Thursday, August 30, 2007

TY v. LY

In business, a big deal is this year versus last year.

A large number of people don't realize how far the Penguins defense has come in the past couple years--remember Michel Therrien's classic "too soff" speech, which the very next night they lost 6-1?

The Penguins defense has shown a lot of turnover as Brooks Orpik and Ryan Whitney have come into their own and been built around, along with free agent pickup Sergei Gonchar.

Here's the Penguins opening night defense last year:

(IR: Orpik and Cairns)

If Orpik wasn't hurt, you could realistically argue that a 19 year old Kris Letang wouldn't have made the Pens roster out of camp. Regardless of that, you've got two guys with really no business being regular NHL defenseman (Melichar and Scuderi) and a 19 year old rookie. Plus Mark Eaton, while very servicable, was brand new to that top pairing role (not to mention this organization).

This should show how excellent Gonchar played, all around, logging the 7th most minutes of any NHL defenseman. He played all situations at all times and acquited himself very well. Certainly moreso than observers give him.

THIS YEAR (on paper, in pencil)
Enter all-around warrior and champion Darryl Sydor and exit stage left Joey Melichar.


(Scuderi and his one-way contract healthy scratched)

So let's break it down, TY v LY:

First pairing
Eaton-Gonchar v. Eaton-Gonchar

Eaton is still top pairing defenseman, but that's because Sydor's skillset, experience and intangibles perfectly compliment playing with a rookie in Letang. A rookie who tore up the 'Q' and captained Team Canada to a gold medal in the WJC's. Anyways, this is Eaton's 2nd year in the organization and Gonchar's 3rd, so they're much more comfortable in the Pens system and with each other. Gonchar, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin (among others) have been training like madmen in Russia, so expect #55 to get off to a good start. Eaton blocks shots, deflects passes, uses his stick, all the little things. Gonchar chews up minutes and is better in his own end then people realize. I'm not saying he's Scott Stevens, but he's ALWAYS matched up against the other team's top forwards and usually plays well.

Second pairing
Orpik-Whitney v. Melichar-Whitney

Whitney's a lot better and a lot more confident going into this year than last (his first full NHL season), and Orpik blows Melichar out of the water in every way, most of which the great chemistry Orpik and Whitney display. It's the classic stay-at-home dman and an offensive dman pairing.

Third pairing
Sydor-Letang v. Scuderi-Letang

Darryl Sydor is a warrior. And a two time Stanley Cup Champion (Dallas 1999, Tampa 2004). He knows what it takes to get the job done and will pay the price to do so. In many ways Sydor was a lot like Letang is when he first broke in; a good skater, a smooth puck moving defenseman. As Sydor aged he became more oriented to the all-around game and didn't get the PP time to develop into the offensive defensemen that Letang projects too. This pairing should be everything you want on paper though, a left handed steady veteran and a promising right handed offensive rookie.

Letang's previously mentioned experience with his cup of coffee in Pittsburgh last year should help, and any time you play for Team Canada (and wear a C on your chest) it's a big deal, at any level. Letang shouldered that burden and came back golden. You gotta like that.

All in all the D is improved. It improved to 14th in goals against last year and should be better this year, if all stays healthy and Marc-Andre Fleury continues his ascent. Obviously it's not the strong suit that the forwards are, but it doesn't have to be.

If the coaches (especially Therrien and Andre Savard) can keep enstilling an effective counter-attacking system, the perceived 'weakness' of not having much pure defensive defenseman muscle will be nullified by backchecking forwards, turnovers and quick, crisp passes from very good puck moving defensemen like Gonchar, Whitney, Letang and Sydor. And unlike last year when there were some anchors that couldn't clear the puck, or iced it constantly (Melichar, Scuderi and Alain Nasreddine) even Eaton and Orpik can move the puck--or alteast are savvy enough to get it to their partner most times.

As always with defensemen, injuries could unravel it all. The Penguins do have some NHL depth, given that Scuderi (78 NHL games played LY), Nasreddine (44 gp) and free agent Mike Weaver (39 gp with the LA Kings); but obviously none of those guys should really be pressed into duty too often for a team with aspirations to go deep into the playoff.s

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My Top Players With a Twist

The Hockey News recently released their Top 50 players and it was a joke. Several were too high (Patrik Elias #11, Rod Brind'Amour #38, Mathieu Schnieder #49) and many were rather low (Martin Havlat #31, Evgeni Malkin #44).

