Category Archives: Penguins

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Chasing Greatness

Lucky Man by the Verve for the closing montage.  These openings and montages have been trash when compared to the ones that Tim Thompson did for HNIC.  But having said that, this one was worthy of being in that category without a doubt.

 

What a playoffs.  It had it’s bad, no doubt.  The league got blatantly caught with how awfully it’s run with how inconsistent and terribly the game is officiated, and how tone deaf they are about it with their “rules committee” doing absolutely nothing about it, but that’s a story for another day.  Where the league did thrive though was with how exciting the playoffs were, culminating with maybe as perfect of a final as they could have asked for.  Sure, the ratings probably aren’t as good as they would have been had it been the Blackhawks there instead of the Preds.  But the ratings were still great, all the country music stars getting involved was huge to draw eyeballs from the entertainment community, and the game will no doubt grow throughout Tennessee with how much of a spectacle the games in Nashville became.

 

But in the end, the story is the Penguins going back to back.  First team to do so in 19 years.  Sidney Crosby now has three Stanley Cups, and two Conn Smythe trophies.  He’s moving into elite company as he has moved past Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux, now tied with Steve Yzerman, and only one behind Wayne Gretzky in Stanley Cups won (tied with Wayne in Conn Smythe’s).

 

Now, in the NHL this isn’t anywhere near the deal that it is in the NBA.  The Stanley Cup is one of the toughest pro sports trophies to win, and it’s rarely mentioned in the media unless an elite player has never won one.  Of course it’s all the talk in the media right now in the States on whether or not Lebron James is better than Michael Jordan (and those with debate shows abuse the absolute shit out of the topic), and whether or not this Warriors team is one of the greatest of all time.  The NBA has struggled to get back to the level it was at throughout the 90’s with Michael Jordan leading the way, so the media is REALLY grasping on to these narratives seeing how they both involve Michael Jordan and his name still has a big impact on the league.

 

Anyway, now Sid is chasing Wayne, and it should become a story.  When he entered the league in 2005, we all knew that while he was labelled as a “once in a generation” talent, he’d never come close to most of Gretzky’s records.  But now, this is something to watch for.  If Sid leads the Pens to one more Stanley Cup….what does that say?  If he lead them to two more Cups…what then?  Is Sid better?

 

Now, being an Oilers die hard and one of Wayne’s biggest fans, I wouldn’t say that.  But when you give it thought, he’d be leading teams to Cups that aren’t near the level that Wayne’s teams were.  He definitely has his Messier in Malkin, and MAYBE you could make a massive stretch and say Letang is Sid’s Coffey?  Like I say, a massive stretch, and he just won a Cup without his “Coffey”.  But the point being that it’s an interesting narrative.

 

And it’s not just that.  I don’t think the Pens have any shot to win three in a row considering how insanely difficult it is to win back to back.  BUT…three in four years?  I think that’s definitely on the table if Jim Rutherford (I can’t believe I’m saying this considering how big of a detractor I’ve been of the man) can maintain something close to this roster through the 2019 season.  And if that were to happen…are they a dynasty?  Three in four years, in a cap era, that’s pretty incredible.

 

As livid as I get with how awfully how this league is run, I can’t not love this sport.  And it’s so very rare that we get to see true greatness, or at least on the verge of greatness, like Crosby now is and the Pens now are.  Instead of hating on it like we so often tend to do and pull for the plucky underdog, do yourself a favour and enjoy it while we can.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

It All Started in the 2014 Offseason

Had the day off work on Friday, so I’m just sitting around the house and I’ve got in the habit of going through YouTube when I get up and have nothing to do.  I have a tendency to find old sports video’s, games, just shit that a sports geek like myself loves.  Lately, I love finding and putting on the old drafts.  As of writing  this I’ve let last year’s draft play.  Brett Howden just got picked.  Friday morning, I tried to look up the 1999 draft.  Didn’t find it, but I did find a video of a guy (mid 30’s-mid 40’s) in Red Wings gear and a Canucks banner in the background talking about the 2000 draft and spitting standard media clichés the entire time such as “you can find guys if you draft right”.  Ok bud, and what is your philosophy on how you “draft right”?  I do this blog because A) I can’t give up on a dream, B) it’s a passion project, and C) I feel like I can give you different perspectives on this shit instead of just the standard media B.S. or the “only my numbers that I find matter” agenda that a lot of the analytics crowd seems to have.  I’m not wearing a jersey, or a team hat, or have any cheap memorabilia on my wall just so you know.  My long winded point here is that I really hope/pray nobody looks at me and this blog the way I looked at that total zilch!

