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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

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

Penguin Player Grades: After 27 Games

December 1, 2009 9 comments

We’re a third of the way through the season and the greatest assistant coach of all time with the last name “Kovach” thinks it’s time we all weigh in on what we think of everyone wearing a Pens jersey, and I agree.  Obviously I’ll start it off.  I encourage everyone to comment on mine as well as submit their own if they so choose.  So without further ado, let’s start with the forwards:

Note:  Sorry but I have to consider salary when doing this kind of thing, because after all X amount of goals, blocked shots, etc. look very different when you consider how certain players are expected to perform.  Also, I admit as I wrote and wrote I noticed a lot of what I said about each player pertains to my overall impressions of them but the grades do reflect only THIS season.  I’m sure if I do this when we’re 2/3 of the way through the season they’ll be much, much shorter!

FORWARDS

Sidney Crosby:  Just recently I sort of called out Crosby and his teammate Evgeni Malkin not for playing poorly, but not being dominant as often as they should given their responsibilities.  Recently though Crosby has been out of his mind, specifically in the last two games which were against the Rangers, scoring a total of 5G, 3A.  Also, he has 14 points in his last nine games.  He looks to be back in prime form and all of a sudden he sits four points behind Gaborik for the scoring lead (currently 3rd).  He’s really stepping it up, and despite a small lull earlier in the year, has not disappointed.  A

Bill Guerin:  Assuming the role of whipping boy for a lot of Pens fans this year, Guerin hasn’t been that great but given his age and price tag I don’t think he’s been horrible.  He’s on pace for 18 goals and 48 points which is about right but given his goal scoring acumen and the fact that he plays almost exclusively with Crosby it will be a disappointment if he doesn’t at least break 20 goals.  He seems to float a lot more than when he was initially acquired but again I’m a little wary of nailing him to the wall when he’s clearly at the end of the road in his career.  C+

Chris Kunitz:  I won’t nail Guerin to the wall, but I will do it to Kunitz.  This won’t even be as harsh as I want it to be since I’m giving him the slightest bit of slack due to him being injured.  Kunitz played a significant role in getting the Pens back on track last year, leading them to an undefeated five-game road trip immediately after he was traded here.  Since then you can’t say he’s been anything but a big disappointment.  He chipped in one single goal in last year’s playoffs in by far the easiest series the Penguins played and has not done much since then.  In 19 games this year he has a breakaway goal late in a 6-1 win and two other goals I’m 98% sure would’ve gone in the net anyways even if they hadn’t grazed him first.  Sure he hits a little and is okay in the corners, but at this point an extra $800k per year for Ryan Malone instead looks pretty damn attractive.  D

Evgeni Malkin:  A lot of yinzers might not be so thrilled with Malkin this year at a glance.  Of course this means nothing because those people don’t know shit, but coming off his playoff MVP performance last season I think we all probably expected more fireworks than what we’ve seen so far.  Some of it is due to Malkin missing 7 games due to injury though, and 25 points in 21 games is pretty darn good even for one of the best players on the planet.  Keep in mind he’s also stuck with inferior linemates in comparison to what Crosby has and that’s putting it lightly.  I’d like to see him tear it up a couple times in the near future much like Crosby has done recently but there’s plenty of time for that and again he has almost zero help on the wings so far this year.  A-

Ruslan Fedotenko:  Maybe the most surprising disappointment as of now has to be Fedotenko.  I wasn’t all too thrilled when Shero signed him but he proved to be an adequate fit on Malkin’s left wing.  This year he’s on pace for 12 goals which is simply not cutting it when you have an all-around superstar as your centerman.  The Penguins re-signed him for a meager $1.8 million but much like Guerin 20 goals is the minimum he should end up with.  If he falls just short they’ll probably still have gotten their money’s worth if not for the fact that Fedotenko has so far been completely invisible in almost every game this year.  It’s uncanny really.  D-

Pascal Dupuis:  Here’s an interesting one.  I say that because I have to assume I’m obligated to go only by what the player has done SO FAR this year, not including what I think he’ll do for the rest of it.  If that’s the case Dupuis grades out pretty well here.  His play is no better than what I usually expect from him (good skater, decent slapshot, but nothing else) but at the end of the day he’s got 7 goals and if he somehow reaches 10-11 for the year at least we can all say the Penguins got their $1.4 million worth, which isn’t much but still way too high for him.  Aside from him physically scoring goals it’s been the same Dupuis we’re used to:  ho-hum fourth line performance.  That being said, he’s still a fringe player with 7 goals and there’s no getting around it.  B

