The Incredible Shrinking Penguins – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

The Incredible Shrinking Penguins

One of the most popular Sci-Fi movies of the 1950s was The Incredible Shrinking Man. A businessman vacationing with his wife accidently gets exposed to a radioactive cloud, setting off a chain-reaction in his cells that caused his body to shrink.

Hmmmm. I wonder if the same cloud passed over Consol Energy Center sometime in the recent past.

According to an annual study of NHL rosters performed by Toronto Globe and Mail hockey writer James Mirtle, the Penguins had a healthy average weight of 204.5 entering the 2012-13 season. That dipped to 202.1 to start ‘13-14, and 199.6 by opening night last year. This season? We’ve crash-dieted to an anemic 197.8.

Just call us The Incredible Shrinking Penguins.


Has anyone noticed that our on-ice results have diminished, too?

I thought GM Jim Rutherford had. When JR re-signed Baby Pens defenseman Reid McNeill and imported husky forwards Tyler Biggs, Eric Fehr, Sergei Plotnikov, and Tom Sestito over the summer, I held a vague hope that the organization was rethinking its pathological trend toward smaller players.

No such luck. Among our most recent call-ups? Defenseman David Warsofsky and forward Conor Sheary. Both generously listed at 5’9”. By comparison, Monday’s acquisition Trevor Daley (5’11” 195) is a behemoth.

I realize speed is at a premium in the NHL these days. But other teams find room for bigger players. Power forwards who can score, like the Blue Jackets’ Boone Jenner. Momentum guys who play with an edge, like Washington’s Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson.

Heck, the Red Wings don’t even follow the Detroit blueprint anymore. In case no one’s noticed, they’ve constructed a heavier team in the Motor City.

Why can’t we?

When did being big become so bad? It sure didn’t hinder our Stanley Cup champions from the ‘90s. Jay Caufield was a monster at 237 pounds. Kjell Samuelsson went 235. Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Kevin Stevens all tipped the scales at 220 or better. Grant Jennings, Troy Loney and Rick Tocchet weighed 210. Ron Francis and Phil Bourque around 200. Nasty defenseman Ulf Samuelsson was a comparative lightweight at 195 pounds. He’d be a Goliath on our present-day Pens.

Same goes for our ‘09 champs. Bruising Brooks Orpik and towering Hal Gill (6’7”) wreaked havoc on opposing forwards. Brawny forwards Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal helped us hold our own in the trenches. Enforcer Eric Godard made sure we didn’t get pushed around.

Our Cup teams were built to play any style. Sure they had tons of skill. But they could grind it out, too.

It’s a lesson our present management (and ownership) seems to have all but forgotten. Actually, it’s a condition that’s plagued the franchise from the beginning. Call it Penguinitis. Our most successful teams embrace a harder, grittier style. Then we invariably strip away muscle in favor of a softer, fancier approach.

Champagne hockey.

It didn’t work in the past. It won’t work now.

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  1. kerrdog211's Gravatar kerrdog211
    December 19, 2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    Long time no speak but I just cant take it anymore. I know you haven’t had a chance to touch on this yet and I expect an article from you soon, but how much more of this are we expected to take? Sprong gets sent down just a week after Johnson is chastised by the GM for not playing him. We burnt a year for what? I mean what the hell is going on in this organization? This team is in such disarray, I could have never imagined that it would come to this. They are terrible, they consistently play without structure. Crosby continues to make no look passes to no one and Malkin is starting to do it again as well. Hornqvist and Crosby have words and he’s exiled to the third line. Fehr is a center, no a winger, no a center. What the hell??? Hey at least Conner scored. I could only compare this team to the life cycle of a star… We won the cup as a red giant then the next few years we began to implode into a super nova and now we are headed into the black hole stage. Just so frustrated…I can only hope this whole cycle is cyclical and is going to come back around to better days agian.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Hey kerrdog211,

      I understand your frustration. I really do. Heck, I can’t have a normal discussion with friends about the Pens without getting angry.

      You hit the nail on the head when you said the organization is in disarray. (Complete and utter chaos is more like it.) A result, I think, from Mario checking out in spirit…if not mind and body. And having a marketing exec (Morehouse) run the show. A recipe for disaster.

      Rutherford was handed a nearly impossible task—to rebuild (or at least prop up) a crumbling champion without the aid of a strong farm system. But he’s messed up plenty, too. I still shake my head over the Despres and Bortuzzo deals, and the ridiculously passive team he’s assembled. More and more we resemble a pale imitation of JR’s old Carolina teams. I can’t think of a franchise I’d want to emulate less.