So Paul Kukla, a well respected blogger on his site and came up with his top players with a twist. My choices (with his in parenthesis) are as follows:

Best one-on-one offensive player -- Sidney Crosby (Pavel Datysuk) You could probably choose about 6 or 7 players here. I'm going with Crosby because of his drive. I've never seen a player so solid that's motor runs as hard as Sid. I remember him bowling over people a shift against Chicago with less than a minute, refusing to give up the puck, skating around, through, over and making his own chances. Like I said, you could choose a lot of guys (Ovechkin, Datysuk, Heatley, Lecavalier, Kovalchuk, Jagr, Iginla) and make a pretty good case, but give me the youngest MVP and scoring champion in league history.

Best one on one defenseman -- Chris Pronger (Dion Phaneuf). Pronger has it all, size, skill, positioning, experience and great feet. He's mean enough to elbow you in the head without thinking twice of it, but he's really excellent with his stick. I mean second to none in lifting opponent's sticks or poke checking.

Assist man -- With excuses to Joe Thornton (who led the league in assists last year) I'm going Crosby again. Sidney has Mario/Gretzky level vision. It's clear he's seeing the game on a different plane than everyone else out there. For most of the year his wingers were the hopeless Ryan Malone (16 goals) and the aging Mark Recchi (24 goals) but still set them (and Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar) up left and right. Give Crosby Thornton's guy with a nose for the net in Cheechoo and he'd run away with it.

Best pure goal scorer -- Alexander Ovechkin (Ovechkin). His motor (when he has the puck) is on par with Crosby's. You can tell Ovechkin loves to score goals, hell he lives for it. Some say playmaking centers like recent additions Michael Nylander and rookie Nicklas Backstrom will make Ovechkin better. While it can't hurt, I don't think it'll benefit. AO's the unique player where you give him the puck and just let him go.

Power-play specialist --Sheldon Souray (Kovalchuk) Souray had 19 goals and 29 assists on the power play last season. That is ridiculous for a defenseman. A nod goes to Teemu Selanne's 25 PPG, but Souray lets them rip.

Shorthanded specialist -- Martin St. Louis (St. Louis). Me and Kukla agree, St. Louis is so dangerous every time he's on the ice, but especially killing penalties. It doesn't hurt his regular PK partner is one Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier and St. Louis have great chemistry and make up for each other's shortcomings, be it size, desire, positioning, or what.

Need one save-- Roberto Luongo (Turco). Last year I would have said Brodeur, but he looked downright human this playoffs. Luongo plays just as much as is money.

The guy you never heard of -- Jonas Hiller, goaltender Ducks (Igor Grigorenko) Kukla said Grigorenko, which I think is BS because 1)it's a homer pick, and 2)I think a prospect that's 23 and had a serious accident that people have heard of him. Hiller, on the other hand, is an unknown at 25 years old. Really, I haven't even heard of him. But if Brian Burke (the smartest GM in the league to me) has 2 solid NHL goalies but still gives this dude a $3.2 million dollar incentive laced contract, he must be good.

Biggest impact on a new team --Scott Gomez (Ryan Smyth) Gomez gets to get out of New Jersey's system and likely centering Jagr and/or Shanahan depending on how they settle the lines. I think he's going to have a great year.

When it gets chippy -- Georges Laraque (Derek Boogaard) This is not a homer pick, this is the truth. Laraque only got in 8 fights because no one has the rocks to throwdown more than that. The amount of post-whistle abuse that Crosby and Malkin took before Laraque was acquired to after he was in black and gold is like the diffence in day and night. Boogaard is a tough customer and heir apparent, but to be the man you have to beat the man. Laraque went 8-0 last season according to the voting from the folks at including decision wins over Boogaard and Brashear, although the latter fight was a dud (I was there). Still, you can't do better than 8-0.

Coach for a must-win game --Marc Crawford (John Tortorella) Tortorella is too much of a nutcase and criticizes his own players a little too excessivley to be effective to me. Crawford exudes confidence and has the smarts and the mentality to get the most out of his players in a more constructive manner. PS If Herb Brooks is still alive, obviously he's the pick.

