Friday, October 31, 2008

The Change We Need...

Like a machine not firing on all cylinders, things just aren’t adding up for the Penguins. It’s frustrating to watch and it’s frustrating for them to go through right now. There’s a variety of problems: not enough puck possession, not enough shots, too many shots against, bad penalties, not converting rare scoring chances, losing 50/50 pucks, losing key faceoffs that lead to goals, apparent lack of effort for most periods, and the list could go on and on and on. In fact, if it weren’t for the sterling work of Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin this 5-4-2 team probably would be about a 2-9-0 team.

But before we all jump into the deep end of despair check that calendar…That’s right it still says October and no team ever won—or loss, a Stanley Cup eight months before they give it out.

It’s obvious though something isn’t clicking, in two sentences Sidney Crosby gave to the newspapers he used the word “urgency” four times, as in what the Penguins aren’t showing out there but need to be. As if things couldn’t be worse, Crosby didn’t play much of the 3rd period after appearing to have some sort of rib/torso injury that he would only specify as a little “discomfort”. It appears it should be a day-to-day thing, which is a good thing.

So what’s missing this year, why the lack of urgency? Is it simply all the new faces adapting to the system the Pens play? Undoubtedly the injuries to the top two defensemen on the team is a part of it, but the season would be lost if the Penguins hang on the crutch and wait for them to return.

Here’s three options the Pens have…It’s clear something is needed to kick-start them, but any of the proposed solutions could spell doom.

1—Fire the coach
Michel Therrien has always had his detractors and perhaps this time they’re right. He doesn’t look like he has control of the team, surely they’re not operating the way he wants them to. The coach’s job is to keep a team in game shape and prepared for the opponent. The Penguins don’t look motivated, they don’t really look prepared. In hockey coach’s come and go with the seasons, and when a team is struggling it sure is easier to replace the coach than the 12-15 disappointing players. But dismissing Therrien would be a huge push on the panic button, something that might not fly with a relatively young team that’s really only had one head coach at the NHL level.

2—Pull a trade
Jay Feaster, a knowledgable and respected hockey man, is saying the Penguins are having discussions with the Thrashers and he used the word “blockbuster”. At this point that could only mean one name: Ilya Kovalchuk. Jordan Staal+Kris Letang+a pick (and maybe Darryl Sydor to even out the salaries) could get it done. Is it worth it? Evgeni Malkin’s contract kicks in next year and that would mean the Pens are paying three forwards $24.9 million, add in other salaries of Fleury, Whitney and Brooks Orpik and that’s $37.65 million for just six players, with no guarantee the salary cap will rise in this rough economic time. Then after next year Kovalchuk would be a free agent and probably walk to the highest bidder, which surely the Penguins won’t be. Plus just nine months after the Marian Hossa deal are we ready to trade with Atlanta again? And would they part with their lone star a year and a half before they really have to?

3—Ride it out
The most likely option is the simplest, every team is forced to face adversity and this frustrating stretch isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a club. The players need to band together, hold themselves accountable and start chipping in. Down 2-1 last night, for instance, the Penguins had a 5 on 3 powerplay. They score and suddenly the momentum and energy is reclaimed by the Penguins. But guys like Malkin and Alex Goligoski couldn’t orchestrate it, they couldn’t finish it. Execution is the difference between winning and losing and, other than the goalies, no player can really claim to be happy with their season to this point.


The Peerless said...

It sure makes for intriguing discussions. An Atlanta/Pittsburgh "blockbuster" involving Kovalchuk and Staal (plus players and picks) is the sort of story that writes itself. They are made-for-each-other trading partners, and both parties have an interest in doing it sooner rather than later.

First, Atlanta -- trade Kovalchuk now for Staal (plus those other players/picks) and they might have an express ticket to 30th place. They get Tavares or Hedman in the June draft. That's what argues for making the deal this year, not next (hey, it's a strategy that worked for Pittsburgh and Washington...the path to greatness leads through "suck"). Add that kind of talent to Staal (assuming they re-sign him as an RFA), perhaps a Letang or a Goligoski, plus one or more picks, and the Thrashers jump start their development in a weak SE division (that doesn't look to be getting stronger, with the exception of Washington, any time in the next 2-3 years, at least from within).

Pittsburgh's needs are, of course, not as acute, but they are easy to define. Like a guy who's been bar hopping all night, they need wings (I shoulda wrote this on the blog). Kovalchuk fills that bill, and if the Penguins are going to go for the brass ring right now, they could do worse (even if they can't sign Kovalchuk upon the expiration of his contract after next season). Add that to what could be a fresher Gonchar and Whitney returning at mid-season, and the Penguins might not win the Atlantic, but they will be positioned for a deep run, and that's the object of the exercise.

Hooks Orpik said...

While it's never a bad thing to add one of the top shooting wingers in the game, the salary implications ($7.5 million for Kovalchuk) make it perhaps not a good idea.

As it stands, the Penguins $42 million spoken for next season and that accounts for only eleven players.

While they did offer Hossa $7 million per season in the summer, they used that money on keeping Orpik long-term and others as well (Dupuis, Eaton, Cooke).

Unless the Penguins are going to deal Gonchar this summer (2009-10 is the last season of his $5 mil cap hit) I just don't see how they squeeze it in with Kovalchuk.

But the chance to acquire a 50 goal a season winger doesn't come along every day, maybe something can be worked out.