Howard Cosell once said “Sports in human life is microcosm.”
If Cosell was right, then the 72-hour period that ran from noon last Wednesday to about noon on
Saturday was the Penguins fans’ equivalent of the scene in The Hangover when Stu wakes up, face to
the floor, drooling out of his mouth, glasses knocked off. We may have even lost a tooth. Someone’s
running around without pants on, and it’s not even Max Talbot. Maybe it was Dupuis. He’s still around,
Jaromir Jagr didn’t just say no to the Pens. He said yes to the Flyers. Max Talbot didn’t just leave, as
many expected he would. He signed with the Flyers.
So if Pens fans this past weekend were Stu Price, does that make Jagr Stu’s wife Melissa?
“You’re…such a bad person! Like, all the way through to your core!”
And if so, then I guess that makes the Flyers the bartender on that Carnival Cruise Line (cue Mark
Madden deadpan “Whammy” here).
Like pretty much all of the Pens fanbase, I spent the better part of Friday afternoon with the Corvo Face
in full effect.
Yes, that face is equal parts beaten-down-to-the-point- of-questioning-one’s-existence” and “I have
answers for NOTHING right now, Christine Simpson. NOTHING!”
And really, it wasn’t just Pens fans. Did you see some of the money that was being thrown around this
Yes, some of it was out of necessity as teams needed to spend obscenely just to get the salary floor. But
some of the signings and some of the trades (I’m looking at you, Colorado)? Holy hell. I know NHL free
agency is often referred as the silly season, but this past Friday & Saturday was like a late-80s weekend
bender spent holed up in a dingy Sunset Strip apartment with Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Slash.
But like free agent frenzies of years past, the dust on this one also settled relatively quickly. The last big
name off the UFA table dropped on Saturday morning when Brad Richards signed in New York (Rangers,
not Islanders…don’t be stupid) for nine years, $58.5 million and infinite “how does this contract not
violate the spirit of the cap” questions from hockey media outlets everywhere.
So here are some thoughts, dudes, as we sit up, groggy, look around, take stock and wonder why the
hell there’s a tiger in the bathroom.
Welcome to Pittsburgh, Steve Sullivan. Sullivan is a terrific low-risk signing for Shero (one year, $1.5
million) who carries quite a bit of high-reward potential provided that he’s healthy. Sullivan missed all of
2007-08 with back spasms and then half of 2008-09 due to back surgery. He played 82 games in 2009-
10, but then missed about half the 2010-11 season with a groin/lower body injury. So there’s some risk
there, but he says he’s recovered.
Sullivan is small, but he’s extremely quick. A terrific skater with good hands and excellent vision, he
profiles in Bylsma’s system as a RW on either of the top two lines. He should be able to create a great
deal of havoc for opposing defensemen because he’s a threat to sneak in behind the defense with his
speed. This should help open up space for Crosby or Malkin. He can be what they were missing last year,
especially after Crosby & Malkin went out – namely, another forward who is a legitimate threat to score
from various areas of the ice, especially on the powerplay.
If they can get 70 games and 25 goals out of him, beauty.
There’s little doubt that Jagr could have helped the Penguins, at least on the ice. Most of the players
in this free agent market who fit that profile were expected to get more than the Pens could afford to
fit into their budget, and many of them did (good on Shero for unearthing Sullivan). It was a bonus that
Jagr’s expected demands would fall in the ballpark of what the Pens were willing and able to spend.
But at what price would that have come off the ice? Prior to Wednesday, the proceedings between the
Pens & Jagr seemed to be moving along at a businesslike pace. The Pens made a very fair offer and were
well within their rights to demand a quick answer on it. Perhaps by demanding such a quick answer from
him, it was an indication that the team was much more wary of Jagr’s real intentions than those of us
who really wanted the deal to happen – myself included – were willing to admit.
Not sure a contending team in any major pro sport has undergone quite the overhaul that the Flyers
have this summer, so it’s absolutely impossible to say what that locker room is going to be like and how
that team will mesh. Can Ilya Bryzgalov handle a system that isn’t anywhere near as predicated on the
trap system that helped insulate him in Phoenix? And yes, this is his real voice.
Can Pronger stay healthy for an entire season? Can Brayden Schenn handle top nine minutes as a
forward for a full season in the NHL? And do they dress Schenn in a #18 Richards jersey just to eff with
Panaccio and the rest of the Philly media? Speaking of Philly media…
Has anyone seen or spoken to Pierre McGuire since Mike Richards was traded? He’s not sitting outside
the Staples Center rocking back and forth, is he?
