Are the Penguins Trying to fill an Inside Straight? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Are the Penguins Trying to fill an Inside Straight?

In the wake of the Penguins weak home stand (2-3-0), GM Jim Rutherford was quoted as saying “We have a team that could’ve done better at this point.” Following that admission, he then added, “We’re coming to a critical period, where we’ll make a decision whether we need to shake things up or not,” and “We are at a point where we’re slipping in the wrong direction. We have to watch that real close.

I know some may think that I am a bit of a reactionary this year. I have been banging the drums of change since pretty much early November while others have preached patience. It sort of reminds me of the Gambler; “You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run” (Thank you, Kenny Rogers). It can be easy for arm-chair GMs to throw out unsolicited advice, but it is a totally different story if we are the one(s) held accountable if wrong.

Even after the decision is made to make a trade, there comes the question of which position and/or player is the key to the puzzle and which cards/assets are expendable, at least in context of who the team is getting in return.

In the interview that I quoted above, Rutherford echoed the sentiments of many of you Penguin Poop readers that a true quality 3rd line Center who could provide the kind of offense that Nick Bonino and John Cullen gave us should head the list. While Riley Sheahan has been finding his name on the score sheet lately, the Penguins third line really hasn’t been that big of a threat to cause any real match up problems for other teams. Opposing teams can focus their best defense on the top 2 lines, making it all the harder for those 2 lines to find the range as well. In fact, the lack of respect being shown the Penguins bottom 6, with regards to their scoring ability, may be the only reason Sheahan has been picking up points lately.

Perhaps our Penguins do have the answer for next year. During the prospect tournament Jordan Bellerive took the team by storm He came to the prospects camp and impressed the organization enough to earn himself a contract. Also, he apparently is lighting it up right now in Lethbridge (17 goals and 23 assists in 30 games). Maybe the team could conceivably get away with a rent-a-Center. Unfortunately, right now, the team needs that Center.

On the minus side for Bellerive, he too is a diminutive player at only 5’-10”. He is also only in the Juniors and not really available this year. Furthermore, as fun as it is to look at his numbers so far this year, they may not really translate into NHL numbers.

Like many of you readers (and apparently Mr. Rutherford), I would like to see more production out of the bottom 6 centers. After all, the center is the center of the play making. Wingers are important but they need that lynchpin. The Penguins are blessed enough on the Wings, particularly Right Wing, but with the way Dominik Simon is playing, if he can continue, they may also have some only now tapped Left Wing depth too. In the end though, if those Wingers do not have a Center capable of getting them pucks, the bottom 6 will still find rough going.

However, I would also suggest that the team needs, emphasize needs, to do more than fill an inside straight, they need to draw at least 2 new cards to get a winning hand. Not only do they need a center, they still need a Defenseman who can clear his own crease and strike a little fear into opposing forwards, cruising through the Penguins zone. Watching players like the Islanders’ Anders Lee crashing into Tristan Jarry with impunity a couple of games back was sickening. And then the next game to see—was it Tyler Bozak?– banging away at Jarry, a lá Patric Hornqvist, until he knocked the puck into the net should be a wake-up call for the need of a Defenseman who will knock these players on their wallets.

Perhaps, here again, the answer may be in the system, if the team is willing to make the move. There are a couple of Defensemen down in Wilkes Barre – Scranton (WBS) big enough to fill this role; Andrey Pedan and Jarred Tinordi, and Pedan has shown the inclination to do just that. Neither of these players have been able to crack an NHL line-up for other teams, but they are still pretty young for Defensemen and they may just not have fit those teams. Here in Pittsburgh, where the team is loaded with smaller puck moving Defensemen, a more bruising style may be the perfect compliment. You never know if you don’t try.

And if the team takes a look now, they will still have time to make a trade later.

Regardless of how the Penguins address their defensive concerns about a lack of physical presence in their own zone, this area does need to be addressed if they truly want to try for a 3-peat.

I really don’t envy you Mr Rutherford; it is great when you make the right decisions and are the hero but when you don’t make the right call you are the goat and sometimes people forget when you made the right call. It really isn’t easy to know when to hold’em and when to fold’em.

