Life on the Farm: Part I – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Life on the Farm: Part I

When Rick Buker asked me if I would write a few articles for PenguinPoop, I was both thrilled and scared at the same time. I was scared because I knew that someday, sometime, there would be a topic that I was so passionate about, that I could not ignore it and would have to write about it honestly.

There are times in life you should just keep your mouth shut and ignore the situation. This is one of those occasions Pens fans, but I simply cannot.

Please forgive me before I start. The spirit of this article is to inform people and not to insult them. Be forewarned. It will be a critical article because there is no simple way to tell the story. It is a very important story. One we must all understand if we truly want to three-peat next year and look down the road to see the future problems we as Pens fans may have to endure.


What is it in hockey terms? The farm system is the minor-league development arm for every National Hockey League team. Hence the term growing our NHL talent down on the farm. Just like growing food on a real farm. Same analogy.

As there are 31 different NHL franchises to date, it can be easily argued that there are 31 different types of player development systems that exist in the NHL today. Some teams spend a lot of money on their farm system while others do the bare minimum. It’s easy to spot the difference.


To be successful in the NHL, you have to invest in your future. It all starts with scouting. In the old days, the good teams had a Canadian scout, a Quebec French-speaking scout and a part time American college scout. Keeping in mind, in those days 80 percent of the players in the NHL came from Canada.

When the league grew from the Original Six to 12 teams in 1967 to 31 teams today, scouting changed significantly. No one who witnessed it can ever forget the Miracle on Ice in 1980, when a group of United States college kids beat the greatest hockey dynasty ever built, the fearsome Soviet National Team.

U.S. college hockey had arrived. It continues today even stronger.

Now all teams scout U.S. college teams as well as the three major junior Canadian hockey leagues.  Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Russia, Germany and even Switzerland are now being scouted for elite hockey talent as well.

That has changed our game for the better. Today all successful NHL teams must employ scouts in these countries to find the new hockey talent so vital to their team. Some NHL clubs even help co-sponsor hockey teams in these various European leagues to keep an eye on future stars.

Case in point: the Detroit Red Wings. They made the Stanley Cup playoffs 25 straight seasons and just missed out this past year. A primary reason for their success? Drafting key players in the later rounds. A feat made possible by the fact they spent the most money on their scouting system. No short cuts.

Speaking of Detroit, do we all remember Steve Yzerman? Hall of Famer. Eighteen years as a player. Now he’s the general manager of Tampa Bay…has been for the past few years. According to the latest rankings of the 31 NHL farm systems, the Lightning are ranked No. 2!

I’ll bet GM Stevie Y learned a few tricks while watching Detroit GM Ken Holland during his playing days.

Where do our Penguins rank? I’ll save you all the trouble of reading any further. We’re ranked 30th out of 31 teams. Next-to-last!

We have no real farm system in the true meaning of the word. Yes, fellow Pens fans, we are in trouble. More analysis on this point later if you wish to read on. It’s a very challenging and detailed story to tell in a few words, so I apologize to the reader in advance for the length of this post. Today’s installment is Part I of a series, with more to follow in the coming days.

Developmental Teams

The second part of a farm system is the minor-league development teams. The American Hockey League has done a great job of becoming the top developmental league for the NHL. Many NHL teams sponsor AHL teams. In some cases, two NHL teams co-sponsor an AHL team. Then there is the East Coast Hockey League, which sits a rung below the AHL on the hockey ladder. In recent years, the Swedish Elite League and Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) have funneled talent directly to the NHL, bypassing the AHL altogether.

Lesser European leagues have also provided talent for the NHL. Last season’s Rookie of the Year, Auston Matthews, played in Switzerland instead of Canadian junior hockey because he wanted to play against men instead of 18-year-old kids.

It worked for him. Many NHL teams have invested considerable time and money into these various European teams all in an effort to secure the next Pavel Datsyk.

The final area of farm-team activity is the U.S. college program and the USHL. Because of the explosive growth of American hockey, NHL teams now are looking to more home-grown talent to stock their farm teams and eventually the NHL itself. I cannot stress this point enough. American hockey has progressed so far and so fast that there is no other region on the planet (except maybe tiny Finland with a population of about 9 million people) that can boast of so much NHL success.


