My Favorite Network Sports Theme Songs

April 13, 2011 2 comments

Just for fun I figured I’d put this list together for a little discussion and especially, a little nostalgia.  I stumbled onto a couple of these recently that brought back some cool memories so I started thinking about what my favorites were.  This is my personal top seven in order:

First though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great music of NFL Films.  Just about everything in their “go to” archive is great and everyone probably has their personal favorite even though most of us only know them when we hear them.  If you’re interested here is my favorite.

7.  ESPN Baseball Tonight

Didn’t think baseball would show up?  Neither did I, but I admit this is a solid theme.  It’s got kind of a “news” sound to it with a little bit of guitar thrown in to remind us it’s a sports show (I guess).  Serves its purpose well.  Just for fun, here is the Baseball Tonight intro from 1990.  I like the vintage (nowadays) presentation:


6.  NFL on Fox (current)

Definitely not my favorite, but it encompasses Sunday afternoons really well.  Just listening to it takes you that familiar moment where even though the work week is just around the corner you can totally shut it out and just totally concentrate on football.

 

5.  MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL (classic version)

What can you say?  Just about everyone in the US would recognize this one and it’s a staple of TV sports themes.  Definitely distinct.  I also enjoy the current theme to an extent:


4.  NHL on Fox/FSN

I didn’t really plan on this one making it but after all it’s a short list.  Plus when I heard it again sifting through these themes it still stuck out, even though I hear it all the time.  I was looking for the original theme from when the actual Fox network had the rights to hockey games, but oddly enough this is it.  I didn’t remember them being the same (this and the FSN theme) but I couldn’t find any others and according to YouTube they are in fact virtually identical.

As an added bonus, here’s another NHL on Fox video I found.  Not for the faint of heart.  It’s a playoff preview from a long time ago.  It’s horrendous/hilarious and there’s a good number of players (including Penguins) making asses out of themselves:


3.  ESPN College Gameday

I really love this one.  When those horns and chimes kick in near the beginning there’s usually a nice panoramic shot of the field, which complements it perfectly.  It takes me back to college and fits the subject matter perfectly.

 

2.  NHL on ESPN

When I was old enough to really start learning and absorbing the game of hockey this was the song I most identified with.  It has more of a classic sound than its age would indicate.  In case anyone is curious, the NHL2Night theme is essentially just a short and sweet remix:

 

1.  NBA on NBC (classic)

I’m sure you thought this would be a hockey theme, but no!  I don’t even like basketball and don’t pretend to understand why anyone else likes it.  The thing is ever since this song was current I thought it kicked ass.  If you can remember the highlights whizzing by on the screen as this played you’d know this was a great theme.  It does what every theme song should do:  have a great riff that’s short but hits hard.  Again, I didn’t happen to find this on YouTube and declare it my favorite.  It’s stuck with me this long and like I said it’s for a sport I could care less about.  That’s staying power.  The first minute or so of the below video gives you an idea of what the entire package looked like on TV:

Well if you’ve come this far I’ve got a little Easter egg for you.  It doesn’t really fit on this list but definitely deserves to be in this article.  I may or may not have had tears in my eyes when I saw this.  Okay maybe not but wow, the memories:

So did I miss anything?  What favorites of yours did I sacrilegiously leave out?  Let me know which ones you agree or disagree with too!

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Categories: Uncategorized

Canadiens vs. Penguins 03/12

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

With the Penguins falling 3-0 to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon, all of a sudden the Eastern conference playoff seeding looks much more interesting.  The Penguins continue to battle without obvious difference makers Crosby, Malkin, and Brooks Orpik, with mixed results.  Saturday’s matchup was no different.

The game began with promise as Dustin Jeffrey barreled down the left wing released a laser wrist shot that narrowly missed the net behind Carey Price, hitting the right post.  From that point on there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about for Penguin fans.  Soon after Jeffrey’s near miss and still with less than a minute played in the first period, Tomas Plekanec was left unattended in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.  Plekanec made a quick juke from left to right and delivered a backhand past Fleury on the goaltender’s glove side.

The rest of the first period was devoid of many legitimate chances for the Penguins and Montreal only furthered their lead in the second.  Travis Moen took advantage of a 3 on 2 for Montreal and his heavy shot went against the grain and into the net as Marc-Andre Fleury glided across the crease to face him.  About six minutes later Michael Cammalleri became the beneficiary from a feed from Jeff Halpern, giving the Canadians a three goal lead.  The only glimmer of scoring hope from the Penguins was when Jeff Neal was stopped by Carey Price in glorious fashion, as Neal was left all alone at the top of the crease.  He shuffled from left to right dangling with the puck all the way, yet Price managed to keep up with him laterally and block the shot into the netting above the glass.

From then on, especially in the third period, Montreal proceeded to put the clamps down defensively.  They allowed the Penguins to outshoot them 10-2 in the final frame and 26-20 in the game, however they were more than adept at suffocating the Penguins’ depleted forward corps.  What served them well the entire game was a nice mix of speed and passing ability that allowed them to quickly exit their own zone and enter Penguin territory.  Montreal’s ability to tic tac toe up the ice posed a problem for the Penguins, who have many forwards that lack acceleration and stopping/starting ability that allow them to match a quick counterattack.

Up until this point the Penguins have managed to keep their head above water in the Eastern conference standings while sustaining massive injuries.  As it stands now though they may have to do a little more than that if they want to keep hold of their 4th place ranking.  The Tampa Bay Lightning are only one point behind them with a game at hand.  A win for Tampa in their next game would vault them ahead of the Penguins which would reward them with home ice advantage if the two teams met in the playoffs.  Also, the Canadiens themselves reside three points behind Pittsburgh.  That situation is a bit more complicated though since Boston is also in that range.  It would be hard for the Canadiens to pass Pittsburgh without passing Boston, and if that happened Montreal would find themselves in the top three seeds for being a division winner.

There are many scenarios that still have yet to play out as we enter the final stretch of the regular season.  One thing is certain though:  In order to ensure the best matchup possible (and preferably, home ice) the Penguins must find a way to overcome the inconsistencies that have plagued them without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The Penguins next game is at 3PM EST versus the Edmonton Oilers at Consol Energy Center.

Categories: Uncategorized

Penguins Current Offseason Analysis

July 14, 2010 3 comments

The Penguins offseason seemed to start off with a noticeable bang in free agency, but along with the rest of the league things slowed down from there.  Some speculate the never-ending pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk has brought free agency to a grinding halt but whatever the reason many mid-level free agents are still waiting for an NHL suitor.  Long story short, things are slow so I figured at the risk of being redundant I’d write something to frame where the team currently stands and how things could ultimately shape up for opening night.

First let’s take a look at the current roster including all additions and departures (line combinations TBD):

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Staal-Malkin-XXXX
Cooke-XXXX-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Talbot
Godard

Martin-Michalek
Orpik-Letang
Goligoski-Lovejoy
XXXX

Fleury
Johnson

I’ll talk about the additions first.  I hadn’t seen much of Zbynek Michalek in his career up to this point (Phoenix being one of the sport’s TV dead zones), but his performance a few year’s back in Phoenix caught my eye at the time and I filed his name away ever since.  A plus player on a horrid Phoenix team who also happens to be a young, right-handed defenseman?  Sounded very promising, so I was really happy he came here since he was one of the few players I’ve ever specifically targeted that ended up coming here.  He’s not overly physical but he blocks more shots than almost anyone (led the league two years ago) and is a nice stay at home addition, which is something the Penguins desperately needed.  A solid buy at $4 million.

Paul Martin is a signing I like as well, but only upon the recommendation of others.  I don’t know much about him.  I was always under the impression he was a lanky but solid defenseman who ran the Devils power play but only by default (career high of 37 points).  Turns out that many claim he’s actually as reliable as they come on defense, he rushes the puck very well, and again, can run a power play in a pinch.  So all in all the label says we’re getting yet another defensive stalwart who has an uptempo dimension to his game.  I’m not so sure but apparently people that know much more than I do are.  Ray Shero certainly disagrees, handing Martin $5 million per year.  We shall see.

Matt Cooke was also re-signed for $1.8 million per year for 3 years, breaking one of Shero’s previous rules not to give role players over 30 any more than a 2 year deal.  With or without Cooke I think the Penguins could have managed but he’s an effective player so I have no complaints.  Sergei Gonchar bolted to Ottawa about three seconds into free agency, receiving the 3 year deal he so coveted.  I don’t blame Gonchar or the Penguins.  Money is tight around here and while the future is now, it would have been hard to spend $5.5 million in each of the two seasons after this next one and not know what we’re getting.  On the flip side Gonchar deserves the money and it was no secret there would be a team out there willing to take the chance in exchange for his skills.  Mark Eaton departed to the New York Islanders for $2.5 million a year, which is too much but the Islanders actually have TOO much cap space and the experience he brings will be welcomed.  Jordan Leopold received a 3 year/$9 million deal from Buffalo, which was an overpayment I have no problem with the Penguins not matching.  He’s an okay defenseman but Pittsburgh already has enough lightweight, somewhat offensive defensemen.

