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Penguins Defense a Worry – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Defense a Worry

Give Penguins GM Jim Rutherford credit. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, he’s done his utmost to breathe new life into a franchise that’s dropped a peg or two over the past couple of seasons.

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The acquisition of super-sniper Phil Kessel? A bold stroke. Ditto the flurry of moves that saw the Pens add Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and Adam Clendening, while paring pricey Brandon Sutter and his $3.3 million salary from the payroll.

Barring another landslide of injuries, the Pens possess enough depth up front to thrive. I wish I felt as confident about the defense.

Not that I’m second-guessing JR. He had to let classy Paul Martin walk. Same with Christian Ehrhoff, who did decent work before his black-and-gold career effectively ended with a casual sweep of Alex Ovechkin’s mighty forearm.

Even without Martin and Ehrhoff, the Pens’ defense boasts lots of skill. Kris Letang was a sure-fire Norris Trophy candidate in 2014-15 until he suffered a season-ending concussion. Rookie Derrick Pouliot flashed mouth-watering potential. When healthy, Olli Maatta displayed a wonderful knack for jumping into the play. And late-season addition Ian Cole showed good instincts, not to mention a hard shot and quick release.

Still, concerns abound. Privately, the Penguins have to be worried about Letang. Given his ugly history of brain trauma, will he be the same player? And what about Maatta, who’s had two surgeries on the same shoulder during his brief NHL career.

More to the point (pun intended), do we know if this group can actually defend? Maatta is sound in his own end. Most of the others—including much-maligned vets Ben Lovejoy and Rob Scuderi—perform reasonably well south of the blue line. Still, there isn’t a true stalwart in the bunch.

Physicality? Fuhgeddaboudit. Only Cole shows any real interest in keeping the sight lines clear for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Obviously, the Penguins don’t intend to spend a ton of time in their own zone. Still, an attack-oriented style doesn’t eliminate the need to play sound, and—if the situation calls for it—physical defense.

In my mind the Pens could sorely use a tough, stay-at-home type to provide some backbone and balance for the puck-movers. Preferably wrapped in a super-sized frame.

Free-agent Cody Franson is the most attractive option. The hulking former Leaf and Predator combines offensive flair (36 points) with size (6’5” 213) and the inclination to use it (282 hits in 2013-14). Alas, he’s due for a healthy raise over last season’s $3.3 million. Unless Rutherford can pull off a miracle and clear substantial cap space, count the Pens out of the Franson sweepstakes.

A bargain-basement alternative? How about Tim Gleason. The long-time ‘Cane is fairly mobile, solid defensively, and employs a rugged style. As an added bonus, he’s a willing and capable fighter, a trait in short supply on our present Penguins.

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9 Comments

  1. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    August 14, 2015 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Rick,
    I was talking hockey today with a few of my friends, and the topic of the Pens came up.(They are all Toronto,Montreal or Boston fans.) I am the lone Penguin supporter.But they raised a very good point. That is that the PENS biggest strength of Crosby ,Malkin and Letang is also their BIGGEST weakness.Because they are 28 and 29 years old, the PENS management believes that they must win NOW at any cost. It has been that way for the last 5 years. It has clouded their judgment.It has not worked.Blame injuries,blame the coaches,blame the schedule, whatever you want. We were 19th in goal scoring last year. 19th !!! That is a joke.
    Every other team has the same injury problem as us,but that they have more high end talent in the minors to replace their stars.We do not !
    They said why not trade one star, either Crosby or Malkin for a group of younger stars and top 3 draft picks and that would lengthen the window of opportunity to win a cup for the Pens.
    For example:1. Edmonton- Connor Mc David, Taylor Hall, Darnell Nurse, and a couple of top five ,first round picks. 2. Florida- Nick Bjugstad,Johnathon Huberdeau Aaron Ekblad,Lawson Crouse and first round picks. Pick any team you want,any combination of talent you want, but you get their point.
    It makes sense to do this. Expand your Elite talent pool,make the team younger,pay less salary per player and thereby lengthening your chance to win a Cup. But because of loyalty to our star players, you lose the chance to maximize the return in the trade market. I believe that some day soon there will be a trade of either Sid or Geno and the return we get will by far less than if we traded one of them 3 years ago.
    You can not buy yourself a Stanley cup any more in a salary cap era.You need to develop your local talent yourself.But you also need a top 10 draft pick every year to make this work.
    What do you think of their solution to the Pens problems Rick ?

