The Penguins vs reality

8 02 2015

The following is transcribed from a series of Tweets I made on Sunday afternoon.

Guys, it’s time for some

Maybe this is a shock to you, but…*psssst* The Penguins are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. They never were going to. This season was lost years ago when the at-that-time management and coaching group continually drafted poorly (or not at all courtesy of trading away picks for rental players). Can’t continue to draft only one positional depth and waste those talents year after year and be a legitimate team year in, year out. They gambled and went all in on 2013 and Dan Bylsma and his “system” lost the gamble.

In one off-season and 2/3 of a played season, Jim Rutherford and his company have done A TON to wash out the stink of the Shero/DB years but it will take at least one more to get this to be Mike Johnston’s and Jim Rutherford’s team. Too many bad personnel on continuing contracts coming into this year. Just enjoy what we have – which is a Pens team that is, for the first time in years, fun to watch.

If by some miracle the Pens make it out of the 1st round, consider it a rousing victory. Anything beyond round 1 is gravy. GMJR has done a lot of great things – trading away Neal for a more reliable, less problematic goal scorer, bringing in Perron, getting Ehrhoff on the cheap for a year, giving Mike Johnston an opportunity in the NHL, etc. He addressed immediate needs at the draft AND addressed depth. Jim Rutherford did more FOR the Penguins in less than 1 calendar year than Ray Shero did in the last 5.

And, imagine that, not being a xenophobic assclown opens up the possibilities in terms of personnel. Amazing who you can find when you open yourself to the possibility that people with European sounding names might actually, you know, be capable players.

So, Ottawa, you have fun with Ray Shero when you inevitably hire him to replace Bryan Murray. Enjoy when he hires Dan Bylsma, too.

Is Mike Johnston perfect? No. No coach is. Babcock has his faults. Quennville makes boneheaded decisions. No coach is -perfect-. Because HCMJ has made some weird choices and mistakes does not magically make him a failure. He’s a rookie coach. He needs to learn, too. Hell, you bunch of goat pokers gave Dan Bylsma 5+ years to learn and defended him to the ends of the earth. Many of you still defend him.

Dan Bylsma was the exact perfect guy to come in AFTER the Therrien regime. He more-or-less allowed the players to play up to their abilities. 2010 was excusable – two deep Cup runs and Montreal caught lightning in a bottle. 2011 can be thrown out because of devastating injuries. 2012? That was probably the best Pens team headed into playoffs and that series vs Philly was lost ENTIRELY on the back of Dan Bylsma.

I know, the players need to play, but that was entirely a failure of leadership from the coaching staff to keep that team glued together. And, of course, we know what happened in 2013. The loss to Boston was truly, truly embarrassing. And we’re not even going to talk about how Iginla was used, the picks for Douglas Murray, and the absolute refusal to try anything at all different against the Bruins.

Last year was, to the surprise of nobody who had been paying attention, another laughable failure. Shero’s abject REFUSAL to fire DB was his undoing. He had to prove, above all else, that Ray Shero was right. Just as Dan Bylsma was more concerned with proving that Dan Bylsma was right. It was no longer about what’s right for the team. It became what was right for Ray and Dan. The team paid the price.

So, the poor drafting continues and the trading away of valuable picks continues and the young players who did get drafted languish in the AHL or get shipped out for nothing or get lost to waivers. And Shero refused to fire Bylsma until there were no other options.

Mario and Burkle had to step in and fire Shero. And “allow” the new GM to fire Bylsma. And I am PERFECTLY OK with how he was handled. His stubborn fuckery cost that team years of the prime of so many star players. Let him twist in the wind and miss out on a job or two.

So, here we are. The Pens are going through what should have happened last season if DB/RS had been fired after the BOS series. So, instead, because of Shero’s hubris, we wast, effectively, two more years of these players primes. There is no guarantee they would have won any more Cups, but you would at least be trying something different in the primes of the career arcs for these players.

So, enjoy what we’re seeing now, especially the play of the “new” Marc-Andre Fleury, and try to keep the jam levels low. They’re not winning a Cup this year. But there is a LOT to be excited about and, frankly, it’s mostly thanks to the miracle Rutherford has been able to create since June. over and out.





Winning the Parise Battle Loses the War?

30 06 2012

Before I get fully underway, I first want to apologize upfront for the title being slightly misleading. I want it to be clear, from this moment forward, that I am a big supporter of the “do whatever you have to in order to land Parise” line of thinking. Keep that in mind as I walk through this. The points are a little…scattered and can possibly be accompanied by someone making a farting noise. Just some thoughts I have on the matter. Take them for what you will.

