Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pens Are Still Not Top Contenders

With the acquisition of Marian Hossa and Hal Gill, many are saying that the Pens are now one of the top teams to beat in the East. I disagree.

The Penguins offense is dynamic, there is no doubt about that. It continues to produce even without Sidney Crosby and when he gets back it will be a huge boost. Offense with this team isn’t a real problem, at least not talent wise. But there is more to winning than offense. Here is why I think the Pens aren’t top contenders.


The defense is still mediocre. Gill is an improvement but nothing great. Whitney continues to be a liability in his own zone, even on his good nights. Orpik is our best stay at home all in all, and Scuderi, despite playing well this year is still Scuderi. Sydor has been a bust and Letang is still learning. Gonchar continues to be an offensive threat and hasn’t been awful in his own zone.

There is no shut down defenseman on this team capable of taking another team’s top players. Though it is better than last year, it is still only an average corps.


With the rash of injuries the Pens lower line depth has been depleted with call up after call up filling in. Unfortunately, Taffe has been the best of the bunch all he really manages is not being a liability. Minard, Smith, James, Stone, Filewich, all have shown little in their games. I am surprised Shero didn’t go after a bottom line player like Martin Lapointe to help out and bring some more experience in.


There is a single symbol that can sum up the Pens goaltending going into the playoffs: ?

Now I know what you’re thinking: teams with a mediocre defense and depth have won, even in the modern times. And you’re right. Those are two reasons, but neither is the most significant reason why the Pens are not contenders. This is the most significant reason.


I like Therrien as a person, but he has demonstrated time and time again he does not know what to do with talent. He is a good coach for teaching fundamentals and developing young players like he did in Wilkes Barre for the Baby Pens, but since the Pens have developed into a good team he has been constantly unable to bring them to the next level.

Half the nights this team doesn’t look like they came out to play with many first periods looking like a warm up. Still, two years after he has taken the reigns players are complaining they still cannot get a good 60 minutes in. Two years! In now way shape or form does a good coach have this problem. Sometimes a team won’t look like its ready, it happens, but with Therrien it happens more often than not. And if you want proof, tkae a look at tonights game against the Bruins. The Pens got three new players, including the most prized in Marian Hossa and they come out and act like its a scrimmage. The team is getting out hustled in every aspect and looks pathetic, and sadly this is not uncommon under Therrien.

And what is Therrien’s solution? Why switch the lines up of course! Line changing is his solution to everything. He has no imagination or creativity. When the Pens call a timeout or are looking to make a set play, look over at the bench. Therrien is standing there doing nothing while Mike Yeo is drawing on the clip board giving instructions. Therrien does nothing with the game plan at all.

And yes, Therrien still plays favorites. It’s the only reason a guy like Whitney, the defenseman with the worst defensive skills is on the penalty kill. He constantly plays Scuderi and Whitney in situations he shouldn’t and gives Orpik, better in his own end than both, the shaft. And he still has yet to figure out how to use either Ruutu or Laraque properly.

Talent wise, do the Penguins have the ability to win the cup? Yes. But I’m afraid that the lack of coaching on Therrien’s part makes it so that as long as he is behind the bench this team cannot win (meaning that Hossa trade will most likely be a big waste). You can't win on talent alone, the talent needs to be molded together and utilized to it's fullest, something Therrien is incapable of doing.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pens Deadline Fallout

The deadline has come and gone, and the Penguins made two deals in an attempt to bolster their roster. One wasn’t a big surprise, the other shocked the league and everyone did a double take.

Hal Gill for a 2nd and 5th round pick
Shero addressed the Pens lack of physical blue line play by acquiring Hal Gill from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Gill isn’t great, but he’s a definite upgrade over Scuderi and while not the most physical is physical enough. Plus he can clear the net. The price was a bit high, as is his contract that goes through next year, but all in all he will help.

Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a 1st round pick
I am not a fan of this deal at all. I don’t think this is the year for the Pens but Shero and ownership apparently does. While Armstrong is replaceable and I don’t think Christensen could fully develop playing behind Crosby, Malkin and Staal, their loss will be felt especially in the locker room. Losing Esposito, arguably the Pens best prospect and a 1st rounder will take away from an already depleted prospect pool.