Get under your skin guy -- Sean Avery (Sean Avery) Sean Avery sucks. If he didn't dive and turtle so much I could appreciate his style, since he actually is a good hockey player when he has the puck. But he's a complete jackass.

The home crowd -- Ottawa (San Jose) San Jose has a rockin building, but Ottawa gets the edge because it's Canada and they have the inferiority complex and pent of frustration of being stuck in between Montreal and Toronto.

Vancouver Reveals Their New Logo

Just. Fucking. Terrible.

But, rumor has it this is going to be the new Toronto Maple Leafs jersey:

So far Boston has made a subtle logo change (but it looks good), Chicago's basically the same, and Detroit too, except their captain's 'C' is going below the right shoulder due to size/shape limtations of their logo with the new jersey. Original 6 teams should not monkey around with their colors/designs. They're great for a reason. I really have no attachment to the Leafs but I'd still feel upset if this disaster is true. That's be a worse idea than this:

You won't give me a logo at midfield, endzone graphics or even cheerleaders but you'll give me a gay mascot like looks like Bill Cowher? Screw you old man Rooney.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ex-Penguins in the NHL 2006-07

As we turn the page into 2007-08, I compiled a little round-up of how our old friends did in the NHL last season in 2006-07. If I missed anyone, call me a moron and point it out in the comments.

Artists formerly known as Mighty Ducks of Los Angeles by way of Anaheim California USA

Ric Jackman- 24 games played, 1 goal, 10 assists, 11 points (traded from Florida). Jackman’s a good offensive defenseman, but not good or consistent enough to stick in a team’s regular lineup. Still, Jackman scored a huge playoff goal in the Stanley Cup Finals that he was only participating in due to Pronger’s suspension.

Sebastien Caron- Caron played 28 measly minutes for Anaheim in one regular season appearance, as he was their 3rd goalie acquired from Chicago’s organization. But I remember seeing him celebrate the Stanley Cup win, so he makes the list.

Atlanta Thrashers

Jon Sim (77gp, 17-2-29) Sim continues to be a pesky player with a penchant for chipping in key goals at opportune times. When he’s playing good hockey, look out, Jon Sim will eat your soul.

Johan Hedberg- 21 gp, 9-4-2, 2.89 GAA, 89.8% Hedberg is a reliable veteran backup goalie in Atlanta, and he’ll always be adored in Pittsburgh for the magical 2001 playoff run.

Heberg being solid

Boston Bruins

Glen Murray (59gp 28-17-45) Yes kids, once upon a time Glen Murray wore Pittsburgh black and gold, but it’s been over ten years. He’s on the downside of his career, but still firing away goals.

Shean Donovan (76 gp, 6-11-17) Spare piece forward traded to Ottawa. You gotta love his speed and intensity, but pretty much a dime-a-dozen lower line winger

Buffalo Sabres
No ex-Pens

Calgary Flames

Andrew Ference (54 gp, 2-10-12) If you haven’t read about Ference’s humanitarian exploits over at, you owe it to yourself to see how this young hockey player who has it all is giving of himself in Africa and trying to make a difference. Hey, it is summer.

Wayne Primeau (51gp, 7-8-15) A good guy and a hard-nosed center who won’t give you much offense, but will help you defensively.

Carolina Hurricanes
No ex-Pens

Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Lalime, 12 gp 4-6-1, 3.07 GAA, 89.6%. Such a great start to his career with the Penguins in 1997, so unexpected for him to reel off such a long unbeaten streak, holdout and then fade into obscurity.

Columbus BJs
No ex-Pens

Colorado Avalanche
No ex-Pens

Dallas Stars

Sergei Zubov (78gp, 12-42-54). For whatever reason, Mario reportedly didn’t like Zubov, so out the door he went. Over a decade later he’s still a solid point producer and actually reliable in his own zone.

