Post Draft, Pre-Free Agency

With some of my thoughts and feelings out about the “Shero Draft Strategy,” I wanted to discuss a few thoughts I’ve had regarding the Pens going forward into free agency.

I, personally, don’t buy into the Ryan Suter stuff. I honestly think it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors from Camp Shero to get teams like Detroit to bite first and hardest on Suter, leaving Parise to the Pens. Believe me, there are going to be plenty of suitors for Suter and Parise. In my heart of hearts, I think the Pens win the Parise sweepstakes as long as Shero doesn’t try to grossly low-ball him. Crosby and Parise being friends helps matters, certainly, but Parise really seems to fit the mold of what Shero and Bylsma have said the team needs – aggressive, skilled forwards with size.

Suter has stated he wishes to remain in the Western Conference, and I don’t think he’s going to bend for that. More importantly, I feel it would be folly for Shero and the Pens to go after him at the expense of the rest of the team. To land Suter, it will, according to most reports, take somewhere between 6 and 8 million per season. For ANY person who has been paying attention to the lunacy of the general Penguins’ fandom this season, paying a defenseman more than 4 dollars is apparently akin to genocide and will be met with scorn. Unless that player has a kitschy nickname or luxurious hair, in which case those players are safe. Paul Martin has become public enemy number 1 among the majority of (thoroughly uneducated, ignorant) Pens fans. Without fail, the first thing they mention about Martin is his $5M price tag. When pressed, the vast majority are unable to define WHY Martin “sucks,” but will gladly, gladly tell you time and again how “he needs to be better for $5M.”

Hold on to your hats if the Pens sign a guy like Suter for 6-7M/year. He’ll make one questionable turnover and the Consol Energy Center will burn to the damn ground. With that said, I think it’s clear that the Pens should not pursue Ryan Suter. I do, however, feel they should go after another defensive free agent…

 

Continue reading “Post Draft, Pre-Free Agency”

All Things In Time

Wow. That month went by fast.

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.

9/3: Griggsy’s Gripes

Griggsy is filling the void while I am crotch deep in packing and boxes and insanity. Ol’ Walt is heading off on Wednesday and it’s likely I will not be around until the following weekend at the earliest, but first – Griggsy. Also, thank baby Jesus for football. Here we go.

 

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I’m finally back. The Gripes have returned. Your long national nightmare is over. OK, maybe you didn’t miss me quite that much. Regardless, I’ve climbed back into the saddle, and the Gripes will come riding out with me.

Before that, though, a word of congratulations to the esteemed head of the site. Very happy to see Walt get the job he’s richly deserved for a long time. I’m very happy for you, man, and I hope all goes well in the next phase.

Alright, enough with the kind words. It’s time for griping:

->I am sick of hearing about Sidney Crosby’s concussion. I am sick of hearing about Sidney Crosby’s recovery from his concussion. I am sick of people speculating about when (if) Sidney Crosby will be healthy enough to come back. I get that it is the 87-ton elephant in the room, if you’re a Penguin (or NHL) fan. But with all the speculation, the non-stories, the non-updates, etc., It’s driving me insane. I don’t want to hear anymore.

Look, it’s clear that no one knows anything about this. The Penguins, the media, the fans, Crosby himself, none of us. We are all clueless about how severe the concussion was. Or was it multiple concussions? None of us know how long it’s going to take for all the symptoms to go away. We sure as hell don’t know how it’s going to effect him when he gets back on the ice to resume his career. Whenever that may be.

Let me repeat that again: No one knows anything about this!

So, everyone needs to stop speculating. Until he’s cleared to be on the ice, practicing, able to take hits, the speculation needs to completely stop. I don’t want to see, hear, or read anything about it anymore. Please. For the love of Mario, just stop!….

->Craig Adams had an appendectomy a couple of weeks back. My best wishes to him. Also, no truth to the rumor that he cut himself open and ripped out the appendix with his bare hands, with only a bottle of whiskey to numb the pain. That’s completely untrue. Craig Adams doesn’t feel pain….

->The faint “beeeeeeeeeeeep” you hear in the distance? That’s the Pirates’ season flat-lining. The viewing will be held this weekend. The funeral? It’s 8 losses away….

->I am fresh off one of the worst vacations possible. Two cars and six people started out of the Pittsburgh area for a trip to the beach for a wedding, originally scheduled for August 27. In order, this is what happened: A tire blowout on Car #1, followed by that car’s battery dying on the side of the highway (3 hours into the trip); My body completely betraying me for the entire trip in multiple ways; Car #2 getting stuck in the sand in the Outer Banks; Car #2 getting pulled over for speeding the next night; Car #2 getting totaled the day after that in Georgia (long story, don’t ask); An earthquake knocking a pipe off-track for one of the sinks in the beach house; The threat of a hurricane looming for a week; That threat eventually leading to the wedding being moved up two nights; Having to strap most of the luggage to the roof of Car #1 because an additional two people had to be fit into said car; Running like crazy to get away from the storm in time on Friday; On said run, Car #1 nearly loses another tire because 4 of the 5 bolts are sheared off without anyone knowing; And finally, after getting back to the starting point, Car #1’s battery dying again when we head out to take me back to my house.

Worst trip ever? Probably not. And I’m sure you could send me stories of your trips from hell. But holy hell, I had to laugh most of the time, just to keep myself from crying….

->So, college football has started this week. And to be honest, I always feel very mixed at the start of college football season. It’s a strange mingling of excitement and disappointment. Excitement because there are always a lot of entertaining games every year. The Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10 (or whatever they’re calling these leagues now) all have high-level teams that lead to entertaining action week in and week out. Lots of future NFL stars coming out of those games, believe that.

However, disappointment creeps in quick, and the reason is obvious. College football never decides a true champion. Never. The BCS is a joke, has always been a joke, and will always be a joke. I refuse to invest my attention into a sport that doesn’t decide who the best team is on the field. So, I will watch a couple of games when there isn’t something better on, which is mostly in September. Once the NHL starts up, college football gets pushed to the side almost completely. I will continue to watch my alma mater (We Are! Penn State!) and have a passing interest in Pitt and West Virginia, but that’s it.

You have so much potential, college football. But until you fix the big problem, you’ll be nothing more than a minor blip on my sports radar….

->Onto big boy football, the NFL is less than a week away from regular season kickoff. It snuck up on us really quick. Peyton Manning isn’t healthy yet, and Colt fans are in panic mode. Arian Foster’s hamstring is causing much consternation (both for Texan fans and fantasy football owners, but don’t tell Arian that). Chris Johnson may or may not report to the Titans before the season begins. And that’s just the AFC South.