Dupuis was brought in for his penalty killing skills, and it’s quite obvious why Hossa was traded for. He will give Crosby the much needed winger as Hossa is one of the best in the league.

This trade has some long term implications and I’m sad to say they’re all bad. Hossa is going to seek $7+ million for his new deal, and while the Pens can afford it they will become the new Tampa Bay when Malkin gets his new deal, having the big three of Crosby, Malkin and Hossa. If they don’t resign him and don’t win the cup (both slim, but I think the former the less likely sadly), then this deal will be nothing but a waste. Either way, the Pens lose.

I feel Shero gave up too much this deadline. It’s not that the return was little, it’s that the price was too steep and the long term implications too great. Frankly, I liked the deadlines where the Pens did nothing better than this.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pens Deadline Status

With the current play of the team, barring a serious meltdown the Pens are poised to make the playoffs yet again. Where is another matter as the Atlantic division is such a tight race you can be first in one week and fourth the next. That makes shoring up the team that much more important for the deadline.

In a recent interview with the Post Gazette Ray Shero said not to expect any big deals from his end. This fits right into Shero’s MO and frankly one I agree with. I do not think it is prudent to give up a first round pick and more for a rental player that won’t be signed. When you look at past deals like this, they normally don’t help a whole lot. Just last year the following big names failed to have a significant impact on there new teams after being obtained for a ransom: Bill Guerin (Sharks), Mattias Norstrom (Stars), Keith Tkachuk (Thrashers), Ryan Smyth (Islanders) and Peter Forsberg (Predators) just to name a few. Most these teams were gone in the first round. They didn’t do bad, but they failed to take the team to the next level, which is the whole point of making the deal.

Another thing is team chemistry. The Pens have pretty good chemistry on the ice, but the locker room chemistry is great, possibly the best in the league. Many are young and have grown together the last few years and Therrien, despite his faults, has helped facilitate this with such things as team meals and taking a bus to practice instead of separate cars. You don’t want to add too much to disrupt things.

Finally, there is good reason for the Pens not to make a big splash. First is that there is little chance of the Pens resigning someone. With upcoming contracts to young stars in the coming years plus some UFA’s this year (who will be mentioned below) the Pens wont be able to dish out a long term deal unless they want to let a young player walk or trade him for picks. Second is that the Pens prospect system is now quite depleted. We had one of the best pools for years but now those guys have made the team leaving the Pens with little to fall back on. Shero needs to restock the prospect pool and he knows that, especially now that with a cap system losing a player has become that much more likely to happen, so a constant supply of talent is needed.


The Pens have a number of unrestricted free agents after this year. Here is the list and whether or not they should be kept for the deadline, or used as trade bait.

Gary Roberts- Keep. Roberts is always a sought after deadline acquisition because he is a playoff beast. He’s won’t the cup, has loads of leadership and experience and adds much needed grit. You could get a good amount for him, but he is more valuable to the team.

Ryan Malone- Keep. Malone is one of the Pens best wingers and has picked up his play this year. On a team lacking wings trading him shouldn’t be a thought.

Geroges Laraque- Keep. While not the best playoff performer, Laraque puts things on an even keel. You need him to protect the stars, and he should definitely be resigned.

Jarkko Ruutu- Listen to Offers. Agitators are good, but Jarrko hasn’t done well here since Therrien doesn’t know how to utilize him. If someone offers a good deal for him, I would say take it as I don’t see him coming back after this year.

Adam Hall- Keep. Hall is good on the PK and forecheck, and doesn’t really hurt as a 13th forward. Return would be minimal so it wouldn’t even be worth while to deal him.

Kris Beech- Discard. Little more than a stop gap for injuries, as soon as players start coming back look for him to be on waivers and sent to WBS.

Mark Eaton- N/A. Eaton is out for the season and little use to anyone at the moment.