So where do we go from here?  Well the Penguins had roughly $13 million to spend when it appeared Gonchar was leaving.  When Cooke re-signed it was reduced to about $11.2 million.  With Michalek at $4 million and Martin at $5 million what’s left comes to about $2.2 million.

With that $2.2 million the Penguins presumably need two forwards and a seventh defenseman.  There’s been some debate as to whether or not you have to have exactly 23 players on your opening night roster (13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goaltenders).  I assumed that was the case, but there’s been a lot of talk about eschewing one of those by trading a 4th liner or using an AHL call-up as the spare defenseman.  All I could find is that the maximum number of roster players you can have is 23 and the minimum appears to be 20.  I’m not quite sure if this is accurate or not, but that’s just what the consensus seems to be.

Let’s assume for a minute that that’s true.  I still have a major problem with it.  If your seventh defenseman is say, Deryk Engelland.  First of all he’s not every good otherwise he wouldn’t be an AHL regular in his late 20s.  Just as troubling, he won’t be practicing with the big club hardly ever.  Sure he’ll practice a system that’s probably identical but it’s not the same thing.  Did I mention he’s not every good?  It’s sort of a risky proposition unless the Penguins defense is very fortunate in terms of injuries.  You know what’s even riskier?  The possibility of TWO defensemen getting hurt.  Between Lovejoy being a rookie, Goligoski being shaky, and two guys that don’t belong in Pittsburgh the Penguins could be giving up points in the standings that could certainly affect who they face in the playoffs.  The Penguins need an experienced seventh defenseman.  They cannot afford one while also fulfilling their other needs.

As far as what those other needs are, it really depends on how often you think Jordan Staal will play wing this year.  It sounds more and more like a reality and is reflected in my line combinations above.  Assuming that’s going to happen the Penguins need a right winger for Malkin’s line and a third line center that’s worth a damn.  I don’t know how this is all possible with $2.2 million but I’m holding out hope.  “In Shero We Trust” as they say.  Staal should be adequate at that position.  To be honest I see him putting up similar numbers to last year:  just over 20 goals and about 50 points.  The real question is are we getting $4 million worth of hockey out of him?  I’m thinking no.  You could argue wherever he’s put on that line that he’ll be the defensively responsible one, but anyone can do that.  That’s not the answer.  I don’t think he’s good enough as a winger to do that and provide the shot in the arm Malkin’s line desperately needs.  I think you’ll see the usual, just from a different spot in the lineup:  Solid defensive play and so-so numbers.

So we need a right winger for Malkin’s line but it doesn’t have to be anything special.  No, Nick Johnson is not an answer.  Eric Tangradi supposedly can play both sides but is probably a left winger by trade.  Do we want to mess with that right off the bat in his career?  I’m not sure.  Plus he’s arguably a year away from being completely ready.  Staal could play the right but he never has before.  There are more questions than answers here.

There are some third line centers to be had but for different reasons they’re all questionable in terms of acquiring them.  Is John Madden still any good at 37 years of age?  23 points in 79 games last year seems to suggest ‘no.’  Eric Belanger would be nice but he’s worth a good $2 million which just isn’t possible.  On and on.  And why are we doing this anyways?  This is why we have Staal supposedly.

The Penguins need two serviceable forwards.  They cannot afford them while also fulfilling their other needs.

And that’s where I take issue with what Shero has done so far.  Don’t get me wrong, I was in total agreement that the defense was all of a sudden a major problem and he addressed it in spades.  Unfortunately I think he went a little overboard.  Personally I budgeted about $7-8 million for the defense, leaving $3.2-$4.2 million for some type of forward acquisitions.  Maybe I didn’t set my sights as high as Shero, but that would have still allowed for the acquisition of Michalek and a good, solid option like Toni Lydman who I had pegged at $3 million.  He ended up getting $3.3 million for Anaheim, so we’re right on track.  That’s only one example too.  It could have been Andy Sutton, who is still out there by the way and will undoubtedly be taking a paycut from his prior $3 million salary.

Yet Shero values puck movers regardless of how many we already have which results in Martin.  Like I said he better be worth it because the forward corps is hamstrung once again.  To be honest we could have had Michalek and Volchenkov for $8.25 million, still leaving $2.95 million.  It’s not enough but the defense would be equally as good and you’re a small trade away from it being enough, but I digress.

Essentially what we’re dealing with now is finding a 3rd line center for cheap, which I don’t see a problem accomplishing, signing a seventh defenseman for about $600k if possible, and allowing whichever rookie impresses most to play on Malkin’s right wing.  Not the end of the world right?  Well, I still kind of think it is.

Tangradi is included in the cap number for the Penguins as of now so assuming he plays there is $2.2 million for a spare defenseman and a third line center.  I’m not sure how this is going to work.  $600k for a defenseman brings it down to $1.6 million.  How good is this third line center going to be?  Remember you have to leave space for callups and most likely a deadline acquisition.  Looks like we’re in the market for someone who is well past their prime.  Either that or the Penguins secretly have no worries about Letestu doing the job.

As of now, given that Staal could very well play wing most of the year here is what I prefer:

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Staal-Malkin-Tangradi
Cooke-Letestu-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Talbot

Admittedly I hate rookies playing until it’s apparent they’ll be part of the team that year (I believe Lovejoy fits that description), but given that people make too much of the 3rd line center position since Staal came along Letestu is a suitable replacement in my opinion.  I expect 25-30 points and reliable two-way play, nothing special especially for the price of $500k.  I don’t want Tangradi in the lineup much at all but he’s young, can skate, and hopefully can reach 17-18 goals which is at least an improvement.  That’s mostly by default, but it’s still an improvement.  Plus he’d be alongside two established players so there won’t be much pressure on him.

Add in a seventh defenseman that’s been around and you have about $1 million left over.  By the trade deadline you should have between $3.5 and $4 million in free money to make a trade.  The problem is I don’t really think there’s anyone out there.  Andrew Brunette is the only feasible option I see and that’s if he doesn’t plan on simply resigning with Minnesota, where he’s been for a little while now.

I could go on and on about how I’m conflicted by this roster.  I’m really excited about not having to worry about a shoddy defense.  That’s key to winning a championship.  My problem is despite the fact the Penguins have no problem scoring goals, it’s about consistency and timely goals.  That’s what they lack outside of Crosby and Malkin.  If they need a goal and those guys can’t create it, that particular game is a loss plain and simple.  One top six forward would have had a nice ripple effect:  Crosby still have Kunitz and Dupuis, who can at least keep up with him.  Malkin has a new toy to play with that will only make him better and create space for him and the right wing would be lacking, but you can’t have everything right?

Pull the trigger on trading Staal.  Either that or explore trading Letang.  He’s still really young but you have to give to get.  Maybe think about trading Despres.  Our defense is set for the next 5 years.  Package him with Dupuis to clear some salary for a young forward.  None of these have to be done this year, but in my opinion if one of them was this team could be primed for a serious run.  They still could be this year, but a sizable bit of luck and superhuman performances will be required.  Why not tilt the odds more in your favor?  Make a bold move and make this team a completely well-rounded force.  Staal looks incredibly redundant now more than ever, especially now that he’s being bounced around to try and accommodate the fact that we have too many centers and not enough wings.  If Shero is dead set on keeping him try something else.  We actually are deep on defense here and in Wilkes-Barre.  We don’t lack centers either.  Maybe Dustin Jeffrey could be part of a package as well, who knows?  Even Tangradi if it means an upgrade there.

Enough rambling.  I don’t think they have enough money and I can’t believe they don’t know it too but it seems Staal shifting to wing will cure the cap woes enough to put a nice team together.  I guess that’s fine, but with a confident trade from a confident general manager I think this team could be set for years to come.

Categories: Uncategorized

Pittsburgh Penguins ’10-’11 Roster (Take One)

May 20, 2010 3 comments

I decided to try and crunch the numbers and find a somewhat suitable team to field for the ’10-’11 season.  Sure it’s a bit early, but will be hoisted and July 1st will roll around before we know it.  At any rate here is my first submission for what could be a possible cap-friendly Penguins roster for next year.  Even with it being a tight squeeze salary-wise there are still a few different directions you can go in, so I’ll explain some notable parts of the roster below it.  Also, scroll down to my free agent list for a reference on the new faces.

