Tuesdays With Stoosh: 8:24

Last-full-week-of-August thoughts, dudes…

The big news over the weekend was Arron Asham continuing his Atlantic Division tour by signing a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Penguins. This adds yet another page to my new favorite book, “Why I Love the NHL Salary Cap.”

If some fans weren’t exactly thrilled over the Asham signing, it’s probably understandable.  Asham hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Mellon Arena faithful.  After beginning his career as a fourth-liner in Montreal, he’s spent every season since 2002-03 antagonizing Penguins as a member of the Islanders, Devils and most recently the Flyers.  On its face, the move is relatively ho-hum in nature, but there are a number of things to like about this deal.

One of the Pens’ biggest problems last year was consistency of effort.  Unlike what we saw from the Pens after Bylsma took over, the Pens were too easy to play against last season.  The relentless forecheck and physical play on the boards and in the corners wasn’t there, at least not as often and not even in the playoffs.  The chip on the shoulder that we saw from the team up and down the roster against Carolina and then in the Cup Finals against Detroit wasn’t there.  Too many battles were lost for loose pucks.  To some degree, maybe a shakeup was needed.  Maybe guys with some things to prove were needed.

That’s where Asham may fit nicely.  First, Asham has made an 11-year career out of being a pain in the ass, someone who doesn’t just fight but plays a punishing, all-around game.  He’s a prototypical third-liner.  He’s averaged about 10 goals and 20-25 points per season since his career began.  He’s a decent skater with good speed.  He’s physical and nasty, seldom ever turning down a fight with bigger players.   

Asham also came to the Pens cheap.  At $700,000, he’s ridiculously cheap, especially when you consider that he saw players with much less to offer in terms of their overall game sign deals within the division for much more money.  Consider this:

  • Glen Sather signed Derek Boogaard to a four-year deal with an annual cap hit of $1.6 million. That’s $1.6 million for a guy who has 14 points in 255 career games, has played an average of just 51 games a year over his five-year career, plays about six minutes a night, and is so slow he makes Derian Hatcher look like Pavel Bure.  He brings nothing to the table outside of the ability to throw punches, and he’s even lost some speed off that fastball.
  • Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Flyers – Asham’s old team – could’ve kept him in house along with Dan Carcillo, who’s at least as fearless as he is stupid when it comes to picking fights.  But Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke just can’t help themselves, can they?  They one-upped the Flyers by signing Jody Shelley to a three-year deal at an annual cap hit of $1.1 million per year.  Not as galatically stupid as signing Boogaard, but damn close, especially when you already had guys who can, you know, actually play in house in Asham and Carcillo.

But then again, trying to figure out why Clarke and Holmgren do anything is like trying to figure out why a dog eats his own crap.  They just do.

Best of all, by many reports, Asham wanted to remain with the Flyers, and judging by the interview he did on Monday afternoon with Mark Madden on 105.9, that point is not lost on Asham.  Did I mention the Pens’ home opener is against the Flyers?

For less than the same $2.7 million that the Flyers and Rangers combined to invest in two goons who will never see more than 10 minutes a night for their respective teams, the Pens retained Matt Cooke and signed Arron Asham.  Those are two guys who will goad said goons and their superpest cohorts into dumb penalty after dumb penalty, all while each still knocking home 10-15 goals and 25 points each.  Maybe they’ll even see power-play time while the players they frustrate watch from the penalty box.  

Either way, those lower lines are going to be ridiculous fun to watch next year.  With Asham-Talbot-Cooke a possible third line, the team can also counter with the likes of Kennedy, Adams and Rupp on the fourth line.  Perhaps they throw in one of the younger guys from Wilkes-Barre.  It’s going to allow a lot of flexibility there.

What’s more, both Cooke and Asham proved that they can be valuable commodities for each of their teams in the post-season, as both were among the best players for the Pens and Flyers respectively last playoff year.  Both of these guys play a game that’s conducive to the up-tempo, physical nature of the playoffs.

Not trying to paint Asham as the second coming of Ron Francis.  But he is a player who can bring the same sorts of things that Chris Kunitz brought immediately to the team when he was acquired from Anaheim – at least the high-energy game and the physical presence in the corners.  Those are the kinds of guys this team sorely missed last year, especially consistently from the lower six forwards.

And that also puts Tyler Kennedy in an interesting spot.  Kennedy’s in the final year of his rookie deal, so his cap hit is a miniscule $725,000.  He’s scheduled to be a restricted free agent after this coming season.  He just turned 24 so he’s still got some room to get better, but he regressed last year in goals, assists and points scored (15-20-35 in 64 games in 2008-09 to just 13-12-25 in 67 games in 2009-10).  He’s shown flashes of scoring ability but also a maddening tendency to skate himself out of good scoring angles…things a natural goal-scorer just doesn’t do.  Could be a reason why he never scored more than 22 goals in any season once he got to Major Junior.

That’s not a knock on TK.  But some guys just aren’t those types of players.  The reason TK skates himself into a corner rather than identify a good opportunity to shoot is the reason why some guys score 25-30 goals in the NHL and others just score 10-15.

Kennedy is a good fit for this system from a speed standpoint, which he uses to put himself in good positions to generate offense.  But he needs to do a better job identifying those opportunities and making the most of them.  And he needs to do it this year.  There are plenty of guys – Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Connor, Mark Letestu, for example – who HAVE shown those abilities to create ready to make the jump from the AHL.  And Asham’s signing now clogs the lower six forward spots just a little more.

Quick, quick thoughts, dudes…

  • OHL players begin reporting this coming weekend to their teams.
  • NHL ’11 is out two weeks from today.

It’s almost right around the corner, folks.