Back to Jagr. Have to admit that when Wednesday came & went without a decision, I immediately
grew skeptical that it was going to happen. Wouldn’t admit it at the time, or at least tried to talk myself
into it just being part of the process. But the signs were immediately there that this wasn’t going to
happen. The Pens said time and again that they weren’t interested in a bidding war. By Wednesday
night with no announcement, it became apparent that Jagr’s people were more interested in making it
So kudos to Shero for the way he handled this whole Jagr thing. Pulling the offer at 11:30 AM on Friday
was a gutsy move and ran the risk of being unpopular with the fans (actually, most of the fans agreed
with it and loved it after all the details emerged). But after what happened with the Hossa situation a
few years ago, Shero wasn’t getting played. Shero said in the Hossa fallout that he’s about building a
team with players that want to be here. Joking about them aside, Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy both
made big statements to that regard as they easily could’ve commanded more than what they got on
their new deals.
I tend to think this concept of “hometown discounts” in negotiations is highly overrated, at least in
that it doesn’t happen as often as it seems it might. But it looks like Shero has managed to get several
players to build them into their deals. Crosby and Malkin could’ve easily demanded “max cap” deals
when they signed their extensions a few years ago; they each left upwards of $2-3 million per year on
the table. Brooks Orpik took $3.75 mil/yr in 2008 when Michal Rozsival got $5 mil/yr from the Rangers
and Ron Hainsey got $4.5 mil/yr from Atlanta that same summer. When Toronto was dropping $3
million a year on Colby Armstrong, Shero was extending Matt Cooke at $1.4 million. When Washington
was locking up $3 million a year in cap space in Joel Ward for four years and Philly was throwing $1.8
million a year at Max effing Talbot for five effing years, Shero got Dupuis for $1.5 mil/yr and Kennedy for
$2 mil/yr, each for two years. Excellent job keeping second and third-tier cap costs in line by Shero.
Say this about Shero as well, as we now have a few years’ worth of evidence to back this up. Dude
moves fast and has a very clearly defined plan for when that clock hits noon on July 1. Kennedy’s deal
was announced about 15 seconds after 12:00 and about 30 minutes after the team announced it had
pulled its offer to Jagr. It was very reminiscent with what happened last year after things fell through
with Dan Hamhuis; Zbynek Michalek was a Penguin within minutes and Paul Martin within about two
Dupuis’s new deal amounted to a raise of $100,000 per year. Sick money to you and I, but relatively
little by NHL standards. Still, a great gig if you can get it.
Tough to bash the Dupuis signing because he can easily play RW on all four lines. He’s not an optimal
top-line or even second-line winger, but you could do much, much worse there, too (see Ouellet,
Michel). Consider this: Dupuis was on pace for a 16-goal, 34-point season when Crosby got hurt. He
finished with 17 goals and 37 points. So he picked up his production at least a little bit even after losing
Don’t worry too much about what some of these signings do to Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson and Eric
Tangradi. Jeffrey is already going to be missing some time to start the season anyway as he rehabs from
a knee injury. As Eric P. said in WilkesBlog
– if nothing else, this means Johnson & Tangradi start the season on the top two lines in WB/S.
That wouldn’t be the worst thing for either of them. Both had their respective seasons cut short because
of injuries, so an AHL start would allow them time to get their games back. They’re all likely to be
the first forwards called up next year in the event of injury, anyway. Johnson has progressed nicely
through his AHL career. If he continues to make progress, he eventually makes someone at the NHL level
expendable, most likely a lower-line depth player, though it’s worth noting that Kunitz’s contract comes
off the books after the 2011-12 season. Tangradi was making nice progress last year after struggling
early. Taking more of a top-line, leadership role is something that would suit Tangradi’s development, as
he was acquired to eventually play that type of top-six role here in Pittsburgh.
Zenon Konopka signed with Ottawa. That means the role of “Unofficial Trevor Gillies’s Family
Spokesman” when Gillies gets himself suspended for 40 games for trying to kill someone again next year
is open in the Isles’ locker room. Maybe Matt Martin is good for something.
We’ve officially arrived at that point of NHL free agency where we may be trying to talk ourselves into
the burning, stinking carcass that is Nikolai Zherdev for about $1 million a year. Nope. That means it’s
time to walk away for a little while. Maybe a crasher/role player for the Pens is still on the docket (Cam
Janssen, please?) or perhaps a couple of depth signings, but that’ll be about it.
And that’s fine with me.