Sorry for the Penguins dominant week here at Hockey Hurts. But I don't think I have written a piece specifically on the Penguins without it being based around suspensions or injuries so I thought I would give my opinion on where the team is headed.
What do the Penguins want out of their 3rd line?
Do they want one that has a little offensive upside?
Or would they like one that is defensively responsible and wont get stuck in its own end and force their top two lines to start from their defensive zone?
I know the Goc v Sutter argument wont be won by either side, but I do think that Goc between Bennett and a trickle down from top 6 additions would keep the puck out of your own zone.
This team proved at the start of the season it is the closest it has been to getting to the Cup Finals for a long time, and the depth at the start of the season proved that.
So moving Sutter to fill a top 6 role seems folly, I would like to see one of the defensive prospects moved to get back an active NHL contract controlled player, however the likely hood of that happening is almost impossible in today's cap world.
You can see the potential of the d coming through, however the only one that is top 4 ready is Despres, and he gets better and better each game. When the playoffs come around he wont be playing bottom pairing minutes.
Do you ship him out?
Maatta will be the determining factor in that decision.
If Despres is shipped, I don't like the skating ability of that bottom pairing or the ability to hit the short breakout pass when under pressure. It will be a tough decision no matter what direction the GM heads.
I'd rather have Dumoulin and Harrington on that back pairing, mainly because they have shown they can get the puck out of the zone either on their own stick or from accurate exit passes.
Yes they may get pushed around in their own zone but their ability to get the puck out of the zone will reduce the frequency of that happening. For all of Bortuzzo's physicality, he often gets trapped in the zone trying to be physical.
Look at Despres's play, now he is using his body to go puck first and he has jumped ahead leaps and bounds in his development. (It also helps he is 6'4 and can skate almost as well as Letang).
As much as fans get on Dupuis for missing a lot of scoring opportunities his loss is huge to the structure of the team. The panic on Kunitz's play at the moment seems a little premature also, he has just come back from a broken foot.
What causes me more concern is the perception Penguins players seem to come back too early from their injuries.
Health at the right time of the year is really important for this team, the end of Jan is important, healthy by then and Rutherford has a chance to see the team for two weeks before pulling the trigger on a deal to change the structure of this team, for better or worse.
So how do the Penguins want to structure up their team?
I say go for the 1993 team structure.
I know, I know, they got knocked out in OT by the Islanders and the way the season is trending it could be the exact same match up in the exact same round this year. However, I do think this team can push past that disaster (unless your an Islanders fan) and get to the Cup Finals, it is a raffle once you're in the Finals.
Many have said Malkin reminds them of Lemieux in his movement and skill set, why not set up his line like Lemieux's from that 93 season?
I would like to take credit for the idea, however I must thank my wife for pointing me in this direction.
This doesn't even require any additional roster changes that have been discussed.
Many will say "what about Sid", and rightfully so, however Bennett will be back and I would slide Crosby's line down to the '2nd' line, either way Malkin and Crosby are going to get their 20+ minutes a night.
You end up with:
Crosby has shown he plays well with anyone but he played exceptionally well with Marian Hossa in the short stint they had together in 2008. Bennett whilst no Hossa is just as cerebral as Hossa, and I think Bennett's ability to think the game at Hossa's pace will see him match up well with Crosby.
Comeau has shown whilst playing with Malkin that he gets to the right spots and at the moment has the confidence to finish plays superstars make, he'll be fine with Crosby, plus he is fast enough to keep up. Or you slot a trade in where Comeau sits and push him down to the 3rd line, where he was expected to play before the season started.
This is the current roster, healthy, a big if with this franchise, you can note that I have Scuderi and Adams in, not because I want them there, but because this coaching staff is set on playing them.
I would prefer to see Harrington and Rust up in the line up to remove both Scuderi and Adams from the roster. Before people get all up in arms about the penalty kill, the Penguins are 1 for 20 something on the pk without Adams in the line up. Even with Scuderi out of the lineup the penalty kill will be fine.
As I said earlier, Dupuis blood clotting issue really throws a spanner in the works for the depth chart of this roster, having Dupuis playing with Bennett and Crosby really fills out the roster without having to give up any assets at all. Alas it is not meant to be, and this is where we get to the trade options for this roster moving forward.
Do the Penguins look for a 'one and done' deal? Someone like a Jagr, who could fit in on Crosby's wing and fill that trickle down depth for the roster or look for a player with term on their contract that can help their forward depth beyond this season?
Each of those solutions have different costs to them and obviously cap implications also.
The window for this team is starting to shrink, not close, but shrink, how far into the future do you want your GM to be looking Penguins fans?
If Erhoff signs on January 1 as Elliotte Friedman has hinted at, then Martin becomes expendable, but only if Maatta and his shoulder is healthy enough to take the brunt of top four minutes the rest of the season.
Many people are concerned about losing Martin for nothing at the end of the season for nothing in return (UFA), looking at it as poor asset management. The trade off for keeping Martin? A Stanley Cup, I think most people would take the loss of the asset for that return.
What do you get in return for Martin? 5 million in cap space and a 2nd round pick? He has a limited no trade clause, so the assets the Penguins could get in return are limited.
Yes that cap space can be parlayed in a separate trade to acquire that top end top 6 player many fans have been clamoring for.
The Penguins do not have the type of movable assets that will bring in a big fish with contract control that will have the fans salivating. Rutherford needs to find a Ryan Whitney - Chris Kunitz + Eric Tangradi type of trade. Do not forget that Whitney was a 5th overall pick in his draft and performing well at the time, even if he was a favorite whipping boy of the fans.
As the saying goes, you have to give to get, the question is that third line of the Penguins, do you want a 3rd line that has offensive upside or one that can keep the puck out of your defensive 3rd?
You make that call and you have your asset selection to find that one missing top 6 player many are after.
As you can see Sutter and Martin are gone, and the depth is still there, that third line will not get stuck in its own zone and the 4th line has more than enough skill to play 10 minutes a game if needed.
The bottom 6 are interchangeable, some will want Spalling as the 3rd line center and Steve 'bat shit crazy' Downie on the 3rd line also, and they would have a case for that. But this is the first season the Penguins have had choices in a long time.
Finally, I have not had to talk about the options in net. Fleury is having a career year through to the 31st of December. Those that use advanced stats are waiting for 'Flower' to regress back to his career numbers, I am one of those.
If Fleury does continue to post numbers like he has up to now (and I really hope he does), I actually think this current Penguins roster, when healthy, can win the Stanley Cup, I say this because he would be the Conn Smythe winner and this Penguins team would be so difficult to beat with that caliber of goaltending.
Well there it is, it is probably a lot of pent up opinion in this, but thanks for reading!
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