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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Malone, Roberts Bid Farewell To Pittsburgh

Well this was a mild surprise at best. Ray Shero sent the rights to Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 2009 4th round pick. Should Malone sign, this would become a 3rd rounder in 2009.

I am a little sad to see Malone go and a little angry from a fan's perspective that this deal didn't happen sooner. Here's why.

Since Malone's sophomore campaign in the NHL the Penguins have stuck by him and rejected countless trade offers for him. My guess is that they knew that he could be the type of player he was for us in 2007-08. That much makes sense to me.

Now all of a sudden he's gone and I'm left with an empty feeling with him and Roberts going for sure and the very real possibility that Marian Hossa will also be gone. That's three big holes to fill for next season, so I hope Shero has some grand plan up his sleeve to ease this nagging pain in my stomach. I thought that feeling would have subsided after the season ended, apparently I was wrong.

As for Roberts leaving, I was really hoping he would just retire so that I could go buy a jersey and put his name on it. During the playoffs I wrote about how I compared this guy to Chuck Norris. Click Here To Check It Out

This guy is a warrior in every way possible. I hold nothing against him at all and wish him nothing but the best for the remainder of his career. For a42-year-old guy to keep playing the way he did when he was just starting his career some 20 years ago, is incredible. He's fearless and will eat your young.

The problem I have with this entire situation is that we're losing two huge character guys on this team and I'm not sure who will step in and fill their shoes. There could be some players out there who could bring some grit and passion to the line-up, but I haven't really looked so I'm open to your thoughts about who's available to fill that kind of role.

Already I don't see us signing both Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque after big Georges was scratched for most of the Stanley Cup Finals. If you're doing the math that's three of four guys we need to replace.

The farm may help fill the void with guys like Jeff Taffe and Tim Brent, but we're going to need to bring some guys in during free agency. Plain and simple.

At least the core of the team will remain the same.....hopefully.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Orpik Declines, Straka Heads Home

I'm a firm believer that things happen in groups of threes, for better or worse. I'm probably even tempting fate by writing this, but as far as I'm concerned we just got dealt two blows today.

Brooks Orpik has declined the Penguins first offer and former Penguin Martin Straka is heading home to play for his Czech team.

Both of these may not be as big a deal in the end, but it's still a blow nonetheless.

The first one I can't say I'm surprised by. In any negotiation who takes the first offer? Let's say you get a new job. Do you accept the first rate of pay that the employer offers? Most likely not, because you and the employer know it's just a formality.

The first offer in any deal is like the Fox News channel. Just a bunch of one-sided fluff that means nothing.

It's just a bunch of unsubstantiated drivel where both sides know it's just a starting point and the effort now shifts to finding a middle ground.

Supposedly both sides will sit down again to try and work out a deal, so this may not be a dead deal just yet.

As for Straka leaving, I have been secretly hoping for years that Straka would return to Pittsburgh after being one of countless salary dumps by Craig Patrick. After refreshing my memory, I don't blame Straka for heading home and not returning to Pittsburgh as many rumors had him doing.

Check out these two trades he was involved in as a Penguin:

Apr 7, 1995: Pittsburgh Penguins traded Martin Straka to the Ottawa Senators for Troy Murray and Norm Maciver.

Nov 30, 2003: Pittsburgh Penguins traded Martin Straka to the Los Angeles Kings for Sergei Anshakov and Martin Strbak.

My head hurts from trying to even process that information. No wonder he went home. Would we end up trading Straka at the deadline for Rico Fata?

Wait we traded for Fata once already? Really? Who'd we give up for him? Kovalev?! You're joking? Ugh.

You should have seen me in my dorm room in college when that deal went down. My roommate refused to talk to me until the swelling in my hand subsided after punching the floor until it went numb.

I spent the better part of two years cursing out Fata every time he hit the ice after that deal. Mainly it was due to the fact that everyone knew that trade was a salary dump and the NHL almost rejected it as such. The first time I traveled to Pittsburgh to see a game at the igloo was shortly after that deal. Mario set him up countless times on the back post and he somehow managed to suffer a stroke every time the puck came to him.

Anyway, back to Straka. How can you not like this guy? I think he would have been a good fit on this young team and could help out with the lack of veteran presence that we're going to have heading into next season. I'm convinced the city of Pittsburgh would have welcomed him back with open arms.

I hesitate to end this post knowing full well that something else has to happen to complete the negative trifecta.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Change Of Heart For Orpik?

