Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just when I thought...

That Ottawa was exemplifying maximum silliness, they signed Brad Isbister, further signifying, on all fronts, that its all over as true contenders for the foreseeable future. 

Other teams have problems such as "Can Lombardi hang onto the #2 C position?", but not Ottawa. Sometimes, the sense that the clock is ticking on your "window" comes from fans or the local media, but at some point it comes from your teammates and management. I wouldn't call what Bryan Murray does "management", but, as in earlier posts, I wonder if the players themselves are under the impression that commitment to winning (with the best of intentions) are sinking to the bottom of the East wearing Murray's cement shoes. Also, their playoff production involving a lardy pseudo-Roman soldier. 

My Penguins are preparing to once again give every team they face this season a lot of trouble. I want to look at, in this installment, something which I feel will be a strength unusually attributed to Pittsburgh: Penalty killing. 

Fleury obviously is going to be as solid as any starter not playing for NJ this year. I don't care if Canadians will always remember MAF for his shortcomings in the WJC back in the day, the fact of the matter is Pittsburgh has a top-five netminder for the first time since the early 1990s (Before Barrasso could be counted on to pimp his .759 save %). Pierre McGuire can tell you, your best PK has to be in net. 

What is different is that the PK units were extremely effective last season, and with the omissions of Malone and Hossa, look to be improved going forward. I'm not worried about Hossa, basically, because I think the ice time he ate will be taken by one Evgeni Malkin, who's shown himself to be a force shorthanded. Sure, that was international competition, but when are the stakes higher or the teams you face more complete? 

Ryan Malone, on the other hand, as a winger, can be compensated for by a new Penguin, Matt Cooke. Matt Cooke is an outstanding PK forward, both in terms of positioning and tenacity. 

Speaking of tenacity, we have the pair I'm most confident of, Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot. Dupuis has been a 30-goal man in the past, and while he possesses lips like a lemur, also is extremely fast... and he knows how to use it. Max is Max, a man who should be wearing an A, a man who should be used to check primary or secondary scoring threats. Max is hungry, watching video of top face off men, plenty in the bank to pay the price near the net, and a fan favorite. 

That leaves Jordan Staal, who will probably be playing wing on the #2 line, a somewhat enigmatic figure given his ridiculous performances shorthanded as a rookie. The overall theme with Pittsburgh's PK forwards is the constant presence of shorthanded danger. J Staal plays blueline-to-blueline hockey, and while somewhat mercurial, doesn't have any problem crashing the net. 

I don't expect to see too much Sid on the PK. He'll see plenty of minutes, but I don't think Therrien wants Sid blocking shots and wearing himself down. Sid isn't terribly good at face offs (No Penguin is), so there won't be any draw-dump-changing going on either. That leaves secondary wings to fill that 3rd unit role, the Kennedys and the possibly Stone/Taffe types. 

I'm not aware of any special abilities any of our recent signings' PK abilities aside from Cooke. Pesonen... nobody knows nothin. I think Satan would love him some shorthanded breakaways, but I think he'd be more of a liability. Fedotenko should stick to jumping over the boards and only worrying about 2 things: staying onsides, and staying in the goalie's sightline. That is really all I want from him. He's got a pretty good shot, but I want to see him shelfing rebounds. 

Face offs remain the glaring inconsistency. This is what happens when your centres are 20, 21, 22, and 25. While I wish we would have signed Yannick Perreault to win draws when it matters, especially since PKs start in your zone 100% of the time this season, I'm comfortable with our guys learning themselves. 

The D? The D is the same line up that annihilated the Eastern conference, plus a healthy Mark Eaton. Whitney is out until roughly some team signs Sundin. That's OK. Assuming Andre Savard actually has responsibilities, this gives him a nice NHL look at Goligoski and Kris Letang on the PP. I feel that one of the two is going to be traded, by the way, and it may be Letang since he's a much more sought-after righty... it depends on the plans of one Carl Sneep, the 6-4 200 R prospect from 06, playing at BC this season. 

Darryl Sydor continues to be dangled in trademonger circles, although I'm sure he'll only be deasirable as a means to reach the cap floor. Return? Minimal. 

There is a bit of everything on this seasons' defensive menu. Hal Gill continues to be a light-armor cruiser. Gonch is the same steady scoring threat he's always been, and is coming off a season where denying him Norris candidacy was shocking. Brooks Orpik, on the other hand, is a blunt instrument who seemed really determined to smash forwards into the dasher. 

