Lacing Up: "Vetting" The Rookies
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, it’s been a while since we’ve conversed, but now is as good of a time as any to fire up the discussion. It’s an exciting time to be a Penguins fan, as general manager Ray Shero has defined this year as “all in,” paying steep prices for potential rental players in hopes of winning the Stanley Cup before the salary cap drops and key players need re-signed.
The problem though, as some might say, is that adding veterans to an already experienced roster serves to bump some talented young players down the depth chart. We’re only one game into Morrow’s tenure and Murray hasn’t even dressed for a game yet, and already Bennett has been bumped to the fourth line and Despres has been returned to the AHL (albeit on a temporary basis until rosters expand following next Wednesday’s 3:00 p.m. trade deadline).
Josh, do you see the value in this roster bolstering, or is the long-term “damage” a steep price to pay for a deep playoff run and Stanley Cup Championship that are far from guaranteed?
Joshua Neal: This is definitely a divisive issue. We’ve talked about how “earning your play” is important within an organization. To me, Beau Bennett and Simon Despres have provided some excellent play, albeit in sheltered minutes, since their arrival in Pittsburgh.
All value in means sending some value out. In the salary cap age, Shero has to be conscientious of this season as well as future developments beyond this year. Going “all in” could be influenced by the fact that many of the current Penguins’ contracts will be expiring in 2014-2015 – including Malkin, Kunitz, Sutter, Letang, Orpik, and Niskanen. If there’s a time to go “all out,” it’s probably now.
Of course, it’s nice to have Sidney Crosby as a centerpiece for a Cup Run this year and a piece to build around for the future. Young talent is nice, but sometimes after all the “tomorrows” you end up with the time being now. Some would say that we’ve come to that point. Of course, there’s the negative that not only are the Penguins pushing young talent who had just cracked the roster back to the minors and out of ice time, but they are also trading away young prospects (Joe Morrow) and picks. It’s a strategy used frequently, but is it too risky for your liking, Matt?
Matt: Well, as I respond to this, we’re roughly 12 hours removed from the trade that brought Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh in exchange for a first round pick and two mid-level prospects (at best). So, in total, we’ve seen the Penguins trade Joe Morrow, Ben Hanowski, Kenneth Agostino, a first round pick, two second round picks, and a fifth round pick, all in exchange for Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray, and a third round pick.
To answer your question: no, it’s not risky in the least. Maybe (and this is a big maybe), it was risky before Iginla was added to the mix, as the parts leaving in comparison to the parts coming were, at the very least, questionable. That being said, by adding Iginla to the mix and looking at the whole picture, it’s obvious the potential benefit outweighs the potential risks.
Long story short, Josh, the Jordan Staal trade, which saw the Penguins pick up an extra first rounder and another defense prospect allowed Shero to make these moves. Quite honestly, the Penguins’ farm system hasn’t been set back much, if at all, especially if compared to their farm system prior to the Staal trade.
The big question at this point is, what should the Penguins do with Bennett and Despres? Should they stay in Pittsburgh to gain invaluable NHL playoff experience, even if only from the standpoint of practicing with the team and watching from the press box — or should they be sent to the AHL, where they can serve as the big dogs on the “Baby” Penguins roster?
Josh: I think that at this point in the season, getting time on the ice has GOT to be more valuable for those guys. If they may be called into action during the playoffs, they need to be skating against any level of competition, even if it is at the AHL level. I’m not even opposed to seeing Bennett rolling with the fourth liners like he did the other night. Any experience is good experience.
Of course, there’s the inconvenience of the backlash when they get sent down, even if it is only an “on-paper” type move like Despres, who we know was only sent down to avoid losing a player on the waiver wire, and Bortuzzo who went down for “conditioning.” Bennett will likely be in that boat until rosters expand April 3.
To me, Despres is a bit different than Bennett. I’m not sure I have any justification as to why, but perhaps it’s the fact that he’s the first in the crop of young defensemen Shero drafted to be showing his worth at the NHL level. I do hope we see both Despres and Bennett come playoff time, though that possibility looks bleak for Bennett as a winger in a crowded situation.
Matt: You know, I’m a strong proponent of young players playing, particularly in a long season when sitting for long stretches can slow player development. But in this situation, I feel both Bennett and Despres have earned their keep and should be in Pittsburgh as the regular season transitions to the playoffs. Of course, there may be some “paper” maneuvering to create roster space until the trade deadline, but once it passes and rosters are unlimited, these players should be with the Penguins.
Sure, they could be playing every game — and big minutes, too — in the AHL, but they can be practicing with and learning from what might well be the best collection of players on one team since the early 1990s Penguin mini-dynasty teams. Just spending time with natural leaders and consummate professionals Morrow and Iginla — not to mention the long list of quality personalities already with the Penguins — will teach these youngsters that winning a championship is the most important reason to play in the NHL, and that opportunities to win don’t come by often, even for teams with the level of talent that Pittsburgh has.
Long story short, I hope to see Bennett and Despres earn quality icetime throughout the balance of the season and even in the playoffs, but, at the very least, just being with the team will do wonders for their mental and emotional development, which in turn will make the physical development that much easier.
Josh: I’ve got to agree on that aspect. This is a team that now hosts 3 captains. The amount of hockey knowledge and leadership that has become part of the Penguins’ locker room within the past week is absolutely incredible. It would be doing Despres and Bennett a bit of a disservice to not be “along for the ride” even if they aren’t getting big minutes.
These guys that have come in via trade have all got contracts that expire at the end of the year. It’d be unrealistic to think that all 3 would be back next year. So maybe it’s “do or die” with these guys for a Cup run this year and then that’s it. And that’s fine. We’ll see how it all unfolds, but it certainly appears to be a good problem to have.