picture 7

Tuesdays With Stoosh: 7.6

Commentor Stoosh has been around quite a while.
He even has a shirt in Storeblog.
He's banged out beastly Homer-esque comments with a high level of consistency.
Only fitting to give him the reins.
Long holiday weekend.  Fireworks.  Beer.  Cookouts. Yep, the lazy thing to do today would be to boil this column down to a collection of free agency-related thoughts, dudes.  So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Before we start, though, Mr. Flair, you have a question?

Anyone, uh, know where I can get a Sergei Gonchar Pens jersey?



– The Pens had two big problems last season.  The first was lack of consistent scoring from the wings, but this didn’t really reveal itself until the playoff series against Montreal.  Even then, it took seven games, a superhuman effort by Halak and the Habs playing incredibly disciplined defensive hockey to come to light.

– The OTHER deficiency – one that proved to be fatal to the 2009-10 Penguins – was a defense that was far too easy on opposing forwards.  This manifested itself more frequently during the regular season and then glowed like a neon sign in the postseason.  It’s the reason why Mike Cammalleri was able to laugh like this…

…after scoring seven goals in the series against the Pens.  And yes, I still hate looking at that picture.

– If you liked Rob Scuderi, you’re going to love Zybnek Michalek.  He’s Scuds with skill.  Scuderi was terrific at putting himself in position to take away shooting and passing lanes.  From assessments that I’ve read prior to and since his signing, Michalek is very much in that mold, perhaps even better.

– Michalek will almost certainly wear #4, too.  Maybe, just maybe, “Zybnek Michalek” is Czech for “Rob Scuderi, with more skill”.

How about that tool in the Mike Green jersey? Keep laughing, jackass.  You’ll be seeing that #4 in your nightmares come April.

– When Scuds left Pittsburgh, he did so to the tune of a four-year deal at $3.4 million per year.  It took Shero a full year to replace him, but in Michalek he found a very similar player with more skill.  Shero got him for $4 million per year.

– Paul Martin. No, he’s not going to be Gonchar on the powerplay, although he likely won’t be a huge step down.  His career high of five goals in a season comes with the caveat that he played for the Devils, who don’t activate their defensemen at even strength nearly as often as the Bylsma likes to do.

– Martin gets by on his mobility and his tremendous hockey sense.  Excellent at reading the play both offensively and defensively, he has a reputation as a very smart player who makes quick, intelligent decisions with the puck.  
– Martin is NOT overly physical, so I’m sure the Ryan Whitney comparisons will start flying around, oh, mid-November.  That would be accurate, save the “makes-very-smart-plays-with-the-puck” part.

“Up the boards or around the net?  Nahhh…right to the middle of the ice is much easier.”

– Whitney fans, please relax.  He’s the one drawing the seven-figure NHL paycheck.  I’m the one writing on the blog.  He wins.

– This past season, Michalek led the Coyotes d-men in average ice time per game and also in shorthanded time per game.  Paul Martin was second on the Devils in average ice time per game and led the team in powerplay minutes per game. Both of these guys will eat up big minutes and can play in all three situations.  Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be a very happy goaltender.
– The Pens now have their top four defensemen – Orpik, Michalek, Martin and Letang – locked up for the next FOUR seasons.  All in their late 20’s, Orpik, Martin and Michalek are just entering their primes.  This lightens the burden on Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy at the NHL level.  It allows them to be patient in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo, each of whom are just coming off their first pro seasons.  It also buys them more time with Simon Despres, who will go back to juniors for another year, dominate and then get ready to hit the ground running in the AHL in 2011-12. 

– One final thing on Gonch.  Local media, PLEASE stop pretending he was consistently as bad this past year as he was on the Travis Moen Play in the playoffs.  His Roger Dorn impression on that play has been mentioned ad nauseam by some outlets (93.7 The Fan, I’m looking in your direction here) as if that’s what we could expect to see from him going forward.  It was a misread and a bad play by Gonchar.  Acting like it was somehow representative of where his overall game is just as inaccurate as saying he would still be the player he was in 07-08.

