before we moved, but I guess we could -could- start looking at new places. Would you like that?”

She smiled at him, took her final sip of coffee and got up from the table. She walked over to the sink and placed the mug in the basin. He watched her as she walked and moved. Everything seemed effortless for her. She was elegant in her movements, even when in benign housework.

“You used to look at me like that all the time. You have no idea how it makes me feel when you look at me like that.”

She walked back over to the table, only this time she bent low right in front of him, gently placing her hands on his cheeks. They stared into each others eyes for the longest time. She closed her eyes and gently placed her lips on his. He, too, closed his eyes and returned the kiss.

“Come on. Let’s go to bed. We can talk about this all in the morning.”

She let go of his face and walked away, turning down the hallway toward the orange glow of the table lamp in the bedroom. He watched as she walked down the hall, slowly removing her sweatshirt.

Her voice carried from the bedroom into the rest of the house as she spoke to him.

“All I wanted from you was to give me some hope for the future. All I had hoped for tonight was some sign that my voice was being heard. You gave me that. We can worry about details another time. Just as long as we are going somewhere.”

He took his final sip of his whiskey and placed the glass in the sink, running water in both his glass and her mug. He took one final look through the window. The faint sound of owls hooting could be heard through the glass.

“Are you coming to bed or not?”

“Yes, I’ll be there in a moment.”