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. #RealTalk over and out.
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.
By now nearly everyone has read the article from Dejan Kovacevic. If you haven’t, here’s the short version:
Sid loves Pittsburgh and wants to play but is not cleared.
That wasn’t what people, including the folks at Hockey Night in Canada, were talking about. They were, instead, talking about the other odds and ends in the article. I don’t want to say these parts were hidden, but they were NOT the main purpose of the article. Kovacevic noted that some players, and the locker room as a whole, were sort of lost at sea. The locker room had become troubled by Sid’s absence and a few players held a private meeting about naming a temporary captain while Crosby recovers.
Thus the fallout began. Hockey Night in Canada tackled this, among other outlets, but the whole story is not being told. We’re never going to get the ugly, stinky details of it. And it isn’t OUR business to know who said what. We are not a member of the Penguins organization, no matter how entitled we feel. We will never know, with any degree of certainty, about who was in this alleged meeting, when or where it took place, etc.
As far as we know, Craig Adams came out and said no such meeting ever took place and that’s all we need to know.
I love Craig Adams as much as the next guy (and none can love that man more than Griggsy), but he’s doing his job here. He’s a respected member of the team AND is the team’s representative for the Player’s Association. The last thing the PA, especially Donald Fehr, wants going into the back half of the season prior to CBA negotiations is talk of disaster and turmoil in a marquee franchise locker room. The league and PA both need Sidney Crosby and the team, even the image of the team, undermining Sid or his leadership is bad messaging going into labor negotiations.
By no means am I a tried and true journalist. I’ve had a long history with “New Media” journalism, but even that has been touch and go. I do know enough about how the industry works, though. Kovacevic is not some hack writer or some blogger looking for hits. He’s a legitimate sports journalist with a long history of good, reliable reporting. There is a process a story must go through and many hands must touch it before it finally goes live. I am certain that Kovacevic disclosed all of his anonymous sources to his editors and various supervisors and everything was checked thoroughly. He is allowed to withhold those names. He doesn’t OWE us anything.
He is protecting the individuals. Perhaps it was a lapse in judgement by the players who held the meeting, but that doesn’t mean Kovacevic gets to play the role of public avenger. Imagine he runs the story with the names of those players. Everyone turns against them and it creates a bigger problem. Then the team becomes more insulated and allows fewer and fewer press in the locker room. Those players who held the meeting are outsiders on the team and must be traded before the cancer grows. Will other teams take a chance on a “locker room cancer?”
Just because we want to know every dirty little secret about this team doesn’t mean we’re going to get it. If you want Kovacevic’s head on a plate for running the story I think you need to take off those rose-colored glasses for a few minutes.
This meeting happened. They can deny and say all the right things, but this meeting happened. Deal with it. It happens to everyone. Last I checked, the Pens were a pretty God-awful team for a few weeks and completely shot themselves in the foot during that stretch. This meeting was needed, if for nothing else than to maybe light a fire under a few people (not Sid).
So, the story runs and the players do what in response? They ALL wear the Captain’s C at practice. They do something as a team, showing support. They all get it together. The fans all place C’s on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The team and fans have come together again. And the Pens start winning again.
For better or worse, the team may have needed that crisis moment. For as bad of a team as they were for weeks prior, this Pens team just showed what it means to be a -good- team. They faced adversity and used a teachable moment to rise up to the challenge. Maybe it’s only temporary, too. We’ll just have to wait and see how things go, but it looks like the message was received.
It’s been a while since I’ve hurt your eyes and your sensibilities with my writing. But now is as good a time as any to burst back into your lives. Today, the Gripes sets its sights on one thing and one thing only: The Pittsburgh Penguins, A Season on the Brink….
To say the Penguins are struggling would be an understatement. At the halfway point, the Penguins find themselves in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, with 46 points. They are 12 points back of the New York Rangers for 1st place in the Atlantic Division (as well as the Eastern Conference). They sit precariously one point ahead of Winnipeg and two points ahead of the Washington Capitals for that final playoff spot. To break things down further, let’s divide things into three categories….
—>The Penguins are one of five teams in the conference with a positive goal differential. The Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, and Maple Leafs also are on the plus side, and those teams are also currently holding playoff spots. Usually, teams on the positive end of goal differential for the season are doing well, and find their way into the post-season.
—>James Neal has been a massive contributor to the team offensively. After a hot start in October (a common feature of a Neal season), many feared that he would cool off as the season wore on (also common for Neal). While his goal-scoring pace has dwindled some, he is still in the Top 10 in goals, as well as being the top power play goal-scorer in the NHL. For a team with notorious power play struggles, Neal’s success with the man advantage has been so important.
—>Marc-Andre Fleury is (at worst) in the top 5 of goaltenders in the NHL, and his play has kept things together defensively (more on that in a moment). His positioning continues to improve, which has made his fundamentals very strong. He also still has the athleticism to make the big saves at key times, even when a goal seems so likely for the opposition. His puck-handling still could be better (even though he’s much better than the average fan gives him credit for), but overall, MAF has been nothing short of stellar between the pipes.
