These Penguins Can’t Fly




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).
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.


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.


Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

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