Brooks Orpik- Keep. Orpik gets a lot more flak than he should, often being the scapegoat for defense. If you think either Scuderi or Whitney are better than him in the defensive zone you’re blind. He needs to be kept as defense is always key in the playoffs, and he should be resigned in the off season.

Ty Conklin- Keep. You can’t get rid of a hot goalie, period.

What to target

As mentioned earlier Shero wont go for a big acquisition. But the Pens still need some help.

Scoring Winger- someone that can at least keep up with Crosby and tap it in. It doesn’t need to be a big name but there has to be someone better than Armstrong to play along with Sid. Kennedy will most likely take one spot upon his return but we still need another.

Lower Line Depth- Pens still need some additional grit on the lower lines. Taffe and Smith while not playing horrible are only able to not mess things up at their best. You need better than that. You need guys that make the other team play with their head up and be responsible in their own end.

Physical Defenseman- Orpik remains the only physical defenseman on the team, and Letang coming in at #2 is kind of sad, nothing against Letang but he’s not quite a physical presence. Even if it’s a #4 or #5 guy, give Scuderi the bump to the press box and add this guy in. If you can get the likes of Barret Jackman from St. Louis without spending too much, do it.

Who to Dangle

Like I’ve said a few times the Pens can’t afford to give up a bevy of higher picks to land guys. But we do have some young players that are tradable.

Erik Christensen- don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. But the problem is I don’t think he can succeed on this team. Look at our center depth: Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Talbot. Crosby and Malkin have the top two lines while Staal and Talbot should fill out the lower two. Christensen’s attempts to adjust to wing have failed, meaning center is the only place for him. With that being crowded, they should attempt to deal him for either a young defenseman or winger where the Pens lack depth.

Alex Goligoski- again, nothing against him, but look at the Pens defense. You have Gonchar, Whitney and Letang as offensive guys, Sydor a two way and Orpik and Scuderi as stay at homes. Goligoski is offensive, something we don’t really need. If you can swap him for another young/younger guy then do it. He could end up a good player, but offense from the blue line isn’t something we’re in need of. I would say only give him away if you get a young stay at home blue liner though.

Mid to Late Round Picks- don’t give up a high pick unless there is a young player coming back. The mid to late picks have a much lesser chance of yielding a future player and thus are more expendable. As I said before, we need the early picks to restock our prospect system.


Friday, February 8, 2008

The Whitney Saga

Since Michel Therrien publicly called out Ryan Whitney for his poor play against the Devils on Monday night, there has been quite a bit of fuss over it. Whitney hasn’t played well the past month or two, and has actually regressed this year. But Therrien, despite getting criticism for his maneuver was absolutely right in doing so. Whitney needed a kick in the ass. He had yet to be benched and we hadn’t heard any criticism on him from the organization at all this year. He responded last night with two goals and an improved defensive game, almost making you wonder if Therrien should call him out after every game.

But that’s not the main point of this article. There has been quite a bit of buzz since Therrien’s call out about Whitney from the fans and media, two members in particular, and I want to address them.

The Fans
As opinionated as ever, the fans tend to have a wide range of emotions regarding the young blue liner, but there seem to be three that are prevalent.

1) The “I love Whitney” Crowd
These guys gush over Whitney like he is the second coming of Orr at times. They see nothing but the upside Whitney can bring but ignore his struggles. In other words, they’re fanboys. Overly optimistic is a good way to describe them and they get annoyed when you say something negative about him.

2) The “I Hate Whitney” Crowd
These guys are over the top but luckily in the minority. They see only what he has done recently and some go as far as to say trade him and get what you can. These are the kind of people we always tell we are glad they aren’t our GM because they just don’t btehr to think things through.

3) The “Whitney has a way to go” Crowd
This is where myself and most of the logical fans stand. Whitney has tons of potential no doubt, but he also has some serious flaws. His defensive game is suspect even for an offensive minded defender, and worst of all he seems to be terrified of physical contact never playing the body or willing to take a hit to make the play. We also realize Whitney is only 24 and still has a long time left to develop. He’s had his problems, but he’s far from a bust.

