Tuesdays With Stoosh: 3:01

 
The 2010-11 NHL Trade Deadline is in the books, and when it was all said and done, what have we really learned?  

Well, for starters, we learned Ray Shero don’t need no effin’ deadline. Big hoss likes to get shit done early, and the bulk of his business was done last week. He made his statement deal a week ago today, shipping defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Stars for winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Two days later, the Penguins sent a conditional 7th-round pick to Ottawa for winger Alexei Kovalev.

That way he can spend most of the actual Deadline Day sitting in his office with Mario, Disco, Botteril, & Fitzgerald, watching the proceedings of the day, just like we did.  Maybe they spent lunch housing some pizza and beers, laughing at Twitter rumors (“Don’t fall in love with Alex Kovalev stuff”) or at Brian Burke looking like he just came in off a four-day bender in Vegas.  

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Maybe they were in on Penner, but at some point it became apparent that it was going to take at least a first-round pick & and someone like Despres or Bennett to get him.  Penner’s a nice player, but not for that.  

Maybe the call came back from New Jersey, telling him that McPhee willing to go with a roster player and a second-round pick in 2012 for a fading 2nd-line center who scores a goal once every five games. Thanks but no thanks, Lou.  No way we’re gonna try & trump that.

By the time the deadline arrived at 3:00 PM, the team was comfortable with where it was. In Shero’s own words, there was really nothing else out there worth the asking price.

So when it was all said and done, Ray Shero got his shopping done early and that was that.  And chances are he still ended up better off than many of the teams battling the Pens for a playoff spot. When you look at how these trades impact the team NEXT year, this MAY have been Shero’s best work yet.

So here are some post-deadline thoughts, dudes…

Consider the landscape of the Eastern Conference and all the injury circumstances that have developed around the Pens since 1/1/11/, and now look at the two deals the Pens made. Shero managed to retain the current team’s status as a playoff contender/”team that no one really wants to face in the first round”, and also make the Pens a potential monster for next season.  That’s your Pens deadline haul in a nutshell.

The best thing about these two trades for this year is the impact on the top two lines.  It’s not going to be the same as it would’ve been with Crosby and a healthy Malkin in the lineup. But Neal and Kovalev will be mainstays in the top six and on the top powerplay unit, and you can already see some results. Five goals and forty shots against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night is a start. They converted one of two PP chances against Toronto and are a combined 1-for-5 since Kovalev joined the team.

Neal has seven shots on net in three games since joining the team.  No points yet, but he’s been close on a number of occasions.  In the San Jose game last Wednesday, he fired an absolute laser from just inside the blueline that handcuffed Niemi up high and stung him pretty good.  Pretty impressive considering the distance from which he fired the puck.

The Neal/Goligoski deal was a stereotypical hockey deal as each team filled needs both short and long-term.  Dallas needed an upgraded offensive presence on the blueline; the Pens needed an established top-six wing that can fit right into the rest of the core.  Done and done.  What may put this deal over the top for the Pens is the development of Matt Niskanen.

The inclusion of Niskanen was painted by some in Dallas as a mini-“salary dump”, a throw-in to the deal, but in truth, the Pens don’t really lose a whole lot in terms of the type of player they’re getting in Niskanen versus the one they lost. Niskanen’s game is similar in many facets to Goligoski’s.  He’s predominantly a puck-moving defenseman.  He’s very mobile, perhaps an even better skater than Goligoski.  Niskanen is a step down from Goligoski in terms of his offensive abilities; he doesn’t have quite the puck skills that Goligoski does. Conversely, though, Niskanen is a bit of an upgrade defensively.  Niskanen is bigger and more effective from a physical standpoint than Goligoski was.  He’s not going to be Orpik or even Letang, but he’s going to be more effective than Gogo was on the wall and in the corners.

Niskanen was a player who flourished when he first came up with the Stars in part because he was paired alongside Sergei Zubov and he was playing in a structured system under Dave Tippett.  He was really never given the benefit of a year or two in the minors, and this may have all caught up to him the last few years as Zubov retired and the Stars transitioned from Tippett to Marc Crawford’s hair last season.