 

Wow, Sam Steel’s sister (I think) is such a babe!  In saying that, I’m very hopeful she’s at least over 18.  She looks over 18, so I think I’m safe.  Also Steph, if you’re reading this, I’m totally kidding…

 

Anyway, the Stanley Cup Final starts tomorrow night.  And as my title suggests, the road to this final started in the 2014 offseason.  And it was a trade ironically enough between David Poile, whom at the time was looking to breakaway from the way he had always done things, and Jim Rutherford, whom was looking to re-tool a team that had gone from potential dynasty to the league’s biggest disappointment, that was part of it all.  The swap was James Neal to Nashville, for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.  The players in this deal aren’t the reason either team is here, but the direction and statement both organizations were looking to make in doing the deal is.

 

Sometimes in life, it all starts falling into place.  David Poile has been an extremely competent GM in the league now for over 30 years.  He was the guy who always made the most of what he had, but didn’t do anything to push his luck so to speak.  Take 2012 for example.  Didn’t have a 1st round pick, yet I personally figured he had made the most of it, which as we now know…he did:

Nashville – They didn’t have a 1st round pick, yet they walk out of the 2nd round with 2 kids that easily could have been 1st round picks.  Of course they got Colten Sissons….they ALWAYS get these kind of players.  He will play in the league, maybe only as an effective 3rd line guy but none the less.  Pontus Aberg should be just a real nice, reliable 2nd line winger.  Then they get Portland Winterhawk Brendan Leipsic who is undersized but has BIG talent and was a huge contributer to their run to game 7 of the WHL finals.

 

Maybe went overboard with my thoughts on Leipsic…anyway…Until this season however, Poile had never been past the second round of the playoffs.  Conservative guy all through his tenure in Washington and for the first 15 years or so in Nashville, he had to do a couple of moves that were completely out of his wheelhouse.    Obviously bringing in James Neal was an indication that he wanted to add more scoring, but as I stated, it wasn’t THE move that would transform things for the Preds.  It was one of three which would.

 

Prior to the deal, Barry Trotz was let go as Predators head coach.  Trotz was the only coach in Predators history at the time, and widely regarded as one of the top coaches in the game.  But it was time for a change, and time for  Poile to bring in someone who perhaps saw things a little differently from himself, and Peter Laviolette was definitely that guy.  How underrated is Laviolette?!  Three teams to three finals, none of which were loaded rosters or heavy Cup favourites entering the playoffs (correct, the Hurricanes weren’t viewed as big threats despite being the second seed in the East in 06).  He has a shelf life everywhere he’s gone, if the over/under on his time in Nashville is three more years then I’m taking the under, but you can’t deny this guy is a hell of a coach.

 

You could see a big improvement under Laviolette through his first year and a half behind their bench, but it still didn’t look like they were going anywhere as a franchise.

 

On January 6th, 2016 they finally took a much needed step.  Loaded on D, not much up front, same way they’d been for the previous 12 seasons or so.  It was status quo for a Poile team.  But he FINALLY took the swing he always needed to when he moved Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen.  Poile could afford to part with Jones, he needed a big first line centre, and he pulled the trigger.  Granted, Johansen wasn’t quite the franchise centre teams crave, but he had that upside and was already a big points producer.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2016/01/07/jones-vs-johansen-who-wins/

 

Don’t get me wrong, you need to draft well (as they’ve always done), and you need to make smart signings (as they’ve always done), but those three moves have likely had the biggest impact on taking the Predators from plucky underdog who always made the playoffs to being a legit threat in the West.

 

Notice I didn’t mention the biggest trade they’ve made?  Look, the Preds got the better of that deal without a doubt.  The Habs clearly had an issue with Subban and wanted to get him out of their room.  But having said that, analytics guys can stop celebrating as if this was some big win for them.  Shea Weber in that spot would have made them that much worse would he?  Come on.  The impact of that deal will be felt in the years to come as the already not great skating Weber gets even slower, but to claim it’s made this massive difference to the Preds success in 2017 is a bit ridiculous and speaks to you having a large bias if you’re trying to make that case.

 

Perhaps the most impressive thing in all of this for the Predators though is that they didn’t ever sink back to the bottom to build a contender.  I’ve been on the Preds to at least make the final four all season.  Most were.  Don’t confuse second wildcard team/8th seed in the West for playoff afterthought.  If you know hockey, I’m not about to criticize anyone for picking the Blackhawks in the first round, but you could see how the Preds could and should contend.

 

Of course we know this story is completely different for the Pens.  It’s been a tale of two teams for the Pens during Sidney Crosby’s tenure.  You had the Ray Shero teams, and now we are seeing the Jim Rutherford teams.  I think that fans and media maybe forget just how bad things had eroded under Ray Shero by the 2014 offseason.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2014/06/23/these-penguins-cant-fly/

 

The trades I suggested in that piece aren’t that bad!  Giving up Sutter and then Letang for O’Reilly I’d take out, but considering how massive and league changing they were….I’ve made worse suggestions!