Jordan Staal:  I was worried that my grades would all be extremely tilted towards good or bad, but then when I remembered Staal it didn’t bother me anymore.  He’s not necessarily “bad” he just never lasts more than one game looking “good.”  We always criticize fans who judge players strictly on whether they scored or not on a particular night but I think it really is that way with Staal.  If he scores that’s great but if he doesn’t it’s rare that he does anything memorable through the course of three periods.  I admit I’m probably much harder on him than some people, but it’s difficult when I would say he mishandles the puck a handful of times every single game, carries the puck with his head down, and generally looks slow with his hands, feet, and mind. 

I’m not buying into the whole “he plays great defense” argument either.  Jeff Halpern plays great defense too and in his prime could muster as many points as Staal does now.  The difference is Halpern never made anything near $4 million per year.  He has a few years left to grow which coincide badly with his contract expiring.  Here’s to hoping Shero figures him out before that one way or the other.    C+

Tyler Kennedy:  Kennedy has only played 14 games yet he’s managed 6 goals so far this year, all of them coming near the beginning of the season.  I don’t have a whole lot to say about Kennedy except that he fits nicely on a third line.  He’s a small, quick player that complements bigger players usually designated to play the other wing and center positions alongside him.  You can bank on 15-19 goals from him in a full season and I’m sure he’ll hit 20 one of these years and go back down, but if he keeps finding ways to make an impact on the score sheet every few games there’s nothing to complain about and he’ll never hurt your team much.  I guess that’s a long winded way of saying I think he’s been “fine” so far and will be “fine” for the rest of the year……as usual.  B+

Matt Cooke:  Cooke has also proven himself worthy of a third line role since he was signed two summers ago and continues to perform at the same level.  He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are and this year he’s again proven to be good at drawing penalties, taking the body, and chipping in a goal every so often.  He has 5 so far and I’m sure if he only gets 3-4 more this season he’ll still have done his job.  A-

Mike Rupp:   I’ll try not to let the shine of Rupp’s recent hat trick cloud my judgment here but it still has to be factored in.  I said a lot about him in my last post about Monday’s Ranger game so I won’t repeat too much here.  To summarize, I don’t think anyone wanted Rupp when he was signed except Ray Shero, and as it stands right now he’s been the biggest offensive contributor to the Penguins outside of Malkin and Crosby.  With 8 goals before the halfway point and being rewarded accordingly with genuine ice time, Rupp has a legitimate chance to reach 15 goals by the end of the season and be the biggest surprise this year.  Notice I’m much more impressed with Rupp’s 8 goals than I am with Dupuis’s 7.  The reason?  Rupp actually has the skills to prove it’s not a fluke.  A+

Craig Adams:  Adams is Adams.  He plays on the fourth line, doesn’t screw up and is rarely noticeable.  I don’t think anyone should be dressed for a whole season and not pick up at least 3-4 goals, so I’d like to see him put a couple in before the season is over since he doesn’t have any now, but he does his job well killing penalties and never being a hinderance.  B-

Eric Godard:  I’m afraid I can’t give a player like this an accurate grade.  He offers nothing to the team except the willingness to get hit in the head.  I don’t really agree with the old school theory that every team needs a goon so if it were up to me the Penguins wouldn’t have a player like this, therefore I’ll just not grade him.

Chris Bourque:  Ummmmm………what to say about Bourque?  The Penguins picked him up off of waivers just before the season started and I had no problem with it at the time and I’m not sure I even do now, but he’s really struggling to keep up at this level.  Ray’s son is just not skilled enough to play with NHLers.  He isn’t strong enough and can’t skate well enough to make any sort of contribution, and even if he did possess those qualities he doesn’t have any other skills that would translate into any kind of point production.  He’ll be a healthy scratch once all the forwards are healthy again but like my dad has mentioned the Penguins will probably at least keep him with the big league rather than send him down, mostly as a favor to his father.  D