Four of the top 62 players picked in the first round of the 2005 Entry Draft now play for the Penguins. There was Crosby, of course, taken first overall after Bettman rigged the lotter…oops, um, I mean the Pens won the lottery. Kris Letang was the first pick of the third round.  Matt Niskanen was Dallas’s first-round pick in that draft (28th overall), and James Neal was taken by the Stars five picks later in the second round (33rd overall).

From the Do-Over Department, where does Kris Letang go if that draft is redone, knowing what we know now?  

http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/draft/nhl2005e.html

In the Benefit of Hindsight Redraft of 2005, I think Letang would’ve been the second defenseman drafted. In terms of defensemen, only Marc Staal would be picked ahead of him.  And Letang’s a top-ten pick, hands down.

If this Kovalev thing works out and he proves to be a productive player the rest of the way, the Pens could do a hell of a lot worse than offering him a one-year, lower cost deal ($1.5 to $2.0 million) to come back next year.

Lots of talk amongst fans leading up to the deadline that Talbot may be on his way out, and Mark Madden mentioned that the Pens did indeed field some offers for him.  

Talbot’s a tough case to dissect objectively. On the ice, he’s a versatile player. Best cast as a lower-line center, he is a solid penalty-killer and forechecker. He’s capable of playing limited roles as a wing, although not for an extended period of time. His high-water mark in terms of production came in a limited stint as a wing on the second line with Geno during the 2009 Cup run.

Most of all, he’s been a big-time playoff performer, dating back to his days in the QMJHL. For his career, he averages 0.28 ppg in the regular season. In the playoffs? That jumps to 0.49 ppg. That’s huge, and it can’t be discounted. It’s also a reflection of a former junior-level scorer who has embraced his role as an energy player to make it in the NHL. Every so often, the offensive skills show through.

Off the ice, he’s a charismatic guy, perhaps to a fault. He’s often described by those closer to the locker room dynamics as the soul of the team, while others like Sid and Orpik are the heart. He’s never shied away from a camera…again, perhaps to a fault.  

But there are two practical things working against Max.  First is his contract. His cap hit is $1.05 million for this year and he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Tied to that dollar amount is his relative production. He kills penalties and does a lot of things away from the puck, but the offensive numbers in the regular season still aren’t there with any consistency. Heading into this season, we heard a lot of talk about how healthy he was as compared to previous years, and how this was going to be a different season for Talbot in terms of his production. But it hasn’t happened.

With 7 goals and 8 assists in 64 games, he’s points-per-game production is .23, off from the .29 ppg pace he put up in 2008-09, and way down from the .41 ppg he posted in 2007-08.  That may not sound like much, but reverse the numbers a little bit.  He’s producing a point every 4-5 games this year, as opposed to every 3 games in 2007-08 and 2008-09.  Over an 82-game season, that’s the difference between a 15 or 20-point season and a 30-point season.

Earlier in the season, this wasn’t as big an issue as Crosby’s insane production was hiding the fact that the rest of the lineup was starved for consistent secondary scoring.  With Sid out along with Malkin, Kunitz and Letestu, it became more imperative for guys like Talbot, Cooke, Dupuis and Kennedy to pick up some of the slack – the veteran forwards who have been here before, as Orpik pointed out a week or so ago. Some guys held up their end of that; others didn’t.

So Max’s future as a Penguin remains an interesting case – one that now won’t be resolved until this summer. Even if he comes back at a 10% pay cut, $945,000 is a lot for any team to pay for a fourth-line center – even moreso for a team that just took on $4+ million in cap space for next season by adding Neal and Niskanen. And no one knows if Talbot has any interest in taking a paycut on his new deal.  It’s probably not much of a coincidence, then, that the Pens inked Joe Vitale to an extension this past summer, one that brings Vitale’s cap hit in at about $512,000.

Talbot ratchets up his game in the playoffs. His Game Seven performance against the Wings in 2009 will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in Penguins history.  He is by all accounts a great guy, a terrific teammate and a good community presence. Unfortunately, as Shero has proven, the latter only carries so much weight; if they mattered more, Ryan Whitney would’ve never been traded.

I don’t want to turn this into a bash-session on Max Talbot the Commercial Presence or Max Talbot the 24/7 Camera Favorite, because that’s really not fair to Talbot, either.  First off, the guy kind of earned it with the former, given said Game Seven performance.  And being a charismatic guy shouldn’t be a bad thing. Talbot works plenty hard on the ice.