—->Matt Niskanen has made a huge leap in the last 11 months. During his first couple months here, Niskanen struggled greatly at times, leading to many wanting to run him out of town in the off-season. Fortunately, Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma were patient with the defenseman, and that patience paid off in a big way. Niskanen is only behind an injured Kris Letang in defensive scoring, he has the top plus/minus stat on the team, he’s replaced Letang on the top power play unit with no shakiness at all, and has taken on more minutes per game, handling that workload increase with little difficulty. In the last handful of games, Niskanen has been less noticeable, but considering how bad things have looked lately for the entire team, being unnoticed is a positive thing.
—->Also worthy of note: Pascal Dupuis had a great start to the season, with very high point totals, especially in October and November. While Dupuis has faded into his usual secondary role lately, Evgeni Malkin has come to the forefront once again. He has found his way into the Top 10 in points in the league, and continues to be a consistent threat despite being the “last man standing”, in terms of the three well-known centers in the Pens’ lineup.
—->On a macro level (and I am an Economics major, so this is how my brain works), the biggest problem is the lack of consistency. And I don’t just mean game to game. Sometimes, it’s period to period. Sometimes, it’s shift to shift. On occasion, it’s even a problem during shifts. This is mostly a focus and concentration problem, it seems. And that’s a rather large issue, in my eyes. It means that both the coaches and players are failing. The coaches haven’t absolutely hammered home the need to play the same way every time that the players get on the ice. And the players haven’t felt the need to play the same way every time they get on the ice. The most frustrating part of this is that there have been long stretches where the team has looked like the best in the league. Back to back performances against Buffalo and Chicago showed that they have that capability. And there have been other times where they looked just as good, if not better. But then there have been stretches that are so awful, you wonder if this team is capable of making the playoffs. Consistency needs to be the goal. And that goal needs to be achieved.
—->When he was re-signed over the summer, there was an expectation that Tyler Kennedy would get chances as a top 6 forward, and he would deliver on those chances like he showed he could last season. It just hasn’t happened for Kennedy. He missed 11 games early in the season due to injury. When he has played, however, he has not had nearly the same impact he did last season. Only 5 goals in 30 games isn’t nearly acceptable. Zero power play goals, that’s nearly unforgivable. He has had chances, playing with Jordan Staal for most games. Staal has had a great impact, scoring 15 goals on the season. Kennedy’s impact hasn’t been large enough, and due to injuries, his impact needs to increase.
—->Paul Martin’s contract is one of the highest-paying on the Penguins. With that paycheck, the responsibility is very high. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be piling up points, nor does it mean that he has to be a big hitter and shot-blocker on the defensive end. But what it does mean is that he absolutely must be consistent defensively, in sound defensive position, and most importantly not making the big mistakes that lead to goals. Unfortunately, if you’ve watched him play this season, you know that Martin has struggled with that list. Inconsistency is a common theme for Martin. He has missed seven games due to injury/illness, but in the 34 games he has played, he has the worst plus/minus rating on the team. He also has looked lost defensively at times, and has lacked strength on the puck. His defensive partner, Zbynek Michalek, also hasn’t played up to his capabilities, but Martin’s been just horrendous at times, and when you make five million dollars per season, you need to be close to the best defenseman on the team, not close to the worst.
—->Marc-Andre Fleury is a fantastic goaltender, but he can’t play every single game. MAF’s backup is Brent Johnson, and in previous years, he’s been one of the best backup goalies in the NHL. At one point last season, he took over the #1 job from Fleury, and was holding onto it quite capably. This season, however, is a completely different story. Johnson has played in 9 games to this point, and has put up some horrifying statistics. 2-5-2 for a record, with a 3.47 goals against average, and a save percentage of .876, which are hideous numbers. But those don’t even fully capture Johnson’s struggles. He looks like he is flailing at pucks at times, and appears to be off his angles on far too many occasions. The Penguins need Johnson to get them points in the standings when he is between the pipes. Right now, he has only gotten them 6 out of 18 possible points. It’s not nearly good enough. And it might be time for the Pens to move on with a better backup, whether it be Brad Thiessen or an option from outside the organization.
—->There is only one thing in this category, and it’s the only thing that fits right. It’s the injuries. The Penguins were plagued with bad health last season, with Crosby, Staal, and Malkin only playing 2 games together. And those two games featured Crosby’s first concussion issues. The Penguins thought they had moved on from all their injury woes as they moved ahead to the 2011-12 season. Not so fast, though.
The following is a list (in no particular order) of every Penguins player who has missed time this season due to injury/illness: Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, Niskanen, Asham, Engelland, Martin, Orpik, Kennedy, Park, Michalek, Lovejoy, Despres, Jeffrey, Bortuzzo, Strait.
That is seventeen players. Yes, you read that right. Seventeen. Nearly an entire team worth of skaters. Including the highest-paid, most important skaters on the team. It’s very tough for a team to win games with all those players out. And it’s no surprise that the team is clawing and scratching to get a playoff spot, instead of comfortably sitting in a spot that allows for home-ice in playoff series.
So, with half the season in the books, the Pittsburgh Penguins are closer to last place in the Eastern Conference (10 points in front of the New York Islanders) than they are to first place in the Eastern Conference (12 points behind the New York Rangers). Things appear to be at a breaking point, especially if you read reports regarding the uncertainty surrounding Sidney Crosby at the moment. This could be a complete collapse for the Pens. Or they could rally and find a way to win the division. Or anywhere in between. I honestly think you could sell me on any scenario at this point.