The third part of the farm system is coaching, along with money spent on a minor-league player’s development. Coaching is crucial! Good coaching costs money. Great coaching pays big dividends. Without great coaching, you cannot determine how an 18-year-old will develop into an NHL player by the age of 22. He needs constant development and he must progress at his own rate. If you push an 18-year-old kid too fast to play against 25-year-old men, you can risk losing your entire investment.

Many organizations fail to take the time, or invest the money and the effort to see what will happen to their prospect. Everyone develops at their own rate. Push too hard and you’ve lost your prospect!

We have had that happen many times in Pittsburgh. Derrick Pouliot? Beau Bennett? You can fill in the blank with other names I’m sure. The truth is we simply do not develop first- and second-round talent as we should have. Other NHL teams do a much better job than us because they make it a priority.

So that is a very elementary explanation of the minor-league farm system in the NHL. Scouting, minor-league teams, and great follow-on coaching with lots of money spent all are key elements in the developmental process.

But we are missing the final and most important ingredient. The players!

I’ll discuss them tomorrow in part 2. Stay tuned!

Dumoulin Signs

The Penguins agreed to terms with Brian Dumoulin on a six-year contract extension today. According to terms of the deal, the 25-year-old defenseman will earn $4.1/year through the 2022-23 season.

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  1. James Arthurs's Gravatar James Arthurs
    July 25, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Hey All,
    Sports Net just reported that of the 30 players who filed for Arbitration as of yesterday, 20 of the NHL teams have SETTLED before the Arbitration hearings started. Of the remaining 10 players they expect more settlements before the actual hearing dates because most GM’s do not want to go thru the binding arbitration process.
    There was some big pay days in the last few weeks. For example :

    Nashville forward Viktor Arvidsson received a 7 year,$ 4.25 million contract and last year he was paid 640 K.
    Ottawa forward Jean Gabriel Pageau received a 3 year, $3.1 million contract
    and last year he was paid 1.1 million.
    Detroit forward Tomas Tatar received a 4 year, $ 5.3 million contract, and last
    year he was paid $ 2.75 million.
    St.Louis defense men Colton Parayko received a 5 year,$ 5.5 million contract and last year he was paid 925 K.

    So my point being that the market forces inside the NHL itself are forcing salaries upwards and may become a real problem in the near future.

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    July 24, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jim,

    Great Stuff!

    This is an area close to my heart too.

    I haven’t read the Full Hockey Writers rankings yet, just the bottom 2; the Pens and Sharks. Both teams apparently drop 4 points in rnkings from last year.

    Seems to me the Pens are on the edge of dropping to dead last next year, particularly considering the strong possibility of Sprong making the team out of the gate this year and Aston – Reese by mid season. And let’s not foget Archibald and Pouliot signing one way contracts and the possibility of Jarry making it up to the bigs by the end of the year. That really doesn’t leave much down there.

    I will wait to talk about players until your next article, but how would you rate the Pens scouting and minor league coaching?

    • James Arthurs's Gravatar James Arthurs
      July 24, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,
      Thanks for the encouragement my friend. Being relatively new to this writing “gig” I went a little over board in the length of my article. Being a very complex and serious subject it was not easy to condense my thoughts into a single post. Having said that, part 1 is just an educational piece, more of an introduction so that the following 2 critical articles will make much more sense to the causal or serious Pens fan.
      So with that in mind OTR, I will wait until part two is published and then the REAL discussions can start. You and I will lots to talk about real soon.
      I am counting on it…

      A little teaser .. After examining all 31 NHL Teams developmental programs this weekend I became deeply concerned about the future of our Pens two years out. Either we are the only ones doing it right, because all other 30 NHL teams have first and second round talent in their minor leagues or we are the lone wolf on a collision course for failure.. !!

      I will post separately on Dumo’s pay day not to confuse the 2 issues…
      Thanks for reading..

  3. Mike's Gravatar Mike
    July 24, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink


    I don’t have a problem with Dumoulin’s number (4.1) or the years. What I do question is the 1.9 that the Pens put on the table. To go from 1.9 to 4.1 mil something’s a little out of whack.

    Next question – Does this put Matta on the block?