 

I won’t say I was wrong about the Jim Rutherford hiring, because the man had Crosby, Malkin and Letang to build around right from the jump.  But in fairness, you still have to make it work which Ray Shero had stopped doing.  And after a year and a half of running them even further into the ground with decisions such as trading a 1st round pick for David Perron and hiring Mike Johnston, Jim Rutherford began to figure it out.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2015/12/14/crosby-was-under-better-management-this-summer-at-tim-hortons/

 

Since I wrote that piece, this organization has become the best in hockey, it’s not even close as the head to their second straight Cup final.  Mike Sullivan was smart enough to figure out how best to utilize Crosby/Malkin/Kessel which looked like a disaster under Johnston.  They moved Perron who couldn’t keep up with their pace, for Carl Hagelin who fit it perfectly.  They understood Trevor Daly was still very useful despite that Joel Quennville and Stan Bowman had given up on him.  They were smart enough to realize Justin Schultz could be a valuable piece if put into the right role.  They’ve simply made all the right moves.

http://soupsonhockey.com/2016/06/14/remember-when-sid-was-done/

 

So here we are.  The loveable Preds playing the role of David, vs the behemoth Pens playing the role of goliath.

 

The big story for me in this series though is this team and Crosby in particular are chasing greatness now.  Three Cups for Sid moves him ahead of his owner Mario Lemieux and Joe Sakic, and ties him with Steve Yzerman and Jonathan Toews.  For the Pens as a group, they have a chance to be the first back to back Cup champs in 19 years, and set themselves up to be called a legitimate dynasty by winning one more in either 2018 or 19.  I get that the Preds story is much more enduring to fans.  They’re the underdog, they definitely have much more of a cool factor going on between how loud the crowd is and all the country music stars they’ve trotted out to sing the national anthem.  But it’s so rare in sports today that we get greatness that is what I would call authentic (unlike a certain round ball league where all the stars just look to team up with each other).

 

As for the matchup, it’s interesting.  Two teams that are really beat up coming in.  It feels like the Pens have been through much more of a grind, but it’s actually only been an extra game in each round (three more total for those of you who don’t have your grade one math).  I’d say it’s the top 1-2 combo down the middle in the league against the best blueline in the league.  The scary thing for the Pens entering this series is that the Preds can match their speed, and play with the physicality that could wear down the Pens over seven games.  The scary thing for the Preds is that they haven’t seen a team who can not only match their speed, but likely exceed it.

 

I’ve been an asshole on Twitter pointing out how I had this matchup when I did my All-Star break look at all 30 teams.  While true, I also had the Preds losing to the Kings…yes the Kings…in the Western Conference final at the start of the year, and the Pens losing to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final.  Obviously both missed the playoffs and I’m actually an idiot.  I also had Preds losing to the Ducks in the Conference final in my playoff preview, and the Pens losing to the Ducks in the Cup final.  So trust me, I don’t think I know it all, or even partially know it all!  But the long winded point I’m looking to make here is that I’ve liked both teams all season and can truly see either winning this series.

 

In the end I have to stick to what I believe, and what I believe is that strength down the middle trumps strength on the blueline.  Just barely, but it does.  Without Ryan Johansen and a beat up Mike Fisher, I just believe it’s going to be too much for the Preds to overcome in a seven game series.  Also, despite going seven games in the Eastern final, having the weekend off will help the Pens a ton.  The Preds will be on more rest obviously, but the Pens will have enough.  Pens in seven.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Remember When Sid Was Done?

sidney-crosby-penguins-stanley-cup-final-6216-getty-ftrjpg_dnpqat0uygcb1s0sx76v6niccI’m a day late on doing this, and anytime I’m a day late on stuff I lead with it, because it bothers the hell out of me!!  Plus, I know you’re all on pins and needles anticipating what I’ll have to say about things…right?

 

While that’s a lie, I’m sure a lot of members of the media are lying yesterday and today claiming they didn’t write off Sid Crosby.

 

I remember some of the B.S. we were hearing back in December.  I recall Damian Cox specifically trying to claim that Sid hadn’t been the same since his concussion in 2011.  Right, that’s why he was dominant for the first 3 months of 2013 and a puck to the jaw cost him the Hart trophy?  That’s why the next season he WON the freaking Hart trophy?!

 

Cox was far from the only one, but that was the one that took the cake for me.  I laughed at the time, and I’m laughing even harder now.

 

I understand the controversy in selecting him as the Conn Smythe winner, but was there really another choice?  It wasn’t Matt Murray, he was just ordinary after the Washington series.  It wasn’t Phil Kessel, while he had 22 points in 24 games he was feasting (cue the jokes) off weaker opposition.  The people complaining about Crosby getting the Conn Smythe aren’t even pointing out the one guy who actually has a case, Kris Letang.  Letang played over 28 minutes a night, put up 15 points, and would often see the other teams top line.