Stu Barnes (82gp, 13-12-25) Scrappy and likeable, it’s hard not to smile thinking of what a career Barnes has carved out, despite lacking size or scoring ability

Matthew Barnaby (39gp, 1-6-7, 127 PIM). At his wife’s urges, Barnaby has retired due to concussions. Like Barnes, he didn’t have size or much scoring, but punched his way through 800+ games. I believe Barnaby’s in an elite, if not obscure club of 300 points and 2500+ PIMS. Not many enforcers make it to 300 points (Domi fell short, Brashear will too) and not many non-enforcers (Tkachuck make it to 2500 PIMs. Marty McSorely, Tiger Williams are in this club, and Gary Roberts is but 7 PIMs away. I have more research on this for another day.

But yeah, I loved Barnaby. I loved how he stood up for teammates, fought anyone and scrapped until the bitter end. I understand he’s polarizing to opponent’s fans, but he gave an honest effort every night.

Nolan Baumgartner (13gp, 0-3-3). I wish history would allow me to omit the 2003-04 season.

Detroit Red Wings

Robert Lang (81gp, 19-33-52) Everybody’s favorite Czech adult video star was a whipping boy for Detroit fans for his inconsistency. But in my mind Lang will always reside as a pirate-looking gentleman that centered one of the greatest 2nd lines in recent history with Marty Straka and Alex Kovalev.

Mikael Samuellson (53gp, 14-20-34) Acquired in the Kovalev salary purge, the Pens threw in Samuellson to Florida in the draft-day trade to jump up and nab Marc-Andre Fleury. Dude must have turned on the old light bulb during the lockout, now he’s a key component in Detroit’s lineup, scoring 79 regular season points in the past two seasons.

Matt Hussey (5gp 0-0-0) Hooray former WB/S Baby Penguin fringe NHL player alums! There are plenty of you!

Edmonton Oilers

Toby Petersen (64gp, 6-9-15) He’s diabetic and announcers will let you know this as often as Detroit, the site of Super Bowl XL, was the hometown of Jerome Bettis. Things got so dire injury wise, Edmonton had to use Petersen as a defensemen some. This would be like making out with a dude when the clock strikes midnight on New Years, because you don’t have any chicks at your party…Which is to say, not ideal.

What in the world did poor Toby Petersen do to deserve the site's 1st gay joke?

Petr Nedved (19 1-4-5) Nedved’s signed with a Czech team and looks to have finished an overall disappointing NHL career, compared to the talent he had for the results he got at the end of the day. But his career Supermodel Banged stat sheet is legendary.

Nedved 1, You 0

Florida Panthers

Noah Welch (2gp 1-0-1) One day Noah Welch will be able to tell his grandkids he was once considered fair trading value for the legendary Gary Roberts. This will be the day that the family finally agrees Old Man Welch needs to be put in a nursing home.

Thanks for being the answer to a trivia question, Noah!

Los Angeles Kings

Tom Kostopolous (76gp, 7-15-22). Tommy K signed with Montreal now, he’s starting to carve out a NHL niche Pittsburgh never really let him grow into. Moving on.

Minnesota Wild

Dominic Moore (10gp, 2-0-2) Perfect style player (smart, not great offense but reliable) for Minnesota, I like Moore, but I like Talbot more than Moore.

Montreal Canadiens

Alex Kovalev (73gp, 18-29-47) Like former linemate Bobby Lang, Kovalev’s often the victim of fan outcry. Fans always rode him hard, like when they implore him to shoot. Like he doesn’t know! Still, it’s hard to think someone as purely skilled as Kovy could only score 18 goals in 73 games.

Nashville Predators

Ramzi Abid (13gp, 1-4-5) Knee injuries have took a toll on his career. Al-Jazeera probably wanted to cover the Stanley Cup playoffs because they found out there was a hockey player named Ramzi Abid. Terrorist-esque.

New Jersey Devils

Dan LaCouture (6gp, 0-0-0) He’s on Anaheim now, which is good, personally I like LaCouture and I do not like New Jersey. He’s another dime-a-dozen hard working lower line grinder.

New York Islanders

Andy Hilbert (81gp, 8-20-28) Pens fans whined and moaned when they let Crosby’s linemate walk. Turns out, Hilbert might not have made Sid what he was as a rookie after all!

Richard Park (82gp, 10-16-26) Richard Park only scored ten goals? It sure seemed like every time I turned around he was scoring one against the Penguins. Park was the antidote to Ryan Malone, if you will.

Randy Robitaille (50gp, 6-17-23) This guy was basically Andy Hilbert before there was a Andy Hilbert. A smallish, skill player that doesn’t really have enough pure skill to hack it full-time in the NHL, so he bounces around a lot.

