Lacing Up: How Super Will Duper Be?
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: Josh, we’ve been spending a good amount of time in “Lacing Up” discussing individual players, and this week will be no different. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Pascal Dupuis and how unappreciated he really is among Penguin fans and under-the-radar he is around the league. Twenty-five goals, 34 assists, 59 points, and a +18 rating all represent the best numbers of his career. To accomplish bests in so many categories at such an “old” age (relatively speaking, of course), is an impressive feat. And let’s not forget, he reached these numbers without the aid of his superstar center, Sidney Crosby, for most of the season. “Super Duper” deserves a lot of credit for taking his benching during the Stanley Cup run a few years back and using it as motivation to climb his way up the roster and into a permanent scoring line role. Is he your prototypical scoring winger? Absolutely not, but he is a guy who can open up space for his linemates, which helps creates more scoring opportunities and goals. What, in your estimation Josh, has Dupuis done that has helped him to age like a fine wine?
Joshua Neal: Well, the first thing that has helped has been coming to Pittsburgh. He came over as a tack-on in the big deal for Marian Hossa, and has been effective enough that he’s become a staple role player for the Penguins. It’s strange that I say “role player” for a guy who was top-60 in the league in points last year (without the benefit of a single power play point!), but I think that the Penguins’ system of role players around their young core has boded as well for Dupuis as it has for a guy like Chris Kunitz. Just as Kunitz offers Neal and Malkin a perfect complement to their styles, Dupuis often times complements Crosby’s abilities quite well. Obviously, much of last season was spent without Sid’s services, so why the spike in production? First, I believe that Dupuis is a guy who has accepted that “specialist” role, even if he is a specialist in several different things. He’s a very good skater, and for 33, he is very fast. But beyond that, he’s a smart skater and overall a very smart player. He may not be the most gifted puck handler, but rarely does he turn the puck over in the neutral zone. He’s a guy that can chip-and-chase with the best of them. He’s got a nose for his space on the ice, and his wheels keep him out of penalty trouble. Beyond that, he’s well liked in the locker room and provides a relatively young team with a lot of veteran leadership. I couldn’t be happier that he had such a banner year. But, as you mentioned, 33 is getting up there for a young man’s game. Will the return of Sid sustain great statistics for Duper? Or will similar play without the statistical reward be what you expect from him this year? Or, maybe this year will be a completely new one for Dupuis. Matt, where in this spectrum do you think things will fall?
Matt: It’s so difficult to predict with Dupuis. He’s been the third guy on his line most of his career, but being top-60 in points is nothing to sneeze at. Still, I find it hard to believe we’ll see another 25-goal, 59-point season out of Dupuis. Then again, with a young, healthy, energetic Crosby centering his line, we know he’ll pick up a good number of points “on accident,” if you will. If I had to guess, I’d put him in the 20-goal, 50-point territory, which to me is perfectly fine for the speedy, grinding, space-creator of a line. Josh, I realize Dupuis’ hands aren’t fancy (some have compared them to stone), but scoring 25 goals isn’t an easy task in the world’s most competitive league. Why is it, do you think, that so many people have such a difficult time accepting Dupuis as a viable option on Crosby’s wing when we have so much evidence (in Dupuis’ personal success, in Crosby’s personal success, and in their line’s overall Success/effectiveness) that he not only is a suitable fit, but really a true asset? Do you think he might have shut up his detractors?
Josh: I think that to some extent, he has. However, there has been a mentality in Pittsburgh that Sidney Crosby needs a marquis winger to take advantage of his playmaking ability. For years, the “Winger for Sid” fan has speculated over who that may be. Because Sid plays such an excellent playmaking game, fans want the guy with the big shot who scores the pretty goals to be the one finishing his plays regularly. We got a taste of what that might look like when Hossa had a stint in town. When Neal arrived in Pittsburgh, many speculated that he might fulfill the same role. However, with circumstance, I believe Neal and Malkin will be inseparable as linemates judging on this past year’s performance. I think a lot of the doubt surrounding Dupuis is that he doesn’t play that refined, polished game that leads to highlight reel goals like the two prior wingers mentioned do. Heck, even I was excited at the prospect of Zach Parise being that “Winger for Sid.” It’s easy to overlook Dupuis, but I think what we have to accept is that he finds ways to be useful and relevant, even on such a star-studded roster. In fact, it’s hard to find guys with Dupuis’ speed who have the smarts to keep up and play with Sid. In time, I’ve personally come to accept the fact that perhaps Crosby doesn’t need that big-name winger to light the lamp each time, and in fact a guy like Dupuis is an asset simply due to his chemistry with Crosby and his positional intelligence. In fact, I think one thing that can be said of Dupuis is his ability to score timely goals. Anything jump to mind there, Matt?
Matt: Well, you’re putting me on the spot with this one. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall any timely goals he’s scored — but my memory, in general, is pretty terrible. But to jump back to your mention of people’s desire for a sniper on Crosby’s wing, I disagree with this stance. Well, kind of. In the past, what we’ve seen is the Penguins try to find a sniper for Crosby, only to have the experiment fail. Hossa, really, was the only sniper to find chemistry with Crosby that created a fearsome duo. Is this coincidence or is it a tell-tale sign that Crosby works better with hard-workers who can’t simply rely on skill? My gut says that, because Crosby himself is a hard-worker — albeit with unbelievable talent — he meshes best with those who have the workman-like persona. That isn’t to say that a sniper won’t work well with him, but rather that it might be harder to find a sniper to play well with Crosby than to find a hard-worker to play well with Crosby. Did I want to see Parise here? Absolutely. But, then again, he isn’t your prototypical star, either. In the end, I think fans just tend to look for the greener pasture regardless of the situation. With the salary cap, though, there are limitations, which means sacrifices have to be made, and not every player can be a star. Josh, any final words as we wrap up this week’s discussion?
Josh One label I’ve heard applied to Crosby (one that he apparently and understandably dislikes) is that he is the most skilled fourth liner in the history of hockey. Though we both know he might not even be on the fourth line of a team of NHL Legends in their prime, I can see where the sentiment comes from. Sid has one speed, and he plays the game very hard. That’s something he and Dupuis share in common: a nonstop motor. I think personally what I’ve come to accept here in Pittsburgh is that Dupuis and Crosby work together well, no matter how green the other pastures may be. Duper’s isn’t one of the best selling jerseys in Pittsburgh, but you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who didn’t respect and enjoy his game. And I think that’s the way Dupuis likes it. Then again, who wouldn’t like going to work with Sidney Crosby at your side?