I'm a little perplexed right now about what to think with this scenario. First I hear that Brooks Orpik doesn't like Michael Therrien. Now all of a sudden according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Orpik and the Penguins are sitting down in serious contract talks.

Let me explain my side of this.

Brooks Orpik is and has been one of my favorite Penguins players for quite some time now and not just because he went to Boston College. The profile may say New Jersey, but I'm a Boston boy by birthright.

As a Penguins fan how can you not like the style of play he brings? Has he taken a couple cheap shots? Yes and a couple guys got injured that didn't need to. Here's the thing though, I don't get the impression from other people that they think he's a cheap shot artist.

He's a hard nosed, physical defenseman who will put you through the boards so you can enjoy little Timmy's popcorn and soda in the front row.

Now it's pretty well known that Orpik doesn't like Therrien but according to This Article Orpik wants to stay in Pittsburgh and would be willing to sign for less than he could get elsewhere if we sign him long term.

Why wouldn't we do this? He played the latter part of the season on the top defensive pairing with Sergei Gonchar. He's not going to put up points, but hes the only real physical defenseman the Pens have.

(Side note: Yes Hal Gill could be considered a physical presence. That's about all he is. He's great on the PK, but did anyone see how awful he looked in the Finals against Detroit? In Game 1 alone he cost the Pens two goals. The second of which he gets taken to town by Mikael Samuelsson who's giving up about seven inches and 60 pounds. I did not like this deal when we made it and had a sinking feeling that it would come back and bite us eventually. I'm not saying that Gill is the sole reason we lost the Cup, but he looked lost and helpless against the speedy Red Wings.)

I'm going to tread on thin ice as it were and say this. As a fan and strictly a fan, te Devils are the one team I would love to see never win another Stanley Cup. Doesn't seem like this fits in with the rest of this post right? Before you jump all on me Devil fans let me explain.

From a hockey observer's standpoint the Devils have found a successful way to win for many years and proved that even with a mass exodus over the past few years, the system rewards players who buy into it. Is the system a fun brand of hockey to watch? I don't think so and I enjoy 1-0 games more than the 5-4 games. The difference here is that the Devils play a boring pace of hockey that wins. Plain and simple.

Chew on that for a second.

Now, who was the anchor for those Cup winning Devils teams? Brodeur? Rafalski? No.

Scott Stevens.

I can see the lightbulbs turning on in your heads.

Is Brooks Orpik like a younger Scott Stevens? Not necessarily, but there are similarities in their play styles. Personally, I think some of the hits Stevens unleashed were riding the thin line of clean and cheap, but no one can question the tenacity he played with.

Orpik has that kind of warrior tenacity. The one shift that will live on forever in Penguins lore is when he took 4 different Red Wings to the ice in all of 45 seconds. That may have been the greatest shift of the playoffs by any player on any team.

Now here's the other common thread between the two. If you'll recall, Stevens suffered a concussion in an early season game against the Penguins during the 2003-04 season.

Who's the man who dropped the hammer down on Stevens and effectively ended his career?

Yep. Brooks Orpik.

Granted Stevens was all cleared and healthy to play in the 2004-05 seaso, but never got the chance due to a little thing called a lockout. I don't know much about that either, but it can't be good. That whole year was one big blur and I may or may not have been in a self-induced coma.

Anyway, with the hopes of Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa returning slowly spiraling downward, we need to sign Orpik right now.

When it comes down to it, you have to ask yourself a very simple question.

Do you want to play for a city that loves you and a very good chance of winning the Stanley Cup?


Do you want to play for a paycheck and like the coach?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Free Agency Wishlist

After cooling off from yesterday's rant, I decided to come up with a wishlist of players I would like to see come to Pittsburgh. This is just meant to be something fun, since you all know you do the same thing with your own teams. Due to the number of guys that I'd like to see signed, I narrowed it down to 5. NOTE: These aren't in any particular order.

#5 John-Michael Liles

Liles will be one of the most sought after defensemen in this FA class and with good reason. He is coming off his 4th NHL season and in 313 career games he's gone for 44 goals and 115 assists. I'd gladly take a guy with 159 points in just over 300 games, but it's not just the offensive upside with Liles. He's a smart hockey player. Period.

He's only got 122 penalty minutes for his career. Fairly certain a guy named Sergei Gonchar has more than that in one less season with the Penguins. In fact just to be sure, I looked it up and crunched the numbers. In his three seasons with the Penguins, Gonchar has amassed 238 PIMs and still finds a way to put up the offensive numbers he does.