Here we go…..

Kunitz-Crosby-Kariya ($3 million)

Tangradi-Malkin-Bertuzzi ($1.5 million)

Dupuis-Staal-Kennedy

Rupp-Adams-Talbot

Godard

Orpik-Letang

Goligoski-Jurcina ($1.8 million)

Lovejoy-Bouillon ($850k)

Brett Lebda ($625k)

$1.45 million in cap space (I won’t bore you with the details but I verified this twice)

Now keep in mind under any scenario that whatever cap room is left when the opening night roster is set basically quadruples by the time the trade deadline rolls around.  I have no idea how that makes any sense but it does (it’s how the Penguins managed to obtain Ponikarovsky just by trading Skoula and having about $500k in cap space, probably less).  With that in mind there is enough cap space left with this roster where you can bump up a free agent’s salary if you feel I’m being too generous (Kariya at $3.5 mil or Jurcina at $2.2 mil for examples).  Best case scenario if you feel my numbers are right on the money the Penguins have essentially almost $6 million to spend at the trade deadline, more if they trade a roster player.  Worst case they still have more than they did last year unless I’m just totally off the mark on every guy, which I don’t believe to be the case.

-Of all the points in this section this is the most important:  I have no problem with Pascal Dupuis and he certainly earned his money this year.  That being said if they dealt him for a draft pick they would have a lot more room to move in free agency.  Trading him would make a roster like the above fairly easy to put together money-wise.  Also, it enables an outside shot at a big free agent like Anton Volchenkov should the Penguins want to give it a go.  Trading away Dupuis and bringing in Letestu full time doesn’t hurt the bottom two lines in any way (Rupp and Talbot are still there) and while saving $850k might not seem like much, it could easily be the difference between getting someone you want or having him go elsewhere.

-I think $3 million for Kariya is just about right because he’ll be 36 in October and with 18 goals last year and a busted year before that due to injury I think he’s ripe for the picking.  I would go as high as $3.25 million per year as a possibility but any more than that is a big risk for a team.  The only issue is it might be his last contract so Shero would possibly have to break his “no 3 year deals for anyone over 30” rule.  I don’t think playing with Crosby will turn the clock back ten years for Kariya but he thinks on the same level as other creative players and if that theory holds true we might actually see some nice passes in succession for once.

-To me Tangradi has to play if no one is to be traded, which I expect to be the case.  In a perfect world I would play him 20-40 games this coming year and give him full duties the year after but I’m just not sure the Penguins can afford to.  He also brings strength and muscle to the top six forwards with is also desired.  Unless the organization feels he really won’t be able to handle it I would pull the trigger.  The future is now and in a worst case scenario bump him to the 4th line or scratch him and Talbot can fill in.  It won’t be any worse than it was last year for certain and who knows?  With the centers this team has 19 or 20 goals isn’t an impossibility.

-If you don’t like Bertuzzi as the other winger acquisition I made then feel free to replace him with whomever.  There will be at least a half dozen forwards with the same risk/reward proposition that comes with signing this type of guy.  I chose him simply because he adds experience, muscle, and a slight chance at a really nice year.  25 goals and 55 points is reachable but that’s probably it.

-In my opinion Jurcina could be a really great asset.  He’s huge, mobile for his size, right-handed and he’s only 26.  The Penguins torched him in the playoffs last year, but it wasn’t really his fault.  The Caps didn’t have anyone else to match up with Crosby and Malkin.  He won’t have to face those guys here and after having a great Olympics he could be a diamond on the rough who is in the midst of taking a step in his career.  He will certainly garner no more than around $2 million in free agency.  The risk is he could simply be Hal Gill without any of the smarts, but he could also just be coming into his own.

-The defense as a whole isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be but again I’m banking on Jurcina being a middle of the road signing that really hits the mark for the Penguins.  Francis Bouillon is your requisite aging defenseman who doesn’t offer a lot in any category but he’s been around and will be a stabilizing factor for Lovejoy.  If doesn’t have it any more then Brett Lebda can hold the fort.  He’s learned from some all-time great defensemen in Detroit and even though he’s just a utility player he skates well.  In general if the defense makes you uncomfortable then replace Kariya with a Bertuzzi-type player salary-wise and put that extra cash into the defense…….or like I said trade Dupuis.

-Lastly, keep in mind these are pain in the ass to do no matter how fun it is.  Everyone is going to have their criticisms of any roster someone produces, but even if you go just off of this model you’ll see that while some nice players might have to be let go (Cooke, Eaton) you can still trot out a very good team with shades of the ’09 Cup winning Penguins.

Categories: Uncategorized

09-10 Pittsburgh Penguins Final Player Grades and Free Agent Roundup

May 14, 2010 11 comments

So with the disappointing but entirely possible outcome of Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens, we’re left to pick up the pieces and see what went wrong (where to begin?) as well as see where we can go from here.  Oh, and evaluate those that may or may not be here from this year to next:

Sidney Crosby I still maintain Crosby had an amazing year.  He came within 3 points of a scoring title and potted 51 goals, by far the highest total of his career.  He was the epitome of a franchise player and team captain.  He was absolutely on fire during the Ottawa series and cooled off when the Canadiens put their defensive stranglehold on him, but no one can do it themselves.  Given that he can’t rely on many other players to give him some slack I think my previous grade still holds. A+

Bill Guerin I think people expected far too much from him simply because he was so solid and well-rounded last year.  He’s coming to what’s most likely the end but still chipped in over 20 goals at such a relatively old age.  He absolutely started to show the signs of an aging athlete though.  Wacky miscues where I’m left to wonder what he was thinking and generally slow in mind and body, he did the best he could nonetheless. C+

Chris Kunitz Kunitz is a 20 goal scorer and a 55-60 point player when he’s healthy.  It doesn’t seem like injuries are a long-term problem for him, so I don’t plan on it being a problem going forward.  That being said him not being in the lineup hurt as he’s really the only winger the Penguins possessed that is a true top 6 forward.  He chipped in at a consistent yet underwhelming rate in the playoffs and seemed to lack intensity/physical prowess for having been off for a large part of the year. C+

Evgeni Malkin What a strange year for Malkin.  A constant revolving door on right wing and a total dud in Fedotenko (not that I’m ruining the surprise there) put Malkin’s game in constant flux.  He struggled to find his game, and to me the blame falls in equal parts to Malkin, his linemates, and the coaching staff.  He had literally no top 6-caliber help for most of the year, was prone to mental blunders (probably due to trying to do too much), and I never got the sense that the coaching staff got him to relax.  All that being said, here’s the hard truth:  77 points in 67 games is a 94 point pace.  That is amazing considering the joke of a winger corps the Penguins have and the fact that Malkin’s linemates were usually no better than Jordan Staal’s……..or Craig Adams’ for that matter.  He is without a doubt still one of the top 3 players on the planet.  Now, despite a year of uncharacteristically bad penalties and sometimes uneven play, it’s time to give him some help again. B

Ruslan Fedotenko Scroll down to my last round of player grades to get the full gist on Feds, but here’s a quick summary of what was said:  “30 points and 11 goals in 80 games with Evgeni Malkin.  Wow.”  That basically sums it up so I don’t really feel the need to change much.  I don’t know what happened to him.  He’s only 32 so it’s not a Guerin-type situation.  I almost never question if a player cares or question their work ethic, but I’m at a loss as to what the reasons could be otherwise.  He looked slow and just plain out of it.  Heck I don’t even blame Shero for re-signing him.  There appeared to be no downside, but oh was there a downside.  Don’t let the door kick you in the butt on the way out, and oh don’t forget this *hands him his Cup ring*.  Nothing short of his family holding Shero hostage will have him in a Pens uniform next year.  F

Pascal Dupuis Dupuis had a surprisingly good year for a 3rd/4th line tweener.  18 goals was a welcome contribution on a team without nearly the scoring depth people assume when they see the top players’ names.  He also contributed the OT winner that sealed the series against Ottawa.  A great year for him, although I’m not opposed to dumping him for a draft pick to free up some cash given that the Penguins seem to have too many pluggers. A-