So, with that in mind, what follows is the Gripes’ NFL Predictions:

AFC East-

4) Buffalo Bills (4-12): Ryan Fitzpatrick is a better-than-you-think QB, but he can’t do it all himself….

3) Miami Dolphins (8-8): They are going to be a lot better than most people predict. Not good enough for a playoff spot. But .500 for them is an accomplishment….

2) New Jersey Jets (10-6, AFC Wild Card, #6 Seed): Great defense, and a great 1-2 running back punch. But the passing game still isn’t strong. Good AFC team, but not truly elite….

1) New England Patriots (12-4, AFC East Champion, #2 Seed): Tom Brady is one of the best in the league (still), and he has great pieces around him. An elite NFL team, without question….

AFC North-

4) Cincinnati Bengals (1-15): Probably the worst team in the NFL this season. Andy Dalton is basically being fed to the wolves….

3) Cleveland Browns (6-10): The Mistake by the Lake is actually improving quietly. Scary that they may actually contend again in the near future….

2) Baltimore Ravens (11-5, AFC Wild Card, #5 Seed): They’ve lost a few players, and gotten older in some spots, but they have great players, and will contend all season….

1) Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3, AFC North Champion, #1 Seed): They’ll fight off the Super Bowl loser curse. They’ve gotten faster on offense, and the defense is healthy and deep, despite age….

AFC South-

3T) Tennessee Titans (4-12): Chris Johnson’s holdout is portending bad times this season. They look worse than last season on paper….

3T) Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Maurice Jones-Drew has health concerns, there is upheaval at QB, and the D isn’t that good. They will struggle….

2) Houston Texans (10-6): So close again to making the playoffs. But close isn’t good enough. Not enough D to match the explosive offensive talent….

1) Indianapolis Colts (12-4, AFC South Champion, #3 Seed): They are ripe for the taking this season, with Manning’s injury. But they’ll just have enough to hold off the Texans….

AFC West-

4) Denver Broncos (6-10): Kyle Orton is good, or at least good enough to fight off Tebow. The D is still too young and full of holes, though. Knowshon Moreno’s a stud….

3) Oakland Raiders (7-9): McFadden’s very talented, Campbell will be better, but the D can’t be as good after losing Nnamdi. Despite that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make the playoffs….

2) Kansas City Chiefs (8-8): Last year was a perfect storm. This year is the opposite. Bad schedule, inconsistencies all over the field, and luck last year that won’t be there this year….

1) San Diego Chargers (9-7, AFC West Champion, #4 Seed): I am not as high on them as others. But the talent is there on both sides of the ball. A playoff team, but not a champion….

NFC East-

4) Washington Redskins (5-11): Addition by subtraction helps (McNabb, Haynesworth), but I don’ttrust the QB, and they will still give up too many points….

3) Dallas Cowboys (8-8): They have tons of offensive weapons, the defense does a lot of good things. But it’s a tough schedule, and I don’t trust Romo (health) and Jason Garrett (weasel)….

2) New Jersey Giants (9-7): They and the Cowboys are virtually equal.The Giants look extremely average, and Eli turns the ball over a ton. But he keeps them in games….

1) Philadelphia Eagles (11-5, NFC East Champion, #3 Seed): They proclaimed themselves a “dream team”. But Vick is brittle, the front seven is weak, and Andy Reid is still Andy Reid….

NFC North-

4) Chicago Bears (5-11): I still don’t know how they made the playoffs last season. This season? A massive step back. Bad O-Line, turnovers from Cutler, and the defense falls apart….

3) Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Donovan McNabb is washed up at this point. Adrian Peterson will face 23-man fronts. The defense really lacks playmakers….

2) Detroit Lions (10-6, NFC Wild Card, #6 Seed): Yep, you read that right. The Lions are in the playoffs, baby. Playmakers on D, playmakers on O, soft schedule, it all adds up….

1) Green Bay Packers (12-4, NFC North Champion, #2 Seed): The World Champs (and it pains me to type that) will be back in the playoffs again. And they’ll be much healthier this season….

NFC South-

4) Carolina Panthers (4-12): They have a great backfield (Williams, Stewart, Goodson), but Newton is going to struggle, and the defense isn’t good enough….

3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): Josh Freeman will be a year better, LeGarrette Blount will get a chance to prove he’s no fluke, but I don’t love the defense. This 9-7 record feels right….

2) Atlanta Falcons (12-4, NFC Wild Card, #5 Seed): They might be the second-best team in the league. The offense will be more explosive, and the defense is just plain solid….

1) New Orleans Saints (13-3, NFC South Champion, #1 Seed): The offense has an overwhelming amount of weapons, and the defense still makes huge plays. Very high on them….

NFC West-

3T) Seattle Seahawks (5-11): The fall will be hard for them, despite only losing two more games than 2010. Awful at QB, weaker on defense, especially losing Lofa Tatupu. Not good….

3T) San Francisco 49ers (5-11): Jim Harbaugh has a lot to do to overhaul this team. And he still doesn’t have the QB he wants. He’ll trade up to the #1 spot next season to draft Andrew Luck….

2) Saint Louis Rams (7-9): A lot of tough games on their schedule. They might be the best team in the division by Week 13, but by then, Bradford & Co. will be too far out of it….

1) Arizona Cardinals (10-6, NFC West Champion, #4 Seed): I don’t trust this team a lot, but Larry Fitzgerald will have a huge year, because he finally has a QB who can throw passes within 20 feet of him….

 

2011 Playoff predictions:

Wild Card Week:

NFC) #3 Philadelphia def. #6 Detroit, #5 Atlanta def. #4 Arizona;

AFC) #6 New Jersey Jets def. #3 Indianapolis, #5 Baltimore def. #4 San Diego

Division Round:

NFC) #1 New Orleans def. #5 Atlanta, #2 Green Bay def. #3 Philadelphia;

AFC) #1 Pittsburgh def. #6 New Jersey Jets, #5 Baltimore def. #2 New England

Championship Round:

NFC) #1 New Orleans def. #2 Green Bay

AFC) #1 Pittsburgh def. #5 Baltimore

Super Bowl XLVI: Pittsburgh def. New Orleans, 24-22; MVP- Ben Roethlisberger

->Come on, you couldn’t expect me to pick anyone else, could you?