      Even though we aren’t seeing results, I do think a coaching change was needed. I’d like to give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt. Unlike virtually everyone else in the organization, he at least seems to have an idea of what he wants to accomplish.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be a quick fix. Hopefully, Rutherford doesn’t give away the farm in the meantime. I sense he’ll be gone after this season. Maybe by then the team will be sold to someone who cares.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        December 19, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Not for 750+ million it won’t sell to soon Rick.Not for this team now !
        Every day this team falls further into chaos,Ron and Mario loose millions of dollars in asset value. Last year alone the Hawks went up 12% in Team value,( almost 100 million dollars in one year,) because they won the cup and had a competitive organization.The Pens went down 1%, and everyone thought we were going to rebound in 2015-16 because of the Kessel trade and other moves.
        If we fail to make the playoffs, the value of this team will collapse ! The current value of the Pens in July was listed at 560 million dollars.Next July, if things do not change that number could be $ 460 million……This is serious stuff ! … and Mario really thinks somebody will pay 750 million dollars for this !! 25 th in the league.

        The co owners are going to be forced to trade one of the stars soon because they got nothing left to trade of any value or LOSE A LOT OF MONEY real soon.
        Greed makes people do very strange things indeed.

  2. December 17, 2015 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Thank goodness someone else is saying this! We are loosing the battles in the corners. Those 90′ teams were muckers and grinders along the halfboards to the corners. I like Sullivan’s in your face approach, we need this! And if there is no buy in from these players? They should be given a bus ticket!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 18, 2015 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Hey Corey,

      I think the coaching change was needed, too. I just don’t know if Sullivan has the horses he needs to succeed. I hate to say it, but I think the bottom could drop out on this team, no matter who’s coaching.

      Amen about the ’90s Cup teams being good along the wall and in traffic. Wish we had more of that element now.

  3. Dk's Gravatar Dk
    December 17, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Bring back hockey of the mid 90’s!! Today’s hockey is boring

  4. December 17, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Went to the game Monday night. Lighter, kinder, gentler hockey is boring.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Hi Michelle. This is for you and Dk.

      I agree. The games aren’t as much fun to watch as they were even a few years ago. There just doesn’t seem to be the same level of passion as before.

      It isn’t that the Pens don’t work hard or try. But the only guys who seem to play with any real fire and gut-level emotion these days are Malkin and Hornqvist.

      As an aside, I noticed the crowd really came to life when Bonino and Chorney tussled. I’m not suggesting a return to the days when opposing heavyweights fought staged fights. But I assert that an honest, spur-of-the-moment battle can fire up a team (and a crowd).

      Due to the makeup of our team, that’s something that happens far too infrequently these days.

  5. Mike's Gravatar Mike
    December 17, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I could not of said it better myself – we’re developing midgets for god
    sake – If we can see it what is Rutherfraud watching??

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 17, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Hi Mike,

      That’s a great question…one that I asked a hockey buddy last night. How can Rutherford not see what is lacking in this team?

      Sid got leveled Monday night by Beagle–again without a whimper of retaliation. Kunitz, to his credit, tries to respond by dishing out pay-back hits. But, my goodness, he’s 36 years old (and small to boot). That job shouldn’t rest on his shoulders.

      JR questions why this team doesn’t play with more fire. That’s because he’s assembled a lineup totally devoid of energy and toughness.

      I suspect the edict to play “Ivory Soap” hockey has come from further up in the organization. But Rutherford’s bought into it hook, line and sinker.

      • jim's Gravatar jim
        December 17, 2015 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        100% Rick ! Shero and Rutherford only did what the guy who signs their cheque told them to.That is called job security.
        A former NHL hockey friend told me, “The difference between a real good first round pick and a second thru seventh round pick is about 4 inches, 30 pounds and he can play all styles of hockey if he is forced to.”
        Our problem is we never have been able to draft high end picks lately and our free agent signings have all been “softies”.
        I going to be in trouble for saying this,but Mario’s Penguins from his Cup days would CREAM this bunch today in a seven game series.Not even close!

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          December 18, 2015 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          Good insights, Jim.

          Spot on about the draft picks (and softies). Our top young forwards at Wilkes-Barre–Sheary, Dominik Simon, Scott Wilson, and Jean-Sebastien Dea–all are undersized.

          The only Baby Pens forward prospect besides Oskar Sundqvist and Tyler Biggs (who they don’t seem high on) who has NHL size is Tom Kuhnhackl (6’2″ 196).

          Drafted by Shero and projected as a scoring winger with a big shot, Kuhnhackl was a disappointment early in his pro career. While he’s shown improvement over the last year or so, I don’t know if he’s even on the Pens’ radar these days.

          Nothing to apologize for regarding your assertion about Mario’s Pens. That was a great hockey team.


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