Here we stand, on the eve of one of the great hockey holidays – free agency. Tomorrow at noon many players across the NHL will become unrestricted free agents and can gleefully sign with any team willing to grossly, grossly overpay for their “services.”

Of course, some teams have already started the holiday. Yes, I’m looking at you, Calgary Flames and Dennis Wideman.

The Penguins have their own free agents needing taken care of, but there is one name most associated with the Penguins and tomorrow’s potential frenzy: Zach Parise. I’ve written before about the Pens’ pursuit of Parise, and I feel that the Pens WILL sign him. The signing, however, comes with plenty of risks, but also plenty of rewards.

Many have said that the Pens should put all of their respective eggs into the basket of signing Ryan Suter. While I agree with those people insofar that Suter is a tremendous player, I don’t feel he is the “answer” the Pens are looking for. Granted, neither is Parise, but there isn’t one singular player that can “fix” the team. It is my belief that the Penguins, generally speaking, have the correct defensive personnel currently on the roster and within the system to achieve success. With Niskanen signing his two-year deal, the defensive depth is solid. Additionally, with the likes of Strait, Bortuzzo, and potentially Despres being ready for a major role with the team, there is no “need” spend ~7 million for one defender. Even less reason to do so when the team is so deeply stocked for the next decade with skilled, potential star defensemen.

That said, goal scoring was NOT the team’s weakness during this year’s playoffs. What ultimately lead to the Pens’ demise was a movement AWAY from defensive play. The 2012 Penguins went the route of the 2008 and 2009 Washington Capitals. All offense all the time. And, much like the Caps, the Pens went down in laughable fashion. The forwards stopped backchecking. The defense was constantly (and preoccupied with) moving north and pinching. The goaltending, while left hung out to dry regularly, was abysmal. It was a complete team failure on so many levels, and that doesn’t exclude the coaching and front office.

So, it brings us to Parise.

Read the rest of this entry »





The Deep End of the Fan Pool

23 06 2012

I am, by and large, a big personality. Those who know me in real life know that I can be…a little much to take. Those who only know me from online are fairly certain that I am mentally unstable and in desperate need of various medications.

They very well may all be right, but that doesn’t make what I say wrong.

Look, I am by no means an expert when it comes to development of junior hockey players. I know that most who are drafted do not go on to long, successful careers in the NHL. It’s a crapshoot. I get that. I never claimed it otherwise. I am not a professional scout. And in a mildly passive-aggressive retort: Neither are you.

I got a LOT of shit from a LOT of people who like to remind me that I’m not a professional scout. I would like to point out that neither are they. I have my opinions and, generally speaking, they aren’t particularly popular. I have not been shy for the last year-or-so in criticizing general manager Ray Shero’s draft strategy. The defense I hear regularly is “yeah, and look at all the stud defensemen and success they’re having in Nashville.” My response? “Yeah, they’re developing really great talent…which they can’t afford to cheap and continue to flameout in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the playoffs.” I know winning the Cup and making a deep run each year is unreasonable, but the laughable effort the last 3 years from Pittsburgh in the playoffs has been a massive, systematic failure from the very top all the way down.

Routinely I would hear people say “Shero is a ‘best player available’ type drafter.” Bullshit. The 2012 1st round (as well as 2011’s 1st and 2nd round) proved that Shero does not draft the best played available. When the Staal trade came down, I was over the moon. I like Sutter in exchange for Staal. I wasn’t familiar with Dumoulin, but I’ve heard great things. I was even more thrilled with us having a TOP 10 pick with a guy like Filip Forsberg just sitting there…and Ray Shero, almost as though he has an addiction he can’t kick, selects Derrick Pouliot, a guy generally ranked right around where the Pens originally stood at no. 22.

Shero then, again, selected yet another defenseman 14 picks latter with Olli Maatta.

Here’s why I have a problem with this strategy and the borderline ignorance of only using valuable picks on defensemen: The cupboard is completely bare in terms of forward development. Realistically, over the next 5 years, there’s only 2, maybe 3 guys currently in development at forward who could become legitimate NHL talents.

It wouldn’t be a concern if there was ANY depth behind guys like Bennett, Kuhnhackl, and, *gulp* Tangradi. Dominik Uher is about the only depth guy beyond those three who could see NHL action within a few seasons. I know there was a LOT of talk about a guy like Keven Veilleux, but injuries and general lack of spark seems to have tamped that down considerably. I am likely forgetting someone (and, my God, people will only be too happy to tell me about it), but the point still stands that we are choked up with defensemen and continue drafting more and more of them.