 

But Sid was deserving because he is about much more than numbers.  Crosby has the ability to lead the league in scoring every season, and a lof of seasons he has.  But he is a complete player.  This seems to be acceptable for Jonathan Toews because we gave him that label when he was drafted.  But the label Crosby got was “once in a generation player”, and that guy can’t sacrifice offence to do all the other heavy lifting to help his team win.

 

I feel like that’s what this Conn Smythe award is saying.  In 2014 I was rolling my eyes pretty hard at Justin Williams winning the award.  Yes, he was Johnny on the spot for a lot of big goals.  But the Kings win that Cup without Williams, they don’t without Drew Doughty.  The media seemed to figure it out a bit after that one.  Last year Duncan Keith was the clear cut guy and won it, and this time around, despite only posting 19 points and a minus 2 in 24 games they recognized that the Pens don’t come close to the Cup without Crosby.

 

He does all the heavy lifting for this team.  Takes all the key faceoffs, has all the tough assignments, he never cheats leaving the zone, he’s one of the best forwards in the league below the dots in his own zone, he very literally does it all.  He’s hockey’s version of LeBron James.  Fans in the NBA don’t like that James doesn’t play like Michael Jordan did and go for 40 or 50 a night.  James is a complete player.  He looks to be the best in all facets of the game.  That is who Crosby is.

 

As for the Penguins as a team, while it is WAY too early to be saying this stuff, I have to say that no team has ever been better positioned to repeat since the 97/98 Detroit Red Wings.  They’re young, they’re healthy, this was the first deep playoff run they’ve had in 7 seasons, they don’t have anyone who would be irreplaceable set to leave, and they can get some cap relief by moving out Marc-Andre Fleury (although Jim Rutherford better trade for or sign a solid veteran).  I’m not saying they’re going to repeat, but they are as well positioned as anyone has been to do it.

 

And let’s not forget, they got Sid.  He’s the best player on the planet.  Next time he has a slump, let’s not forget that.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Crosby Was Under Better Management This Summer at Tim Horton’s

RutherfordMorehouseDL4I would just like to start off this piece by offering my condolences to Todd Nelson.  Todd Nelson for those who don’t know is the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.  Pretty good gig.  So why condolences?  Nobody died.  No, Todd was the interim coach of the Edmonton Oilers last season.  Had a real good 2nd half of the season, and looked to be a serious candidate for the job in Edmonton, and perhaps coach Connor McDavid.  But Craig MacTavish declined to name a coach, then the draft lottery happened.  So Todd moved on from the Oilers and he had a lot of options, including the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins gig.  He chose Grand Rapids instead.  Had he gone to the Penguins, he would likely now be coaching Sidney Crosby.  That…that’s not good luck.

 

So I have mentioned this before on twitter, but now I’m going to write about it.  Anyone else notice the Penguins are completely ruining the prime of Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s careers?  The big panic in the hockey world when the Oilers won McDavid was that they would ruin him.  Completely warranted too.  But the Oilers, whether it was through the league placing a call to Daryl Katz, or perhaps McDavid’s agent Jeff Jackson, whoever it was I don’t think it was any coincidence that it was that following Monday that the overhaul of the organization began.

 

But the same hasn’t happened in Pittsburgh.  If anything, they had a good situation with Ray Shero running the show.  Jim Rutherford is awful.  I always hear about how he is one of the best people in hockey, and all those years he was in Carolina talk was that players were treated like absolute gold.  That’s terrific, but that’s not the number one job of a GM.  The number one job of a GM is to win.  Now sometimes that simply can’t be right away, but over a certain amount of time, you better win.

 

Please, do not be the moron who points out to me how his team won a Cup in 06 and also made a trip to the final in 02.  06 was a messed up season and I truly believe that was the worst team to ever win the Cup.  Three of the four rounds in the playoffs they needed major injuries occurring to the team they were playing to shift the momentum in their favor.  And 02 they were just as lucky.  Getting the Devils coming off back to back trips to the final, the Habs upset the Bruins that year and so Carolina got home ice being the #3 seed (even though they were 8th in the conference in points that season, what a division the Southeast was), and then they got the Leafs who were coming off two absolute wars against the Islanders and Senators.

 

Jim Rutherford wasn’t some brilliant architect of a GM in Carolina.  No, he got lucky a couple of times.  The guy was the GM of a team that missed the playoffs in 15 of 20 seasons.  15 of freaking 20!!!  Kevin Lowe thinks that’s embarrassing!

 

So what do the Pens do?  They hire him, just because he’s a good guy.  Pens CEO and President David Morehouse didn’t like Ray Shero, so I would venture a strong guess that he simply wanted a guy easier to work with.  Great.  You won’t win, and you’ll piss away the best player in the games prime, but at least things will be easy for you Dave.

