Given that most of it ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, it’s probably fitting that the
final chapter of this 2010-11 NHL season was punctuated with this:
Can’t wait until they turn that into a Fathead. Imagine that thing on the wall of your den. Talk
about scaring the shit out of your kids.
So the season is over and summer is here. And I never thought I’d say this about a hockey
season, but not a moment too soon, at least as far as closing the book on this season as a Pens
Twenty years from now, we’re going to look back at this 2010-11 Pens season much the same
way fans look back at the 1992-93 and 1995-96 teams. Seasons of What Could Have Been.
Clear a spot on the mantle, right up there next to David Volek and that blueline shot by Tom
Fitzgerald. We’ve got to make room for David Steckel and Tyler Myers. I guess we could throw
Trevor Gillies up there, along with the Matt Cooke fallout and maybe even Letestu’s errant
shot that broke Staal’s hand just as he was getting back to practice.
What could’ve been.
After the Pens were eliminated, I made it a point to try to kick back and just watch the rest
of the playoffs. I maintained a rooting interest all the way through the Cup Finals as my old
favorite team growing up – the Vancouver Canucks – went all the way to Game 7 of the Cup
Finals before engineering a spectacular collapse.
As I watched Chara take the Cup from Count Bettman, skate it around and then pass it off to
Recchi, then Tim Thomas, I couldn’t help but wonder what could’ve been. And if you were
watching, chances are you probably thought the same thing.
What could’ve been.
I guess it’s kind of tough to say what might have been when the truth of the matter is that we
never really got to see what team was in the first place. We got to see it for about two periods
during the Winter Classic, and that was played on crappy ice in a gimmicky outdoor game. The
other 244 periods of hockey this team played during the regular season were played missing
at least one of their top three players on offense. And while every team has to play through
injuries, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to watch.
It doesn’t make it any easier to sit back, look at what this team did in November and
December, and wonder what could’ve been.
Guess we’ll find out in exactly three months:
Penguins 2011 Pre-Season Schedule
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Thursday, Sept. 22
Saturday, Sept. 24
Tuesday, Sept. 27
vs. Los Angeles at Kansas City
Friday, Sept. 30
Sunday, Oct. 2
(All times Eastern)
(schedule from pens.com)
Closing it out with some thoughts, dudes…
Judging by the reaction on Twitter when his new two-year deal was announced, you never
would’ve guessed that Craig Adams is just a couple of years removed from being a nondescript
waiver pickup brought on board at the trade deadline.
In terms of dealing with the Pens’ other free agents and managing the cap, Shero couldn’t
have picked a better guy to lock up first than Adams. Adams is one of the team’s best penalty
killers and best lead-by-example guys on the team, but he had one of the lowest cap hits
($550K) on the team last year. His cap hit on his new deal bumps up to $675K – a relatively
modest raise considering everything he does away from the puck. Knowing he’s got other
similar role players with higher cap hits expecting raises, Adams’s new deal may send a bit of a
Hey, bonus. Two more years of Craig F’n Adams means two more years of “Secret Service
Save” references from Steigy.
Ryan Craig was re-signed to a one-year, two-way deal with an NHL cap hit of $525K. If the
pricier role players like Mike Rupp and Max Talbot don’t return, Craig enters camp with a great
shot to take over one of their roster spots. If not, he resumes his role as captain of the WBS
Biggest obstacle to the Pens bringing back some of their free agents? How about the TSN
report saying that clubs and agents have been told the cap is expected to go to $64 million for
the upcoming season, while the salary floor is going to be $48 million? That means there are
currently ten teams in the league that need to spend at least $10 million each just to get to
the salary floor. The Florida Panthers would have to spend $30 million just to reach that $48
million salary threshold. Carolina, Colorado and Phoenix each need to spend about $15 million.
If you want to know why there are reports circulating that Talbot is looking for $1.7 million
a year, or that Mike Rupp is looking for $1.5 million a year, that’s why. It’s a weak market
this year for unrestricted free agents market this year with only Brad Richards and a few
goaltenders expected to be guaranteed big-ticket contracts. There are a lot of teams that
almost have to overspend to become salary-cap compliant.