Where do I think it goes from here? I’m usually a realist in my outlook on everything. But I’m an optimist when it comes to the Penguins. So, I’m seeing things finally falling into place. Players get healthy, scoring finally returns, MAF continues to play at his stellar level, and the Pens climb back into the East’s Top 4. If that happens, the rest of the East needs to look out in the playoffs.
In reality, though, the Pens will probably continue to struggle, but will find a way to sneak into the playoffs, then will exit quietly in the first round. All while the Rangers and Flyers make deep runs. And that’s where I take my leave, before I end up vomitting all over myself….
Here’s usually where the wheels come off and people start spewing things like “BAD FAN!” at me. I’m just going to say it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a bad team.
I discussed, at length, the problem the team is facing with injuries right now. I had posed the question to Twitter (from my personal account) after the Rangers game and got mostly the same responses as always. I asked “what is the expiration date on the injury excuse?” That has been sitting in the fridge for a year now. It has to go bad at some point, right? Unless that excuse is made of the same material that Twinkies are made of, the excuse has gone stale and is no longer valid.
We’ve hit that point.
It is time to throw the injury excuse in the bin and come to terms with the fact that this team is grossly, grossly underperforming. Do I deny that injuries have played a role in this underperformance? No, I don’t. The dangers of hockey are vast and injuries happen. They happen to everyone. Yes, the Penguins now lead the NHL in man games lost (I believe it was 210 as of last night), but they have a great team in the minors and a wonderful pool of young talent to rely on to fill roster spots for 10-15 games.
I understand that there’s no player who can fill Sidney Crosby’s spot, except for maybe Evgeni Malkin, but the team has done relatively well without Sid. For the sake of comparison, last season’s team went without Sid or Geno (or many others) from February onward. The team from last spring played with undying heart and grit. They weren’t a skilled team, but they never, ever quit playing. They never looked defeated, no matter the obstacle. They continued to play through the injuries. They went into every game knowing that they had to keep goals against to two or fewer. They knew they would have to win puck battles and fight for every inch and every opportunity.
Where’s the grit and determination with this squad?
If you could play last season’s team vs the team we’ve seen for the last month, I’d lay good money on last season’s team winning a 7 game series.
After last night’s embarrassment to the New Jersey Devils, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen had finally had enough and spoke up (all credit on quotes goes to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette).
Orpik had the following to say:
“The accountability in this room has to be a lot better. We aren’t reacting to adversity very well right now. You can’t feel sorry for yourselves.”
“One goal’s not going to do it. You can pick apart every goal they get, but one goal isn’t going to do it. Don’t care if we got 50 or 60 shots on net. One goal isn’t going to do it.”
“I thought the energy was actually great last night. Once they scored a couple of goals on us, our attitude changed. You can’t hang your head and feel sorry for yourself like that. It won’t get you anywhere.”
“No accountability. We gave up another short-handed goal. We give up breakaways. Another dumb penalty. The accountability has got to be a lot better.”
“We give up a couple of goals, and everybody’s attitude [stinks] afterward. You can see on the ice, our energy starts out great, then they score a couple of goals and instead of getting [angry] and battling back, we just come out flatter and kind of feel sorry for ourselves, hang our heads.”
“We start taking stupid, lazy penalties and start getting off our game plan and doing whatever we want.”
“It felt just like the night before. It’s really deflating. We were in control of the game, then I hit the post on a power play. It was just a huge momentum swing.”
So, by the metrics exhibited by many Pens fans over the course of the last year, saying those things make Orpik and Niskanen bad teammates and bad fans. I know that I don’t always have the most popular opinion, but this is going to ludicrous levels. After Orpik’s comments came out I heard numerous people (we’re talking double digits) saying that Orpik shouldn’t say such things; the team has too many injuries, what more can they do?; Orpik has no business talking about accountability because he’s made mistakes; Orpik hasn’t had a phenomenal year so he has no right to criticize anyone.
Let’s get something straight, people. The Penguins are a bad team right now. If you are saying different, you need to take the rose colored glasses off for a few minutes and look at the team again. Just because the team is bad doesn’t make you less of a fan to say so. I know a lot of people were fans of the God awful X-Generation teams, but that doesn’t mean you were a “bad fan.” Hell, most people use attendance to games involving Ouellet, Koltsov, Fata, etc as a sign of true fandom.
Why must it be a continual pissing match with everyone over who the better fan is?
I’m going to channel my inner Orpik now and do a little calling out of things that just need to stop.
1. Jokes/Insults about people leaving a game early to “beat traffic.”
The jokes are tired and unoriginal. People paid for their tickets (presumably). They can do with them as they wish. If they want to walk through the gate and turn around and leave they are entitled to do exactly that. Grousing about the people leaving early has become a diversionary tactic to ensure we don’t talk about the on-ice product. It has also become another feather in the cap of the “true fans.”
2. The arena is too quiet.
While I agree in principle, I would also like to remind everyone how there’s no happy medium with the people who bitch and moan about this. They complain that Montreal is too loud. They complain that people in Detroit never sit down. They make fun of Washington for being prompted to cheer. There’s no winning with these people about this topic. CEC could crumble to the foundation from fans going nuts and these people would complain that it was too much celebration.