 

Why did it not raise more eyebrows when Rutherford publically admitted before last offseason that he wanted to build this team on the wings?  Excuse me?  So in a league that is dominated by great goaltending, strength down the middle, and D core’s, Jim wants to build on the wings.  And not just that, but he acquires a bunch of one dimensional wingers like David Perron (this time last year), Phil Kessel, ships out a real good two way centre in Brandon Sutter, his top D-man is PURELY a PP QB, and on top of all this he had a coach in Mike Johnston trying to have this team play an air tight defensive game.  This my friends is the definition of an organization with no plan.  Why in the hell did they trade James Neal?  At least Neal had size and proven chemistry playing with Malkin, not to mention Neal is a lot more of a power forward.  A year after trading Neal they go pay a bigger price for Kessel than what they got back for Neal.  None of it makes sense.  Just a complete mess.

 

So now they turn to Mike Sullivan.  What a track record he has.  Does Jim ever sit there and wonder why Sullivan hasn’t been hired, or really even considered for a head coaching gig since being fired from the Bruins after the 05-06 season?  I’m going to GUESS there is some reason.

 

And I said this a year and a half ago, Willie Desjardins turned down the chance to coach Crosby and Malkin.  The Pens offered him the head coaching job and he turned it down to go to Vancouver to coach a team that was clearly in decline.  THAT should have been the tip off to the rest of the hockey world (not me, because I’m awesome and called it at the time…take that people who dislike my antics) that something was seriously wrong in Pittsburgh.

 

So some might ask why Sid is struggling?  I think it’s a combination of things, mainly that he knows full well the mess the organization is in.  It’s all mental with the guy right now.  I’m sure some of it is knowing with Sutter gone and the depth at center that made them a powerhouse in 08-2012 no longer there he is putting more on himself to do a lot of heavy lifting defensively.  The PP being complete shit doesn’t help, which is a coaching issue.  That much talent to work with and Mike Johnston’s power play was 15.6%, 27th in the league.  Are you KIDDING?!

 

The Pens better fix this REAL quick, because if they don’t they’re going to ruin what could have been a damn glorious career for one of the best talents we’ve ever got to see.  Although if your a Leafs fan, you hope this shit show continues the remainder of this season, because your team owns the Pens 1st rounder.  Remember when you all bitched about the return you got for Kessel?  Won’t suck so bad if that pick ends up top three now will it?

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

These Penguins Can’t Fly

 

David-Morehouse-1

The joke being that Penguins can’t fly anyway despite having wings.  The best jokes are the ones you need to explain and TRUST ME, you needed that one explained….idiot….

 

What a difference a few years can make.  Like take me for example.  2 years ago, I started this website, seemingly wasn’t going anywhere in life, no steady girlfirend, and my career was working for my dad and uncle.  But now, I do this site, I haven’t gone anywhere, no steady girlfriend, I’m working for my dad and uncle, AND I did the color commentary for about 10 Bobcats games this season.  So kids, stick with it and you could have THIS!

 

Things have also changed a tad for the Pens too.  Remember going into the 2012 playoffs?  The Pens were unbeatable and were a virtual slam dunk to win the Cup that season.  Then the Flyers made the Pens look like tools in the playoffs and the shine slowly started to wear off.

 

Last year it was the same thing.  A loaded Pens team, they made it to the Eastern conference final this time (not before a scare vs the lowly Islanders) and they got humiliated even worse this time around against the Bruins.  All the star power in the world both years, but nobody will see those stars shine if it’s cloudy out (giving myself a nice hearty pat on the back for that line).

 

marcandre_fleury.jpg.size.xxlarge.promo
Fleury bounced back strong this season weather fans and media want to admit that or not

The clouds were both on and off the ice.  Most want to point the finger at Marc-Andre Fleury, but while in 2012 and 13 he was bad, he had no help.  People have trouble remembering that this goaltender stole game 7 of the Stanley Cup final on the road against a superior Red Wings team.  2011 he carried the Pens to 4th in the conference, and I wonder how many of you are screaming right now that it would have been Sid and/or Malkin who did that?  Crosby and Malkin were out the entire 2nd half of that season.  .918 Sv%, 2.32 G.A.A., 36-20-5 on the season.

 

Now, this goes out the window if he hasn’t shown flashes of getting his game back, but he has!  Outside of game 4 vs Columbus when the guy caught a horrible bounce on a puck that sent that particular game into OT, when exactly was the guy even average?  He lost game 7 against Henrik Lundqvist 2-1.  The Rangers had a much more balanced team and the Penguins supposedly great offense went completely dry.  You only allow 2 goals, THAT team should win.

 

Anyway, that was my “Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t near as bad as people say he is” rant for the day.  Done it before, I’ll likely do it again.

