Monday, July 5, 2010

Why Pittsburgh should try to sign John Madden

If you have been a Pittsburgh hockey fan in the last 10 years, you hate John Madden for making dozens of truly special defensive plays against the Penguins whilst playing for the New Jersey Devils. Stains on the franchise such as the new jersey vs. New Jersey game October 9, 2000 where John Madden and Randy McKay both scored 4 goals en route to a 9-0 victory in Pittsburgh made us very, very happy when Madden took his Selke trophy to Chicago last season.

Now, fresh off of another Stanley Cup victory, Madden is a UFA on this the 5th day of July, 2010. Pittsburgh, as everyone knows, have so many centers that they have no business being anywhere near a UFA center. That, in part, is exactly why they need to try to sign Madden for ~1.5M for 1 year. It should stand to reason that as time goes by and a team's makeup changes, the pieces that you have which are proven commodities may need to be shuffled, re-strategized, and used in ways which are more effective for the success of the team.

I think a couple of recent examples are San Jose and Detroit, both for different reasons which could benefit the Penguins. In Detroit, they won the Stanley Cup in 2008 playing the team's best 2 forwards and Selke candidates together in Zetterberg and Datsyuk. They had good wingers in Holmstrom, Franzen, Samuelsson, and Hudler. The idea here is that the top line cannot be stopped, can play a ton of minutes, and the other lines aren't that hurt by lack of quality. When the team almost unexpectedly signed Marian Hossa, the coaches split those two up, and Val Filppula was made the third-line center. They came pretty close to winning again (Datsyuk missed a lot of the Stanley Cup Finals), but the situation changed so that the quality of wingers demanded more diversity of ice time and more quality at Center to maintain a puck-possession style through 3 lines. The fact that Zetterberg has played a lot of time at wing and at center makes the shape of the team that much more versatile and also sends a message to any other player that if Z plays where and how the coach says, so do you.

San Jose did the opposite. At one time they had a very good collection of forwards and 2 of the game's better centers in Marleau and Thornton. They were soundly beaten by Anaheim and management reacted by replacing most of the bottom-six forwards and adding even more high-end scoring via a trade, shedding flash in the pan winger Jonathan Cheechoo and a then-promising Milan Michalek in the process. I believe it was the first time a trade involving San Jose resulted in a German-born player coming rather than going. In any event, the staff moved Marleau to Wing and the result was an uncontrollable first line and more ice time for up-and-coming young NHLers. It didn't work because the top guys who play in San Jose are big chokers one and all, but they surely got the most out of their them.

Which brings us to Pittsburgh, 2010-2011 season. The big three center strategy won very, very big in 2009, and was good enough to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008. At this point, we have Staal, Malkin, and Crosby signed long term, and nothing in terms of wingers prospect, prime, or veteran. Does that mean necessarily that the three listed centers are shackled to center? Do they have the pieces to ice a solid third line if they promote Jordan Staal to a top-six job? If they signed John Madden they do. They can bank on Malkin and Staal's chemistry. They can play Malkin, who is admittedly grotesquely atrocious at face-offs, at RW, giving Staal as much as 6 more minutes a game as the #2 center. They can do and try a lot of different things with the proven stability of a John Madden as the #3 center.

The last thing I want to address is the fact that the oldest Penguin (Johnson and Adams respectfully) at this point is 33. There are only 5, 6 at best, roster players 30 and older. I don't care who is on your hockey team, even the best and brightest young players need to have true vets to learn from and lean on when things aren't going well. The reason I have keyed in on Madden is that he can still play a vital on-ice role as well, and it would be fun to see him in a Penguins sweater.

Breaking fake News

It has just been discovered that longtime NHL waste of perfect NHL size and skill Dainius Zubrus has secretly, stoically been suffering for an undisclosed number of years from the dreaded Mariusz Czerkawski Syndrome. No further details have been released.