Eaton and Scuderi, they are the kind of defenders who don't make the spectacular happen, and I don't think you'll see anyone wearing their jersey at the Igloo. The things they do, however, effect the outcome of a hockey game in a big way. Shot-blocking is paramount to PKing, and these guys are outstanding. Scuderi is a typical, hard-working positional stay at home, while Eaton has a bit more intelligence is his arsenal in terms of getting the puck up-ice. Even with Whitney out, we have the capabilities of matching Gill, Scuds, and Orps with complimentary partners in Letang, Sydor, and Gonchar. 

Goligoski? I think many tmes this season we'll be going the 7 D-man route, because having an additional offensive threat from the blueline is preferrable to yet another Chris Minard-Connor James type. At least I hope so, because to ice a line featuring Eric Godard for anything other than attempting to break someone's orbital bone isn't going to get us closer to 2 points. I want to see Goligoski when we're leading a game and on the PP. How he does will determine how long we have 9 NHL-calibur defenders. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ok, so its finally September.

September is here, and you know what that means. Ottawa is making silly moves to further reinforce their team concept; "Sens competitive regular season Hockey, cocaine, and lardy gladiators complete with mismatching historically inaccurate armor Nation". How could you be one of their good players sitting on the bench, knowing that the Penguins are going to sweep you, and watch that ridiculous spectacle take place on home ice without placing an immediate post-game call to your agent regarding an address change?

"Hi, this is Dany Heatley. Listen, did you see what happened tonight? Yeah, the shoulder is OK. Sid caught me by surprise... look, is there something we can do to get me out of this situation? Tonight I took off my jersey and the first thing I saw afterwards was Shean Donovan, then I was overwhelmed by a vision of our opening ceremonies and imagining the rest of the world's tears of laughter..."

Meanwhile, the KHL is trying to implement a transfer fee system using Alex Radulov as ante. It didn't work when they asked for money for Malkin, and it won't when they ask for money to release Filatov. So the plan was to sign away one of the NHL's players, then attempt to pay a nominal fee compensate for Nashville's loss. It works under FIFA rules, and many big clubs poach young players with bright futures away from smaller clubs, who honestly are thrilled to pocket the cash. KHL owners want to sell players to NHL clubs via direct club-to-club negotiation.

NHL officials, meanwhile, aren't sure that the Rangers paying some Russian cats upwards of $15M for Cherapanov's rights is quite the thing to do. The IIHF, NHL, and various European leagues have an agreement in place which pays a flat rate when a player leaves for North America. These leagues subside, generally, on players who prefer their home Continent or prefer not to play AHL hockey. Russians who won't accept a 2-way contract in North America play in their home country, unless they've been traumatized like Aleksey Morozov.

Finally in this installment, Bryan McCabe has finally bean dealt. Florida. You know, they always seem to have problems in Florida. Nevermind that I hate them for effectively halting the greatness of our dynasty once and for all in '96, forcing us to rebuild once again and not reach another Eastern finals for some time... but they seem to have the kinds of problems they can't solve. They can't seem to develop second-tier prospects. Their blue-chippers want out before their prime is over. Bouwmeester looks like this will be his last season in Florida, and he's just entering his prime. Free agents understand that their team identity is literally that of being outside of the playoff bubble. Who signs in Florida? Players who would have retired if not for the handfull of points they need to reach a milestone, or who really like the golf courses. Its not for the hockey, not for the player development, and its certainly not because of distinguishment. Nobody ever said "My dream was to play for the Panthers before I retired. I used to play pond hockey as a kid, imagining the plastic rats being thrown onto the slushy ice in my honor..."

The media is asking Bouwmy if he thinks McCabe will be his replacement. This is a team which still wants to apparently try to re-sign him after this year. The press, along with some of the worst personnel moves ever, should book Bouwmy's ticket out of town. McCabe is going to be fine, because the expectation is so, so low, even though Toronto and Florida are extremely similar in the modern NHL. Neither teams draft well, develop well, draw knowledgeable crowds, or make the playoffs. Neither teams' fan bases can hope of seeing a contending team before their own bitter, trite deaths. These same fans have to watch as teams like the NY Islanders, accomplice to the worst trade/drafting gaffes in the history of the sport, make the playoffs by 1 point. Sure, they lost miserably, and then both teams had to buy new first lines.

Would you rather have Jason Blake at $4M cap hit/5 years, Bill Guerin at $4.5M, or a quickly enlarging view of the foliage below the bridge you just jumped off?

McCabe, for all the obvious errors, is a good defenceman. It isn't his fault Toronto gave him a ridiculous contract, anyone would have taken it. Now its Florida's problem, or one of them. I'm secretly hoping that Florida moves to Hamilton before the McCabe era ends. It'll be one of those unforgettable moments on the ice. Go Pens.