Figure this with Liles though. The kid hasn't hit his prime yet. Put him on this young Pens team and watch his flourish. Do we need more defensive types on the team, no question but Liles is a talent that can be taught how to play a more defensive style. If Therrien can get Gonchar to change his style, surely he can get a younger guy like Liles tobuy into the system.

#4 Brian Rolston

This may be my favorite player in the league that doesn't wear a Penguins jersey. How can you not like the guy? I'm a little biased because his second half resurgence this season was an integral part of my fantasy hockey championship, but still I love the way this guy plays the game.

Should Ryan Malone end up leaving and as I stated yesterday, it sure looks like that will happen, Rolston could be the guy to step in and fill the void. The guy is putting up nearly 70 points a season with the likes of Gaborik, Demitra and Bouchard. Don't even try to tell me he couldn't put up at least those same numbers with Crosby and Malkin feeding him all day long.

From what I can tell, the guy just goes out and plays the game. You never really hear his name in connection with players unhappy with management or the coaching staff. He just goes out and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He ended up with 31 goals this past season and has been around the league for a while. He would bring in a much needed veteran presence to the locker room, especially if Gary Roberts decides to go somewhere else. Last I heard on Roberts was that he would not be retiring and would be looking to play somewhere else next season.

If Pens management or someone with some pull in the Pens organization somehow sees this. GET ROLSTON! Aside from the offense he can bring, he brings all the intangibles that you want in a player. He's a team guy through and through. At one point this season Rolston was bouncing back and forth between the second and third line due to his struggles. Never heard a peep out of him. I was cursing the Wild for doing this because it was killing my fantasy team, but it all worked out in the end. Regardless of where he ends up, I plan on taking him in the draft again this year.

#3 Darcy Tucker

I might take some heat for this because some of you may not have seen the report that the Leafs are going to buy him out shortly. Should this turn into a reality and there's nothing telling me it won't, I want him in Pittsburgh.

This guy is like another Gary Roberts. Both play a gritty style of play that wins fans over. Roberts is an all-time warrior and I will respect the man forever even if he does play for another team next season.

Does he have some injury issues, sure but so did Roberts. Tucker will bring that grit and determination that this team needs. Not to mention he, like Robets, is capable of putting pucks in the back of the net. I'm not sure how my buddy Cheech will take the news of Tucker's exit from Toronto, but my guess is he will be indifferent or ecstatic.

Plus you can't tell me that Tucker wouldn't love to play against some of the teams that hate him the most in the Islanders and Flyers for nearly a quarter of a season with potential playoff matchups with the Flyers. (Sorry Isles fans, it's too easy to take shots like that. Quick coaching tip, you need to score goals to win games. Just in case you didn't know already.)

#2 Miroslav Satan

What makes this even more believable is that I've read rumors on various sites about the Pens being interested in this guy. I was talking with an Isles blogger about the prospect of Satan coming to Pittsburgh and his response was simply "You should."

Imagine him alongside Crosby on the top line? Is he as good as Hossa? Of course not. Is he a solid replacement? No question.

The guy hasn't had any major injury issues and typically plays about 80 games a season. He somehow found a way to put up 41 points on an Islanders team that scored about 50 goals all season. (Again, sorry Islanders fans. Your team makes it too easy some times. Start scoring and I'll retract this.) In his time in Buffalo he was normally around the 70 point mark, which I'd take in a heartbeat.

The guy can skate and keep up with Crosby and Dupuis. The only downside is that he's not exactly got the defensive mindset. As with the Liles comments above, I think Therrien can get Satan to buy into a defensive system that allows him to showcase his talents in the offensive end. Even if he doesn't play with Crosby, put him with Malkin. See if I care. It's not like you're demoting the guy by having him play with Geno over Sid.

I would imagine there will be some pretty decent interest in Satan, but after having played against the Pens for 20 some games over the past three seasons I'm sure he knows just how good this team can be. Plus, how many years does he have left in him to get that elusive Stanley Cup ring. Come to Pittsburgh Satan, you know you want to.

#1 Markus Naslund

Ahh the sentimental pick of the lot. For those of you who may not recall, Markus Naslund was once property of the Pittsburgh Penguins way back in early 90's. In fact we even drafted him in 1991 with the 16th overall pick.