Alexei Ponikarovsky I refuse to go too low with my grade on Ponikarovsky.  Much of a player’s success is attributed to opportunity.  How would you treat a proven 20 goal scorer when he arrived in your locker room?  A solid yet unspectacular player?  Oh and also you have a problem at the left wing of your superstar center.  Would you shift him all around the lineup and not give him any power play time on a team that lacks scoring depth?  If you answered yes, apparently Bylsma would agree with you.  Sure, he didn’t light the world on fire in his time here but if he was ever going to that chance was taken behind the old oak tree and shot between the eyes by Bylsma himself.  I’m not a big Luca Caputi fan, but according to Bylsma we traded away a decent prospect for a guy who, despite his track record,  should be bounced up and down between the second and fourth lines constantly.  The result?  We’ll never know if he’s worth signing or if he had any chemistry with Malkin.  You know what though?  It doesn’t matter because I have no idea why he would want to come back here anyways.  Great job Dan.  He won’t come back, but again we’ll never know if he was a fit or not in my opinion. C

Jordan Staal As previously stated I think Staal made significant strides this year.  I say that because he broke 20 goals and registered 49 points.  In all honesty I always thought he was a decent two-way player.  Now the stats are starting to come.  If he can average 60 points a year I’ll shut up about possibly dealing him and finally be comfortable with the 3 center formula.  What he needs to add now is taking some offensive initiative and being visible in the opposing zone when the team needs him.  Playing solid defense is not enough.  Any forward can do that or at least be taught to do that.  In conclusion I don’t mind what I see, but I want to see more of it, and god help him if he dips under 20 goals next year because it won’t be acceptable.  The time also needs to come for people to realize Staal doesn’t “shut down” anyone.  He isn’t assigned to shadow anyone and big time players have torched the Penguins in certain playoff series’. B-

Matt Cooke Cooke had a very good year by his standards despite taking some typical bad penalties.  Of course that’s the downside of having a player like Cooke.  Nevertheless 15 goals is a nice total for a checker and he was maybe the only player I thought played consistently well throughout the playoffs and he also continued to produce goals.  He’s very signable at a current value of $1.2 million per year.  I expect him to be re-signed rather easily and it could very well be before July 1st. A-

Tyler Kennedy Another season, another 15-20 games missed by Kennedy.  He’s only 23, but he’s very small and I’m banking on him missing a chunk of the season every year.  13 goals is what it is, good or bad.  The problem with him is I don’t see any potential or any kind of ceiling.  What you see is what you get.  I can live with him on the third line for his paltry salary, but if his agent ever even utters the words “one million dollars” even in casual conversation I would cut the cord.  He’s easily replaceable and rarely brings anything when it counts. D+

Craig Adams I ragged on him constantly for his big donut in the goal scoring category, but I thought he played very well in the playoffs.  Oddly enough he chipped in two goals in the post season and seemed loaded for bear in the hitting and hustle departments.  He makes next to nothing by NHL standards so what the heck, let’s keep him around.  He obviously gives a crap when the playoffs roll around. B+

Mike Rupp Rupp had a great year goal-wise and in general he played well in his role.  13 goals and despite not scoring in the playoffs he played admirably when given a chance to get some ice time.  I don’t really have any complaints and think the Penguins should explore rotating him into the top 6 every once in awhile next year. A-

No grades:

Max Talbot (he’s been racked up so I’m giving him a break)

Eric Godard (self-explanatory)

Sergei Gonchar 50 points in 62 games is about right for Gonchar.  I admit he’s not as reliable as he once was in his own zone but he’s a premier power play QB and I wouldn’t say he’s terrible defensively.  What he was thinking on that short-handed goal in game 7 no one knows but all things considered I think he’s at least average back there.  I don’t see any way the Penguins can realistically keep him and despite the oddity that was the power play’s lack of success this year he’ll be missed dearly.  No one can play that point on the power play like he can save for a few others in the league and his shot is only challenged by Malkin on the Penguins roster.  All in all “Sarge” had a good year although it’s at least worth mentioning he might be starting to spring a few leaks in his game. B

Brooks Orpik I’ve been very mindful and often critical of Orpik’s game since he signed his $3.75 mil per year deal.  I still maintain that the one shift against Detroit a couple years ago where he drilled three or four Red Wings in about 10 seconds earned him an extra $750k at least.  I like him as a player and obviously I don’t expect him to contribute much offensively (although 25 points this year was great) but I don’t see him in “Orpik-mode” often enough.  Hitting as a defenseman is a risky proposition and we shouldn’t take that for granted, but at the same time that’s what he gets paid to do isn’t it?  Be physical?  I see him be all he can be every three or four games on average, and at times he can go for a decent stretch without providing any kind of impact.  That’s not to say he plays poorly, but what’s missing a lot of nights is what earned him that money.  Where was he against Montreal for instance?  When he started coming on in his career I thought he looked like a poor man’s Scott Stevens.  Unfortunately the rule changes and more wide open game that’s played these days prevented that from happening, but he’s just not always there and I don’t know if you can look past that.  If there was a grade between a C+ and a B- that’s what I would give, however given that I’m not as adept at evaluating defenseman I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. B-

Kris Letang I think these playoffs made Letang even more of an enigma.  One thing you have to remember though is being an enigma at the age of 23 as an NHL defenseman is more than most guys will ever be.  In other words, there are a lot of tools and room to improve here.  Right now I’m just not as certain he’s as big a part of this team going forward as Shero is.  Can you really give a defenseman $3.5 million a year who scored a paltry 3 goals, 27 points all year and isn’t defensively oriented?  He leads all defenseman in playoff goal scoring as of this writing but I’m going to go out on somewhat of a limb and say that it was a fluke.  Letang normally can’t hit the net to save his life so I don’t expect 10-12 goals out of him next year.  Who knows?  Maybe the light bulb went of during this post season.  I’m not counting on it but it’s possible.  All in all Letang needs to be more consistent.  The majority of the time I think he’s a $2 million defenseman.  I think the rest of the time is split between earning his new contract and being unreliable and confused in his own zone.  I’m willing to keep the book open on him, but if it doesn’t look like he’s made strides this year and maybe next, I see him as I always have:  A decent player that’s nice to have or but also nice to throw around in trade talks. C-

Alex Goligoski Speaking of consistency issues, look no further than this guy.  Believe it or not as much as people bash him the numbers are there:  8 goals, 37 points in only 69 games.  9 points in the playoffs.  The problem is he’s arguably more green defensively than Letang is despite being older.  Missed assignments and general screw ups put him on very shaky ground when the other team has the puck.  There’s still time to rectify these problems, although the “he’s still young” excuse is running out.  He’ll be 25 at the start of next season.  He’s on a nice contract though and if he’s surrounded or at least paired with a defenseman who can serve as an anchor there’s really no worries here.  He also needs to find a way to consistently put up points (he was out to lunch a good part of the season).  While I don’t think he’ll ever be well-rounded, the Penguins have him on the cheap for the next two years and that will be enough time to determine if he can at least survive in his own zone long enough to put up a nice point total throughout the year. C+

Mark Eaton Eaton uncharacteristically looked a little slow and a little lost in the last few games of the Montreal series, but the key word there is “uncharacteristically.”  He’s a solid Dman in the bottom half of any team’s D corps, he’s just not going to provide any thunderous hits or surprise you with an end to end rush.  His game is to be where he’s supposed to be and do his best to get the puck out of the zone and he usually performs his job admirably.  I’ll be curious to see if Shero is willing to pay him anything more (he already makes $2 million), but I don’t see many teams being more than mildly interested so they may be able to get away with something like $2.2 million a year or a slightly longer deal for the current price.  I’m 50/50 on whether he stays or goes.

Jordan Leopold I think the jury is out on Leopold as well.  I think he looked pretty good as a Penguin after getting a few games under his belt, but the sample size isn’t large enough since he got hurt in the playoffs.  He only makes $1.75 million so if he could be kept for right around $2 million I would probably take it if the Penguins didn’t have any defensive prospects they liked in free agency.  To me he’s basically Letang but for the right price and with more experience.  No grade.

Jay McKee Shero gambled and lost on this one.  I don’t blame him, that’s just the way it goes sometimes, but McKee isn’t what everyone was praying he’d be.  He looked like a good emergency replacement for Scuderi for the first couple months of the season, blocking shots like a maniac.  Then the issues that made the Blues and everyone else stay away became apparent.  He got nicked up and slowed down big time.  He’s more suited to be a seventh defenseman that’s rotated in frequently, but even then his terrible lack of foot speed is still an issue.  I would cut the team’s losses and just leave him be as a free agent.  Kind of one of those “oh well, we tried” sort of situations. C

Martin Skoula Just kidding.