 

But while the roster was incredibly flawed, the front office seemed solid with Ray Shero as GM, but man was that opinion wrong!  Shero wasn’t without his mistakes.  I mean I pointed out yesterday how he didn’t get off his ass and move one of Staal or Malkin after the 2010 season and instead waited until his hand was forced by Staal and he ended up with virtually nothing for him.

 

But for the most part Shero had done a solid job since arriving in the summer of 06.  And yet the Penguins canned him and according to some insiders the reason wasn’t job related.  The reason was because Shero on his old contract didn’t have to report to Pens CEO/President David Morehouse, only team owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle.  When Shero signed his new deal in the fall of 2010, it was included that he had to report to Morehouse, which Shero wasn’t a fan of (although the new deal wasn’t to start until after the 2011 season).

 

So the front office turmoil, if that is in fact the case, has been ongoing for 3 seasons now.  The firing of Shero, the fact that they refused to fire head coach Dan Bylsma (instead leaving that firing for the incoming GM), these were both very odd front office moves.  But Jim Rutherford coming in as GM was the oddest of them all.

 

rutherford_large
Despite a Cup ring in 06, Rutherford has a horrendous track record

Rutherford never gets shit on by hockey people or media because he apparently is one of the best people in the game.  But I don’t know Mr. Rutherford, and I try to be a guy who calls it as I see it.  Jim Rutherford was AWFUL as the GM in Carolina.  Not bad, awful.  Yes I know he had a Cup winning team, and another team that went to the final.  Let’s break those down.

 

The Cup winning team in 2006 is pretty unanimously known as the luckiest Cup win in NHL history.  Players had been off for a full season, a bunch of new rules were in place, 2006 was a very odd season.  Then in the playoffs, they were down 2-0 to the Habs going to Montreal for game 3.  Then, Saku Koivu takes a stick in the eye and knocks him out for the series and completely changes the series.

 

In the conference final against Buffalo, the Sabres were the better team.  But throughout the series the Sabres kept losing D-men and by game 7 they were without 3 of their top 4, and 4 of their 6 regulars on the blueline.  And then you had game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, and this is Northern Alberta so I don’t think I need to remind anyone what happened in that game to give the Canes a huge advantage in that series.

 

Jim Rutherford wasn’t some genius GM, he simply threw together the best team he could and got extremely lucky.  Martin Gerber had a career year, Eric Staal broke out, they got the absolute best out of a very average defense made up of guys like Brett Hedican, Mike Commordore, Frank Kaberle, Aaron Ward, Niclas Wallin, and an aging Glen Wesley.  They could score, but the Edmonton Oilers have been built like this for the last 7 years and can’t even come close to the playoffs.

 

As for 2002, it doesn’t really need explaining.  They caught the Devils in a down season, Montreal upset the 1st place Bruins, Ottawa upset the 2nd place Flyers, and when they got to the conference final they faced a Leafs team who had gone through 2 absolute wars with the Islanders and Sens and simply had nothing left.  Again, an extremely lucky run.

 

Outside of those 2 seasons the Hurricanes were just horrendous under Jim Rutherford.  He completely ignored building up the Canes blueline, I believe players were much too comfortable in that organization, and when you can’t win in a division that was so bad for so long like the Southleast division was, it isn’t a very good sign.

 

So THIS guy is who the Pens selected to run their team moving forward.  Ok….

 

But the telling sign for me and most of the hockey world came on Friday when it leaked out that Willie Desjardins had turned the Penguins down to go coach in Vancouver instead.  The Canucks who look as though they’re about to rebuild and are currently in no man’s land as an organization over Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Letang.  Yikes!  As I said on twitter, “the cat is out of the bag, this team is a shit show”.

 

So the coaching hunt continues and Rutherford must be terrified because both Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette are employed so he can’t go back to them like he usually does.  And this roster needs to be drastically overhauled, but Rutherford won’t do that.  Heck, this team is already built identical to the teams he built in Carolina!

 

It takes some serious balls to reshape this team.  I talked about this yesterday, most GM’s simply lack the balls to make big moves in the game today believing that this will prolong their jobs.  But to me it is clear what the Pens need to do.  They need to trade both Malkin and Letang.

 

I know the first thing you may think is “well isn’t this guy always preaching being great down the middle?  Why are you wanting to trade a top 5 center in the league?”  It’s a good question.  The reason is because I don’t like the fit with Sid.  Crosby doesn’t need a 2nd 100 point guy playing behind him.  He needs a 50-60 point guy who wins draws and can be matched up against anyone.  Malkin is terrific, but he can be soft and doesn’t want to play a 200 foot game and is only 48% in the dot.  At least he finally made it to 48% this season, but it’s still not good enough.