– Just as maddening is this notion that the trade for Hamhuis’s exclusive negotiating rights was a waste.  Yes, the deal cost them a third-round pick in the 2011 Draft.  Yes, draft picks are valuable to any franchise.  But Shero clearly identified a need for this team going forward and then identified his preferred solution.  The only way Shero could get his foot in the door on Hamhuis’s camp was to deal for his negotiating rights, which allowed Shero to get almost a week-long headstart not just on Hamhuis, but on the market for free agent defensemen in general.  By doing so, Shero could gauge Hamhuis’s interest in Pittsburgh as a destination and also get a few extra days to form a Plan B if Hamhuis didn’t sign with the Pens. Had Shero not had that headstart on Hamhuis, he could've lost precious time having to gauge the market on Michalek and Martin.

– The third-round pick has value, but it’s limited in the best circumstances.  Most third-round picks are crapshoots to make the NHL at all, let alone have much of an impact.  From 2002 through 2004, 99 players were picked in the third round.  Only 10 have gone to play more than 200 reg. season games in the NHL, most notably Johan Franzen, Valterri Filppula, Alexander Edler and Daniel Carcillo.  More than 70 of them have played fewer than 50 games in the NHL.

– With only about $2 million left to spend, it’s doubtful that Shero makes any sort of major splash at wing.  This free agent market for wings is awful and given how few of the *cough* big names *cough* have gone off the board, perhaps even it’s worse than originally thought.

– The Pens so far have only signed Ryan Craig and Brett Sterling to address any holes in wing, and those guys are fringe NHL’ers likely destined for the AHL.  More than likely, those guys were signed because the expectation is that the WB/S roster is going to need some replenishing.  Nick Johnson, Eric Tangradi, Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey should all get very serious looks at camp this year.  

– Craig is a gritty player in the mold of Adam Hall or Craig Adams.  Sterling has been lights-out as an AHL goal-scorer for the last four years & instantly becomes one of the most prominent scorers to ever put on a Baby Pens jersey.  But he’s had problems sticking at the NHL level in part because he’s small (5’7”) and there have been questions about his play at both ends of the rink.  IF he can bring a more complete game to the ice here, he could be sleeper come camp.  If not, he helps the Baby Pens pay back the Hershey Bears for some of the blowout losses the Bears have lowered on the Baby Pens (among others) the last few years.

– Ray Shero hinted recently that Geno may move to wing and Jordan Staal to second-line center and depending on how things go, address the wing situation via mid-season trade.  While this would break up the The Vaunted Third Line for the regular season, keep in mind that it can be reunited at any point.  The matchups that The Third Line typically exploits are those that happen when the styles of play change in the playoffs, well after the top-line wing situation could be addressed.

– Curious news from Dave Molinari in the Post-Gazette about the Pens potentially looking to free agency not for a winger, but rather a checking-line center like Rob Niedermayer, Dominic Moore or John Madden.

BOOM! Insert tired Frank Caliendo Madden impersonation here.

It’s curious because it could have an impact on Max Talbot’s future here.  This is a big year for Talbot.  His lost season last year could be excused to injury, but it’s worth noting that before his playoff performance in 2008-09, he had a terrible regular season that year.  

– Lifetime contracts to Glen Sather and Paul Holmgren!  Needing legitimate defensemen and a new contract for restricted free agent Marc Staal, Sather dumps $1.65 mil a year for 4 yrs of Derek Boogaard.  Needing a goaltender, Holmgren instead dumps a total of $6.4 million on Andrej Meszaros, Sean O’Donnell and Jody Shelley.  Shero spends $9 million and gets two defensemen who each played 24 minutes a night for playoff teams last year.

– It was 93 degrees in Pittsburgh on Monday and it’s supposed to be in the 90s all week.  Tomorrow is July 7.  Three months from July 7 is October 7.  On October 7, the first official home game will be played at Consol Energy Center and the start of another hockey season will be upon us.

Get me to October.