3. “Everything is wonderful”
No, it isn’t. While not everything is doom and gloom, refusing to see that the team is not playing well is as bad as saying they’ll never win another game. Is there some sort of 12 step program for some people? They need to get around to admitting there’s a problem before they can attempt to fix it. Ignoring glaring weaknesses indicates one of a few things. It shows the person as blindly ignorant or so wrapped up in the dogma and bullshit of true “fandom” that the truth is a malleable item that can be twisted to fit their needs.
It is possible to criticize the team and still be a fan. It is possible to WANT the team to win, but know they don’t have the chops TO win. Last year’s playoffs were the start of the schism. I wanted to see the Pens pull out a win in game 7, but I had the gall to say *gasp* on the internet that I didn’t think the Pens had what it took to win game 7. I was called a fairweather fan, a bad fan, that I had no faith in the team. I was told to turn in my fan card and that I shouldn’t be allowed to wear a Penguins jersey ever again.
So, does that mean every player on the Pens fits in that category, too, because they lost a 1-0 game 7 at home and didn’t fit into the expectation and mold created in your superfan mind?
The Penguins are bad right now. There’s been a complete lack of leadership until last night, when Orpik finally had enough. Josh Yohe also reported that the team would be practicing this morning. Clearly coach Bylsma has had enough, too. The team ALWAYS had the day after back-to-back games off. Not only is the team practicing on a Sunday (a rarity), but they are practicing on a Sunday after back-to-back games.
If I were Bylsma I would simply say “Well, in a combined 120 minutes of hockey you’ve scored 2 goals, allowed 6, and played a total of about 25 minutes competitive hockey. Get skating. You should have plenty of energy and legs to skate for a few hours.”
Hopefully Orpik’s comments serve as a wake-up call. I don’t mind the team losing (not that I enjoy it) if they at least were in the game and competitive. What I do mind is this bullshit we’ve seen for the last 4-6 weeks.
Since Black Friday, the Pens are 9-9. The Pens have managed wins again Ottawa, Montreal, Washington, Carolina (twice), New York Islanders, Buffalo, Chicago, and Winnipeg. They have lost to New York Rangers (twice), Boston, Philadelphia (twice), Detroit, Ottawa, and New Jersey (twice).
Of those victories, only 1 came against a team that was in the playoffs when being played against (Chicago).
Explain to me how a team can be amazinggreatwonderfulnothingiswrong when you cannot win against teams currently in playoff position? How is a team so perfect if they’ve managed to go from 1st place in the entire league to 18th overall in about a month’s time? How did they go from 1st in their division to 4th if they are so magnificent?
Right now the Pens are barely in the playoffs. They are the 8th seed with 46 points. Winnipeg has 45 and Washington has 44. This is a team dangerously close to falling out of playoffs and digging themselves into such a hole that they cannot climb back out.
Good teams beat bad teams. Bad teams get beat by good teams.
The Penguins are a bad team. At least for now. And they’re running out of time to fix it.
What in the name of sweet baby Jesus is wrong with the Penguins?
I’m not saying it to be a troll or being ironically detached from things. I’m saying it because I legitimately don’t know what is wrong with this team, nor do I know if there is any way to “fix” what ails them. There are a number of avenues to explore, and I don’t know if any are correct, let alone defining one as singularly accurate. This is my attempt to sort out my thoughts and get some things out there in the hopes that it generates some discussion. By all means, feel free to disagree with every single thing I say and give me an alternate argument. I am no Andy Sutton, I’m just going off what I can see and what I know from my own life experiences.
Yes, we’ve been down this road before. There is no “fix” for injuries. They are a part of sports, especially hockey. Unfortunately guys get hurt. It does appear that the Penguins have been hit extra hard by the injury bug over the last few seasons. Collectively, I feel, this is due to a few major factors, including, but not limited to: coach Bylsma’s grinding system, ineptitude of league offices/on-ice officials, and the sense of wild west justice in the NHL.
I do feel Bylsma’s system is more demanding, physically, on the players which puts them in more contact and breaks down the body a little quicker/harder. It isn’t a direct one-to-one comparison, though. Bylsma’s system results in more short-term injuries or needing a game or two off to rest. The Penguins have been dealing with major, profound injuries to important players (and some role players, too).
Sidney Crosby was hit twice in the head and missed nearly a full calendar year. Was under every microscope in the world and, as the face the of the NHL, (fairly or unfairly) needed to be protected a little bit. Returns to game action to all the fanfare deserving of someone of that caliber…and then gets clocked in the head by David Krecji’s elbow and Krecji doesn’t even get penalized. Sid goes back on the IR.
Kris Letang gets absolutely leveled by Max Pacioretty. There was no penalty on the play. Even by the most liberal interpretation, it was a violation of Rule 48. Letang returned to game action and scored the OT winner, but has since been on the shelf with concussion symptoms. Pacioretty was eventually suspended 3 games and then proceeded to go on TV and bitch and moan about “the way the wind is blowing” in the NHL. Apparently he doesn’t agree with the wind blowing in the direction of not hitting a guy who isn’t looking in the side of the head. Go figure. I wonder if he has an opinion on not letting up on a hit in/around the stanchions?
Robert Bortuzzo, much like Letang, was hit in the head by a renowned sack of monkey shit, Zac Rinaldo, and there was neither a penalty on the play NOR supplemental discipline from the all mighty office of Brendan Shanahan. Bortuzzo, thankfully, has finally recovered and been returned to Wilkes Barre-Scranton as of January 7, 2012.