Kovalchuk tearing apart the Atlantic

Ilya Kovalchuk is an intriguing figure. I can't remember a UFA with the stats being available at his age. It has caused a ripple effect through the NHL, and especially his latest team, the New Jersey Devils.

If Kovalchuk wants to join his polar opposite fellow Russian Anton Volchenkov is New Jersey, they are going to need to make cap room available. Note that they can sign him and be over the cap to the tune of 10%, so they could sign Kovy and then figure out who is going to go. A couple of obvious players with prominent contracts are Dainius Zubrus, the only Lithuanian currently in the NHL, Brian Rolston, who's '35+' contract should scare off everyone short of Darryl Sutter, and franchise winger Patrik Elias.

I think its going to be Elias for a few reasons; one, nobody is going to take Rolston. The attempts to turn back the clock by returning to the Devils worked roughly as well as the year the Avalanche brought back Forsberg and Adam Foote. There are a lot of things that make a player untradeable, but the biggest red flag is the dreaded 35+ contract.

Zubrus is a bit of a mystery, always has been. He's a giant man with great hands and keeps himself in peak physical form. His numbers are those of a fringe top-six forward, but he is also the kind of player who can have an 8-point game. Very interesting for teams who are starved for skilled forwards.

Elias, on the other hand, can justify his contract with is 'model of consistency' style which has survived constant turnover since the 2001 season. It really never mattered who he played with. He was part of the best line in hockey with Arnott/Sykora at one point, but then there were times when he still produced with the likes of... it pains even me to write this... Tom Chorske. If he is traded, NJ fans will be gutted until Kovalchuk and co. win the Atlantic in 2011, capped with Kovalchuk being the first Devil to crack 100 points in a season.

Also in the mix apparently were the Kings. This never made sense to me since they have what will soon be the very best Defense in the NHL all in either entry or RFA contracts. They are going to need all the cap flexibility they can manage going forward, and even then they will need even more cap room to deal for forwards. It does not at this point seem that a deal between LA and Kovalchuk is likely. Enter the would be vulture:

What has happened as a result of the Kings' part of the equation is that somehow Philadelphia though that if a team lost the Kovalchuk war, a good consolation prize would be winger Simon Gagne, 30. He has already been approached about and has apparently agreed to waive his No Trade Clause, thereby ruining the relationship he had with management.

Giving a player a No Trade says "we are committed to you. We are going to spare you the speculation and critique that goes along with not having a NTC; you are part of our integral core, and represent the franchise, etc etc". Being asked to waive it causes all those warm sentimental things to evaporate. This pleases me because it is Philadelphia. They have attempted for a long time to replicate the NY Ranger business model, and it turns out that their fortunes are roughly the same. This isn't quite the same as when the Rangers shipped Brian Leetch to Toronto in 2004, but it is similarly vile from the standpoint of denying a player their loyalties despite a contract. The Flyers, going forward, appear only to be loyal to players currently under contract in Nashville.

Garth Snow and the New York Islanders were also 'in on' the Kovalchuk thing. I don't understand them since they are still paying Alexie Yashin. Garth pioneered the extreme long term contract with Rick DiPietro, and that didn't work out either. No, nothing they do seems to work out. They need some more contracts to reach the cap floor, but if they went with Kovalchuk, it would be for all the wrong reasons - which is precisely why they were in on it. The Isles also drafted spiraling Russian talent Kiril Kabanov, a player who needs to be in a system capable of developing a player into an NHL player, something the Islanders cannot do, as is evident in their recent decline to tender RFA qualifying offers to Bergenheim and Tambellini. To summarize: NY Islanders need contracts to reach cap floor. Bergenheim and Tambellini were RFA, and could have been useful if only to reach said floor, but, were so poorly developed that they were let go. Massive offer made for Kovalchuk, who probably needed several tissues to wipe the tears off of his face. Garth Snow currently 3/4 of the way through a double meatball hero sandwich.