Marc-Andre Fleury I’m as big a fan of Fleury as anyone, but he simply had a bad year for his standards.  Relative to all goaltenders he was average during the regular season and in the post season he just wasn’t to be relied upon.  I hesitate to use the word “awful” but it’s close.  He’s proven so much at such a young age that while I was hoping for more saves out of him by the middle of this run, the team in front of him wasn’t playing that well defensively either.  Long story short, I figured he’d bounce back the next game……then the next game…..and it never really happened.  What people don’t realize is that every time a goal is scored the goalie is never really the only person to blame, sometimes even on the really soft ones.  But even with that in mind there were a lot of games where Fleury let every good chance for the other team go in the net and that’s not good enough.  Not to be harsh, but if that’s the way your goalie is going to play the only wins you’re going to amass will be of the fluke variety and even that’s not for certain.  I’m surprised and disappointed because as many people tend to forget this guy IS one of the better goalies in the league.  He just wasn’t that guy this year and regardless of his previous body of work there’s not getting around that.  I don’t have much doubt he’ll be back to his old self next year but for now it was a year to forget for Fleury, no other way to say it. D+

Brent Johnson Not a whole lot to say, but he’s a reliable backup.  That’s been one of my slight niggles with the Penguins since they drafted Fleury and threw him into the fire:  Get a backup that’s been around, and they’ve done that.  A little late for my taste (would have been nice to have someone like Legace alternating starts with Fleury years ago) but Johnson is signed for the next two years and while he worries me in the case of a long term injury to Fleury he should be suitable so long as he doesn’t have to play many games in a row. B+

PROSPECTIVE FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS

To summarize my thoughts on the Penguinsown key free agents:  Cooke will stay for a slight raise, Ponikarovsky, Fedotenko, and Guerin are all gone, Eaton I really can’t say, and the same goes for Leopold.  Gonchar will unfortunately have to go most likely.  Here are some free agents who are worth watching, although some are more likely to sign with the Penguins than others.  Also:  any players not mentioned most likely won’t make their way to the Penguins in any circumstance for a variety of reasons.  Lastly, keep in mind trades are also a possibility that I don’t care to speculate on regardless of how much time I have on my hands.

FORWARDS

Tomas Plekanec I could see Plekanec playing with Malkin and taking the draws for him, but he’ll command a big salary ($4.5-5.5 million) and it’s probably too high for what he’s worth.  It’s absolutely too much for the Penguins.  A very nice player, but he’ll get too much and he’s a pure center to my knowledge anyways.

Olli Jokinen I only mention him so you remember his name in case he goes the way of Alex Tanguay.  In other words if everyone has a “hands off” policy towards him and he wastes away for weeks on the free agent market.  If his asking price drops to $3 million or less it would be hard for the Penguins to pass by.  I think he’s a diva, getting sick of it quickly wherever he plays, but there just might be enough excitement around here where the risk is well worth the reward.  I have no idea what’s happened to his game but I cannot state this enough:  if the Penguins acquired him they could have easily bought themselves a 75-85 point player.

Ray Whitney I have a big hunch Whitney simply stays in Carolina, that is unless someone over pays him to the tune of $5 million.  Either way the Penguins don’t have a shot at him in those scenarios.  The only glimmer of hope is if Pittsburgh really was one of the few teams if not the only team he wanted to go to at the deadline.  TSN speculated the above, which doesn’t count for everything but it counts for more than if it was speculated somewhere else.  The Penguins could realistically offer 2 years/$7.5 million but that’s about it.  Maybe $4 million a year if they’re desperate to have him, but under no circumstances will they give him more than two years anyways.

Chris Higgins This guy is a bum in my eyes but his name has brought up so I’ll do my due diligence.  He was once an up and comer for Montreal, scoring 20, 22, and 27 goals in consecutive seasons.  Then something, we have no idea what, happened.  He only scored 12 goals the next year but it was in 57 games, yet Montreal still dumped him to the Rangers.  Since then he’s only played 61 games this past season (in the midst of being traded again) and registered 8 total goals.  There may be something there, and he would come for next to nothing, but it seems to me like there’s something about him where GMs know to stay away.  Plus I don’t think the Penguins can afford for him to be thrown in to the top six and completely bust, no matter how interesting some may think he is.

Ilya Kovalchuk No.

Paul Kariya This is a player of……curiosity to me.  He’s nearing the end of the road but still has the wheels, the creative mind, and the hands.  Injury problems are a fallacy, as he had one serious injury last year but has otherwise been in the lineup for the entire latter part of his career.  18 goals in 75 games is somewhat worrisome, but with the Blues going with so much youth it’s not a surprise to me that Kariya’s numbers were underwhelming.  He will have to take a hefty pay cut from the $6 million he’s currently making, and with the $4 million mark being reserved for substantial players I think he will be pegged by someone for $3 million a year or less if there isn’t much interest.  Verrrrry interesting.

Fredrik Modin He’s older than I thought (36), but I think he’s still worth taking a long look at.  He was never anything great, but was a good second line player for Tampa.  Then he went to Columbus to die under Hitchcock.  What intrigues me is what happened afterwards:  He was traded to the Kings and seemed rejuvenated, making key contributions.  He definitely won’t make over $3 million like he has been, so a one year deal worth $2 million or less is a possiblity.

Alex Tanguay Probably one of the riskiest propositions here, it’s hard to tell what Tanguay’s story is.  He’s got a lot of talent, but is he just getting bored of the game?  10 goals in a full season last year?  Less than 20 in every year since ’06-’07?  I don’t get it, I really don’t.  He was soft as butter on the Avalanche but skilled as all hell.  If I’m using my head and not my heart I would stay away unless he’s forced to take $1 million or less as Afinogenov was last summer.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if the lights come on somewhere else and he puts up 60 points.  You just don’t know.

Raffi Torres He was a possible interest at the trade deadline, but apparently it was best to stay away (he did nothing for the Sabres).  He’s somewhat affordable at what will probably be $2.5 million, but other than that we’re probably in Dupuis territory here.  A slightly better, more physical Dupuis, but still one Dupuis is probably more than enough.

Pavol Demitra He’ll be taking a pay cut for certain ($4 million) and he’s a bit of an enigma.  He was hurt for most of this year, but 20 goals and 53 points in 69 games last year says there’s still life left in his 35 year old body.  Nevertheless I would stay away unless the price comes down dramatically.

Owen Nolan Hear me out.  At 39 I seriously think he can still play.  16 goals and 33 points on a Wild team that is devoid of offensive flare is not that bad all things considered.  He either won’t get signed at all or he’ll be had for less than $1 million.  I wouldn’t say I’d even consider him an option in the summer but if he hangs around past the start of the season, he could set the locker room straight if need be and probably do a few things on the ice.

Lee Stempniak I’m cautious about putting Stempniak on this list for two reasons:  He’s had an up and down career so far and he might command too much money because of his rebirth in Phoenix after being traded.  He should be in the Penguins price range, but probably won’t be due to having scored 28 goals in the most recent regular season.

Colby Armstrong Just no.  I like Colby actually, but unless the plan is to go with 4 wingers just like he and Kunitz then I say forget it.  I have no idea how he makes $2.4 million and I have a hard time saying he deserves any kind of raise.  Strange things happen in Atlanta I guess.

Todd Bertuzzi Some will say I’m nuts, but I would pounce on Bertuzzi the moment the Penguins aren’t able to get their primary free agent targets, whoever they may be.  It might be another case of living in the past, but he scored 18 goals on Detroit this year and I don’t think he’d do any worse here.  Plus the guy has size and isn’t slow considering that size.  My opinion is he’s at the top of the second tier in terms of wingers the Penguins can afford, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fact.

Maxim Afinogenov Talk about a wild card.  No one wanted him last year because he’s flaky as hell, so Atlanta signed him for next to nothing and he registers 24 goals and 61 points.  I think it’s impossible to tell what he’ll get in free agency.  I suppose if someone believes in him $3 million is possible.  To me the Penguins should call and offer him $2 million per year for two years as soon as the clock strikes and free agency starts.  Sell the fact that the money is good, he’d be on a great team, and the whole free agency thing would be over with.  I’m sure his agent would have other ideas but this is just about the best you’re going to realistically get out of this crop in my opinion.  I actually think he played pretty well with Malkin in the Olympics for what that’s worth.

Tomas Holmstrom Here’s another head scratcher.  I think his skills would be an absolute boon to this team, but at 38 years old?  I just don’t know, I just…..don’t……know.  It’s a risky proposition, but if it worked out it would be just what the doctor ordered for this group of forwards and in front of the net on the power play, where Holmstrom has terrorized opposing teams for years and years.  He makes $2.25 million currently, so a raise to $3 million or so will probably be too rich for Shero’s blood anyways when you consider his age as well.