8/13: Griggsy’s Gripes

Griggsy is back with a vengeance. Not really, he’s just got more thoughts on various things (hooooorrrrraaaaayyyyy football is back). While he’s gripin’ on the internets, I’ll be gripin’ as I mop the floors at my weekend job. All things depending, I plan on getting the new Pens Preview up between tomorrow and Tuesday. Until then, here’s Griggsy

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A couple of odds and ends to tie up to start off this week’s show.

First, in two weeks, I will be on vacation in an undisclosed location (one that hopefully has lots of sun and sand). So, no Gripes from me that week. Be strong, you’ll make it through. Second, I do encourage you to leave feedback, whether you love what you read here, or hate it, or just think it’s OK. I’m always trying to get better at this, so please do let me know what you think. I am still debating whether I should give Walt my e-mail address to put out there to get more feedback. More on that in coming weeks.

For now, here come the Gripes:

->I’m finally excited for the NFL season. No, it has nothing to do with the preseason games that started this weekend. And no, it definitely has nothing to do with the precipitous decline of Das Buccos (more on this later) leading to me turning my attention elsewhere. In actuality, my excitement comes from the text I got from my best friend last night.

“Sending out the FF info e-mail out tonight.”

Yep, fantasy football. Woooo!

I know there are a ton of people out there who think fantasy football is a pointless waste of time where grownups play armchair GM/coach for a fake sports team. And I get that. Which is why I am very selective about how much fantasy sports I do. I have one (very intense) fantasy baseball team, one (extremely intense) fantasy hockey team, and this is my single fantasy football team. The reason for my participation, especially in the football league: It’s a blast to do it. There are 10 guys who play. My (above mentioned) friend is the commissioner, I assist him with the league, and all 10 of us just enjoy the hell out of making fun of each other, each other’s teams, and everything under the sun, really. Anything that allows you and your friends to have more fun for a couple of months out of the year, do it.

Also, it gets me more interested in the NFL as a whole. I am not going to be drafting only Steelers, so this requires me to keep tabs on every team’s goings-on across the league. It’ll make me watch a few more preseason games, and will have me watching pregame shows early on Sunday mornings during the season. It forces me to have more knowledge about the league, and I am a fan of gaining knowledge.

I know they’re not for everyone, but if you are making fun of those who do fantasy sports leagues now, you’re in the minority now…

 

->The insanity of Steelers fans struck again this week. Well, that might be too strong. Let’s just say that some fans were a bit ridiculous after finding out about an injury. There is a segment of fans that get attached to players very fast, and sometimes they do so without real merit. They showed it again this week when it was announced that rookie late-round draft pick Baron Batch, a running back, suffered a season-ending ACL tear during practice Wednesday. Batch was making a decent name for himself in training camp by picking up on the playbook fast, and impressing coaches and fans with his skills when given the opportunity to do so. However, Batch was still a long shot to do anything beyond making the team as a 4th string running back and special teams player.

If you read the Twitter accounts of many Steelers fans, though, you would’ve thought this was a sign of the apocalypse. Reactions of shock, horror, and unmitigated depression. If you had removed the player’s name from the reactions, you would have expected this to be the aftermath of the loss of a Harrison, Woodley, Miller, or Wallace. Someone needed to slap some sense into these people. I liked what I heard about Batch’s showings in camp, but losing him will not have an effect on the result of any single game. Perspective, people. Save your wailing and gnashing of teeth for when Ben throws 3 interceptions in one half, or when the defense collapses in a 4th quarter. Or, you know, you could just not do that either…

 

->As mentioned above, the Buccos’ slide has taken them well below .500, putting them in serious danger of a 19th losing season. While there are still plenty of games left between now and the end of September, a lot of those games are against Milwaukee and Saint Louis, two teams that have absolutely crushed the Pirates in recent seasons. That’s not encouraging at all.

Was it nice to win two of three games from the World Series champs in San Francisco? Of course. But they didn’t face the Giants’ two best pitchers (Lincecum and Cain), and new acquisition Carlos Beltran sat out all three games. Let’s not start thinking that things are right back on track. A weekend in Milwaukee will tell the tale on that…

 

->Despite saying that, I don’t want to hear anyone say the Pirates should start looking to lose a majority of their remaining games to get another high draft pick for next season. That is absurd at this point. The team can’t go from 54-54 to residing in the bottom five in the league standings, and to try would be a pointless venture. Not to mention, that would not win the hearts of any fans. Now, I don’t think that teams need to take fans into account for every decision they make. But this team, with these beaten-down fans, are a special exception, for sure…

 

->As expected, over the last few days I’ve started to watch DVD’s of old Pens playoff games, trying to hold me over until hockey starts picking up again. And something struck me as I sat here watching the post-series celebration and handshakes. I am honestly surprised that a sports company hasn’t put the footage together from the numerous camera angles they have available and used it to make a DVD of these celebrations in uninterrupted form. Half of the time, there are interviews or handshakes going on, making us miss something that would be great to see: two guys that tried to maim each other all series having a conversation while shaking hands, or two teammates sharing a moment of unbridled joy away from the middle of the ice.

I am stunned this hasn’t been done yet. Hell, I’m stunned that no one’s had this idea yet…

Um, you know what? Ignore these last few sentences. Nothing to see here.

Now, where the hell is the number for the patent office? It was here a second ago…..

Failtown – Population: Me

I feel like such a chump. I have not been writing as much as I would like lately, which is unfair to both myself and to all of you. Thank God for Griggsy. He’s been covering up for my punk ass the last week with his Gripes and his unreal look at the Pirates.

I have been doing quite a bit of work behind the scenes in my personal life lately. Nothing has changed, which is a disappointment. The previously mentioned job in NC did not pan out, which is a big time bummer. The job with the civil service is, well, a job with the Civil Service. I did well on the exam and now just need to wait and hope for an opening. Other than those, the job field is, erm, sparse. I’m well aware that this is a unique sentiment and there are a lot of people hurting looking for work. I’ve even been debating about making a career change because things are so hard right now in Education, but I just can’t do it. There are no jobs/careers out there I want to do outside of teaching. I just love it too much to leave, even if it means sticking it out for a while without permanent work.

I do have a few other things cooking. I am looking to pick up another job in the evenings/weekends while I keep working in the schools during the day (and do my night janitorial job on the weekends). I will, hopefully, be moving ahead with life over the next few years as I am, somewhat begrudgingly, planning on going back to school to begin working on my Master’s. I’m debating a few different programs and different schools, but I’m pretty well sold on the general umbrella study of Special Education. I’m going to make my decision over the course of the next month or two. I’ll talk to the schools I’m looking at and see what kind of packages they can put together and go from there.