The Media
Now for the most part the Pittsburgh media has remained unbiased, seeing what Therrien did as necessary. However there are two well known members that immediately rushed to the rescue as soon as Therrien called Whitney out: Rob Rossi and Mark Madden.

Rossi sites that no one should expect Whitney to be physical and that Therrien calling him out for it was basically a cheap shot. Rossi couldn’t be more wrong. When a guy is standing in front of a net you move on him, not let him stand there because, just like Monday, they will score on you. You don’t have to run him over, just tangle him up. Rossi doesn’t seem to know the difference between this though. People don’t expect Whitney to be physical, that’s not a problem. What they expect is for him to cover a person in front of the net or take a hit to make a play. If Kris Letang is willing to at 5’10 there is no reason Whitney shouldn’t be at 6’4. But Rossi doesn’t get that, thinking that saying a lack of physical play means people expect play like Orpik. Rossi, please don’t comment on things you don’t understand. And that you stated how nice a guy Whitney is and willing to give you interviews only shows you are being biased on the matter.

Then there is Mark Madden. The self indulged radio host who is desperately wanting to be a cool badass. Whitney always appears on his show, and anyone who does that Madden will forever defend like he did Ian Moran who everyone knew was awful but Madden would actually call a second pairing guy. But you have someone like Jerome Bettis who missed one show and Madden takes shots at him every chance he gets not only at the person as a player, but as a person as well. It’s this kind of petty behavior that sparks the booing at the Igloo every time Madden appears on the jumbotron. Look Mark, we get you don’t want to say anything bad about him because he is friendly with you, but really, you go way overboard. Saying Whitney will be a Norris contender in coming years is, well, idiotic. When is the last time the Norris Winner wasn’t good in both ends of the ice? Whitney still has a long way to go before he is even decent in his own end.

This kind of biased fanboy treatment from Rossi and Madden annoy me. They don’t want their “buddy” to be criticized. No, they expect the coach to tell him everything he does is right, pat him on the back and say “good job!” This is exactly how you ruin a player’s development.

A person can only tell so much of what they do wrong. It gets to a point where they need to be told their mistakes. They need instruction. Whitney wasn’t playing well, he got called out and put up a three point night. Do you honestly think he would have done this if not called out? Rossi and Madden don’t want Whitney’s feelings hurt. They guy is making $4mm a year and is a professional athlete, if he cant take come criticism there is something seriously wrong with him. Probably too much pampering of people telling him what a good job he’s done all the time.

Seeing where I am going with this? Rossi and Madden want preferential treatment for Whitney because he is media friendly and they’re willing to ignore his actual play in his defense. They are willing to ignore what really needs to be done to help a player because they don’t like Therrien’s methods. It is very unprofessional for members of the media to do something like this.

After both Madden and Rossi spoke out Whitney said the next day how he wasn’t offended (pay attention Rob and Mark: Ryan can fend for himself!) He’s played for Therrien since his time with the Baby Pens and knows exactly what Therrien is doing. “Tough love” is how he put it. Even Steigy and Errey were commenting on how Whitney can take it and knows what he needs to do. It’s part of the game. If the guy who the comments were made at takes it in stride than there is no reason people should be jumping all over Therrien for doing his job.

The funniest thing about this situation? If Therrien did this to someone Madden didn’t like Madden would be praising Therrien for calling the guy out and needing to do it more often, plus the guy needs benched etc. Madden holds a complete hypocritical stance and nothing but double standards. And face it, theirs is a reason he disconnects people who he can’t beat in an argument because he knows he is wrong but does it anyways.

So in closing, I will say this. Whitney is still young and needs time. He has his faults, and they are plenty, but there is still a lot of time for him to get better. Things like a call out will help him in the long run because it points out something he is doing wrong. Telling him everything is fine is a good way to ruin his career because you will never get anything more from him than you are now. Acting like he is awesome or horrible are extremes that should be ignored. He’s still developing and only time will tell how good he really becomes. But he needs help along the way, and that’s exactly what Therrien did Monday night whether you have the intelligence to realize it or not.