Lacing Up: Shero Stands Pat At Deadline
The late Ashley Gallant was the originator of “Lacing Up,” and its reincarnation is in her honor. Each week, Matt Paul, Zach Boslett, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF.
Zach Boslett: Well the trade deadline is over and it was not the feeding frenzy it usually is due to the large amount of deals done in the weeks leading up to Feb. 28.
In fact, by far the most influential deals were done in the seven days from Feb. 14-21. Players like Kris Versteeg, Craig Anderson, Rich Peverley, Tomas Kaberle, Ian White, Chris Stewart, Erik Johnson, Alex Goligoski, and James Neal all moved during this time frame which left only a few big names for the actual deadline day.
The only players in play were the supremely expensive Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky and the old, worn out Jason Arnott.
So to start our discussion Matt, did Ray Shero do the right thing by staying put on the actual deadline day? Should he have met the price for Penner which (pure speculation based on the return they got from the Los Angeles Kings) would have been a 2011 1st Round Pick, Simon Despres, and a 2012 3rd Round Pick?
Does this team as constructed have a legitimate shot without Crosby/Malkin even with the additions of Neal, Kovalev, and Niskanen?
Matt Paul: As one of the FF faithful said late Monday, following the deadline — more like trade DEADline. Not a whole lot going on during TSN’s wall-to-wall 10-hour coverage of the biggest transaction day of the year, but it was fun, none-the-less. The excitement of the crew sending it over to the “trade breakers” really can’t be beat, even if the deal is just a minor league swap. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit — but my point stands, the frenzy, even in a miniature form, is fun.
Regarding Shero and his action (or lack there-of), without having all of Shero’s information in front of me, I’d say he made the right decision to stand pat Monday. He made his big moves a week earlier, acquiring Alex Kovalev, James Neal and Matt Niskanen to bolster an injury depleted lineup. And, while it would have been nice to see a steady veteran blueliner or another top-six forward, it’s difficult to argue against the prices of such players.
No way Shero could have or should have dealt a king’s ransom (no pun intended) for Penner, who ultimately went to the Kings. Shero knows how to build a winner, and I trust what he did. That being said, it’s difficult for me to look at the Penguins, who have struggled to score goals and struggled to prevent goals over the last few weeks, and see a legitimate Stanley Cup contender — especially if Crosby doesn’t return. If what we see is what we get (aside from a few players returning from injuries), how can this team really improve all that much?
Zach: I agree Matt, Shero did the right thing by standing pat because there simply was nothing out there to be had. Shero could have overpaid for a defenseman like Bryan Allen, Chris Campoli, or Dennis Wideman… but these players are simply not very good. The prices of players at this year’s deadline was inflated by the principle of supply and demand. There was a low supply of talented players, so the demand went up for said players. GM’s could basically name their price because teams have to pay their price or abstain from trading.
So while I am not thrilled to have Niskanen-Lovejoy/Engelland as the Penguin’s third defensive pairing, I would much rather Shero hold onto assets rather than trade them for terrible players simply just to make a trade.
Kovalev adds skill to the Penguins forward ranks. Neal adds skill, youth, and grit. Niskanen adds youth and puck moving ability from the #5 position.
But do not underestimate other big transactions the Penguins completed over the past week. They got Dustin Jeffrey, Mark Letestu, and, hopefully soon, Chris Kunitz. The Penguins really missed the skill and creativity of Jeffrey and Letestu during their recent skid. Their contributions going forward will be huge.
I am confident that this Penguin lineup – as constructed right now – can win a playoff series or two, depending on their matchup.
But there is no way that this group of players can defeat Philadelphia, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, Vancouver, or Detroit in a 7 game playoff series without Crosby. Is there?
Shelly Anderson of the Post Gazette reported (almost secretly) that Crosby has begun light workouts… but will he recover in time?
Matt: There’s no doubt an infusion of internal talent — such as Jeffrey, Letestu, Martin and Kunitz — will make a big difference. As of this morning (Wed, 3/2) we’ve already seen what Jeffrey and Letestu can/will do. They add a level of skill that just hasn’t been there. They went from barely being able to score to scoring six in one game against a red-hot goaltender. But, when Martin and Kunitz return, that will be like two big deadline acquisitions. Think about it. The 5th place Capitals got Arnott and Wideman. The 4th place Penguins will be getting Kunitz and Martin — along with Brooks Orpik and hopefully Crosby. I’ll take the Penguins’ additions over others.