I want you to remember, there were no penalties called on those hits. These are not the type of injuries that are the result of Dan Bylsma’s system. These injuries are the direct result of neither players nor officials policing the game. If ever you need an example of just how poorly managed the game can be, look at the Penguins-Islanders brawl from Feb. 11, 2011.
I completely understand that there will always be a human element to the game, especially when it comes to officiating. It’s an unenviable job. Much like the weatherman, you never really hear about what a great job a referee does. The negative is what one hears about. However, it has become so bad on a night-in-night-out basis with the on-ice officials that it truly has made me miss the days of Bill McCreary’s mustache. At least you knew what you would get with McCreary (let them play until late, then make yourself the center of attention by calling some bullshit). Is it so hard to err on the side of caution and call penalties on plays like those? If you keep penalizing the offending teams they will eventually stop doing it (or, at worst, those players will no longer get ice time).
Matt Cooke was vilified, justifiably, for playing recklessly and putting his team at a disadvantage. He has since changed his playing style and has been hit in the head with cheapshots multiple times this season, all have gone unpunished.
The wild west system of justice the NHL has doesn’t work. If you hit a guy cheaply you had to answer the bell. Now? Well, it’s hard to say. You need to have guys on the roster who can play. You can’t have a Steve MacIntyre or Eric Godard on the ice regularly because they are a hockey abortion on skates. The role of the enforcer is gone. When Brian Burke has finally given up and demoted Colton Orr (not without wailing lamentations about truculence and the direction of the NHL) you know times have changed.
Now you have players of all levels running around and taking liberties with others because there is no accountability. There’s no way to tell what will or won’t be penalized. There’s even less idea about what hits will and will not be reviewed and disciplined further. If I were a player I’d take every opportunity I got to weaken an opponent by taking out a star. Even if you do get penalized, the notion of a “make up call” and ebb-and-flow officiating effectively renders penalties non-deterrents. Brendan Shanahan was given the keys to the castle and given a mandate to clean up the league and put his foot down. He may, in a sense, actually be worse than Colin Campbell. At least we all knew Colin was completely incompetent and had his wheel of justice. We have no idea what to make of Shanhan. Make a stink about a hit on TSN and he might look at it. Play in a non-traditional market or employ a demon like Cooke and it’s apparently free rein on cheapshots against you.
If you can’t protect your own players/teammates with a tough guy you need to be able to count on the league holding psychos accountable. The league is not doing their job.
As it stands now, I fully support Donald Fehr and support a work stoppage if it means the NHL gets serious about player safety and subsequent discipline for violations. These are not the injuries that occur because of Dan Bylsma’s system. These are the injuries that occur because of the systemic failure of the league to protect its most valuable assets: the players.
With the injuries have come numerous other problems. The injuries can be overcome by replacing players. Sure, there’s no true way to replace a Crosby or a Letang, but when you have Malkin and young studs like Simon Despres (who can fill in and get some invaluable NHL experience) you can maintain. What you cannot do, and I fear this is what is happening to the Pens, is allow the seeds of doubt and inevitability to germinate in the brain. From what some of the players have been saying over the past few weeks, I am deeply concerned this is a team that has given up on themselves. Starting with the Flyers (three games ago) the Pens have looked like a team completely incapable of competing, let alone winning. They looked like a competent team for the first 10 minutes against the Rangers and then fell apart.
After Deryk Engelland was suspended for his hit on Chicago’s Marcus Kruger (a dirty hit, but no less of a hit than what Niklas Kronwall does nightly) Brooks Orpik was asked about his opinion on the NHL’s discipline. His response: “I think we have strong opinions, but they aren’t going to change the suspension.” While Orpik may not have an objective opinion of things, he also carries weight with the team and often speaks the truth when none other will.
Likewise, Matt Niskanen had the most telling quote after the Pens 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. When asked about the injuries that keep happening (in this case, Pascal Dupuis and Arron Asham), Niskanen replied “I can honestly say that I’m not surprised. That’s the way it’s been going. We’ve just had some really, really bad luck.”
If ever there were two quotes you didn’t want to hear, those would them. Those are the thoughts of a team that is up against the wall and admitting defeat. They are morphing into a “can’t win, don’t try” mentality.
Last season’s team was ravaged by injuries, even worse than this current team, and the 2011 Penguins would annihilate the 2012 Penguins if they played one another. Last season the team lacked skill, but they stayed in games with pure determination and will. This squad? They look disinterested and demoralized. They look like a team that knows they’re outmatched. Last year’s squad knew they were outmatched but refused to let up. This squad routinely takes a period (or more) off each game.
But how do you fix it? Do you change coaches? No. This isn’t entirely a coaching problem. Bylsma has them playing and then something happens and they quit. Do you make a blockbuster trade? Maybe, but there’s no promise that works and you may end up doing more harm than good. Do you bench players or make a stink in the press? Possibly, but then you come across as petulant and the agenda-driven NHL will ensure you never are the benefit of the doubt regarding penalties and player safety.
I’m no Andy Sutton, but I don’t see a fix for this, and certainly not an easy fix. This team has not been able to compete with top-tier teams this season and there’s no reason for it. Yes, they were decimated on defense by injuries, but that doesn’t excuse only being able to generate 4 goals combined in the last three games.