But this is the cap era and production has to be tied back to a dollar value at some point. Consistency of production has to be there. And for a team that currently has so much committed to the cap for next season, he’s likely priced himself out of Pittsburgh this summer.  There are likely guys who can do what he’s been doing on the ice for half the cost. We’ll wait and see.  It sucks, but it’s the tradeoff for all those nice long contracts the Pens gave to Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and the top four defensemen.

= While we’re ranting, what do all these deals mean for the return of Sidney Crosby?  Truth?  Who the hell knows?  You could look at these deals and argue that Shero never gets guys like Neal and Kovalev if he didn’t know Sid was coming back.  True.  You could just as easily look at these deals and say they acquired Neal and Kovalev to help create some semblance of an NHL-caliber offense in lieu of the knowledge that Sid likely wasn’t coming back, and that this group at least gives them an honest shot to win a round.

Again, who the hell knows?

One thing that seems to be a little confusing is this little conversation-starter that’s been circulating on the sports talk airwaves, the NHL national shows, etc.  It goes something like this.

“Well, you know, sooner or later the Pens HAVE to shut Sidney Crosby down for the year.”

Um, they do?

Let’s indulge a little hypothetical here.

Pens get to late March and clinch a playoff berth, but Sid’s still not back. In fact, he’s still not skating and still experiencing symptoms from time to time. So at the end of March, Pens call a press conference to drop the hammer.  Sid’s done for the year.  We’re shutting him down. No 87 on the ice until next year.

Two weeks into April, the playoffs start.  It goes seven, but the Pens eliminate the Caps.  So now it’s May and it’s the second round.  And the Pens win another series.

Now it’s mid-May and the Pens are back in the conference finals, and by the way, Sid’s been symptom-free since mid-April, and he’s passed every test by every doctor the Pens have had him see three times over.  Sure would be nice to have the best playing in the league back in the lineup…you know, the one that was making a mockery of the scoring race before he got hurt.  But guess what?  He’s already been shut down for the year.

Oops.
 

Yes, yes…one more time…without the “Oops!”

That’s why the Pens DON’T shut Crosby down for the year.  That’s a door the team doesn’t want to close for this year, and officially shutting him down will do just that, even if the chances are better that he won’t back.

And that very well may be the case. Recovery from a concussion is non-linear.  Every concussion is different. Every person who suffers one recovers from it differently, and there are several factors at play. One such factor is believed to be previous concussions (diagnosed or undiagnosed) that were never given time to heal because the player either tried to come back – or in some instances, was rushed back – too quickly.  It could be the underlying reason why the careers of Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine were derailed by concussions; teams didn’t know enough and they rushed them back before they were really ready.  Previous concussions suffered by Marc Savard and not handled properly may have contributed to his current condition.

To some degree, there is no set timeline and no hard-and-fast basis of comparison.

This is why it’s absolutely pointless to say, “Well, Brad Richards is already coming back from his concussion. Heath Miller had a concussion and was out three or four weeks. What’s up with Sid?  WHY ISN’T SID BACK?  WHAT ARE THE PENS HIDING FROM US??? ZOMG!@!!!!!!!!111”

Case in point – David Perron.  Perron suffered a concussion back in November and as of last Friday was still not close to returning.

WHAT ARE THE BLUES HIDING FROM US?!!?!

Nothing.  They just don’t really know.

Both Crosby and Perron will start feeling better when they start feeling better.  It could be tomorrow.  It could be three weeks from now.  Hell, for all we know, they could each have been symptom-free for the last five days and they’re each a week away from getting back on skates.

One thing that is worth noting is that patience and time taken by the team and the player seem to pay off. Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins were patient with his recovery a few years ago, and he’s been fine ever since.  Likewise for David Booth.  

As Shero has said, this is about the long-term health of Crosby, his ability to sustain his career and, most importantly, sustain his long-term health.  They will not risk any of those three – especially the last – for a playoff run.  It may suck in the short term and it may ultimately be a lost playoff year because of that.  

But be encouraged by it for the long-term.  If patience and time result in him returning completely healthy next year, he comes back to resume his assault on the rest of the league, this time with James Neal and a healthy Malkin in tow, all in front of a defense that returns intact along with a healthy Fleury.

Good God.

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