DEFENSEMEN

Sergei Gonchar:  Gonchar has played 16 games and contributed 13 points, which are his usual impressive numbers.  Now that Crosby and Malkin are officially piquing it would be great to see a full, healthy season from him to see what totals he would put up.  I don’t think 70 points would be out of the question.  Anyways, before and after his injury Gonchar has been steady on defense and deadly on the power play; in other words he’s done exactly what he’s been paid to do just like always.  He’s one of the more reliable defensemen in the league and while his defensive play isn’t flashy he’s experienced and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.  This year I’ve seen him get confused briefly a couple times leading to good chances for the opposition, but the complaints are minor considering he’s still a main catalyst for the Penguins.  B+

Brooks Orpik:  Orpik was kind of a personal favorite of mine since he came up to the big club, but I soured on him slightly after his last contract was signed.  He makes a lot of money and in hindsight it was the right move to keep him, I just think he’s a lot less valuable most of the time.  In a chippy game he’s a great player to have and in the playoffs I would say he’s a “pretty good” player to have but most games I’m not that impressed.  He’s good for about 10-20 points a year which is well below par for a defenseman who makes $3.5 million per year and gets a bit of power play time.  To be honest his physical game isn’t all that apparent most of the time.  When he’s in a groove he’s a very imposing player to go up against but I just haven’t seen it as much as I would like and this year is no different.  Bonus points for being an unusually good skater though.  C+

 Jay McKee:  McKee was brought in to at least somewhat replace Rob Scuderi and I think he’s done a great job.  It cost the Penguins less than $1 million and his reputation of blocking a ton of shots has translated to what he’s done so far for Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately the NHL’s incredibly flawed website doesn’t list the leaders in blocked shots, but I know for a fact that McKee was in the top 3 a couple times this year and I assume he’s still near there.  A-

Mark Eaton:  Eaton never really did much for me at first but now I appreciate his role on the team.  He is a very good bottom pairing defenseman and can play in the top four for awhile if necessary.  He’s not very physical but he minimizes mistakes and plays well positionally.  He’s also contributed 3 goals so far this year and from this type of player any production is a bonus.  B+

Kris Letang:  Letang seems to be somewhat untouchable in some circles, and while I do like his game and what he brings I’m not sure he’s as extraordinary as some might think.  He’s an incredible skater and always knows what to do with the puck in the offensive zone, therefore meshing well with the most gifted Penguins.  He’s also been surprisingly good in his own zone even when he was initially called up.  This year though it’s been kind of the same story as last year.  Will Letang ever shoot more?  Will he ever mature into a legit power play quarterback?  It doesn’t seem like those questions will be answered this season, as Letang is on pace for a lousy four goals.  He’s on pace for about 30 points though, which is good considering he was injured and the fact that he’s amongst three legitimate power play defenseman on the Penguin roster.  I like him, I think he’s a good player but even though he’s young I don’t think there’s much room for improvement.  B

Martin Skoula:  Another nice surprise was the late preseason addition of Skoula as the Penguins’ seventh defenseman.  He really came in handy given all the injuries the blue line has sustained and has 3 goals to boot.  I admit after a couple games I still thought he looked really stiff but he’s gotten comfortable later rather than sooner and as of now can always step in and play regularly for a long period if necessary.  B+

GOALIES

Marc-Andre Fleury:  Steady as she goes.  That’s pretty much all you need to say about Fleury.  Like it or not he’s one of the best goaltenders in the league and if it weren’t for Martin Brodeur’s god-like status in Canada he would deserve the starting job in the Olympics as much as anyone else.  He never gets credit for saving the team’s bacon and keeping them in games, which he did a lot more early in the season than in the last month or so, mostly because he hasn’t had to.  We’re well past his emotional early days where he was prone to soft goals and this year he sits atop the league leaders in wins and will certainly stay in the vicinity all season.  He’s exhibited virtually no flaws so far.  A

Brent Johnson:  I have to say I was always a fan of Johnson.  I also have to say that after his multiple back injuries that I was half excited, half nervous that he would be employed as the Penguins backup goaltender this year.  All things considered I’m happy with the way he has performed.  I can remember one or two lackluster goals he’s allowed but he also brought his best game on most of the nights he was called upon to start.  As mentioned a couple goals bothered me but all in all a legitimate backup goaltender.  B

OTHERS

Deryck Engellund:  B

Ben Lovejoy:  C+

Nate Guenin:  C-

Max Talbot:  N/A




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