 

To build a team that can really contend, moving Malkin and Letang might be necessary
To build a team that can really contend, moving Malkin and Letang might be necessary

In the playoffs, Crosby had a goal and 8 assists in 13 games.  He said he wasn’t hurt.  I don’t know if that was true, but what is true is the fact that this guy is asked to do FAR too much for this team.  He doesn’t have great defensive support down the middle and especially on the back end.  You need to build a team with great depth and shore up the team (not just the blueline) in their own zone.

 

Here is what I would do if I can play armchair GM for a moment….I would offer Malkin to the Panthers for the 1st pick and Sasha Barkov.  Dale Tallon would do that deal (well, the Panthers desperate new ownership would), and likely give another piece if he had to.  But the top pick and Barkov would be the key pieces.

 

Then I would move Letang to the Avs for Ryan O’Reilly.  Maybe you add to it by throwing Brandon Sutter in the deal and getting Colorado to add in a kid like Stefan Elliott.  It is a move that I believe makes a lot of sense for both sides because things are getting ugly again between the Avs and O’Reilly, and Letang would fit perfectly into Roy’s up tempo system in Denver.

 

So let’s say the Pens do these 2 moves, all of a sudden you’re running Crosby, O’Reilly and Barkov down the middle which is much better defensively, much better in the dot, and more gritty.  Malkin and Sutter were both under 48.1% in the dot, while O’Reilly has been over 51.5% (in the West) since his 2nd year in the league when he was 19.  Barkov as an 18 year old this season was already better than Malkin at 48.8%, so it won’t be long until he is 50-55%.

 

You draft Ekblad with the top pick and he joins Olli Maatta, likely Derrick Pouliot, and look to sign a few veteran UFA’s like Derek Morris, Dan Boyle, or maybe Anton Stralman.  I would let Matt Niskanen walk for sure as I really believe he will end up as a guy with a horrific contract, and look to bring back Brooks Orpik but only for the right price (nothing over 3.75 mil per).

 

With what they had this season, they had a couple of guys who could move the puck, and a couple of stay at home guys who couldn’t skate.  This group would be much younger, but it would be a much better mix of guys who can move the puck, skate, play on the PP, and play in their own zone.

 

In all this, they maintain the 22nd pick in the draft and as I’ve said in the mock drafts all the Pens have to do is sit back and pick the small, highly skilled winger they like most.  This draft is flooded with them so they should land a good kid they could develop for a few seasons and should turn into another solid top 6, 50-60 point type of guy for them.

 

Finally I would bring in a goaltender to join Fleury between the pipes, not necessarily replace him.  For them I’ve liked the idea of Brodeur for a few years now.  He can still play 30 games a season, was a guy who Fleury grew up idolizing, and I really believe he could help Fleury a lot.  But again, Fleury got his game back last season and would now have an improved defensive squad in front of him.

 

Now, in doing all this I fully understand that it doesn’t get the Penguins closer to a Cup.  It’s a step back.  But they don’t look like they’re going anywhere with the way this team is assembled right now.  So take a step back, you’ll still be a playoff team, and in 2 or 3 years they’ll be an elite team that is better suited for playoff hockey.  And also, a team built like that would free Crosby up to get favorable matchups at home to take full advantage of, and lighten up his minutes a bit so he would be more fresh late in the season and the playoffs.

 

But that’s me, that won’t be Jim Rutherford.  And because the front office wanted a nice guy rather than a good hockey guy, this team looks as though they’ll be in no man’s land through the prime of Sidney Crosby’s career.  How can you screw that up, I’m not sure.  But the Pens certainly look to be on a path to nowhere.

 

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Round 3: They went to Jared’s

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Because they all have rings…GET IT?!?!?!?  That’s gold.  If you’re not laughing then YOU’RE the problem.  Ok round 3 of the playoffs and I’m pissed.  Why would I be pissed you ask?  Well that’s a good question Johnny.  The reason I’m pissed is because I’m a pathetic Carburner team away from being perfect on these predictions this playoff season.  11 for 12….I just HAD to trust the Carburners didn’t I?  When you’re hot in Vegas, you don’t walk away from the table.  When a team is incredible at awful you don’t bet them.  But the Sharks were awesome at awful too so what’s a “brother to do?” as the kids would say.  Anyway, I’m starring down the barrel of 14 for 15 and hitting just about everything spot on so not going to change a thing.

