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.

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