The Rangers have about 7.9M in cap space to figure out how they can trade everyone they have signed in the past 2-3 seasons and replace them with newer-smelling bad signings. They have a bad defense complete with a couple of the worst contracts in the history of the NHL in Redden and Rozsival, with limited No Trades. That may be the good news as the other 2 roster defensemen, Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy, should be developing in the minors, not getting hung out to dry under the very harsh NY lights. Marc Staal is apparently holding out, but it isn't as if they weren't going to trade him for a player some other team has developed anyway. To NY, the other teams exist only to draft and develop players so that they may one day become fine Rangers. That is what the NHL is to them; teams who have players deemed good enough to be a Ranger, and the teams who are in direct competition to sign them. It is good to see it not working out.

Finally in the division, Pittsburgh. They will show up in October with 3 Selke-caliber centers, a couple of perennial MVP candidates, a Championship goalie who is 25, and a recently assembled core of defenders, none of whom are 30 yet, that look like they aren't going to play nice. The quality at the wing position.. it would be generous to call it average, but a team has to have weakness somewhere, and wing is it if you're building a team from scratch (do you understand that yet, Washington?). Their ~2M in cap space is nothing. The Penguins can't even sign Paul Kariya. Still, even though the Penguins cannot sign Ilya Kovalchuk, the destruction he has caused to the other teams who have tied their fates in one way or another to him could work in their favor.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I still Hate New Jersey

You know what I think is a sign that society is doomed? All these shows about the plankton who come from New Jersey to turn whatever place they're haunting into the back room at The Go Go Rama. New Jersey is responsible for this, and I demand that they set up an escrow fund for $USD20,000,000.00 for damages resulting from its citizens. Also, the notion that Newark is in some kind of Newark renaissance.

I used to think the new haircut guy was funny, but he's acting. It spawned a bunch of knock-off new haircut guys (My favorite is the Irish guy), but now its all been reciprocal-lampooned by the escape from Jersey reality rash. New Jersey instituted the dead-puck era in the NHL, and aside from the business model of the Rangers is the biggest threat to hockey. The more I think about it, the more they are ruining everything present-day. I hate New Jersey.

has it really been...

Wow. HJanuary 2009. I haven't kept up, now have I?

What did we miss? Luongo still sucks, Thornton is a he-bride. Vokoun still deserves better.

I don't know what else really caught my attention. Oh, we won the Cup. There's that. I cannot express in English how long ago that seems.

Philly got Pronger. That seems like it worked because they improbably reached the SCF. It isn't going to seem like it worked all that well as early as next year, and I can't wait.

The salary cap is now just shy of $60M. This is sickening. Also sickening is the new way to Ranger-it, trading for the 'rights' to a pending UFA. I hope Dan Hamhuis thanks Philly for their interest and quietly signs in Anaheim, because I wouldn't want to be treated like an RFA as a veteran player. I also don't think its healthy for one team (Philly) to obviously and consistently absorb the core of another team (Nashville) as though there's no AHL. It makes trhe NHL look Mickey Mouse.

The only other thing that I can think to touch on is that Marty Brodeur sucks now against everyone except the Penguins.

Oh, and Versus, or OLN, or whatever the hell it is and their Vegas awards shows. What was that? Who thought: "Ok, after the Selke is awarded, lets move into a Beatles homage with Cirque du Soleil". Everyone responsible for that should be 'reassigned within the organization'. The bad music, the inability to pronounce NHLer's names at events where they're nominated for prestigious awards, the E list celebs, many of whom are only known to those who watch programming on Versus.

If the NHL is serious about promoting the game, promote the game on a respectable network with respectable personalities. Using obscure, token celebs from Canada on the bull riding network is a further indication of the second-class status of the NHL brand. Pay ESPN2 to host the NHL. Pay them whatever they want or suffer the instant discredit of poor brand representation indefinitely, because the assholes playing poker on ESPN2 are bigger celebrities than at the NHL awards.