Malkin and Neal have been playing their collective balls off. Kunitz, too. These are top line players. Having them play 1st line minutes is not having them play above their level. Pascal Dupuis has been the surprise of the season and has been filling in admirably. Jordan Staal, too, has been having a phenomenal offensive year. Kennedy has missed time with injury, but is generating chances. Steve Sullivan has been relegated to 3rd line duty, but is still a heads-up type player. Joe Vitale has never, ever quit on a shift. Neither has Adams or Cooke.
This is not a popgun offense, but it sure looks like one.
Can you really point the finger entirely at Letang missing time? I agree that he may be the most valuable player on the team (who does not get the proper recognition he deserves), but can we really make that case? The Pens generate offense from the defense and with the defense in complete shambles…perhaps.
These are dark times. No idea how this team can ring up 8 against Buffalo, 3 against the Blackhawks, 4 against the Jets, and 4 against the Hurricanes…and then 2 against the Flyers, 1 against the Devils and 1 against the Rangers.
There is no fix to a problem that cannot be identified. And there certainly isn’t a fix to a mental problem.
Since the last update, and that was late October, business has picked up around these parts. The good news: I have really settled into my job and there’s much less insanity surrounding the day-to-day life. I’m still perpetually behind the 8-ball, but that happens. Contrary to popular belief, teaching does not afford a large amount of free time. The last few weeks have been a non-stop barrage of research paper drafts and workshops and staying at school until 7 p.m. I wish I were joking, but it is common for me to be at school, either grading papers or tutoring, until 7 at night.
I don’t want that to be taken as bitching and moaning, though. I love my job. I absolutely love what I do. I am very, very happy with my life right now. All the things I’ve wanted for years — the things I’ve shown patience and sacrificed for — are all coming about in fair turn. I am looking forward, though, to going back to Pittsburgh for Christmas. I did not make it home for Thanksgiving, as our break from school was shortened (we had school on Wednesday, which was poo), but I plan on being in Pittsburgh for a prolonged time at Christmas (read: 2-3 weeks, depending on travel days). This semester is coming to a close very fast. This week coming up is the last traditional week for my juniors (who are taking senior-level courses) because they all have college finals the following week. I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to do, especially with a shortened time frame. These kids lost out on over 6 weeks of instructional time and (most) have risen to the challenge.
Griggsy, too, has undergone some changes. He’s also found himself amongst the employed. Sadly, his employment is largely keeping him dead to the rest of the world. Hopefully he, too, will get settled in and can find a few minutes to share with us his stories.
So, that Sidney Crosby guy is pretty good, right?
I will be the first to admit, and many saw, that I was wearing thin on patience with Sid prior to his return. I was conflicted because I’d been willing to give him the time and space needed to recover and didn’t want him rushed back, but at the same time he really needed to get into the game. He either was going to play again or he wasn’t, and he needed to make the choice. Thankfully he chose to get back in the game. I cannot even imagine what it was like for Sid, though. Someone with that level of drive and competition having to sit on the sideline all that time…and then get close to return but always consider if another hit like Steckel’s happens it could be the end of the career. I didn’t envy his position, but at the same time, he needed to get back for numerous reasons.
He needed to get back simply for the moral victory to show that concussions can be recovered from if handled properly (I’m looking at you, Boston). He had to come back for the people of Pittsburgh who waited for his return patiently. He needed to get back for his teammates. He needed to get back to lift the NHL. Like it or not, he is the face of the NHL. It’s nearly impossible to market Ovechkin lately, and there really isn’t a player you associate with the post lock-out NHL more than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.
But Sid came back. And he made the whole hockey world sit up straight. Much like Tupac, all eyes were on Sid. And he didn’t disappoint. After not playing in a competitive hockey game for 320 games Sidney Crosby returned, on a relatively calm November night, and scored two goals and registered two assists against the New York Islanders. And the world was back in balance.
Of course, there are some who say he came back too early or that he needed to get a stint in Wilkes-Barre to get up to game speed, but I think everything happened as it needed to for Sid. He came back and scored on his first shot. It couldn’t have happened any other way. Of course, the naysayers and roustabouts all had a field day with the second game vs St. Louis, but the team is more than Sidney Crosby and it was a failure as/of a team that ultimately lost that game. And then things seemed like they should be against the up-and-down Ottawa Senators. Good teams like the Pens should completely manhandle bad teams like the Islanders and the Senators. They should find themselves in solid competition against teams like the Blues.
It all comes down to playing a full game. There needs to be preparation for each game. There need to be smart plays. There needs to be passion, too. Sometimes the Pens go a little light in those areas because they are a gifted team with a LOT of top-tier talent. Sometimes they get the wake-up call, sometimes they don’t. Thankfully it’s a long season and when playoffs roll around it isn’t a one-and-done system.
Tonight the Pens face off against Montreal. Presumably Brent Johnson will be in the cage. The magic is gone from Johnson’s game. Let us hope that he can recapture it and get back to the level we know he can play at, otherwise this could be an incredibly long season for the Flower. All things in time.
Griggsy is back with a vengeance and laying the law down once more with his Eastern Conference, as well as Stanley Cup, preview. I don’t think I can say anything more than what I said before. The man is a beast. A complete and total beast.
