First off, I’d like to thank Reg for asking me to be a contributor to this great site. I’ve wanted to for a quite a while but could never seem to find the time to get anything written. Well, I have the time now, and look forward to being able to add anything I can to the other fine writers who contribute here regularly.
To start, I attended my first Penguin game in 1971, and had the great fortune to have the opponent that night be the Boston Bruins which means I was lucky enough to see in my first game some of the all time greats like Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Pie MacKenzie, Wayne Cashman and Gerry Cheevers. I’ve been a lifelong hockey fan ever since. I’ve been here through the early good times in the 70′s when the Pens just couldn’t get over the hump although they had the talent to do so to the lows of the early 80′s when the ushers and vendors knew you by name(And I think the players did too) through the great Mario led teams and then doldrums of the mid 90′s to the great era we have entered again.
I selected Jean Pronovost as my moniker because he was my favorite Penguin from early on, and I just loved watching him play the game. I still sport one of his blue jerseys to Pens games even though I don’t frequent them as often as I once did. (Pretty sure I could have purchased an entire section in the old days for what I paid for two tickets to the opener this year)
Anyway, enough with the introductions. Here is my first article, and I hope you enjoy it.
For those of you that might not know, the Penguins are considreed by most in the know hockey folks to be what is called a “Helicopter team”. That is, a team that is strong down the middle but has no wings.. This has been the case for some time now as evidenced by the fact that the Penguins haven’t drafted a Wing with their number one pick since taking Colby Armstrong in 2001. The Pens have concentrated heavily on Centers and Defensemen with M-A Fleury being the only exception in 2003..
Has this been a problem? Well, with Wingers making up 40% of the players on the ice at any one given time, you would expect them to contribute, at a minimum, 40% of the offense and even a bit more as forwards are expected to contribute slightly more than defensemen. Let;s take a look at where they stack up this year: The Penguins have scored 70 goals so far this year with the positional breakdown being Centers 28, Wingers 27, and Defenseman 15. That comes right out at 40% on the dot in goals scored, but when you throw in assists, you will find that our Wingers are only contributing a measley 35% to our total points. When you look around the league and see that there are wingers like Heatley and Iginla that are consistantly potting in the 35 – 45 goal area, you have to wonder how deadly this Penguin team would be if it had some serious snipers to capitalize on the wonderful pivot play that they get from Sid, Geno and Staal.
It’s not like the Pens haven’t had some good Wingers in the past. Armstrong was dealt away to get us Hossa and Dupuis. The Pens tried like hell to keep Hossa but in doing so lost Ryan Malone followed out the door by Hossa. A litany of journeymen have been tried because Penguin management figures just about any servicable player ought to be able to net 25 goals skating wing for Sid and Geno. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that this isn’t always the case. The rotating door that has occured at the wing spot on the Pens’ top 2 lines over the past couple of years has included the likes of Peter Sykora, Miro Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Bill Thomas, Chris Minard, Max Talbot, Janne Pessonen, and Gary Roberts. as well as Hossa and Malone. Again, you would think with the talent the Penguins have at the Center position, we should have had Wings lighting up the scoreboard. Unfortunately, in the last four years, only Peter Sykora and Ryan Malone have netted 25 goals in a season in a Penguin uniform.
The main reason for this anomaly is the salary cap. The Pens management has decided to best invest thir money stright up the middle meaning Centers, Defense and Goalies which they have done by locking up long term Sid, Geno, Staal, Orpik, Goligoski, and Fleury. Can this problem be solved? There are only two ways to solve it: Free Agents and internal development. Let’s look at free agency. Assuming the salary cap stays the same and does not go down next year, the Pens have 13 players under contract at a salary level of $41 million. That will leave them$17 million to sign 9 -10 players. Should they attempt to resign Gonchar plus lock up Letang long term, that available amount will drop drastically. The Wings they have under contract for next year are Kunitz, Talbot, Goddard,Kennedy and Dupuis. Free Agency doesn’t seem to be the option here. What about internal development? The Pens haven’t been all that successful at developing their own Wings with only Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy as players who have worked their way up from Scranton/W-B. There was a time when the Pens thought they had three potential NHL caliber players down there, Kennedy, Jonathan Fillewich and Ryan Stone with only Kennedy making it to the big club on a permanent basis. Fillewich, I believe is playing in Europe now and Stone is out of the organization, and on his third team by now. What do the Pens have in Scranton/W-B now? The hope for the future supposedly lies with Luca Caputi, a Pens draft pick and Eric Tangradi, acquired by trade from Anaheim in the Ryan Whitney deal. Caputi has shown flashes of brilliance at the minor league level and Tangradi has shown the same flashes at the junior level, but whether either will be able to translate it to the pro level is something we will still have to wait and see. Early season indicators seem to be that Caputi is progressing faster as he has put up 7 goals and 13 points in 17 games whereas Tangradi, who has been hampered by injury, is off to a bit of a slower start in his first year at the minor league level putting up 3 goals and 1 assist in 9 games played. Things don’t seem much different down in Scranton either with there being only 1 winger in the top 5 in scoring.
Progress from both of these guys would go along way to solving the Pens lack of production at the Wing spot for the next few years since they would both come in with 3 year entry level contracts giving the Pens the kind of financial flexibility they’ll need to lock up Gonchar and Letang. I’m sure management is really hoping this is the way things will work out as it will make life that much more easy for them as they try to get the “Helicopter Team” moniker off of the Pens