This could be a great pickup should Ray Shero and Co. get it done. He once put up over 100 points in a season and has also hit 90. By no means would I expect him to hit those numbers again, but there's no reason he shouldn't be able to put up 60-70.

Notice how there's basically a common theme here with these picks? Veteran leadership (excluding Liles). This is one area that we're going to need help with if Roberts leaves. Sure these guys a little bit older, but look at the rest of the team already. Some can't even grow hair on their chins yet and we already made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Not exactly a bad thing right?

His coming back to Pittsburgh could end up as the greatest script ever written. Picture it. After being traded at the deadline in '96, Naslund returns to the team he broke into the league with and wins the Stanley Cup.

Hello? Hollywood? Yeah, I've got your next summer blockbuster movie idea.

Already calling dibs on that, so don't go getting any ideas here.

I'd also like to take a second here at the end to congratulate Barry "Mullet Man" Melrose for getting the coaching job in Tampa Bay. I know I'm going to miss his insightful analysis of all things hockey. Michael Wilbon on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption actually said Melrose may be the best analyst in any sport. I don't know if I would go that far, but he's definitely at or near the top of the hockey world. I never really understood why he hadn't gotten a coaching job after being let go by the Kings. Either way, after watching as much hockey as he has over the past 13 years, he should have a firm grip on how to win in this league.

Welcome back Barry. We missed you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pens Moving On After Finals...Maybe

Ok, I'm back. It took a little longer than anticipated to get over the loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, but I think I'm alright now. Every time I thought I was over it, something would happen or I'd see a highlight from the series and it just prolonged the entire healing process. Anyway, the draft is over and now free agency begins on July 1.

That being said, I've read some stories in the last couple of days that have perturbed me slightly. Namely that Ryan Malone will probably not be back in Steeltown this fall.

I don't really blame Malone for looking to go elsewhere after being strung along by the Pens. I may be way off here, but what I don't get is how for the last three years he's been the target of trade rumors and the like. Every year when these rumors came up I defended him and said to anyone who would listen that he'd come around and we shouldn't deal him away. Every year the deadline passed and he was still on the team and I could breathe a little easier. Then it happened.

He finally evolved into the player we and the Penguins thought he could be. He was named an alternate captain and his production went nuts when he was put on a line with Sykora and Malkin. No one can question his will to win after playing with a broken nose during the playoffs, only to see that nose take a rocket shot from Hal Gill in the Finals. We all saw it. My heart sank when I saw Malone drop to the ice with the blood pouring out of his face. I actually said right then and there "Well that's probably it for him in this series and our chances just got even smaller." Then out of nowhere, he's back on the bench with gauze up his nose looking like he just got mugged in a dark alley somewhere. He only missed a couple of shifts and was back and ready to go for the start of the third period of the marathon Game 5 in Detroit.

You can't put a price tag on character and Ryan Malone has more intangibles than a lot of guys on the team. Now I understand that the Pens told him they wouldn't negotiate with anyone until July 1. That was code for "we're not going to negotiate with anyone until we figure out what we're going to do with Marian Hossa."

I get that, fine. It makes sense to give priority to someone who you paid a pretty penny for during the season to get. For the most part it was looking like Hossa was a lock to re-sign in Pittsburgh and would even consider taking a pay cut to return. For 24 hours I was walking around with a huge grin on my face thinking that we could possibly do what NHL 2K8 for the Xbox 360 allowed me to do and bring back the entire team and be under the cap. By no means am I saying that I'm basing this entire post about what I was able to do in a video game. Just merely stating a point of how obsessed I can get with this team.

Then the news comes out that the Pens have broken off talks with Hossa because he wants to test the free agent market. Wonderful. Oh, but wait! Hossa might still return to the Penguins afterall, but he just wants to be sure. Really? If you don't follow the logic going through his head right now let me see if I can clarify this by using a situation we've all had some encounter with. Maybe you haven't had it happen to you, but you definitely know someone in this situation.

Let's say your buddy is dating this extremely attractive woman who you all know is perfect for him and he should just settle down and marry the girl. However, your buddy was dropped on his head as a child and always has to second guess his gut feeling. He goes out one day and buys the engagement ring with all the intentions of popping the question and everyone else is all happy for him. Then as he's leaving the store, he sees another beautiful woman. Decides he just wants to be sure he's making the right move so he goes woos this woman and has a meaningless 3-4 year relationship with this other girl. All the while he knows he should have just settled down for the long haul with the girl he bought that silver ring for. The same ring he etched his name into.