On today’s slate, I’ll tell you how the Eastern Conference should unfold. Again, I’ll give you a quick overview of the team, a key player to the team’s success (or failure), and give best- and worst-case scenarios for the teams’ seasons. Afterwards, I’ll give you my predictions for the Eastern playoffs, tell you who will be facing the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, and tell you who’s taking home the chalice.
It’s been a while since one of these got churned out. What can I say? Life happened and these take time. It doesn’t excuse it, but it does provide at least a little perspective.
Given the layoff and the change in life style and progress that’s been made, I thought it only fitting to take a look at the season, and what can be expected, of the face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby.
Getting the first items out of the way – The Steckel hit in the Winter Classic and the Hedman boarding. The Steckel hit has been examined nearly as much as the Zapruder film and has been debated about as much. Personal opinion? I think Steckel intended harm and the hit was intentional. I don’t think Steckel intended to clock him in the jaw, nor get the ball rolling on what amounted to an incredibly difficult brain injury, but I do feel he intended to smack into him while he wasn’t looking and give him the proverbial business. What makes me say so? In large part, the culture of the Capitals, from the owner on down. Ted Leonsis, Bruce “Fuckin’ want it” Boudreau, and just about every player has had an uncontrollable, and sometimes disturbing, fascination with all things Pittsburgh Penguins. Think of all the commercials where a stuffed penguin has been hung by a rope, or the “they’ve [Pittsburgh] got theirs” comments from the owner, Mr. Leonsis, about winning a Stanley Cup. Re-watch “24/7” and see how often coach Boudreau mentions the Pens. More specifically, look at how focused he and the team became on the Penguins during the two teams respective winning and losing streaks. The obsession over the Penguins has gone beyond normal sports rivalry. It became something bigger, something more important to Washington.
Do I feel Steckel is a bad guy who intended to end Crosby’s season? No. I do take Steckel at his post-Washington word and that he never intended to hurt Sid the way he did. I do not, however, believe it was just pure accident or coincidence. Steckel did not need to hit him at all. The play was done and the puck was away from both of them. Steckel was the body in motion pursuing the puck. Sid, however, needed to not spend as much time watching the puck and instead focus on his surroundings. Steckel could have completely avoided contact with Sid. He should have avoided contact. It wasn’t “finishing his check” or even “making a hockey play.” Steckel hit him because he could. He hit him because of the constant barrage and mindset in the Caps’ locker room that Pittsburgh must end. He hit him because he was given a juicy opportunity knowing that he would not have to answer the bell (more on this another time). He hit him because he knew he could and there would be no punishment. He hit him because he could.
We can watch it ten thousand times more. It happened. Nothing we could do about it then or now. It took until Feb. 6, over a month later, for Steckel to have to answer for the hit. And he didn’t even have to answer to Eric Godard or Jesse Boulerice or even Mike Rupp. Hell, he didn’t even have to answer to Chris Kunitz. Tim Wallace was the only player willing to throw down with Steckel. Need I remind you, Wallace wasn’t part of the team at the Winter Classic. He was busy being the Alaskan Crab in Wilkes-Barre. We’ll also note that was his first game up with the big club last season. Sadly, and it had been a disturbing trend, the Penguins were a gutless team without any heart in regards to taking care of the stars. For as gritty as they were and unwilling to quit in games, they allowed the stars to take cheap shot after cheap shot and never do anything about it. Absolute psychos like Steve Downie were effectively allowed to run roughshod over guys like Sid unchecked. The only time I remember a teammate sticking up for Sid (or Geno or Staal) was Kunitz coming after the guy who was cheap-shotting Sid (I believe that was the game in early December). And then the Alaskan Crab takes on Steckel. Bunch of gutless cowards.
Then, of course, the Hedman hit.
While a stupid play, it looked far less “damaging” than the Steckel hit. Of course, having those two hits in consecutive games will cause some serious injuries and prolonged down time. I’m not even going to get into the same level of detail about Hedman’s hit. It was a bad hit that never should have happened and he knew it. But, much like Steckel, I think part of why teams and players are willing to take the chance of laying a hit like that is because they never have to pay for it. Hedman didn’t have to fight over it. Hell, he didn’t even get the finger pointed at him by most because he’s an otherwise clean player.
Steckel and Hedman both hit the face of the NHL in the head and finished his season (now spilling into a 2nd season) and nothing was done about it. Instead we continued to see more and more hits to the head as the season progressed. Raffi Torres took out Brent Seabrook in the playoffs and nothing was done about it because it was “in a hitting zone.” This hit was made acceptable last year.
I’ve spoken, often at length, about how much of a black eye the 2010-2011 season was for the NHL. It was such a shameful display in no small part because of the work of people like Colin Campbell. The inconsistency and sometimes baffling discipline, or lack thereof, made it acceptable to end someone’s season or potentially their career. Zdeno Chara was allowed to break Max Pacioretty’s neck without any repercussion (and that’s a whole different can of worms I’m not going to open now). I don’t even think I need to mention the events of February 11, 2011 and how insulting the “punishment” levied against the Islanders was to the rest of the hockey world. If there is a God that does in fact love us and look over us, He has given us Brendan Shanahan as league disciplinarian. Colin Campbell was like the old, vested, tenured teacher who couldn’t get fired and had no control over his class, but also didn’t care. God willing, Shanahan will continue to do what he has been doing this pre-season and bring a little law and order to the NHL.