    • Mike's Gravatar Mike
      July 24, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      James sorry – the initial post was meant for you and not Rick

      • James Arthurs's Gravatar James Arthurs
        July 24, 2017 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        No problem Mike..

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 24, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Hope you don’t mind me jumping in here Mike,

      I do think $4.1 mil is a little above were I place Dumoulin’s value, but since the contract runs 6yrs I am a not that upset with it. However, like you, I was really surprised and disappointed by what the Pens reportedly first offered, $1.9 mil. Seems to me that was close to being insulting.

      My 2 cents on Maatta; my worry here is that Cole is a free agent next year and It will be hard to justify a $7mil Letang, a $5mil Schultz, 2 – $4mil Maatta and Dumoulin, and then add another $4mil for Cole. So, unless, as unit, they play a lot better (cutting down shots) one of those left handed shots (Cole, Dumoulin, ir Maatta) will be playing elsewhere, maybe even before the season starts. It is hard to imagine that it will be Dumoulin since he just signed a 6yr contract, and I would think that Cole is more of a keeper than the other two combined; I can still picture him plying nearly the entire 2 min of a 2 man penalty kill. That would mean, for me, Maatta is the odd man out.

      • July 24, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        Seems like a great price to me. I think maybe the Penguins defensemen are way under appreciated.

        Maybe this will put it into perspective a little. here is how valuable he is in minutes played last two playoff years:

        Dumoulin 1066
        Crosby 956
        Kessel 865
        Cole 860
        Malkin 853
        Maatta 834
        Bonino 806
        … bunch more players…
        …Sheary 632

        tOR, I don’t understand how we are calling odd guys out on defense. we only have 6 NHL defensemen signed???? Unless you count unproven Ruweedle 84 minutes last two years playoffs or even less proven Pouliot 29 minutes. The Pens won the last two Stanley Cups in a row with either Dumoulin or Maatta on the ice in top defensive pair 99% of the time.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          July 24, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

          I am worried about next year Phil when Cole is Free Agent. He is also due for a big raise. With $20mil tied up in 4 players on D, I am refering I am not seeing the Pens signing him unless they trade a player, Letang is not tradable, until/unless Letang shows he is able to play 70 or more games like he played before his neck surgey Schultz is the Number 1 guy back there, Dumoulin just resigned for 6 years so it is doutful he will be traded any time soon. That means the Pens will either have to trade Maatta or let Cole walk at the end of the year. This is what I was refereing to.

          The are not really in that big of a problem right now, depending on what happens with Sheary, but next year is what I am looking at. The Pens have roughly $30mil tied up in 4 forwards in for 2018-2019 and now with Donoulin’s contract, a little over $20mil tied up in 4 D-men. Meaning they will only roughly $25mil to pay their other players and Cole’s and Hornqvist’s contracts are up. It will be doubtful that the team could take on a 5th Defenseman over $4mil

          • July 24, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

            So, right now Sullivan uses Maatta & Dumoulin as the defensive defenseman (think of how Scuderi was used) on the top two pairs of defense. This is how Sullivan, the guy who is coaching the Penguins uses them. What you are saying is that if Cole, who is a third line defenseman, gets a big raise, let’s say even with Dumoulin or Maatta. Then the Pens would part with Maatta, one of their top four defensemen according to Sullivan, for a 3rd pairing defenseman Ian Cole of equal cost? That wouldn’t make sense.

            Most playoff teams have right around $20 tied up in their top four defensemen.

            This season will tell the tail. The question mark is Letang, will he be able to play? Unless he becomes Paul Coffey, you try to trade him for anything you can get or buy out his contract. According to his contract, he will be getting paid $7.25 million when he’s 35. After the season is over you sign Cole and pick up a quality free agent defenseman with the $9.3 mil available for two defensemen.

            There is an 8 year difference between Maatta & Letang. Most defensemen are just starting out their NHL careers at 22.

            • James Arthurs's Gravatar James Arthurs
              July 24, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

              Hey Phil, oTR ,
              When you mention trading Letang Phil, as I said before he is the elephant in the room.
              Every time I mention Letang and to trade him people want to run me out of town.
              For me, now that Dumo is signed for 6 years,Maatta for 5, Schultz for 3, Hunwick for 3 years and Cole wants to get an extension reports say….
              I would trade Letang now. Sheary too.
              Having just completed an extensive review of all 31 minor league systems in the NHL for my recent post, I would go and make a trade for an offensive, 20-21 year d man,( high first rounder type) and another young center man, high first rounder, from the same team to be my 3rd center.
              There are several possibilities out there.
              That would give you the long term d corps you talk about and maybe a future star at center who can one day take over from the older boys.

