So the Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the top 10 forwards going around on the ice at the moment. However hockey is a team sport and that is what makes it so wonderful, it is not the NBA or NFL where you can ride a couple of players to the promised land.
The one exception is a goalie.
Lets forget about that exception at the moment, what the Penguins are going to need is depth, forward depth to be exact.
I have been on the record in our podcasts saying I think the key to the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup is their back 6, not their bottom 6.
However I am starting to see that the Penguins bottom 6 is so poor, the ability of the back 6 can't help the top 6 carry this team to the promised land.
I have also been on the bandwagon of play the kids in the back 6, well play players who can hold the puck.
Hey if you have it, they don't.
Letang, Martin, Ehrhoff, Despres, and Pouliot have all shown they can push the puck out of the defensive zone and have the puck in the offensive zone.
But what is the point of having the puck if your team cannot do anything with it.
The Penguins have 5 top 6 players at the moment who are producing, ignore the combo's at the moment, yes it effects performance but it is not important right now.
They may even have 6 if the coaching staff give Beau Bennett a chance to play through his struggles.
So how does a cap tight team improve their bottom 6 when most teams are starting to use advanced stats?
Most of the moves Jim Rutherford has made have been 'hockey trades', both teams would feel like the trade was even.
I bring this up because there has been ground swell amongst Penguins fans to do something with Brandon Sutter. The issue is what? Or more importantly, how?
Here is why fans are upset with Sutter....
As always graphs supplied by: ownthepuck.blogspot.com
This season he has had the opportunity to get top 6 minutes, however his production has barely been above a 4th line 'energy guy'.
Sutter has an issue, he is not physical, cannot win board battles and besides his great wrist shot when breaking down the to the top of the right circle doesn't possess any offense.
So how do the Penguins move him?
In this day of advanced stats, any scout can go to a game and watch a player, then check the numbers and see if the eye test matches up to what they see. If they don't, they can watch a few more games and see if it is the PDO (luck) that is going against the team or player specifically or look a little deeper and see if the line mates are dragging that player down.
I find it hard to believe you are going to be able to 'win' a lopsided trade in this day and age of the NHL. You are going to see more of those 'hockey trades' where both sides come away happy.
The Penguins need to work out what they want from their third and fourth lines. Do they want a third line that can shut down the oppositions top 2 lines or a line that produces SOME offense?
I just want a line that has the ability to suppress chances for the opposition. I say this because winning in the playoffs needs luck and the fewer shots against the fewer chances for bad luck.
Taking that wonderfully negative approach (which I hate), which of these players is going to reduce the chance of bad luck for the Penguins bottom 6 this season?
So which of these players will reduce the chances of bad things happening in their own zone?
Bennett, Goc, Arcobello, oh that's right, Goc who is a shot suppression giant was replaced with a more physical, much more noticeable shot suppression wet blanket.
Even Craig Adams manages to keep shots down, quite well actually.
He provides absolutely nothing else in 5 on 5 situations on the ice, but he does suppress the chance of bad luck. For a 4th liner you can live with that. This is coming from one of his biggest critics.
So where can the Penguins ship out these bad luck magnets of Spaling, Sutter, Lapierre? After watching Rutherford acquire Klinkhammer and ship him out, Lapierre is certainly moveable. However I have no idea where he could go for this season, as he will walk as a UFA at the end of the year.
Spaling and Sutter have a cap hit this season AND next of 5.5M, Lapierre is 1.2M this season only. Moving all 3 contracts this season would be handy, it would free up cap space for a move for a top 6 player and create flexibility for the UFA market July 1.
Does Rutherford look to the future? Like Perron.
Does Rutherford look to short term success? An expensive UFA.
If Shane Doan would be willing to leave Arizona I would offer Spaling and Sutter for Doan straight up.
Doan will not be productive when the Coyotes are good again, he will be past it, the Penguins could do with Doan's production this season and next. His cap hit of 5.3M this season AND next fits inside the Sutter and Spaling hit.
Doan can provide at least, at least, 2nd line output in shot suppression along with almost 1st line goal scoring. On top of that, an 'intangible' a lot of Penguins fans have been screaming for is older leadership. I don't think it is needed but optically for the fan base Doan would tick a lot of boxes.
Foot speed would be my only concern with Doan, but if his hockey brain is fast enough he will know where to be on the ice playing with either Crosby or Malkin.
Why on earth would Arizona trade away their captain for two players that many people want a team to bail on?
The age of Sutter and Spaling fit within the improving window the Coyotes, they do have their positives, they both work hard, train hard, and are good examples of getting the most out of the talent they have. All commendable qualities to have on a building team, just not a cup contending team that is cap tight. Edmonton can attest to not having those 25-30 year old players to help guide the talented youth through becoming an NHL player.
How the hell does removing 2 players help the Penguins become more than a 2 line team?
Good question, it comes down to how do you think a team can win in the playoffs.
Scouts have always said, take skill before size, if the player is the same size, take the more skilled player.
So I want to fill the line up with skill, I don't care what people say about the playoffs and the whistles being put away, there are still going to be penalties called. This team with their power play, if their best players choke, they do not deserve to win.
This all requires a healthy line up, something Pittsburgh has not had since leaving The Igloo.
That 3rd line can actually supress shots against, thus reduce the likelihood of getting those unlucky bounces that can decide playoff series.
If you can have Steve Downie on your 4th line who has a corsi against of just below 2nd line level then your depth is doing ok. It also keeps Downie off the ice for enough time to not have a brain snap that I am sure he doing to do at some stage in the playoffs.
This Penguins team for this season is not too far away from actually being able to come out of the East, winning it, well that Western Conference is tough no matter how good the Penguins record against it is (11-4-1).
This all comes down to Doan wanting to win, he has control over his destination, contractually and loyalty wise. Does he want that playoff pressure again at 37 or does he want to wander off into the sunset a great player but not a Cup winner.
Thanks for reading.