The Penguins are the girl waiting for the engagement ring in this case, but if Hossa wants a ring of his own he needs to sign a deal ASAP. His delaying of the process here is why Malone is going to bail. His delaying of the process here is delaying the signing of other guys like Orpik, Ruutu, Hall, Dupuis, and oh yeah some guys named Malkin and Fleury. Whoever they are.

Something needs to happen and soon or else we're going to lose both Malone and Hossa and when that happens I can't imagine any Penguins fans being overly thrilled about it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Season Over, Empty Feeling Inside

I have been unable to bring myself to write anything about the last couple games or anything really and even as I sit here right now, I know that I'm still not ready. My main reasoning for even doing this right now is strictly therapeutic so bear with me.

I won't stand to see or hear anyone even try and blame this loss on Marc-Andre Fleury. Does he probably want those 2 soft goals back? No question, but he's got a free pass for life as far as I'm concerned with how he played down the stretch in the regular season and how he played in the playoffs. His performance in Game 5 was nothing short of legendary. That clinic he put on will make it's way to instructional DVDs in no time.

I can't remember the last time I was this jacked up about this team. That triple overtime win, despite the circumstances of staving off elimination may have been the pinnacle of my fanhood this season. I sat alone at work, hands shaking, stomach turning. I've never been that nervous in my life and then it happened. Max Talbot saves the day to send it to overtime and Petr Sykora calls his shot to send me into a state of euphoria. It was amazing is all I can say. Fleury was brilliant between the pipes and I really thought we would be sending it back to Detroit for a Game 7 at that point. Obviously that didn't happen and an immense sense of sadness and an empty feeling has crept over me.

For the last two weeks, I've been having dreams of hearing "The Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions!" I woke up with a smile every day. There will be no smile tomorrow morning, not yet. I'm always sad to see the hockey season end, but to see it end with my boys hanging their heads and seeing the opposition hoist the Cup on our home ice will take a few days to get over.

By no means am I trying to take anything away from the Red Wings. They are a phenomenal squad and deserved very much to win the Cup. For as much as I wanted the Pens to win, I never really expected to win like I had for previous series. What I wanted was if we didn't win, to at least make Detroit earn it. It is my firm belief that we accomplished that. We may not have shown up much or were just not ready for what the Finals brought in Games 1 and 2, but for the last 4 games of the series, we gave Detroit everything we had and the better team prevailed in the end. Simple as that. There was even a small glimmer of hope at the very end that Hossa had tied it with under a second left in the third period only to see that hope squashed by the oncoming rush of Red Wings players from the bench.

Eventually I will get over this and so will the guys on the team and realize the bigger picture. Five years prior this team was in shambles and going nowhere. Last in the league in standings, major stars heading for the hills and it all started to turn around last year. I didn't expect them to even make the playoffs last season and they surprised me and did exactly what I expected against Ottawa. Nothing, but we gained the experience needed to make a strong Cup run.

Flash ahead to this season. Crosby and Fleury go down and the hopes of Pens nation rested squarely on the once shaky shoulders of Ty Conklin. Out of nowhere he has a career resurgence and Evgeni Malkin goes on a tear and suddenly we're fighting for the conference lead in the standings without 2 key components.

We then get healthy and get Marian Hossa and the pieces for a championship run began to fall into place. They rip Ottawa a new one in the first round, dispatch the Rangers quickly, send our hated cross-state rivals home in 5 games and all of a sudden I'm sitting on top of the world. All the suffering over the past few years was actually worth it to get to this point. We sat just 4 wins from immortality and just got flat out beat by a much more experienced team who nobody was going to beat this year.

Eventually I'll be ok with what just transpired over the last few days. Maybe I'll feel better later this week when I've had a few days to digest this and realize how great the accomplishments these kids attained this season really are. Maybe I'll feel better knowing that we have an excellent chance to get back here again very soon and actually win it, now that we know what it feels like to be on the losing end. Maybe I'll feel better when I see this team back on the ice next season with a new attitude. Not a cocky one, but a confident one that expects nothing less than to win it all. You could see it in their eyes this season that it was going to be different this time around. Maybe I'll feel better when we figure out what to do with Hossa and Ryan Malone and establish our roster for next season. By then the sting will have worn off and the excited giddy side of me will return. Until then I'm going to go shave off my playoff beard.