              Dylan Strome and Jake Chychrun for Letang ?
              Sheary for big left winger Perlini ?

              Just a thought guys.
              The fact we are even talking about this is a step in the right direction.


            • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
              July 24, 2017 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

              Hey Phil,

              Not going to argue with you. At this point in time, I think it is going to be hard to justify Letang’s salary. The real problem comes down to finding someone to take on his salary.

              I don’t doubt that Letang will still be able to play hockey, but not at $7mil and I am not sure anyone is going to be willing to toss the dice on this one. So I fear the Pens have to buy the farm on this Elephant.

              Although, now that I am thinking about it, from what I read about a possible Bryan Little Trade the Jets were looking for a D man, maybe Letang for Little? Not sure about that. And from what I read about Toronto, they were looking for a D man, do you think they may be willing to deal? In both cases there would need to be some juggling to make numbers work.

              But if we deal with Toronto, I try and get Kadri and not Bozak if I could.

            • July 24, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink


              The Pens at this point don’t have a defenseman to trade. I am with you like you’ve said all last year that the Pens weak link is their defense. That being said, they can’t be parting with any of the better guys. The only movable piece on defense is Pouliot unless they somehow trade up on defense. They don’t have a defensemen to throw in a deal for a center. It is just not possible.

              Ruhwedel & Pouliot each have 67 games experience NHL experience.

              FYI: I have no trouble trading Maatta. If the Pens got Duchene for Sheary & two first rounders and traded Maatta & someone like Aston-Reese for a “big” top four high quality defenseman, I would be all for it. They would have an incredible team going into the season.

            • July 24, 2017 at 9:45 pm | Permalink


              The part that worries me is that the Leafs gave up Hunwick and are looking for a defenseman. There is something fishy there.

        • James Arthurs's Gravatar James Arthurs
          July 24, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Hi Phil,
          Thanks for putting everything in perspective. As you know I was the boy who cried wolf when I said Schultz would get a 6 million dollar pay day and Dumo would get at least 3.5 million several months ago. So for me I am not surprised about today’s actions. But it raises several thoughts and concerns I have moving forward.
          1. Like the other Rick I am pleased it is a 6 year contract.
          2. Like Maatta’s deal, if Olli ever recovers to the glory days of before he signed the big contract, then Olli becomes a bargain as prices for d men only escalate further in the future.
          3. Since Dumo is our only d man with size on a team of Smurfs we are actually going to have to keep him.His value may be in stopping goals than scoring them.
          4. I would keep him if we can make the right trades to acquire the 2 necessary centers we need and a proper replacement for Kunitz at left wing.

          5. The real issue Phil for me is the 2017 Cup Team paid 800K for Brian and $1.4 million for Justin. Total $ 2.2 million dollars.
          The 2018 Pens will pay $ 9.6 million for the same players !!!
          That is a 436% increase in wages. That is not sustainable.
          6. This is the crisis. Do you rate a player by his ability or the size of his paycheck. If paycheck is the standard then Dumo has just entered into the same class as Hornqvist, Hagelin, Maatta. Does this seem right to you ?
          What will Cole want to resign? How about all the kids ?
          7. This all but insures Sheary a big payday and this is a wake up call for Pen’s management.
          8. I have been involved in arbitration process several times in the past. When it was correctly reported that JR was offering only measly $ 1.9 million and the other side wanted $ 4.35 million, and given all the recent defense men 4-5 million dollar contract signings, the Arbitrator called up JR and said FIX the problem or I will fix it for you.
          Meaning that Dumo could get a 1 year deal paying at least $ 4.35 million, maybe more. Seizing the moment his agent got a 6 year deal for him as well. JR did not have a leg to stand on.

          Of course this will never get reported Phil. Everybody will be happy. Accept the guy that signs his paycheck for the next 6 years. We need a major trade my friend ….


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