Alexander Frolov Frolov has eclipsed 20 goals and scored 30 a couple of those times in five of the last six years.  He only had 19 this past year, which is hard to figure out but there it is.  I want him.  His cap hit is at $2.9 million, but the “what have you done for me lately” attitude that seems to rule the free agent market might get the Penguins in the mix at a fair price.  This one will depend entirely on the interest of the rest of the league, and it would take a little luck to land him, but I think it would be a dynamite acquisition.

Marek Svatos This guy misses 20 games a year about as consistently as possible (I hear he mentors Kennedy in the offseason), so I’m loathe to the idea of signing him.  His goal totals the past few years are as follows:  32, 15, 26, 14, and 7.  Of course missing games every year will do that to you.  Even at a young age (27) Svatos shouldn’t be considered in my opinion.  The Penguins are in “win now” mode and don’t have the depth to replace a relied upon goal scorer for a period of time, and it’s not even certain Svatos is such a player.

DEFENSEMEN

Anton Volchenkov I’ll just get this one out of the way first.  I don’t think there’s any chance he comes here and I also think if you crunch the numbers it’s sort of an impossiblity in realistic terms.  Volchenkov will command $4.5 million per year and possibly more if the bidding gets out of hand.  He’s exactly what the Penguins need on defense and in their own end, but it’s not going to happen.

Pavel Kubina Kubina’s $5 million contract is an old relic from the John Ferguson Jr. days in Toronto, when everyone that could put on a pair of skates and not fall down was buying a 4th, 5th, and 6th house.  He won’t be making that much next year and by a good bit in my estimation.  He’s good for 35-40 points a year, but what his +/- will be at the end of a given season is impossible to know.  Not worth the risk for what will probably be a $3-$3.5 million defenseman.

Paul Martin He would be an ideal and somewhat affordable replacement for Gonchar, but getting him here is another story.  His cap number is currently $3.83 million and other teams will certainly offer him $4.25 mil and probably slightly above without hesitation.  Also, with Ilya Kovalchuk probably going to the highest bidder the Devils all of a sudden have money to keep players like this.

Willie Mitchell I think he’s a defensive stalwart and would be that second physical guy the Penguins need on the blue line.  He currently makes $3.5 million so if someone wants him badly enough he’ll get a raise, although it’s possible he’s maxed himself out salary-wise so there’s a chance he’ll last a week or two in free agency and have to take a bit of a pay cut.  Only in that scenario would the Penguins be a possible suitor.

Side note:  Looking through this list I notice Mike Rathje made $3.5 million on the Flyers this year.  Can’t stop laughing, although that’s money the Flyers will no doubt use to their benefit next year.

Ruslan Salei Salei is 36 years old and might not have much left.  He’ll probably ditch the Avalanche, who won’t dare give him a raise on his $3 million salary, only to find out no one else wants him either.  Could be a one year stop gap solution for $1 million or so.

Joe Corvo Much of Corvo’s game simply makes me go “ewwww” and the Penguins would also have another puckmover without much muscle, so it’s probably best to stay away.  There’s a chance he won’t get a raise though so if the defense is bolstered with another Orpik-style player he may be worth taking a shot at in the worst case scenario.  I understand why many hate Corvo, but the one thing I’ll say about him is this:  You know how everyone talks about how guys like Letang and Goligoski move the puck up ice?  Corvo actually does it all the time, not just whenever it comes to mind.

Dennis Seidenberg I honestly know nothing about this guy but he’s going to make no more than $3 million next year no matter who signs him so he’s worth mentioning.  If you know more about him than I do then good on you.

Dan Hamhuis This guy was a high draft pick that seems to be in the typical Eaton/Nashville mold with maybe a little more offensive ability.  I’m not sure what a lot of people see in him to be honest and he’ll be making something like $2.5 million so taking a leap of faith I would say he’s overrated and stay away.

Garnet Exelby I’m a fan of this guy.  He’s essentially Orpik but smaller, yet tougher.  He’s still a bit young and can be a little flaky at times, but he’ll probably go for about $2 million and I think he’s a legitimate option for the Penguins.

Milan Jurcina Another guy I think would be a great fit.  He’s huge and while I can’t deny the Penguins torched him in last year’s playoffs, he was the leader of Slovakia’s defense in the Olympics and looked very good.  He’s the closest thing to Hal Gill you’re going to get aside from Gill himself, although admittedly he’s not nearly as smart as Gill.

Andreas Lilja Lilja is a defensive defenseman that’s had a long run with Detroit.  That’s really enough for me if you’re talking about pairing him with a younger defenseman.  At 35 and in a new system even a two year deal has some risk involved, but he could be had for probably around $1.5 million (makes $1.25 now).  Definitely wouldn’t give him a ton of minutes though as with Lidstrom and Rafalski being in Detroit it’s hard to say if he would perform well.

Zbynek Michalek For my money this is the guy the Penguins want.  I can only go by information I’ve gathered (the Coyotes aren’t exactly on in prime time every night), but here’s the deal:  He’s right handed, he’s 27 years old, he doesn’t take many penalties, he’s had some good plus/minuses in previous years with Phoenix.  He also currently only makes $1.25 million per year.  I guess I’m a little off my rocker to be so certain of a guy I’ve pretty much never seen play, but I had pinpointed him as a trade possibility 3-4 years ago and since then I’ve tried to get as much sense as possible about him.  My conclusion is that someone will double his salary in the offseason and he could very well reach $3 million per year.  I honestly would take him for that.  If nothing else just call it a hunch I guess.

Francis Bouillon He only makes $750k and would be a cheap option to pair with Lovejoy.  Worst case scenario he becomes the 7th defenseman.  At the age of 35 the risk is still almost none.

Chris Chelios I really hope you’ve caught on by now!

Brett Lebda Another Red Wing that might be edged out by the salary cap, Lebda fits the 7th Dman role pretty well if Shero was looking for an experienced NHLer.  He and Bouillon would probably make a combined $1.5 million.

Well that’s about it as far as free agents in my opinion.  I don’t think it’s a great group, but there should be enough there for the Penguins to fill the holes they need and spend what money they do have to spend.  It’s very hard to be picky when you can’t really go above $3 million at most for one player and it’s very easy to scoff at a list like this, but this is the cap era and the Penguins have some big time contracts that take up a lot of room.  There might also be a name or two out there that others think are viable options, this is just a personal list of who I think is realistic.  Still like I said if Shero gets a good sense of who will be scooped up and who will last awhile I think there’s enough “depth” in this free agent pool to get some complimentary players.  Who they might be will just depend on how many teams are willing to overpay for mid- to low-range talents and in contrast, how many teams will be reasonable, paving the way for the Penguins to easily acquire some names on their list.

Pittsburgh Penguins: End of Season Player Grades

April 13, 2010 5 comments

So here we are at the end of the regular season.  I think ‘bittersweet’ is a good description of what transpired over the last 82 games.  The Penguins frustrated fans at times, particularly post-Olympics, with very uneven play overall and didn’t convince anyone that they were the better team many nights.  That being said the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference is a solid showing and despite the oddities and apparent weaknesses there is still a chance at a meaningful run.  More than likely there is no avoiding the Washington Capitals and/or the New Jersey Devils, but as always anything can happen in the playoffs and if some players can step up their game the Penguins could still assert themselves as the big dog in the Eastern Conference yet again.

As far as the regular season goes some players turned in an effort to be proud of but many left me scratching my head.  Here’s a breakdown of my impressions of the ’09-’10 version of each player:

Sidney Crosby I admit I’m starting off with an easy one.  51 goals, 109 points, and a 5 game, 15-point finish to the regular season.  It wasn’t quite enough for another Art Ross trophy but he will share the Rocket Richard with Steven Stamkos.  I think this was the season that defines Crosby.  He is the consummate leader, plays extremely well in all zones, and is constantly improving in all areas.  He plays with no excuses and works like a dog.  Oh, and he picked up a gold medal along the way.  Not much else needs to be said, we already know him well by now. A+

Bill Guerin I think Guerin has taken way too much heat this year.  That being said I do think he deserved a healthy portion of it.  At only $2 million, his 21 goals come as a blessing and he’s a better passer than people give him credit for.  The problems lie in his shift in, shift out play.  He just looks to be in slow motion at times and I’m not talking about his skating (we all know at his age that would be an issue).  His mind and his stick don’t seem to be at the same speed as the rest of the game.  Too many indecisive moments and while he doesn’t coast out there he doesn’t make a bee line to the net or loose pucks either.  Still the point production is there for the money, but a lackluster performance in many other areas translate into a ‘meh’ season.  C+