The pond project, too, is at an end. I am completing the final part of the project this week. The waterfall is the final major obstacle. I have the supplies and have a plan. Once it is completed I will get some nice photos and post those soon enough. I am hopefully going to finish the last of the work on Friday so I can celebrate by watching some Steeler football.

I do have a few other hopeful odds and ends on the horizon, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. The next few years are going to be some interesting times. I’m looking forward to the challenges and being able to spend them with all of you.

-Walt

8/6: Griggsy’s Gripes

Double dose of Griggsy’s lovin’ on AtC. First we got an unreal write-up about the Pirates and now some more gripin’.

Griggsy, roll that beautiful bean footage.

 

———–

 

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m bad at writing intros. Because of that, let’s get right into things. This is what I’m griping about this

week:

 

->2011 Pittsburgh Pirates, we hardly knew ye. When you lose seven games in a row, nine of your last ten, and fall two games under .500, the dream has probably ended. It was a fun ride, and I will still be in front of the television for most of the games the rest of the season, but contending for a playoff spot appears to be beyond theBuccos’ reach for 2011. I’m not writing an epitaph on the team’s year yet, nor am I here to celebrate achievements. Instead, allow me to focus on the rest of the season.

 

The Pirates now have a fine line to walk. They need to make decisions about players going into next season, but they also need to keep 81 wins for this season as a possibility (or likelihood, to be honest). Is it going to be tough to do both? Based on the current 40 man roster, and in no particular order, here’s my (uneducated) analysis:

 

Sure To Return- K. Correia, J. Hanrahan, P. Alvarez, A. McCutchen, J. McDonald, N. Walker, J. Tabata, T. Watson, C. d’Arnaud, A. Presley, J. Jaramillo, J. Harrison, D. Moskos, B. Lincoln

 

Likely To Return- R. Ohlendorf, M. Diaz, R. Cedeno, J. Karstens, E. Meek, C. Morton, C. Resop, X. Paul, D. McCutchen, M. McKenry, C. Leroux, P. Ciriaco, E. Fryer, T. Wood

 

Unsure About Returning- R. Ludwick, P. Maholm, R. Doumit, J. Veras, G. Jones, S. Pearce, B. Wood, K. Hart

 

Unlikely To Return- C. Snyder, J. Beimel, J. Grilli

 

Will Not Return- D. Lee

 

Looking at that list, I don’t think it’s going to be that tough to analyze players while chasing after the elusive .500 record at the end of the season. The Pirates pretty much know what they are getting out of everyone listed, with the exception of Kevin Hart, who has been injured for a majority of his time with the organization. In past years, the latter part of the Pirates’ schedule was exclusively for the purpose of identifying who is worth keeping for the next season. This season, that won’t be the case. So, all that will matter will be finding a way to win 81+ games…

 

->Another big question about the Pirates going into 2012 involves the manager. Is Clint Hurdle the right man for this job? No question, he

is a master motivator, getting the maximum effort out of his charges on every gameday. But is he the right guy to have in there strategically? He makes fans and analysts tear their hair out with all of his bunting, his questionable lineup choices, and as Thursday night against the Cubs reminded us, his mismanagement of the bullpen is borderline criminal. Does this make him worse than a lot of managers in the league? The scary thing is that he probably isn’t any better or worse than most of them. Hurdle’s motivating makes him worth keeping around, but some type of adjustment needs made. The best way of doing this, in my opinion, is to get a strong-willed bench coach for Hurdle. Ideally, he will have no fear to tell Hurdle he’s making a potentially horrible decision. But I would take someone who would at least make Hurdle re-think his decisions…

 

->So, I hear football’s back. Both pro and college football training camps are underway. At some point, someday, I’ll get to my college football rant (and it’s a long one). But for my sanity, and yours, let’s keep the focus on the NFL for now. The labor strife in the NFL is over, teams are gearing up for the preseason, and fans are going crazy. Me, not so much. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love football, and I’m glad it’s back. But I hate the lunacy that shows up around this time of year. I can’t speak to whether this is common around the country, but in the Pittsburgh area, crazy behavior reigns supreme from mid-July on. It started a little later this year, due to the extended lockout, but it’s shown up in full force now that the Steelers are back at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Too many fans that are only willing to talk about the Steelers, to the point that they will argue about the 7th wide receiver on the team, or the 3rd string left guard, etc. Some guys and gals will go into major rants about guys that will be bagging groceries by September 1. And while I appreciate attention to detail, I don’t need to know about the yards per carry average of the undrafted free agent fullback who won’t even get on the field in preseason.

 

The scary thing, though, is that it’s not just the fans that are insane this time of year. Media members are just as bad.

 

I get that the local NFL team needs to be covered by the local media. It makes sense that sports writers and TV sports guys need to be all over Latrobe this month. They need to make their 3 minute reports regarding who looks good, who looks bad, and who got hurt. But what we don’t need are four or five writers from the same newspaper, or worst of all, serious news reporters for local TV stations doing daily reports from training camp. This drives me insane. I turn on the news at 5 or 6PM to see the major news stories of the day. I don’t turn it on so that ten minutes in (or sooner), that news guy is going to talk about the Steelers’ day on the practice field. It makes the station look like a joke organization, and takes away lots of credibility for the reporter and the news team. I love sports more than you can imagine, but when I turn on the news, I want news. If I want all the football you can fit in one hour, I have channels for that. A handful of them, actually. Leave it to them!

 

Deep breath…

 

->To be fair, though, I am very excited to see the guys back on the field. There has been a bad taste in my mouth since February. Coming so close to another ring, and falling short in such tough fashion, it stays with players and fans for a long time. For that reason, games can’t come fast enough. I’m not making any predictions yet (there are a couple of weeks left for that, stay tuned), but I like the Steelers’ chances for a good season. Lots of players are returning, and with that comes experience. In some years, a worry may be the age of the players, but not this season with special circumstances. Any team with lots of new players and/or new coaches will struggle early, because the lockout set their learning (or teaching) curve way back. Teams like the Steelers have a big advantage in that regard, and they could well ride that advantage to a very successful 2011 campaign…

 

->This just in: The weather still sucks…

 

->Because of the above fact, it makes me very happy that hockey is less than 2 months away. I love football and love baseball, but hockey will always hold the highest regard in my heart. I’m starting to get antsy, like a drug addict going through withdrawl. I have watched some replays of games on the NHL Network, but that really hasn’t helped. I am probably going to turn to my “Penguins 10 Greatest Games” DVD set soon, but I know that will be a temporary fix. Hopefully, though, it will hold me over until training camp. Don’t worry, I’m not a hypocrite. I won’t start talking about Wilkes-Barre’s 3rd and 4th lines or the plus-minus stat for the Pens’ 5th round pick in 2010 (or whatever). But I can’t wait to start thinking about lines, D-pairs, and matchups against the rest of the NHL. Let’s hope I can make it until then…

 

->The following statement may make you think less of me. I accept that.

