Lacing Up: All I want For Christmas Is...
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, as I type the first in our series of emails, it’s not quite Christmas, but the holiday spirit is growing! I spent this morning at my daughter’s first daycare Christmas party, and seeing the smiles on those children’s faces puts a lot of things into perspective. Before we dive into our Christmas Eve edition of “Lacing Up,” let’s just take a minute to remember those impacted by the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Josh, I know I speak for both of us when I say this monstrous act has resonated in a way that I can’t recall since the events of September 11, 2001. I know for my family things will be a little less over-the-top this holiday, as we keep in mind what Christmas is truly about — our faith and our families.
With all that said, let’s move on to something a little more cheerful — like what we want Hockey Santa to bring us…
Joshua Neal: Matt, couldn’t say it better myself. Well, I think that just about every hockey fan has got to agree that the top of the wish list this hear has to be “an NHL season.” You and I have discussed how this back-and-forth of negotiations has been a bit hard to get emotionally connected to and difficult to follow. I think in a bit of an amendment to that common wish, I’m going to say that the big “present” for me this year would just be a decision. No, I’m not talking about a million cameras or LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach, I’m talking about knowing what’s going on. If there’s not going to be a season, knowing that now would be better than holding onto this false hope that I’ve had since early November.
But, let’s proceed here under a bit of a hypothetical, Matt. Say that we hypothetically get this lockout resolved and there will be hockey this season. What’s first on your list after learning that news?
Matt: Operating under this “hypothetical” guise, my first wish would be for a defenseman to help shore up the top-half of the Penguins’ defense corps. Kris Letang is elite at both ends of the ice, but after him, the proven talent drops off quickly. Paul Martin has been disappointing since the day he arrived in Pittsburgh, though there have been enough glimpses of what he can do that hope remains for a turnaround. Brooks Orpik once was a man amongst boys with regard to his physicality, but injuries and age have caught up to him, taking away the most established and effective element of his game. Still, he’s a capable defender who demands respect — both from opponents and teammates. Beyond these three is a series of players with asterisks by their names. Matt Niskanen once was good, then regressed, and has seemingly re-established his game again in Pittsburgh. Deryk Engelland took the long path to the NHL, arriving in his late 20’s, leaving many to wonder if he is a flash-in-the-pan. And Ben Lovejoy proved with time that he’s likely no better than a 6th or 7th defenseman to be used only when necessary.
I would love to see a young Simon Despres or Joe Morrow force his way onto the third pairing with Niskanen, while Orpik and Martin join forces on the second pairing, leavings Letang and my wishful-thinking acquisition for the top pairing. Josh, I read “hypothetical,” so I went for it. You never said it had to be realistic…
Josh: Well, Matt, I’ve got to say in a professional sport where a lockout can happen 3 times in 20 years, you’re not as far fetched as you may think. I think I’ve got to echo your sentiments here. I have to say that during the summers in past years, Jagrwatch and the Parise docudrama took up a lot of my time. However, the idea of the “winger for Sid” is something we’ve discussed at length in other Lacing Up editions. The moves for players like Jagr or Parise would have been unbelievably satisfying to fans from an offseason standpoint (Shero went out and got a top prize), but not necessarily effective from a cost and productivity standpoint. The Penguins last several seasons have basically been unraveled by their defense the past 3 seasons, with injuries getting an assist one year and a less-than-stellar year from Fleury in another. However, the moves towards upgrades defensively have been slow. The talk of the town is the talent in the organization, but the accompanying speculation is when these guys will be ready to make the jump and become not simply reliable NHL defenders, but defenders that will likely need to log big minutes in a 2nd pairing role at least. When I heard the call that a trade with Phoenix had been made, I was so eager, because I thought we’d hear Keith Yandle’s name. If we’re going no holds barred hypothetical here, and I get to play General Manager, Yandle’s skating alongside Letang on the first pairing, with Niskanen and Martin on the second pairing. You know I’m a huge Orpik fan, and it’s no disrespect to slap him on the third pairing, but I think even for the lack of speed Engelland has, I think Engelland’s similar hard-hitting style allows Brooks to stay at home a bit more, perhaps getting a few more good years worth of Free Candy. What do you think, Matt? Nothing better than talking Candy on Christmas.
Matt: Yandle was a name that surfaced early in the first day of the draft as a possible trade target for the Penguins (and several other teams), which came as a big surprise, considering the Coyotes’ attempts to keep Doan (which ultimately proved successful) and Yandle’s Norris-level talent. He’s just not the type of player team’s seek to trade. That said, I too was wondering if Yandle might be part of a multi-player trade when I initially heard Michalek would be packing his bags for the desert. For me, though, I’m looking at someone a little more realistic. Someone who is set to become a free agent at season’s end. Someone GM Ray Shero can acquire, sell the Penguins’ philosophy to, then re-sign for millions less than he could/would get on the open market. I’m looking at Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid. He’s be the perfect fit. He’s young (26), he’s big (6’3, 226 lbs.), he’s mean (186 hits), and he’s tough (184 blocked shots). He’s not going to put up anything in the way of offense, but pairing him with Letang could be a great fit for both players and a nightmare for opponents. Any other wishes for the Penguins, Josh?
Josh: Really, in the overall picture, I want to see competitive hockey from them. We’ve been fortunate enough to have the team stay put here in Pittsburgh and have gotten some really good years out of them lately, to the point where making a playoffs is a given and not winning the division and/or a few playoff series is a disappointment. I’d like to see more of the same, no matter who suits up out there. If the negotiations do somehow work out into an abbreviated season, I think that works out for many different reasons. So let’s hope that becomes a reality, too.