Chris Kunitz I was pretty hard on Kunitz earlier in the year.  I just wasn’t convinced he was noticeable night in, night out.  I understand his role in providing versatile and physical play in the playoffs, yet there again lies a problem:  lack of scoring.  This year I’m still at a loss.  Kunitz missed 32 games so it’s a natural first instinct to cut him a break.  I’m not so sure though.  Over an 82 game season his numbers translate to 21 goals, 52 points.  The first part leaves something to be desired but is still acceptable, the second part is not.  52 points plus an inconsistent physical presence does not equal $3.75 million per year.  60 points and a consistent physical presence?  Sure.  That’s what I need to see from Kunitz.  He hits well, he digs well, and he produces his share, but it’s unclear which of those three you’re going to get on a given night.  I will say he looked very good after coming back from injury, but now he’s hurt again and no one knows the extent of it.  Again, I need to see more and see it more often. B-

Evgeni Malkin It was a bit of an odd year for Malkin.  He missed 15 games, and in my opinion it’s unclear whether or not he was banged up in some of the ones he dressed for.  Taking his season at face value it was still pretty good, just not up to Malkin standards.  In 67 games he scored 28 goals, 77 points.  Project those numbers to a full season and you have 34 goals, 94 points.  Those numbers tell the real story that wasn’t told with Malkin being in and out of the lineup briefly and going through a bit of a rough patch midseason.  A projected 94 point season is impressive considering his wingers are worse than they’ve ever been to the point of being criminal.  The only real complaint I have is how many penalties he’s taken and I’m not just bringing it up because of the final regular season game.  He ended up with exactly 100 PIMs, and that is simply being in the box too much for a superstar.  I don’t think it will be a trend, but it’s worth the coaches monitoring.  All things considered it’s still a scary thought what this guy could possibly do with even mediocre wingers going forward. B+

Ruslan Fedotenko Where do I begin?  Did he do anything well this year?  Seriously, I don’t think I’m being too harsh.  He was consistently slow, mostly lifeless, and had a knack for being completely invisible most nights despite getting consistently good minutes.  He mustered a paltry 30 points while for the most part playing with one of the best centers on the planet.  He was a minus 17, worst on the team.  Was he simply collecting a paycheck?  I almost never speculate in that manner but you have to wonder.  He’s only 31 years old so deterioration of skills can’t be the answer.  I just recently saw footage of him in game 7 of last year’s finals, and he looked like a completely different player:  full of energy, taking charge at times, and making things happen.  The only way the Penguins will get their money’s worth is if he comes up big a couple of times in the playoffs.  If you question Guerin’s bang for the buck, look no further than this disaster of a signing, and the worst part is I don’t think one single person saw it coming. F

Pascal Dupuis I admit, I was a Dupuis hater coming out of last year’s campaign.  Turns out I think he just had a subpar year.  He was reliable two years ago since coming into town with Marian Hossa and this year he proved to be valuable again.  18 goals is a few more than expected and at times he was playing like a man possessed, at least as much as his skills would allow.  He skates very well, attacks loose pucks and apparently can earn his keep production-wise.  I don’t have many complaints and again his goals were key for a team that doesn’t have as many consistent contributors as one would think. B+

Jordan Staal I think Staal made an apparent step in his development this year.  Maybe the Cup run gave him confidence or it’s just his natural progression, but he seems to be getting there.  He disappears a lot less than he did in past years and looks pretty formidable when the adrenaline is flowing and he’s confident in rushing the puck.  The things he needs to work on are his hands.  He will challenge defenders often but lacks the finesse necessary to break through and create a clean chance.  Hopefully he’ll get there, and his point production needs to inch up a bit more, but despite the fact that I believe his “shutdown” prowess is a total mirage he’s slowly but surely turning into a very valuable player. B

Tyler Kennedy This was another typical ho-hum year for Kennedy.  He inevitably got hurt and missed a mentionable amount of games and he chipped in enough to keep his job.  It’s not for lack of trying, he’s just too small and too one-dimensional to do much more.  Shots on goal are always nice, but when you fling the puck wildly towards the net at every opportunity and create unnecessary turnovers then it’s a problem.  Shooting constantly is nice when you’re in squirts, but in the pros more is demanded of a player.  Then again he makes $725,000 per year, so for what he is he does the job. C+

Matt Cooke Regardless of what your opinion is of the Cooke/Savard incident, overall Cooke was a good presence for the team almost all year.  I think after the incident he seemed to lose his bite, but hopefully that will return for the playoffs.  He produced 15 goals and 30 points while playing the pest role and generally being someone opponents don’t want to face.  I think this year his play was right on the mark for what was expected. B

Alexei Ponikarovsky I won’t give Ponikarovsky a grade, because frankly I think it would be a little unfair.  He seemed unspectacular yet reliable in his first few games, but after that he was being constantly moved around amidst the forward lines when Evgeni Malkin was sidelined with injury.  He also missed the last two games of the season with a suspension.  I’m optimistic he will be exactly what he has been for the Maple Leafs:  a decent contributor that you shouldn’t expect to see on a highlight reel.

Mike Rupp I never thought Rupp should have been given top six minutes (you don’t want to go to the well too many times), however I do think he should have been rotated in much more often.  His 13 goals obliterated his former career high of 6 and he displayed a lot of skill for a big man that lacks a lot of overall speed.  With Malkin essentially having no reliable wingers for most of the year, I think it would have been worthwhile to let Rupp have a go with him a few times a game.  Regardless of all that Rupp had a very surprising year, and is more a part of this team than certain guys who get a lot more playing time. A-

Craig Adams What is there to say?  I guess if you want a penalty killer and a penalty killer only, Adams is your guy.  He makes the right amount ($525,000) for what he does, so I guess there’s not much to complain about.  That said I still can’t get over the fact that he couldn’t score one….single…..goal this year.  As dumb as it sounds, one goal would’ve made it all better for me.  It boggles my mind that he even had 10 assists.  I can’t fathom Adams being on the score sheet every 8 games.  Anyways, I think my beef with him is more directed at Bylsma for playing him way too much at even strength. C

Eric Godard No grade. He fights, he sucks at everything else, and I don’t think we need him no matter how little he makes.  That said, he has one more goal and three more points than Adams for having barely played this year.

Sergei Gonchar Yet another player that’s taken a worse rap than he deserves.  Third on the team in points (11g, 50 pts) despite only playing 62 games.  I do agree he’s been less aggressive in his own zone but at the age of 35 I’m willing to accept that, especially since his totals are still great.  He takes the equal blame other players and coaches take for the disappointing power play, but for the most part he’s been the same reliable point machine he’s always been.  He will be sorely missed next year unless a miracle happens cap wise. A-

Brooks Orpik The saving grace of Orpik is that he’s the only rough and tumble defenseman in a group that all of a sudden didn’t have much muscle this year.  I still maintain he doesn’t bring that element as often as he should but at the same time when he does he’s very tough to play against.  25 points is an unexpected bonus to boot. B+

Jay McKee In my opinion McKee had an up and down year with a bit more on the “down” side.  He was reliable and blocked shots to his heart’s content all the way up until December, then he seemed to lose something.  Age and a battered body probably have a lot to do with it, but my hope is he’ll be the poor man’s Scuderi this team desperately needs for the playoffs.  He doesn’t fit the up tempo style the Penguins try to play so hopefully he can make do from here on in.  Up to this point he’s failed to be the same consistent player over the course of the season. C-

Mark Eaton The great thing about Eaton is you rarely notice him.  For a defenseman that’s a great thing.  He’s solid, limits mistakes and hardly makes them himself.  He’s just mobile enough and just physical enough to get the job done and he’s smart.  He always plays within himself and earns every cent of his $2 million per year contract.  Knowing what you’re getting in a player is very valuable in sports and Eaton fits that bill. B

Kris Letang I’m going to try and not be too hard on this guy.  After all, he doesn’t make $3.5 million until next year.  Nevertheless he has a lot of work to do to be worth that kind of scratch.  He skates extremely well and passes well.  He also plays as physical as his size allows.  That said he still has a lot to learn in his own zone and simply doesn’t put up as many points as everyone keeps expecting him to.  Truth be told his shot is average at best and his shot selection is borderline terrible.  His accuracy is terrible.  He’s still extremely young, however I don’t know if I see enough for him to earn that kind of cash going forward with the possible exception of his final contract year. B-

Jordan Leopold I’ll come out and say I didn’t like this trade.  I don’t mind the slight overpayment of a 2nd round pick, it’s just that I wasn’t convinced Leopold was all that good.  I’m still not all that sure but lately he’s done a good job of dispelling my doubts.  The Penguins have had team defense troubles so it’s hard to tell if Leopold is directly responsible for any of that or if he’s been unusually reliable, but some timely goals since his arrival have been great to see.  I really can’t come up with a grade, but hopefully he’s settled into the system.