 

I love the Harry Potter movies.

 

There, I said it. Judge me if you will. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. I guess it’s because I am a man who loves movies nearly as much as I love sports. I watch a ton of them. So, when my girlfriend (thanks, honey) pushed me towards watching the set of movies, it took up a lot of my viewing time.

 

Now, to go back, let me say that I never watched a single minute of the movies prior to the last few weeks. This is not to say that I actively avoided them. I just never sought them out. I’ve done this with movies before (notably, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I never saw in theaters, but fell in love with via the extended edition DVDs). I am sure I will do this again with movies I should watch. Again, though, I finally was convinced to try the first movie and go from there (thanks again, dear). I was skeptical, naturally. Wizards and such, not my usual cup of tea.

 

But I was hooked very quickly. It was a fun series of movies, with many emotional moments that got to me. I’m an emotional guy to begin with, so the movies were able to latch on to me pretty easily. I am just so impressed that a compelling story could be told, both for the entire series and for each individual movie.

 

The gripe is with movie makers and movie crowds today. I fear we’re never going to get a steady stream of good movies with substance anymore. The three most popular types of movies (both in number of them made and number of hits from the genres) are the mindless slasher, the gross-out comedy, and the no-depth action movie. With rare exceptions, these are the movies that get the most attention, and the most box office action. It depresses me that too many people are willing to turn out for those movie types listed above, while ignoring the movies that have something substantial to them. Will this ever turn around? I sure hope so, but I fear I shouldn’t hold my breath…

 

2011 Pittsburgh Pirates: A Season on the Brink

Foreword: I approached Griggsy the other day about writing an article about the Pirates because he is a much better and more learned fan of baseball than I am or could ever be. It just so happens that we are on similar wavelength regarding the Pirates’ season and the infamous Jerry Meals safe call to end the 19-inning marathon game. I hope Griggsy and maybe even some of you out there will continue to make Avoid the Clap an enjoyable blog and provide some different perspectives on things. Comments are appreciated or you can contact us directly here .

With that, I give the floor to Griggsy.

————

The Major League Baseball season lasts 162 games. It’s by far the longest of any pro sport. Baseball fans will tell you that this makes certain that the teams that deserve to make the playoffs are the ones who get in. They also will tell you that it ensures that no one game makes or breaks a team’s season.

Tell that to the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans.

In the aftermath of a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves in 19 innings on July 26th (and 27th), the Pirates have gone into a tailspin of epic proportions. That game was the beginning of a stretch of 7 losses in 8 games. The Pirates have gone from a first place tie in the NL Central to being in third place, 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

All of this, as the result of arguably the worst blown call by an umpire in the history of baseball.

Before I get into that, let me state that I do not like blaming officials. By and large, the players on the playing surface decide who wins and loses. Blaming officiating tends to mask mistakes made by the players that cause them to lose.

But, in this case, the call actually decided who won the game. Not saying the Pirates would have ultimately won the game. This call, however, did not allow the Pirates to win or lose the game on merit. Jerry Meals’ call, which I won’t get into detail because everyone who is reading this either has seen the play or can go find it in 5 seconds, prevented the fair outcome of the game from occurring. After using just about every player on the roster, some for far too long, it’s a massive stomach punch to lose a game in that manner.

Teams tend to get their mettle tested after something of this nature. A lot of adversity is heaped upon a team, with exhausted and frustrated players having to come back to play another game 17 hours later. It’s not as easy for players to put a game like this behind them. It tends to linger or fester, with all the replays shown on TV, and the media wanting to talk about it, and fans complaining about it, and the team’s front office releasing a statement about it, and so on. Men that are taught to have short memories inevitably cannot shake this moment from their brains.

As mentioned, the Pirates have stumbled in the aftermath. A team that stood at 53-47 after 100 games, as they took the field for this 19-inning marathon, now has completed two-thirds of their season, and they are wobbling at 54-54. And in the last eight games, the major problem has been pitching. Before the marathon, Pirates pitchers were giving the team consistent turns through the rotation. Since then, here are the rotation’s results:

7/27- @ATL – L, 2-1 (10 Innings) – Maholm: 7IP, 9H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 8K
7/28- @ATL – W, 5-2 – Correia: 6.1IP, 9H, 2R, 1ER, 1BB, 3K
7/29- @PHI – L, 10-3 – Morton: 4IP, 9H, 8R, 6ER, 4BB, 4K
7/30- @PHI – L, 7-4 – McDonald: 5IP, 10H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 5K
7/31- @PHI – L, 6-5 (10 Innings) – Karstens: 7IP, 7H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 5K
8/1- v. CHC – L, 5-3 – Maholm: 6IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 3K
8/2- v. CHC – L, 11-6 – Correia: 2IP, 10H, 8R, 8ER, 0BB, 2K

[EN: Per Griggsy’s request, it is to be noted that this was written prior to the loss to the Cubs on 8/3, as such those stats have not been included.]

Now, to be fair, of the seven games after the marathon, there were 3 awful starts, 1 average start, 1 good start, and 2 great starts. But it’s not just the starts themselves. It’s also the workload on the bullpen that is making the pitching staff as a whole fall apart. After the bullpen worked 13.1 of 18.1 innings in the marathon, they were forced to pitch 24.1 of 61.2 innings in the seven games since. For relief pitchers that were thriving on a reasonable number of innings, this change in workload for them has turned the bullpen into a disappointing entity as a whole. This is without even mentioning the inconsistent usage of the best reliever, Joel Hanrahan.

To review, this is now a struggling (at best) rotation, an overworked bullpen, and a confusingly used closer. It’s no wonder that the team has lost 7 of 8 games now. With the offense sputtering along (3.75 runs per game in the last eight, consistent with the 3.84 runs per game average for the season), the pitching has to be similarly consistent with the season totals. Obviously, giving up 5.88 runs per game will not cut it (nearly two full runs over the 3.94 runs allowed per game average for the year).