But this isn’t all about how we lost Sid for the season or about how the NHL was a shameful disgrace to the hockey world this past season. This is about what Sid accomplished and what we can expect going forward. And there will be a “going forward.”
I don’t think I need to say or point out how insane those numbers are. 32 goals in 41 games. 66 points in 41 games. A 25-game point streak. +20 rating. 10 PPG and 9 PPA. The man was scoring on every 5th shot he took. The closest we’ll ever get to that level of success is reliably being the guy with the lampshade on his head every 5 shots.
It got to a point with Sid where we, as fans, just didn’t know what to say, think, or do. The man left us speechless with his ability to do so much with so little (at times) on the ice as well as deal with the attention of the entire hockey world every time he did something. The weight of the world rests on his shoulders and he handles it better than most of us do with less responsibility. Every time we thought “well, we’ve seen it all from him. There’s nothing more for Sid to do” he would step his game up and take it to a whole new level and do something to leave us all dumbfounded.
Looking a little closer at the stats, though, doesn’t really show anything that many of us didn’t already know. There were only two teams that kept Sid off the score sheet this season. Dallas and St. Louis did what no other team was capable. Dallas, however, still got Sid on the highlight films.
That had to be a funny reunion when Niskanen was brought in at the trade deadline with James Neal.
It didn’t matter who the opponent was. Sid found a way to get on the board against them. Maybe not every game, but the opposition just couldn’t keep him at bay forever. He was, however, a minus player overall against 7 teams. The Bruins, Stars, Canadiens, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, and the Blues were all teams against which Sid was a minus player. It does seem a little strange that 3 of the 7 teams are Atlantic division foes. I will admit I find it a little troubling, especially given the goaltending…question marks that were the Islanders, who also brought an end to Sid’s point streak, and the Flyers.
With Sid in the line-up, the Pens went 26-15. Within those numbers, in wins Sid had 27 goals and 25 assists. Let me restate that. In 26 victories, Sid had 27 goals and 25 assists for 52 points. In victory, Sid was good for an average of 2 points. In losses, Sid was held to 5 goals and 9 assists, 14 total points. Obviously far lower, but even in losses Sid was just under 1 point per loss.
Home or away, Sid was an effective player. In 22 home games he was good for 19G and 19A. In 19 away games Sid was able to put up 13G and 15A. It didn’t matter when or where, he always came to play. As we were told this Summer, Sid is a Ferrari.
The man was able to nearly match entire seasons of goal scoring in half of a season. He was on pace for a 60 goal, 125 point season.
And then Steckel happened. Since then, it has been a roller coaster of emotion. Watching the team without Sid…then without Geno…then without Kunitz…and Tangradi…and Dustin Jeffrey…and Asham…and Nick Johnson…and Cooke…and so on and so on. But we watched. We watched. We watched. And we hoped. We hoped to hear that Sid was doing better. We hoped to hear that he was resuming practice. And it didn’t happen, at least not right away. Time marched on and more players were getting hurt and there was nothing new to report. Sid was still on the shelf and would resume practice when the doctors gave him the OK.
Then he started skating. And we rejoiced. And he skated harder and did more. And we hoped.
Then he demolished the water bottle. And we knew he’d be back for the playoffs. We just knew it.
Then the symptoms returned and he shut down again.
And the season ended. The off-season was here. And we didn’t know. We started to get desperate for news. Journalists were writing all types of reports, utilizing those “sources” they had on the inside. There were reports that Sid was going to retire. There were reports of a brain tumor. There were reports that he wanted traded out of Pittsburgh. Every report imaginable was tossed about regarding Sid’s well-being and future career. As the speculation became more and more wild it became apparent that Sid, his doctors, ownership, and management would need to say something.
And then the day came. Sid was addressing the media. Sid’s doctors were giving us the honest look at how things stood. Sadly the press conference (and deservedly so) was overshadowed by the awful tragedy in Russia (personal aside: I was driving from Pittsburgh to Fayetteville, NC that day moving down for my new job…it was surreal to listen to everything unfold on NHL Home Ice – big time respect to the NHL Home Ice radio crew for being professional but deeply emotional all day with all that happened). But we knew where Sid was in his progression. We got to hear about what he went through. We got to hear about the training and work the doctors put him through to basically re-learn spatial understanding.
Sid has been through Hell. Absolute Hell. And all the while he’s had to deal with people dogging him about timelines and retirement and so on. He’s had to deal with people telling him he was weak and needing to toughen up.The man went through Hell and has emerged with the old gleam in his eye.
The man is practicing. He’s going at 100%. The next step is getting him involved in contact drills.
Sidney Crosby will be back this season. You can count on that. When? Well, he’ll be back when it is safe for him to come back. And when he does return? Look out.
We’re all going to be nervous when he does return. That first big hit he takes will make us all cringe. The first time he scores a goal is going to cause babies to be born prematurely. It may also cause babies to be conceived.
Looking ahead, though, here is what I feel we can expect out of Sid (and, again, these numbers are not based on any formula other than gut instinct, which is to say they are based off smoke and mirrors and complete BS)
I am bullish on Sid coming back with an insane chip on his shoulder and bending the rest of the NHL over and giving it to them rough. Personal guess? I figure Sid will be back in the line-up around Thanksgiving, but I doubt later than Christmas. I think for precautionary and conditioning reason’s he’ll miss about 1/4-1/3 of the season.