As I type this, I’m hearing the Penguins’ lines for tonight’s game against Toronto, and I’m backpedaling a bit on the question I posed at the end of my initial response. How can the team improve? Line chemistry is how. To me, coach Dan Bylsma and his staff has done a wonderful job getting the most out of the minor league call-ups, enough to keep the team afloat and comfortably in 4th place in the East. But he had a bunch of third/fourth liners inserted into scoring line roles. It’s a square peg in a round hole. Now, as players get healthy, he’ll have an opportunity to begin formulating permanent lines for the stretch run and playoffs. Lines that have role definition. If they can put together three lines that have a balance of speed, skill, grit, and defense, they might just be good enough as a team to overcome some of the tougher Eastern Conference opponents.
Am I off-base with this?
Zach: I definitely think the Penguins can beat some of the Eastern Conference opponents but I am still not sure they have the “primary scoring” to compete with Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, the Flyers top 9, or the Capitals if their scorers decide to show up. The Penguins’ secondary scoring is second to none in perhaps the league when everyone is healthy but when secondary scoring needs to become primary scoring – that’s where the Penguins are running into trouble.
I’m glad you brought up line chemistry because the biggest obstacle facing the Penguins is playing with a lineup that is different every night.
Last night’s 3-2 loss against the Maple Leafs is a good example of a lack of line chemistry – Cooke-Staal-Kennedy were out there for most of the end of the game and they ended up getting hemmed in their own zone. While Staal and Cooke are good defensively, Kennedy is terrible. I can only imagine the reason they were out there was that Bylsma was afraid to play Neal-Letestu-Kovalev or Jeffrey’s line. A coach should never be afraid to play a line, especially if it is your top line.
I see some real potential in the Neal-Letestu-Kovalev line – but they need to play. Staal, Talbot, Kennedy, and Cooke all had more ice time than the top line at even strength.
So while I think the Penguins can outskate, outwork, and outlast opponents come playoff time – they need a certain amount of skill and goal scoring ability to do so. This team will not win a playoff series where Talbot gets more ice time than a 21 goal scorer.
Your thoughts on how the Penguins’ forwards are being used?
Matt: Zach, I think, really, when you look at any team, it would be difficult to survive as an offensive team with nothing but secondary scoring. Take the top two offensive players off of any team, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Line chemistry, in such situations, can be difficult to conjure because it basically has to be instant or the coach is looking for a new, more effective option. We’re seeing that in Pittsburgh right now. But, as players continue to get healthy, Bylsma and company should have an easier time formulating a consistent lineup to take into the playoffs.
That being said, right now, the Penguins are in desperation mode. They need points. So, when they’re in the midst of a tie game in the third period, Bylsma has to play it safe, and if that means a line gets nailed to the bench, well, so be it. One point right now is much better than no points, and until Bylsma can find enough chemistry between players to formulate several permanent lines, we could see the same thing.
If this was the Penguins’ actual roster, I’d be concerned. But we all know that, come next season, the team will look much better with its top two players back on the ice. So, to sum it all up, Byslma has to use his lines in a way that will secure points — even if that means benching some high scorers who struggle defensively in favor of some low scorers who play strong in the defensive end.
Zach: One player I would like to see get some more ice time is Dustin Jeffrey. He has played great and produced from a 4th line role – let the kid see what he can do in a more elevated role. Skilled players need to be playing in a top 6 role to get the best results out of them – why not allow him to do what he does best?
I also think that Staal’s line is trying to do to much out there – rendering them ineffective. That line cannot produce offensively without doing what it does best – controlling the puck down low and cycling.
It seems like the Penguins have got away from their puck possession game a little bit in recent games and are relying on one and done chances on offense. Tyler Kennedy’s “heavy” shot from the wing seems to be the team’s best offensive strategy lately. The team needs to get back to basics and control the puck in the offensive zone.
Puck possession helps the defense as well as the offense. Puck possession = playoff victories. If the team can possess the puck and control the play in the offensive zone – even if it is not overwhelming offense but just a hard cycle – I think they have a chance to win the East with some help.
Matt: There’s no question Jeffrey should get more icetime, but what we’re seeing, I think, is Bylsma trying to put his players together as best fits, as opposed to elevating players simply because they should be in a role. In other words, Letestu is a good fit with Kovalev and Neal because he can think the game at a high level. Staal, Cooke, and Kennedy are a good fit due to their history together. That leaves Jeffrey to center the third line. He’s probably capable of a larger role, but maybe a larger role doesn’t give the Penguins their best setup of lines.
There’s also no question the Penguins need to get back into the routine of good old hard work. Cycling, forechecking, controlling the puck and, ultimately killing the clock. It has been such a strong part of their success in the Byslma era that it’s somewhat confusing as to why it’s gone. If it doesn’t return, Zach, the Penguins will have a short-lived playoff experience.
Until next week…