 

Eastern Conference final

#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #4 Boston Bruins

Dream matchup number 1 features the 2009 champion Pens against the 2011 champion B’s (remember that one Carburner fans?!)  The biggest storyline coming into this series is Jarome Iginla and how he was almost a Bruin.  Who cares anymore?  To me that’s an issue between the Bruins and Flames not the Bruins and Pens.  For me the biggest storyline in this series is the Bruins size vs the Pens skill.  I don’t like it, but I don’t usually pick against the team that has the size advantage in the playoffs.  It’s a war of attrition and if you’re using your size advantage right then you should wear down your opponent over a 7 game series.  And the Bruins are red hot right now as they are still riding the momentum of their game 7 comeback win over the Leafs.  HOWEVER….there are always exceptions to the rule in life and this I believe is one of them.  The Pens skill is overwhelming.  They have the advantage down the middle against the the Bruins, something most teams can’t do.  And while Chara is far and away the best d-man in this series, there is only 1 of him (although there is a lot of that 1!)  Do you match him against Crosby’s line or Malkin’s?  Then you have Sutter’s line which can produce as well.  The Bruins have the advantage defensively and between the pipes, but it’s not at the level that it needs to be to eliminate the Pens.  I believe the Bruins can win this series, but I don’t think they will get it done.

Pens in 7

 

Western Conference final

#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs #5 LA Kings

The President’s trophy winner vs the defending champs.  It’s a sexy matchup anytime it happens in the playoffs, and the deeper in the playoffs it happens the better.  The last time it happened was the 2011 opening round, Hawks and Carburners.  That series didn’t exactly suck if you recall.  And much like the Eastern final, this is size vs finnesse.  In boxing, styles make great fights.  I expect that to happen in both these conference final matchups.  I haven’t viewed the Hawks as some have as this incredible power house.  They have a great team, I’m a huge fan of the team, but I haven’t seen them as some unbeatable juggernaut like others have.  Then again it’s not like the Kings are rolling in these playoffs like last year.  Last year they made it look ridiculously easy, this year it’s been one hell of a grind.  6 grueling games against the Blues, followed by 7 grueling games against the Sharks.  Had the Hawks dusted the Wings in 5 or even 6 I would love them in this series.  Because while they aren’t as big or as physical as the Kings, they can play that game.  But 2 things for me give the Kings a huge advantage in this series.  The Hawks are good down the middle, but they can’t matchup with the Kings at center.  Kopitar, Richards, Stoll (if healthy), Lewis, and if they feel like doing so Jeff Carter.  So that’s a big edge to the Kings.  But the biggest one is in goal.  Crawford has been quietly great in these playoffs.  He doesn’t get much work, but when he does it seems like they’re high quality chances.  And for the most part he has shut the door.  But I’m not taking him against Jonathan Quick.  Quick is in that zone again and is going to make it damn tough on the Hawks. Obviously the Hawks can win this series, but they’ll really need Crawford to raise game to an even higher level.  I had the Kings and Pens at the begining of the playoffs and I see no reason to change that now.

Kings in 6

 

Doesn’t matter what the combo will be, we will get an amazing Stanley Cup final.  Big markets, big stars, experienced teams, it’s going to be great hockey from here on out, Gary is in the NHL offices right now laughing like Dr. Evil.  I won’t lie, I’m pulling for it to be the Hawks and Pens, I believe that would give us exciting, high skilled, end to end action for at least 6 and likely 7 games.  But again, had Kings and Pens from the start, not going to change it now.

 

Follow me on twitter where I brag a lot about things I get right just to annoy my followers @TJ_Soups

He Has a Concussion, not Cancer

It has gone well beyond absurd.  Sidney Crosby has PCS.  Right.  It takes time to comeback from that.  I had it just last year, it took a lot of months to get over it.  It’s tricky, somedays you wake up and feel great, then some days or even just at random times you will start getting migranes again and feel depressed.  But I mean come on!

Some media guys asking if he will play again?  Is he considering retirement?  Will he miss this season?  The season hasn’t even started yet!!!  Some of these guys need to admit that they are trying to make this bigger than it is.

It’s a player with a concussion.  Willie Mitchell came back and played a full season just last year, and Willie Mitchell plays a lot more gritty of a game than Sid does.  Pierre Marc Bouchard played a full season last year as well, and he’s a lot smaller and not anywhere near as solid on his skates as Sid is.

A scary site no question, but Crosby will return despite the media trying to make a bigger deal out of this story

Those of us who are also NFL fans had to go through this EXACT same thing in 2008.  Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first game of the season, and was lost for the year.  All of a sudden at mid season all these ridiculous reports came out about Brady’s surgery going wrong and he would need it again and he could be gone for 09 as well, it just got flat out stupid!  But the media was trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill and this is the exact same situation.

I get it, it sucks that the games top player can’t play and some have become impatient but he’s not suffering from a life threatening injury!  He will be back…THIS season, and he will go back to being the games top player.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m downplaying the severity of a concussion.  I understand just how serious they are, but at the same time it’s just not anywhere near as tragic or devastating as some of the members of the media are making it out to be.  Some of these people need to relax, and some of them need to start being professionals instead of attempting to making a bigger deal out of this than it actually is.