Lacing Up with Ash and Stoosh - 02.15.09
Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.
FF’s Alex Kirshner joins us again this week to talk about the Penguins.
Ash: A few weeks ago, we discussed the (potential) fate of the Penguins this season. Since we still don’t know if the Pens will make the playoffs or not (at this point, my vote is on the ‘not’), I thought we should take a different spin on things.
Let’s play armchair GM/owner: what do you think the Penguins should do to salvage the season?
Kirsh: Ash, I think that the Penguins should do absolutely nothing. The team has done absolutely nothing since early November that would lead me to believe it has a real chance at making another Cup run this season. The Penguins are just not properly built to win as presently constructed, and it’s not realistic to expect to immediately win with a complete overhaul at the deadline.
If I was Ray Shero (I’m not), I would wait until the days leading up to the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal before making trades or major transactions. Obviously, dead weight like Satan, Gill, Boucher, and Garon should not, and will not be offered contract extensions. The only two question marks are Sykora and Fedotenko, and I’d personally make a run at a one year deal with Sykora, while letting Fedotenko walk.
I would also trade Ryan Whitney and/or Jordan Staal for two or three young, legitimate top six wingers who can be plugged in on a line with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and grow with them for an extended period of time. I know that this approach is tremendously disagreed with by some of my fellow Penguins fans, but it’s what is necessary to build a balanced team capable of having a shot at Stanley every spring.
As it stands now, the talent on the Penguins is disproportionate, as the team is set to be paying four million dollars next season for a third line center while the best two centers in hockey are already ahead of him, not to mention at collective cap hit of 17.4 million dollars. The Penguins are paying yet another four million dollars for a puck moving defenseman cut from similar cloth as Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, who are both near Whitney’s skill level and age but not making nearly as much money.
It seems completely wrong to me that the Penguins, with the best set of centers in the league, and a totally unnecessary amount of offensively oriented blueliners, compliment their elite playmaking centers with grinders like Tyler Kennedy and has-beens like Miro Satan.
Nate Horton, Peter Mueller, Milan Michalek, Mason Raymond, T.J. Oshie, and Michael Frolik are names I would take a look at.
This season, I don’t think anything can be done, as the Pens would quickly exit the playoffs, if they made it in at all.
Ash: It’s hard to know what to do with this team. I think of last year and what happened before and after the trade deadline. Before the deadline, I didn’t think that the Pens had a shot at the Cup. Adding Hossa seemed to be the trick to get the team to the Cup Finals.
This year is a different story. You can’t really compare the Pens of now to the pre-Hossa Pens because THAT team was doing better than THIS team, even through all the injuries of last season. I don’t think that you can make just one big trade (like last year) and have all the problems go away. Shero would need to pull off several moderately-large trades to make this team Cup contenders again, and I just don’t see that happening.
So, if the season can’t be salvaged, what is left to do? If this team will not contend for the Cup, should Shero trade draft picks/prospects for an impending free agent just so the Pens can get a top-8 spot? I think that would be a mistake – lose assets to another team, and gain a player(s) that will be gone by summer. Go that route and you’re down (1) draft picks (2) prospects and (3) top line players…all by July 1. Not exactly helpful for a team that wants to get back to the Finals anytime soon.
I think I’m starting to think more like you, Alex. The Pens should pretty much count this as a lost season and work towards building for next year. Shero should figure out who stays and who is expendable, and make trades at the deadline and/or by the draft to change the team. I think someone of value needs to be traded in order to bring in a legitimate winger for Sid. I know this isn’t an original idea, but Whitney or Staal could fetch a nice winger.
I like the idea of Sykora being re-signed to a decent one- or two-year deal because he has shown some chemistry with Malkin. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Garon getting a one-year deal, as long as it was for ‘backup goalie salary’. I’d also like to see someone come in and take over Ryan Malone’s role – someone strong who can clear the front of the net for Sid, Geno and company.
Personally, I would love to see Johan Franzen in a Pens uniform…Detroit has taken so much from us in the last year, it’s about time we got something in return!
Stoosh: Despite the way this season has gone, I still think this team is a playoff contender and that reaching the playoffs should be considered an attainable goal.
You could argue that this team probably isn’t capable of doing much in the playoffs and I’d have a hard time disputing that. On its face, this is a flawed team that has shown little chemistry, and it’s got too many players in the wrong roles. That being the case, I’m not sure I’d try to salvage what remains of this season by dealing a signifcant piece of the puzzle for some short-term fix that will not do much to improve the situation. In other words, if Shero deals someone like Goligoski for garbage like Keith Tkachuk, I’ll be mad.
I’d prefer that this team stays the course and allows this season to play out. If they get into the playoffs, fine. They may not look capable of doing much when they get there, but stranger things have happened. We’re just a few years removed from the top four seeds in the Western Conference getting bounced in the first round, and an eighth-seeded Edmonton team coming to within a couple of goals of winning a seven-game Cup Final. I’m not saying this Pens team could do that. I’m just saying you never know…especially considering that this Toronto loss was the first game played all year with the lineup that many of us believed back in August would carry the Pens through this season.
I do agree that the team needs to be rebalanced, and the best place to do that will likely be this offseason. I don’t think Shero’s has done a bad job building up the core, especially when it comes to Whitney and Staal. The Whitney extension was signed before anyone really could’ve foreseen that Letang AND Goligoski would both prove capable of signifcantly contributing at the NHL level at such early stages of their careers. I don’t fault Shero for that, and Whitney could and should still prove to be an incredible bargain over the remainder of that contract.
Likewise, the Staal extension looks questionable mostly because of the situation on the Pens. $4 million per year is a lot for any team to pay a third-line center, much less a team with so many gaps on the wings for the top two lines. But there are very few other teams in the league on which Staal would be a third-line center. Some of those teams may have been expecting to shell out something in the neighborhood of $5-6 million per year (or more) on an offer sheet for Staal had he hit the free agent market this coming summer. That $4 million per year price tag may look much, much more affordable to teams that still have an interest in him. Those teams may be much more inclined to part with an asset that helps the Pens knowing that Staal is locked into what should be a fairly affordable deal for their respective situation.