For those of you looking to take this forward a step, you’d ask how the Atlanta Braves are doing over this post-marathon stretch of games. If the Pirates players are worn out, the Braves played the same game, and would be similarly worn out. This has shown slightly for the Braves, as they are 4-4 over those same eight days, dropping their last three. The fatigue may be catching up with them a little bit now, but it did not in the immediate aftermath. Including the 19-inning game, the Braves went 4-1 right away. The momentum and adrenaline provided by winning that game carried the Braves in the short-term, allowing them to stay afloat despite fatigue issues. This has kept them in control of the NL Wild Card lead, albeit a slightly shrinking lead. Meanwhile, if the Pirates had gone 4-4 instead of 1-7 in these last eight games, they would be sitting in a 2nd place tie in the division, only 2.5 games behind a hot Milwaukee team.

Is the 2011 season over for the Pittsburgh Pirates, at least in terms of playoff contention? Not quite, but it is certainly at the precipice. They are a team teetering on the edge, and one more turn through the rotation with bad results would send them falling away for sure. Jerry Meals’ call didn’t devastate the season for the Buccos, but he has given them a push that may send them falling back to earth, hard, after four months of climbing towards the pennant.

Pens Preview: Marc-Andre Fleury

I have been known to be something of a “Fleury hater” for many years. I don’t like the term “hater” because that implies a complete and total illogical dislike of a player for reasons that cannot be logic’d or discussed. When I would discuss Fleury’s previous disappointments I would do so with facts and figures and it usually got people to either get real quiet or jump on the “well, I’m a better fan because I don’t criticize players on my team” wagon. This season was truly a tale of two players. I’m happy to say he shut me the Hell up and did his job. With that, I give you the Pens Preview: Marc-Andre Fleury.

Amazing how much leeway having your name on the Cup nets you when dealing with critics.

Do goaltenders get unjust criticism and unjust praise? Yes, they do. Much in the same way quarterbacks in the NFL get unjust criticism and undue praise (Trent Dilfer, circa 2000 Ravens, I’d like a word), but it is also part of the job and position. A goaltender has to be mentally tough. There is so little room for error and every movement and mistake is magnified because of being the only player of that position on the ice for your team. Mistakes often lead to goals. Many goals lead to losses. Thus, goaltender mistakes are the cause of losses, thus the goaltender is the cause of the loss. Anyone who watches any sport knows that very rarely can one man be blamed, wholly and exclusively for a loss. Poor goaltending is one of those areas where you can point to a specific instance for a loss.

If that doesn’t begin when I time stamped it, skip to the 8:50 mark. If you want to see a bad goal, that is a bad goal. It’s a bad technical goal because of not having his stick in position and from leaving a gaping hole between his pads and it was an atrociously bad goal because he allowed that with less than two minutes to play in a tie game in the 3rd period. A goal that should never, ever, ever be allowed by a professional goaltender is bad enough, but they happen. To allow Scott Gomez’s eyebrows to score that goal late in a game and lose in the same manner (i.e. atrocious goaltending) to the team responsible for eliminating you from playoffs the year before? Yikes. You’d think you’d be able to get up for a game like that and show you put the previous season behind you. At the start of the year? Nah, the Flower had none of that. I was one of the lone voices in 2010 indicating he was a major weakness on a lazy team and everyone called me a bad fan and how I didn’t know what I was talking about. Well, his 2011 season started off exactly as his 2010 season ended.

65GP, 62GS, 56:51TOI, 36W, 20L, 5OTL, 143GA, 2.32GAA, 1742SA, 1599SV, 918SV%, 3SO

In the first 10 games played by no. 29, the Pens went 4-6 (the team’s first win came with Brent Johnson between the pipes) and Flower allowed 28 goals on 219 shots. One of the team wins was on November 6 when Fleury was pulled after 6:56 ice time when he allowed 2 goals on 5 shots. Within the first 10 games he was boasting a killer .845 SV%. It makes one wonder how he finished with such stellar numbers and how he became THE most important player down the stretch when he started out so rough.

Thankfully the Cup isn’t awarded in October or November. Thankfully Dan Bylsma found his spine and benched Fleury as he continued to cost the team games and valuable points. Everyone made jokes and comments about the playoffs don’t start in October, but every point matters. Need I remind everyone just how crucial a few of those lost points were at the end of the season? One more point and we would have won the Atlantic division. Really, though, I feel the season and turnaround in MAF’s game came hinged on him being benched and getting his mind straight. That little win streak and Crosby’s unreal point streak helped from mid-November helped, but sometimes things come together as they need to. In this case, Flower got sat down and the team started getting together.

I will say this – I am glad that Fleury was garbage to begin the year and Johnny played out of his mind because I had the best Halloween costume I’ve ever made:

Looking at the stats, it was a pretty impressive season overall for Marc-Andre. Started 62 games, no major injuries, had excellent relief in Brent Johnson, posting a 36-20 record and, more importantly, a .918SV% and 2.32GAA. A .918SV% was good enough for 15th overall in the NHL and the 2.32 GAA placed him 9th in the NHL among goaltenders. Either way you slice it, Fleury finished the season as a top-half of the league goaltender. It is imperative to note how the defense played, too, down the stretch. Flower and his D reliably held opposing teams to 2 goals or fewer per game. Sadly, Fleury’s very, very bad start caused his stats to be a little less impressive.

More importantly, and this is never really shown in the statistics, is the quality of the saves and the importance of the saves. In 2010 MAF was known for giving up soft and poorly timed goals. To start 2011 he was also giving up the same poorly timed and soft goals. He gave up bad goals. As the season moved on he made BIG saves. He made important saves. He eliminated the back-breaking and painful goals (like the one to Gomez linked above). He made the saves that a big time goaltender needed to make. Previously he wasn’t making those (less some huge saves in the ’09 Cup run). Even though the end result was not what we had all hoped, “history stops everything.”