  2. jim's Gravatar jim
    August 7, 2015 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    HI Rick
    The Pens defense as currently configured, simply can not compete in an extended”physical” play off contest. Remember the Flyers, Bruins or the Ranger series of the past few years? Bottom line is we LOST ! The Pens simply could not get the job done.To small.To old.To slow as a team.
    They were pushed around,…Crosby ,Malkin, Letang are all super players…..but !!
    Letang has had 4 concussions, other health issues ,he is only 6 ft tall, about 200 pounds max.and he cannot take the physical pounding of a Stanley Cup run.Look at 6’7 Victor Hedman,Rookie of the Year 6’4 Aron Ekblad, LA’s Drew Doughty, Boston’s 6’9 Z. Chara…..These guys are game changers come play off time.The Pens have nothing to counter this.
    Crosby is 5’11 and has the same issues as Letang. Malkin can be taken off his game by physical fore checking.Then he takes penalties…you know the rest of the story.
    Today on defense besides often injured Letang,we are counting on 21 year old Olli Matta,6’2 210 pounds who is recovering from a serious shoulder injury and a scare with cancer, 21 year old Derrick Poulot, 5’11 205 pounds who also has had injury problems in his brief career, Ian Cole,6′ 215 pounds, ( who I also like,) then finally Ben Lovejoy and old man Scuds. This mix is to small,to injury prone,and will not deliver us a cup.There is at least 10 other teams in the league who are bigger and stronger than the current Pens.
    We are not a Cup favorite team, no matter what the Pens media machine tries to sell us.
    I am sorry to say that while these individuals may be terrific people off ice, on ice past experiences shows that without size and speed and skill you will not win the CUP. The Pens need to trade Scuds,Lovejoy,possibly Kunitz and or others to get some larger,more mobile defense men.
    Franson may be a good start ?

    After this rant, I want to add that I think JR is doing a good job given what he has to work with. After all, the owners are trying to sell the Team and JR can not “wreck” the ship before Mario and company gets his 700+ million dollars.

    Thanks Rick !

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      August 8, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      I couldn’t agree more. Even though I really like the moves JR’s made, I think the defense is vulnerable…for all the reasons you mentioned.

      Heaven help us if Letang and Maatta can’t stay healthy.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        August 8, 2015 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        Another concern of mine Rick is when the Team is sold this year,the new owners will pay a lot of money for the Team. Rumors say 700- 800 million including development rights.This is a lot of money !
        Mario reportedly paid apx. 110 million when everything was factored in the original purchase of the team.
        My point is that the new owners will have to GENERATE much more revenue to cover the high acquisition costs for the team. Mario never had to be concerned with so much debt repayments.His was equity. I wonder how will this affect the Pens teams of the future ?
        With 5 players taking up so much salary cap,we will really be in a bind if the new owners decide not spend to the cap limit to save money. What then ? Trades ??

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          August 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          Great points, Jim.

          The absolute dearth of young forward talent in the organization is a killer. The fact that JR felt compelled to sign (soon to be) 39-year-old Matt Cullen instead of promoting “prospect” Oskar Sundqvist speaks volumes.

          I hope I’m wrong. But in the not-too-distant future…after a year or two with the current cast…I see an implosion coming that will rival the early 2000s.

          • Jim's Gravatar Jim
            August 13, 2015 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

            Agreed 100 %.
            What does JR know about Sundqvist,Rust,Wilson and other fwd Pens prospects that we do not Rick? Probably that the Pens hype machine and the actual NHL talent level of these few prospects do not match. At best we have a 2 or 3 small, US college players who might make a fourth line on an elite NHL Championship caliber team some day.
            Where are our top 10 fwd.stars of the future? We have none! We need prospects who can compete on the second line of an Elite team.Not bottom feeders.
            That is why we are ranked LAST.. 30 th in talent level for our minor system.
            Does not anybody else see this as a crisis? Houston…. We have a problem !
            Hope the new owners have a longer view for the team than the current ones?

  3. August 6, 2015 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Wow! Surely not written by a true pens fan!

  4. August 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    TANGER

  5. August 5, 2015 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Ya think?


            

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