Eric Boguniecki (11gp, 0-0-0) If Eric Boguniecki was a beer, he’d be Jon Sim Light. That would not make for a tasty beer.

New York Rangers (aka Pittsburgh’s old Czech players)

Jaromir Jagr (82gp, 30-66-96) His rookie year he scored 27 goals. For the next 15 years (and counting) he’s scored at least 30 a year. One day we’ll look back on his career and wonder how Jags could be so under-appreciated. Greatest.European.Ever

Martin Straka (77gp, 29-41-70) Good player, good guy, it’s nice to see the Waterbug do well, even if it is in Manhattan.

Michal Rozsvial (80gp, 10-30-40) Another remarkable transition once he left the ‘Burgh. Hard to believe a couple seasons ago the Pens had to choose between Melichar’s shoulder and Roszival’s knee on which to keep and which to drop. Sad to know they choose Melichar.

Darius Kasparaitis (24gp, 2-2-4) The Rangers hide him in the AHL so his salary won’t count against the cap. Shame, the league needs more personalities like Kaspar’s. When you think Darius K, you think Game 7, 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals.
If you're a Penguins fan, you'll take the joy of how you felt at this moment to your grave

Ottawa Senators
No ex-Pens, an ex-con though

Phoenix Coyotes

Daniel Carcillo (18gp, 4-3-7) The Pens might regret trading Carcillo. I saw him play in Phoenix a couple times, and they were giving him good ice time for his first taste of the NHL. He’s a very fast player, but also takes too many dumb penalties. He’s immature and a time-bomb, not unlike Billy Tibbetts, you know, minus the whole raping thing and running from the cops multiple times thing.

The Scum of the Earth (aka Philadelphia Flyboys)

Eric Meloche (13gp, 1-2-3) Another fringe alum of Wilkes-Barre that never stuck in Pittsburgh.

San Jose Sharks
No ex-Pens

St. Louis Blues

Ville Nieminen (14gp, 0-0-0) These numbers don’t tell the whole story, Niemenen was 2nd in the NHL in Finn-glish (the hybrid of Finnish/English) trash talking though, just behind Jarkko Ruutu.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Andre Roy (51gp, 1-2-3, 116 PIM) If the NHL instituted soccer sized nets, Roy would go from a mud enforcer to a leading scorer, because finally all those errant slapshots would be find goal net, not glass or fan protection net.

Karl Stewart (7gp, 0-0-0) Karl Stewart changed teams as quicker than Lindsay Lohan piled up DUIs. He’s about as relevant too, but with less of a rack and no fun coke addiction.

Toronto Maple Leafs

JS Aubin (20gp, 3-5-2, 3.43 GAA, 87.6%) Aubin is terrible and, for no reason, one of my least favorite hockey players. Thus, I couldn’t be happier he spent time in Toronto, sucking it up for those fine folks.

Vancouver Canucks

Markus Naslund (82gp, 24-36-60). Yeah, yeah, Naslund’s had himself a nice little career but once Alek Stojanov pans out it’ll be like Cam Neely times 1000.

Visit Alek's blog at

Bryan Smolinski (20 4-3-7) Smoke, along with guys like Tomas Sandstrom, Petr Nedved, Glen Murray, made Naslund expendable for the Penguins since they already had Francis, Jammer Jagger and Mario. Smolinski, more than the others, when I hear his name, I think of giving up Naslund. They say time heels all wounds but sometimes it just doesn’t.

Washington Capitals

Kris Beech (64gp, 8-18-26) If he would just spell it ‘Chris’ like a normal human being, somehow Beech would have been an all-star. Now he’s struck out with three organizations and will never likely establish himself in the NHL. The lesson is as obvious as it is simple: don’t be a jackass kids, spell your name right.

Matt Bradley (57gp, 4-9-13) This guy being in the league for 57 games is a testament to how far Washington still has to go on the road to respectability.

Rico Fata (10gp, 1-1-2) I’d rather write another joke about making out with a dude again than see Rico Fata suit up for my team 10 games.

That’s it! That’s the list! Leave a comment if I missed someone and I’ll feel dumb

Monday, August 13, 2007