Sadly the Pens’ popgun offense was not enough to overcome Fleury playing out of his mind and allowing two goals or fewer regularly from about January onward. In December and January he only had one game where his save percentage was below .900 (12/26 vs OTT). Month by month, 29’s SV% was as follows:

October: .863

November: .931

December: .931

January: .942

February: .899

March: .916

If you are partial to seeing things in action instead of on paper (or on a computer screen), just take a look at this:

And the Shootouts. How could we ignore the shootouts? Everyone joked about the Pens going to so many shootouts as the season went on, but the goaltender is the most important part of the shootout. By record, MAF was 2nd best in the NHL in Wins in a shootout (with 8). Overall in the SO, Flower had an .842SV%, facing 38 shots and allowed only 6 goals. A truly, truly astonishing feat, considering how the modern shootout is stacked against the goaltender. And, of course, we can never forget that we got to see some of the flourish that goes into the shootout preparation. Roll that beautiful bean footage:

Overall, Flower performed statistically better at home, but had a disproportionate amount of losses (largely due to the early season) compared to road games. At home, 29 showed a .924SV% and a 2.17GAA. On the road he posted a .911SV% and 2.51GAA. In overall wins, he posted a .940%, whereas in losses he posted a .880%. The old adage of “the team that scores more goals wins,” but the goaltender plays a vital role in that bearing true. If Fleury was having a bad game, there was typically a loss attached to it. When looking at save percentage with regard to days of rest between games, Fleury showed to be much better as an active goaltender than one with substantial time between games. When playing two games back to back he averaged a .925%; with 1 day of rest he posted a .915%, but with 2 days of rest he kipped up to a .938%, but with 3 or more days off he dropped terribly to .894%.

Statistically, it was a very good year. 143 goals allowed was the fewest he’s allowed when playing 50 or more games. Likewise, 2.32 is the lowest GAA he’s ever had in his NHL career. It was also his best save percentage (again with a minimum of 50 games). The only area where he was a “disappointment” was only having 3 shutouts on the season, which was an uptick from last season when he only had 1, but a drop from the two seasons prior, both in which he had 4 shut outs.

It truly was a magical year for Marc-Andre. He started off poorly, got benched, took his benching like a man, earned back his starting job and then kept the team in so many games. I fear there will be a little bit of a drop off next season, but I’m hopeful he can play consistently, as that has always been an issue until this year, and keep doing what works for him. It is so hard to really evaluate a goaltender just by looking at a stat line because, as mentioned above, there are intangibles surrounding the quality and timeliness of saves and making a big save to swing momentum or deflate another team. This year, MAF had “it.” The element to his game that had been missing was rediscovered and hopefully he doesn’t lose it again. Looking ahead to next season, here’s how I see the major statistics breaking down:

67GP, 65GS, 57:03TOI, 38W, 17L, 4OTL, 136GA, 2.41GAA, 1715SA, 1579SV, .911SV%, 5SO.

I expect a good year out of MAF. I fear he may have a little bit of up-and-down play. He’ll tick those SO numbers up because he’s got an all-world defense in front of him most of the night, but I think will have a very slight fall off from this season’s numbers because he’ll have a little more offense in front of him and he can gamble on things like the pokecheck and/or getting off his leash and attempting to play the puck (Marc, please stop – stay in the crease, don’t try to play the puck. Hextall and Brodeur you ain’t).

Oh, how silly of me, I forgot the most important stat: 1 B-Boy pose

Let’s go Pens.

 

 

 

Pens Preview: Matt Cooke

As mentioned before, I am a tremendous fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and of hockey in general. I want to take some time to look at the major players for the Penguins as we get into the thick of the off-season in anticipation of the coming new year. I plan on taking a somewhat in-depth look at the player’s statistics and measure them against various benchmarks. Hopefully I can keep this interesting for everyone.

I wasn’t entirely sure which player to start with when I had originally thought of doing this. I had it narrowed down to a few players, but couldn’t easily decide who should be the first player. I even posed the question to a number of others and there was little agreement there, too. The only player to consistently get “well, that would be a good starting point” type responses is none other than the infamous Matt Cooke. Thus, I give you the Avoid the Clap breakdown and future of Matt Cooke.

Matt Cooke 2010-2011 general stat line:

67 GP, 12G, 18A, 30P, +14, 129PIM, 0PP, 3SH, 2GWG, 95S, 12.6S%

If the above statline looks odd or you have no idea what the numbers and letters me, I’ll break it down for you (and these can be applied to all players from here on out – use this post as a reference if you forget).

GP = games played, G = goals, A = assists, P = points, +/- = rating assigned to a player (+ indicated player was on ice when a goal was scored FOR his team, – indicated he was on ice for a goal against), PIM = penalty minutes (minor penalties assessed 2 minutes, majors, such as fighting, are assessed 5 minute penalties, and game misconducts are assessed 10 minutes), PP = power play goals, SH = Short-Handed goals, S = shots taken, S% = Shooting percentage (success rate of goal scoring vs number of shots taken).

Cooke had an interesting year, to say the least. Cooke effectively put up .45P per game. For a 3rd line player, I’ll take half a point per game production. Hell, guys like Crosby, a rare, generational talent, hover around 1P/per game, which is mind blowing.

Before I fully get into Cooke’s point production and offensive/defensive upside, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: suspensions.

Cooke has a history of playing the game with an edge. I, personally, like what Cooke brings to the rink each night. I like that he’ll knock players on their wallets. I like that he will agitate the oppositions stars and get under the skin of skill guys.  A good, competitive hockey club needs a guy or two like Cooke who can be a complete pest and then crush your soul with a beautiful goal or two. Cooke, however, goes across the line a little too often and puts the team at a gross disadvantage by taking unnecessary penalties and/or being suspended for his play and borderline-to-grossly-illegal hits.

We can think back to his hit on Marc Savard as the beginning of the end for Cooke ever being given the benefit of the doubt.

While the end result is ugly, the hit was legal at the time. I disagree with Cooke for making the hit, as nothing good can come from hitting a guy the way he did, but I also can’t argue or make a case he should have been suspended because he did not break any rules. This hit, however, has given the NHL the carte blanche to allow moral outrage to reign over player’s discipline (more on this later). The outrage over the hit went to plaid and everyone lost their damn minds. Scott Laughlin on the Power Play on NHL Network/XM Home Ice had such a magnificent blood lust over Cooke that even I was amazed, and I’ve often said I wished the world would end. Mike Johnson had to talk him down a few times. Laughlin tried to make the case that Cooke should be suspended even though the hit was within the rules and no penalty could be assessed because Savard was injured on the play. Johnson explained to him that it’s no different than some person being arrested while walking down the street even though the person committed no crime. The bloodlust subsided a little after that, but the undying, raging boner that people had for Cooke never died.