Marc-Andre Fleury When it comes to Fleury, I defended him a lot midseason because I felt I was playing the percentages.  He has been known to give up some softies but he also saves the Pens’ bacon much more often than he’s given credit for.  Now that the season has ended I have to say I’m disappointed.  Past the first month of the season he failed to string together a number of solid performances.  The amount of soft goals non-Pens fans incorrectly assumed he gave up became a reality.  The proof is in the pudding, so I’m still erring on the side of him flipping the “on” switch for the playoffs.  I wouldn’t say I wasn’t a little worried though. C-

Brent Johnson His 10-6 record is about right for the team he plays on.  It might seem like I’m losing a little steam at the end here but Johnson was exactly what was expected, nothing more, nothing less.  33 isn’t that old so I would take him again next year for a minimal raise, although I would explore other options if there were an odd $100-200k laying around under the cap only because of his prior back problems. B-






Categories: Uncategorized

Fiesta Bowl: What Have We Learned? (Bonus article!)

January 6, 2010 1 comment

It goes without saying how disappointing it was when the BCS decided to match up Boise State and Texas Christian in the Fiesta Bowl.  More unusual than most years, we had not one but two teams from lackluster (read:  bad) conferences ending up with undefeated regular seasons.  As a result, both ended up in the top six in the BCS standings.  As is typical, right or wrong, neither team was given a chance to play for the national championship.  So which one would get to play Florida, a team that fell just short of another chance for the national title, and prove that they belonged with the big boys?  Which one would play Iowa or Cincinnati, two highly-ranked yet enigmatic teams, in order to prove they were a step above?  The answer:  neither.  Boise State and TCU ended up against each other in the Fiesta Bowl, a decision that you could argue made no one happy including the teams involved.

But what’s done is done.  As college football fans we’re left with the task of determining what Boise State’s 17-10 win said about either team, if anything.  This also meant as college football fans we’d have to actually watch a game with teams we don’t care about (we usually defy this logic and simply comment on teams we know nothing about).

So what have we learned?  Not a whole lot if you ask me.  The game was surprisingly defensive.  For two teams that have high-powered offenses there weren’t a lot of fireworks.  We were told to prepare for Boise State’s run and gun mentality on offense and TCU’s blazing speed on both sides of the ball.  Instead we had one team that seemed very ordinary under the bright lights of a BCS bowl atmosphere and another that made two key plays that allowed them to edge out a victory.  Of course this happens to every team at least once a year, but if what you see is what you get this certainly wasn’t the unstoppable force against the immovable object both schools would have claimed it to be before kickoff.

In my estimation it is literally impossible to make one definitive statement about either team after watching them compete against each other.  The closest things I can think of are that Boise State actually does have a good defense and maybe a better coaching staff…..or do they?  We’re still comparing two teams that played each other, yet haven’t played many other viable opponents.  So let’s take a look at the regular season schedule of both teams and see how they shake out.  Maybe then we can better determine what the Fiesta Bowl meant for college football.

Boise State Broncos

The Broncos kicked off their season with a win that was certainly solid:  A 19-8 home victory against then #16 Oregon.  The Ducks ended up having a very successful year, winning the Pac-10 only to lose to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.  This is definitely an above average win for Boise State, although if you recall just about everyone predicting the Buckeyes to get trounced in Pasadena then you have to admit the Pac-10 was pretty weak this year what with USC not being anything close to their normal selves.  Still, it’s a good win for any team to call their best win of the season.  The problem is with the rest of the schedule.  The toughest Boise State opponent for their last TWELVE games of the regular season is…….drum roll……Fresno State?  Tulsa?  It’s hard to choose due to possibly the easiest schedule I’ve ever seen for a legitimate Division I team.  If you don’t believe me check it out for yourself.

College football fans always complain about other teams’ schedules but the reality is this:  It’s rare that any program you’ve heard of plays more than two blockbuster matchups a year.  However with that being said, most of those teams have other opponents like Stanford, Michigan State, Arkansas, etc. where they’re still decidedly the favorite yet there’s still a very good chance of an upset or at least some indicators as to whether or not a team is over/under rated.

The most overused statement in college football fandom is “X Team has a weak schedule.”  This is one case where it’s absolutely true.  A shot at the national championship?  Broncos fans and alumni have to be joking.  Ohio State also beat Oregon, how about vaulting them into the big game?  Sure, they stumbled against Purdue but Purdue would be the second best team in the WAC conference just by default.  In other words Boise State’s schedule doesn’t do them any favors and in a time where “weak schedule” is spoken about entirely too many teams it absolutely applies here.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs

TCU’s schedule is by far the more competitive of the two, by how much is the question.  The ranked opponents they’ve beaten include BYU and Utah.  Not the worst undefeated season you’ll ever see but maybe we should examine these two opponents, which would be the closest you’ll find to “signature wins” for TCU.

Before we do so let’s get the rest of the schedule out of the way for the sake of being thorough.  The only other noteworthy win on the schedule would be Clemson, who certainly fit in the mid-range of opponents mentioned earlier.  Are they a great team?  Absolutely not, but they have a supremely dangerous running back who has won games for them.  There’s an X factor there, and this should at least be noted as a solid, capable football team beaten by TCU.

The rest of the schedule is fodder but that means nothing in that the bottom half of most other CFB teams’ schedule look no different:  Southern Methodist, Air Force, Wyoming, etc.  Nothing you wouldn’t see anywhere else around the country.

So let’s breakdown the ranked teams and see how relevant these wins really were.  BYU started the year by beating a heavily overrated Oklahoma team.  Sam Bradford was injured in that game and that had a lot to do with the downturn their season took.  A solid win, but not the win you would expect when you first see the opponent’s name.  The Cougars played Utah in a game that went into overtime, and overall it looked like two evenly matched teams duking it out. Their win against Oregon State was a trouncing against a team with big upset potential all year long, but all it does is cancel out the inexcusable loss to Florida State (54-28).

Moving on to Utah, they lost to Oregon but played hard and only lost by a touchdown.  Other than a win against California weren’t any notable wins.  There schedule almost seems to mirror that of Boise State’s ironically.  Not much to say here except I’m not very impressed.

The Final Analysis

So again what have we learned?  Well from the regular season we learned that Boise State had one very good win on their schedule but might as well have been playing D-II opponents the rest of the year.  From the same regular season we learned that TCU did not have any kind of signature win however they did beat two opponents in the bottom of the Top 25 and their schedule as a whole was just a touch more meaty.

How about the Fiesta Bowl in particular?  What does that game say?  Well to me it says that neither team proved much of anything.  Boise State played well on defense to everyone’s surprise but it took a big defensive play and a key fake punt for them to put up any kind of total on the scoreboard.  TCU didn’t show much of that speed everyone talked about and only managed 10 points and committed 3 turnovers.  In short neither team stepped up and let us know they were for real.  Just using the eyeball test it’s an easy call if you watched the game (you did, didn’t you?).

I would wager to say it may have been different if TCU had won.  Think about it:  Boise State doesn’t convert their fake punt or the drive stalls and TCU scores and eventually wins 17-10.  I’m not taking anything away from Boise State because they did convert that fake punt and they did score, but hear me out.  If the scenario above did play out, we could look at the schedules and say two things:

1.  TCU had a so-so undefeated season, but were undefeated nonetheless.  They played what at least amounts to a comparable opponent and bested them.  TCU is now on the map and who knows?  Maybe they could give a team like Florida, Texas, or Alabama run for their money.  We’ll just never know.

2.  Boise State, weak schedule and all, did beat Oregon after all.  Ohio State did the same so they should at least be in the same conversation.  To add to that, they held their own defensively against a team that scored a combined 93 points against two ranked opponents during the regular season.

From that perspective I think respect would only continue to mount for both teams.  TCU would be looked at in the same class as Boise State, instead of being the team everyone assumes had their day in the sun for one season, only to revert back to their mediocre selves.  Boise State would be looked at as the team that takes on all comers and always ends up on top, especially with their previous win against a great Oklahoma team.  It would be even more evidence that they should be taken seriously.

This is all in theory of course.  The reality is these two teams should have never played each other in a bowl this year especially since they played each other in the Poinsettia Bowl last year (if you can believe that).  My take is just one of many, but no matter how you view these teams after Monday’s outcome I can’t help but believe the overarching them is “nothing venture, nothing gained.”

Categories: Uncategorized