It’s no secret that the penguins are a position to capitalise on the ‘big four’: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. At least not with some of the current crop they continue to renew and obtain every year.
Mike Johnson was unable to prove his worth this season. His coaching ability is not in question, neither is his team management. His plays are somewhat outdated but that is outside the scope of this article. Jim Rutherford did what we all expected but hoped he wouldn’t do. He traded assets. Despres for Lovejoy is unforgettable. 31 year old declining defensemen for a competitive, gritty young gun. The Mark Arcobello fix failed as did the experiment with Rob Klinkhammer.
Let’s be clear, I am just as frustrated at what transpired asset wise; but Rutherford cannot be blamed for all. There was the mumps that struck the heart of the team, Chris Kunitz Iron deficiency, Pascal Dupuis blood clot, Evgeni Malkin’s injury, Letang being slashed by Ovechkin then concussed by Shane Doan, Olli Maatta had numerous unfortunate health scares, Ehrhoff disappeared with illness and injury and by the time we reached the playoff’s Pittsburgh were without approximately 1/3 of their salary cap in Ehrhoff, Letang, Maatta and Dupuis.
Let’s just say that Pittsburgh never really had a chance to showcase their full ability. They made the playoffs on the back of an impressive start to the season and relied on the natural ability of Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, and Hornqvist to steady the ship into the playoffs. I am game enough to say; at full strength Pittsburgh would take any team in 7 games. But that’s the problem, Pittsburgh never got to full strength. As I sit here across the globe, I get frustrated at seeing Tampa Bay, Chicago, Ottawa and Washington dominate the back end of the season. It leaves me to question – who do they have that Pittsburgh doesn’t? On paper, Pittsburgh out matches all of those teams. The answer is simple. Youth.
Although it may be unfair to target some players individually, at the end of the day, they are payed to play the sport we watch at the best of their ability and to ultimately win the Stanley Cup. Thus, I’m throwing political correctness and sugar-coat out the window.
With the exception to Marc-Andre Fleury - Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Rob Scuderi, Ben Lovejoy, Thomas Greiss, Paul Martin, Craig Adams and Christian Ehrhoff are all on the bad side of the age 30.
With Craig Adams no longer required, Thomas Greiss no longer required and Ehrhoff still able to convince teams he’s worth over $5,000,000 a season we can safely remove those three from that list.
Paul Martin is almost certain to go – although, one hopes he takes a huge pay cut to play for the team and not for money; as Sidney Crosby has – that’s a captain – Jonathan Toews wouldn’t salary sacrifice for the benefit of the team, but I digress.
This leaves us with – wait for it – Rob Scuderi, Ben Lovejoy, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. I will keep Pascal because his early season form. He is a fan favourite and fan favourites are often the character of the team. He still has the eye of the tiger that Pittsburgh was born on. Chris Kunitz had a frustrating year. As fans we were frustrated that he couldn’t produce – but I suggest this – It wasn’t as if he wasn’t trying to – clearly there was more to the Kunitz slump than meets the eye and it turned out that health was a problem. I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt for his service.
I am not going to match my credentials against Ben Lovejoy’s – it will frustrate me. He lacks what every hockey player needs. I am astounded that he still has a contract. It is a credit to him and his management that he is able to convince teams that he is NHL worthy, that he deserves to be paid to play NHL and even be on the ice. I’d pay him to stay off it. My advice to Pittsburgh is remove him.
Rob Scuderi. We all hold our breath every time he is on the ice. He needs to be bought out or retire or be traded. I don’t care which, but just do it.
It is no secret that the key to Chicago’s and Tampa’s success is youth mixed with elite experience. Pittsburgh have the elite experience, tenfold, but not the youth. The solution is simple. Take advantage of Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Fleury, Hornqvist, Perron and Kunitz while they are still dominating the game. How do we take advantage? Bleed the youth into the game. Mix them up with the elite experience. Have Fleury mentor Matt Murray, have Letang mentor Maatta, Have Crosby mentor Kasperi Kapanen, Dupuis and Sheary, Cole paired up with Pouliot and the two rookie d-man Chorney and Dumoulin play as pairs. This is the best system. It has happened in the past when James Neal was bleed with Malkin – James Neal because a real threat.
Using the Chicago model – You have Toews playing with Saad, Kane and Hossa playing with Shaw, Darling with Crawford, Sharp playing with Teuvo Teravainen who is only 20 years old, proving that it isn’t too early. And what we see is Saad, Shaw, Teravainen and Darling saving the Blackhawks night after night. Darling won them the series against Nashville in the first round alone.
Tampa bay has the ‘triplets’ – but they also have Stamkos, Brian Boyle, Killorn and Brayden Coburn who isn’t a flop.
So what do I suggest?
Deal with Scuderi – trade, buy-out retire.
Trade Beau Bennett (it’s just not working), Brandon Sutter (whose perceived value is beyond actual value), and Ben Lovejoy (if possible).
I suggest the following lines
1 (new winger – maybe Saad?) Crosby Hornqvist
2 Perron Malkin Kapanan
3 Sheary Kunitz Comeau
4 Spalling Sundqvist Dupuis
1 Letang Maatta
2 Cole Pouliot
3 Chorney Dumoulin
Young, fast, future driven but present and determined. I know it’s new, I know it’s different – but it can work – Management just has to be smart.