Sadly, this was not the last time Cooke’s name would be in the headlines. Here was Cooke’s final act of the season, as he was levied an incredibly heavy suspension for this hit on New York Ranger Ryan McDonagh:

Clearly, this was an illegal hit to the head. I have no problem with Cooke being disciplined for this hit. Moreover, I have a big problem with Cooke making a hit like that in the first place. There was no need or reason to bring the elbow up and deliver such a hit. If he keeps the elbow down and makes a clean hit it’s a great play by a two-way forward. Instead he picks the elbow up and puts his team at a disadvantage for 5 minutes, gets ejected from the game, and then is punished severely. When the game is tied 1-1 in the 3rd period, you DO NOT make a play like this, especially against a division opponent, even more so when the team has been depleted by injuries the way the Pens had been at this point in the season. This was a selfish and truly idiotic play on Cooke’s behalf.

All of that being said, I still believe, as the rest of the season proved, that Cooke’s subsequent suspension was a gross abuse of “making up for the Savard hit” and getting some revenge on Cooke. Cooke was suspended for the remainder of the regular season AND the first round of playoffs, which happened to go seven games. Going by the metric the NHL uses, 1 playoff game = 2 regular season games, so that was a 14 game suspension, plus the ten regular season games, giving a total of a 24-game suspension. For the sake of comparison, Matt Martin of the New York Islanders was only assessed a 4-game suspension for this attack on the Penguins’ Max Talbot (sucker punch and attack on a defenseless player from behind – the same type of play that had nearly killed Steve Moore when Todd Bertuzzi leveled a similar hit)

Likewise, Trevor Gillies, in the same game, was assessed a 9-game suspension for a hit as bad as Cooke’s on McDonagh. Gillies charged Eric Tangradi, leveled him in the head with an elbow, and then proceeded to punch him while he was clearly injured and doubled over. Gillies took him to the ice and then mocked him as he lay on the ice recovering from what ended up being a major concussion. Gillies is a professional goon with no redeeming qualities. Martin had been assessed a suspension for a hit on Phoenix’s Vernon Fiddler earlier in the season.  The repeat offender rule comes into play and both were slapped on the wrist for actions that would be considered felonious assault outside of the hockey rink. Matt Cooke was suspended for the equivalent of 24 games because of being a “repeat offender” (and there’s no denying he is a repeat offender, though the legitimacy of some of the suspensions is debatable), but guys like Martin and Gillies, in premeditated intent to injure, were slapped on the wrist.

Ugh.  Just ugh all around.

The bullseye is on Cooke’s back, deserved or not. There is no benefit of the doubt for a guy like him. He has pledged, at the strong urging of Penguins’ General Manager Ray Shero, to change the way he plays. Cooke has pledged to play smarter and not cross that line. I hope he is being truthful. When he plays with an edge, but within the rules, he is an excellent player and his stats bear that out.

In 67 games this season, Cooke was able to net 12 goals and assist on 18 others, giving 30 points on the year. When one looks deeper into the stats, it is even more impressive. He doesn’t have one or two games that skew those numbers. He was a consistent and constant presence on the ice, both offensively and defensively.

In the 67 games played, Cooke had ZERO multi-goal games, which means he scored in 12 separate games, and only had 5 multi-point games (only 2 games were a goal and assist, all other multi-point games were 2 assists), with none being greater than 2 points. In 67 games, Cooke appeared on the score sheet in 27 of them. Fantastic presence and production from a 3rd line player. Also within the stats, of his 12 goals, 3 of them came short-handed (or when the team was killing a penalty and playing with 1 fewer players). 1/4 of his goal output came on the PK. 3 of his assists also came on the PK, indicating that he helped set up 3 other goals by players while a man short. 6 of his total 30 points came while being a man down. Truly an astounding statline.

Cooke’s goals came against the following opponents (team abbreviations used for sake of my sanity; categorized by month):

October: PHI, TBL

November: DAL, NYR

December: BUF, PHX, FLA, ATL (now WPG)

January: DET

February: BUF, CHI

March: OTT.

Using the same system, his offensive output came against the following:

October: MTL, TOR, PHI, TBL

November: DAL, BOS, ATL (WPG), NYR, VAN

December: TOR, BUF, PHX, FLA, OTT, ATL (WPG)

January: TBL, BOS, DET

February: BUF, CHI, SJS, CHI

March: BOS, EDM, OTT

When he plays smart, Cooke has a lot more skill than people give him credit.

Other than Buffalo, there doesn’t appear to be a team that Cooke clearly played well against. He matched up well against a variety of teams and chipped in with timely offense. Likewise, games in which he appeared on the score sheet, the Pens record was 16-9. Timely scoring is a key to victory, and that is something that Cooke clearly provides the team.

Defensively, too, Cooke has been a stalwart. A prime example of what it means to be a two-way player, Cooke once again finished his season with a net positive +/- rating. He finished with a +14 rating, indicating that he was on the ice for 14 more goals for the Pens than against. I will admit, sometimes +/- can be a misleading stat, but it’s hard to deny that a +14 is impressive as a third line player whose responsibility is to give the main offense a rest, bang bodies, and score a timely goal or two to break the opponent’s will.

What will next season have in store for Matt Cooke? Well, it’s hard to say. He is a fantastically consistent player. The majority of his professional years have hovered around 30-35 points, which a few aberrations here and there. Had he stayed out of trouble he was potentially headed for a career year in production. He has also typically been in the 10-15% range on shot percentage, indicating he is not wasting his opportunities to score goals. He has 301 career points, but also 988 career penalty minutes. I can promise you he will eclipse the 1000 mark on penalty minutes, but I would say it is near impossible for him to eclipse the 350 point mark.

Based on previous seasons and what I can expect the Pens’ line-up to look like heading into next year, my projection (and this is based on trends and speculation, nothing scientific) for Cooke:

73 games played, 18 goals, 23 assists, 41P, 88 penalty minutes, 1 SHG, 0PPG, 2 GWG, 108S, 16.7%

If Cooke truly is a reformed man, and I hope he is, I think you will see a big upswing in offensive output. If Cooke goes back to playing the way he did this past year, you can expect him to be suspended a lot and/or scratched nightly. This year has the potential to be huge for Cooke. He can either right the ship and play with the skill we know he has, or he can continue down the road of making stupid plays and put the team in danger. It will be interesting to see which path he chooses. I, personally, think he will play with skill and curb his over-the-line play substantially.

Let’s go Pens.

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