And this is probably a big reason why there really seems to be some teeth behind these
reports that the Pens have expressed interest in Jaromir Jagr. No one has put any solid
numbers on what Jagr is asking, but there’s talk that it may be less than $3 million. For
comparison’s sake, Michael Ryder is a pending unrestricted free agent coming off a deal that
carried a cap hit of $4 million per year. There is talk that Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy –
two of the Pens strongest in-house options at RW – are both seeking raises; Dupuis carried a
cap hit of $1.4 million, and Kennedy is rumored to be seeking $2-2.5 million as a restricted free
This isn’t to compare Kennedy or Dupuis to Jagr. But assuming Kennedy and Dupuis can both
command raises on the market and Jagr COULD be signed for about $3 million, maybe a little
less. When it comes to what each would bring to the team relative to cost, I can’t see any real
way that Jagr isn’t the best option there. I hate to go Bill Simmons here, but imagine you’re
going to Vegas. You can stay at Bally’s for $225 a night or the Venetian for $275 a night. Bally’s
isn’t bad and it gets the job done. But if you can afford both with no real problem, don’t you
maybe splurge a little and go with the Venetian?
From the “Haven’t We Been Down This Road Before, You and I?” department. We’re
talking about a free agent veteran winger, highly skilled, looking for a one-year deal with an
established contender. Oh, and he used to play for the Pens. And the other team he’s rumored
to be tied to is the Detroit Red Wings.
So I suppose there’s the chance this Jagr thing doesn’t just fail to work out with the Pens,
but that he signs with Detroit. Shades of Hossa in 2008 all over again, right? Hey, I’ll bet A2Y
will even design a new boat around it.
Of course, we all know how that ultimately worked out. Nightmare city.
Tell me, Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming?
Gonna throw this out about Jagr, too.
There are plenty of reasons to wonder if bringing Jagr back would be a smart move. Age
catches up with every hockey player and as we saw even with Lemieux, when it does, it’s not
always pretty. We saw Guerin take a step back in 09-10. We saw Kovalev this past year struggle
horribly at times, although that may have been due in large part to injury.
But this is a one-year deal. This is a player for whom motivation and the willingness to go out
and play was never really an issue. Jagr was a strange dude at times, but he played. He played
hurt; horribly hurt, in fact, at times. But you mitigate that. You do with Jagr what they never
ended up really doing with Guerin in 2009-10 – namely, sit him down for 12-15 regular season
games. Got a road game in Florida on the back end of a back-to-back? Take the night off, Jags.
If you watched him during the 2010 Winter Games, you could see he still had it at a very high
level. The World Championships are a bit watered down, but the talent level is still good, so
his 2011 performance there stands for something. And for a guy who tended to be moody and
brooding at times with the media, he seems to be a lot more comfortable with his place in the
game now. If you watched any interview he did at the Olympics in 2010, it was there. He seems
like someone who would be into this comeback for the right reasons.
Much like 2011 Kovalev wasn’t the Kovalev we last saw, 2011-12 Jagr wouldn’t be close to the
same player he was when he was traded. If we’re lucky, maybe he does what Teemu Selanne
did for Anaheim – 30+ goals and 80 points even at this age. Maybe not. Maybe all he really is at
this point is what Mark Recchi was for Boston, not that that’s a horrible thing to be.
Or maybe it falls somewhere in the middle – maybe he does what Sykora did in 2007-08. 25-30
goals & 30 assists.
Playing on a line with either Malkin or Crosby, is that feasible? You bet. And
while the speed may have gone, the size hasn’t. The hockey sense hasn’t, and neither have
the hands. The latter three helped define his game moreso than the speed he used to have,
and those three things really don’t erode. The hands and the hockey sense is what largely got
Selanne to 30+ goals; if Jagr’s awareness and hands are still there, Sid and Geno are talented
enough to find Jagr on the ice and make it work.
Can he play in this system? Who knows? Why can’t that be a little bit more of a two-way
street, especially given the fact that opposing teams have pretty much figured out how to
contain the system in the playoffs in each of the last two years? Maybe the coaching needs to
adapt to the player a little bit, too, especially when you’re talking about a player who still
carries at least some elite traits to his game.
Who knows where this thing goes from here? Maybe it loses steam, he signs with a KHL team
and it’s nothing much more than it’s been the last few years. Maybe he signs elsewhere for
more money than what the Pens believe he’s worth.
Or maybe the circle comes complete.
Make it happen.