If you look at the defense right now, there’s Joe Morrow, Simon Despres, Scott Harrington, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep, Philip Samuelsson, Alex Grant, Reid McNeill, and now Maatta, Dumoulin, and Pouliot. Again, I’ve likely missed 2 or 3 guys, but that is immaterial.

So many times I hear people use the argument that “defensemen are the most sought after commodity,” and they are, generally, correct. But for those assets to actually be useful as a commodity Shero needs to pull the trigger and trade them. Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo have shown they are capable of playing in the NHL, but with how things have shaken out, it seems likely they will A: Walk for nothing, B: Get picked off waivers for nothing (assuming they don’t make the team out of camp), or C: will play a regular shift in the NHL night-in-night-out. Why don’t I include option D: Trade them for other assets? Because Shero has shown an unwillingness to trade his precious commodities.

He did pull the trigger on Goligoski, which worked out beautifully, but that still leaves a hilarious logjam both on the Pens and in the development channel. Then he moves Michalek for ANOTHER defensive prospect…after adding a defensive prospect in the Staal trade.

This would really be a truly wonderful thing…if the Pens, from top down, were planning on actually growing and developing the home-grown talent. They aren’t. They sign guys from outside. And they’re making a big push for at least one big time defensive signing while standing in opposition to promotion from within, at least on the foreseeable horizon.

Maybe, one day, far down the line the defensive corps will be guys like Morrow, Pouliot, Maatta, Harrington, Despres…but it doesn’t seem bloody likely, given the history.

It has becomes a relatively well-known fact that I am a “bad fan.” I routinely criticize the team and management. I have high expectations and do not stand for or defend substandard play. When the Pens fall in their well-known pattern of playing lazy defense, or the famous “switch flipping” mentality, I become unbearable. The dealings of Ray Shero have completely sent me over the edge.

I trust Ray Shero implicitly when it comes to getting players signed to cap-friendly, respectable contracts and making trades, but I don’t trust him when it comes to his drafting or moving the defensemen he’s accumulated.

So, of course, I took up the charge of saying the things nobody else is willing to say and thinking the things nobody else is willing to think. I just happen to take to the internet and actually say them for all the world to criticize me. I’m a bad fan because I don’t think everything the team does is wonderful. I’m a bad fan because I don’t like a lot of what the team does. I’m a bad fan because of being critical and having the wherewithal to actually state an opinion that goes against the grain.

I’m a bad fan not out of malice, but out of painful, deep love. I want this team to be successful in every aspect and continually be successful. The current model is NOT one of success. If I wanted a team that played 60 games that were really entertaining, 20 games that were laughably bad, and 2 games that were so-so…I’d watch the Vancouver Canucks.

With the draft said and done, we all turn our eyes toward Free Agency. Next Sunday, July 1, will really be the end result of the last few years under Ray Shero’s guidance. The two names most associated with the Penguins and their collective interests in free agency are F Zach Parise, currently of the New Jersey Devils, and D Ryan Suter, of the Nashville Predators.

A good number of people have already written that Parise is a foregone conclusion to come to Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t be too certain of that. He’s the biggest fish in this free agent class and will have a number of high profile suitors as well as some ludicrous contracts thrown his way. The Penguins, at present, have about $15M in cap space, which is impressive, but about half of that will go to Parise if they wish to sign him. I cannot even fathom what it will take to land Ryan Suter, but signing both is…possible. If the Pens are able to open up a little more cap space, I think both players will be signing here. If additional cap space is not an option, Shero will be forced to pick between the two.

Failure to land either player will be a complete and catastrophic failure on Ray Shero’s part. With trading Staal and Michalek as well as continuing to draft more defensemen, Shero has found himself in the position of having cap space, but also needs to be a big time player on July 1. Failure to land either leaves the Pens down an all-star caliber forward (though I am a big fan of getting Sutter from Carolina) as well as one of the better defensemen on the Pens’ squad from the last two years and 15 million in cap space effectively “unused.” Yes, there are other options, but then Shero may be forced to spend big on secondary or tertiary targets as well as give up some of those coveted defensive assets in WBS.

And so I find myself, again, in the deep end of the fan pool. I’m out in no-man’s land and I’m willing to tread water as long as need be, but I’m fully embracing my inner Randy Quaid from “Major League II.” I’ve fully embraced the snark and criticism…but it takes just one thing – one, small thing – to get me back to being the world’s biggest fanboy. I want this team to succeed. I want them to win every game and every championship for the next forever, but I know that isn’t possible.

The next ten days might truly define the Shero legacy. He’s a brilliant GM when it comes to contracts and trades. I’ve been told for years to trust in Shero and that Shero has a grand plan for all of this. Well, this is when we see what his plan is.





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.”