Penguins Postmortem: Part 1

28 04 2015

On the bus with the kids end route to Raleigh for the visit to State. Just kinda musing to myself now about the Penguins and the NHL and life in general…

1. Ben Lovejoy is not a great defenseman. That’s not the argument. Lovejoy is a more than competent bottom pair guy. He was a nightmare I  the playoffs because, frankly, he’s not that good and he certainly should not have been playing in the top pair, but the injury situation changed all of that. If your third pair is Lovejoy and Dumoulin or Harrington or Chorney, or even as the 7th D when injuries happen, you’re in a good spot. He’s a cheap veteran player. Going on a rant about how awful he is does nothing. He’s got another year of term, provides cost certainty, and can be a useful depth player. Let that dead horse finally rest.

2. The Penguins had to pay for the sins of the Father this past year. That’s just how it goes. Ray Shero, in effect, destroyed this team. Because of his trading style (gambling) and drafting philosophy (draft on defensemen with your 2 picks you didn’t trade away), the Pens are perpetually backed into a corner and need to then trade more assets and picks for depth players that normally would be filled in via draft (or minor trade or low-cost free agents). As soon as the team identifies a player they want, that player knows they can demand more because the Pens had no other options. The team could, of course, not sign the player and, instead, keep signing Craig Adams and Mike Rupp and Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale. So, when people bitch and whine and bemoan Nick Spaling, keep in mind that Rutherford had his hands tied by the previous regime and had to sign a depth player to a slightly inflated contract because, frankly, there’s nobody to step in.

3. Mike Johnston is everything you want in a coach…you just don’t like his demeanor. Johnston is a calm, reserved guy. He seems aloof. He seems like everything has happened for the first time.

That’s actually the kind of guy I want coaching a team. He’s not some fly-off-the-handle lunatic every time something doesn’t go his way. He’s not working the refs like some strumpet at a massage parlor. He keeps a level, even head during and after games because he’s analyzing everything going on around him. He’s taking it all in, adapting, adjusting, tweaking, and reinforcing.

How are any of those bad qualities? Why do Pens fans want someone like Tortorella? Some screaming, ranting maniac who cannot help but make himself the story? Why? Because he’s an “ass-kicker” who doesn’t take shit from spoiled pretty boys? You know who else doesn’t? Joel Quenneville and Barry Trotz. They also happen to be hugely successful coaches who have earned the respect of their players and the rest of the league, as opposed to demanding respect because they have loud voices.

Mike Johnston just completed his first season with a completely broken team and franchise. Let’s see where things go next year. Only then can we truly assess what kind of coach he ultimately will be. He has the qualities a great coach needs. It’s up to him make the team his own now.

4. Jim Rutherford is more than competent and actually did a good job of changing some of the culture around the team. People want to make him a failure. Those people are also morons.

There has been so much lamenting for the departed Shero and Bylsma tandem that it’s sickening.

What these people have shown is that they have been watching the Penguins since February of 2009 when Dan Bylsma was brought in. It also shows a willful ignorance to understand anything about the sport on a grander scale.

Jim Rutherford came into a situation where he could not win. There was too much already broken for him to be able to fix in just a season. And, frankly, he isn’t the guy who is doing the fixing. He’s keeping the ship afloat while a leader emerges among the cabal of assistants.

Maybe, just maybe, he knows what he’s doing. Maybe Jason Botterill, the savior and Angel of the lingering Shero devotees in Penguin-land, isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. For someone who is allegedly a wizard with numbers, he sure allowed the team to go to financial Hell this year.

And who took the blame? Rutherford. Because that is what a leader actually does. Maybe none of those GMs-in-waiting are any good. Maybe they are. All I know is that the organization didn’t trust Botterill with the keys to the kingdom after Shero got fired and the cap became their enemy this year. Who ever would have guessed?

5. Salary cap is both the friend and enemy of this team. The Pens are a team that is notoriously strapped for cash and up against the cap. Assuming the NHLPA uses the elevator, next year’s cap will be a solid increase.  The Pens, for the first time in a long while, actually have a borderline substantial amount of caps pace to use this summer.

The roster will see some big changes. Most notably, Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff will come off the blue line and off the books. That’s 9 million just from two guys who aren’t “needed” any longer.

I suspect, and I have no evidence to prove it, that Lapierre may be the only UFA to return. I’m not entirely sure what Beau Bennett does, either. They could keep him or they could let him walk.  Either way, the roster will change.

The defense will see changes, too, but they will be cheaper, younger, and faster. Assuming all players return healthy (that’s a different discussion), the team should (and will) buyout the contract of Rob Scuderi. Even with the dead money, the cost savings from the buyout + replacing with a cheap ELC is a net positive.

In theory, the Pens will have between 15 and 20 million to sign necessary players.  Which leads me to…

6. The as of right now roster. As I see it, and, again, I am an idiot and don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground, this is how I see the roster shaking out

Top 6 becomes any combo of the following:

Perron-Crosby-?
Hornqvist-Malkin-Kapanen.

Pens need to address the top 6 wing position, but they have the money to be a legitimate player. What they don’t have, necessarily, is the means to make a trade for one unless they are willing to move a Dumoulin or Harrington.

Bottom six becomes a combo of:

Kunitz-Sutter-Dupuis
Spaling-Lapierre-Farnham

I don’t see the team buying out both Scuderi and Kunitz. And Scuderi is the more important buyout. I don’t really see a spot for Bennett if Dupuis is healthy. Yes, I know, Dupuis could fill the spot on Crosby’s RW, but I think he’s better served in the bottom six. I may be wrong. Likewise, I really think Bobby Farnham has earned a place with the team. He’s a psycho who is tough as nails and can just annoy the shit out of a team. Put him with Lapierre and I can enjoy a good troll show.

On defense, I see it like this:

Letang-Maatta
Pouliot-Cole
Lovejoy-Dumoulin/Chorney/Harrington.

I could see the team carry 7 D and roatate guys in and out of the bottom pair. Regardless, that defensive corps has a lot of skill and speed and natural instinct, but not a lot of experience. I think all of those players, though, fit what Johnston wants to do and their inexperience will be a non-issue come playoff time.

That’s where I’m leaving things for now. I will hopefully have time to look at some other aspects later in part 2. Who knows if Part 2 ever actually happens.