Odds and Sods

WBS seems to be back to their winning ways; Daniel Sprong is rolling again. He had 2 goals last night, including the game winner as the Baby Penguins beat Springfield 6 -3. Sprong’s 2 goals give him 14 for the season.

Zach Aston-Reese had 3 assists during the game to give him 10 in 22 games. Aston-Reese also seems to be providing a physical presence up front with 40 PIM. Defensively, he would also appear to be playing responsibly, his +/- is +9.

Andrey Pedan also had a solid game for our Farm associates; he opened up the scoring with his second goal of the season and picked up an assist, giving him 2 goals and 9 assists in 21 games. The big Russian blue-liner also has spent 33 minutes in the Sin-Bin.

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  1. December 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Hey tOR, great stuff as usual. I’m going to continue to keep preaching patience though.

    There are two things that I am worried about.

    First is a thing that you are always talking about. Player development. You’ve been talking about how the Penguins management has mishandled players for years it seems. Would it be wise to screw up a players development to temporarily help the main squad that is erratic at best on the ice?

    The second thing I worry about is that if the Penguins make all the moves now will the team sink back into the boredom rut again before playoff time? I think the wisest move would be to hold off until at the very least the middle of January like the original plan.

    That is unless a great offer comes along or the team has fallen and cannot get back up.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 15, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      I’m not as concerned about the timing of moves or trades as much I am the scope of the changes. After all, it was mid-December when Jim Rutherford promoted Mike Sullivan and acquired Trevor Daley back in 2015.

      To digress for a moment, as wonderful as it was to dream of a three-peat, it was highly unlikely to happen. While I thought the Pens would give a better account of themselves, I figured the nearly impossible task of keeping their hunger, focus and intensity going following two long Cup runs would eventually prove to be too much.

      Heck, I’ve writing about them with great frequency over the past couple of years, and I’m tired. While it’s been a joyous journey, it’s also been a grind. I can only imagine how the players must feel.

      Back to my opening point. Unless we’re looking at a sweetheart of a trade, I’d be leery of blowing things up too much. While it may sound defeatist, I’d like to see JR make trades and moves with an eye toward making another run in the next year or two, as opposed to propping the team up for what, in all likelihood, will be a lost season. He also needs to consider which kids he thinks will be genuine contributors and factor them into his moves and plans.

      My lone exception to the “no blowup” rule? If JR’s able to move Kris Letang (sorry Tanger) for a halfway reasonable return, I’d do it. It sure would be nice to open up some cap space.


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        December 15, 2017 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        Hey Rick,

        Good points! A 3-peat in this age of Salary Caps is a daunting task. However, I don’t think it would have been impossible if the right moves were made. The problem is, it is only after the move is made (Hindsight) that you can know if the move was a good one or not.

        Looking at what the players the Pens lost are doing, the Pens didn’t loses too much. Last I looked, only Hainsey was playing well enough to wish he had stayed. Maybe that is because he has only made one Cup run over the course of his entire career while the others that left and stayed have pretty much been doing this for two years now with Hagelin being down that road even more for NYR. Physical, Mental, and Emotional exhaustion is a very real possibility. That is why I have been such an ardent advocate of change, from within or without.

        I hate to give up yet on a 3-peat. Finding a quality 3rd line Center and getting a solid D-man, that can clear his own crease, players that have not been through the same grind the rest of the team has had to bear; players that could breath life back into the team.

        However, I hear you, if I couldn’t see what I think I see at the heart of this team, JR could certainly retool in flight like he did when he first got here. With the apparent depth this team has in goal, the way Kessel is playing harder than he ever has in his career and Malkin and Crosby maybe not that far off from their prime but with more experience it wouldn’t take much to retool for a couple of more tries at a Cup over the next 3 or so years.

        And like you, as much as Letang has meant to the team over the years, if I could get decent value for him, I would deal him. He could be used in either stead to get a player to help make a 3-peat run or to get prospects/picks to retool.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      December 15, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Phil,

      There are always 2 sides to every card. I am not going to deny you have some good points. In fact, I tend to give more credence to those that can argue both sides well. I usually means they understand the problem more deeply than those that can’t or they at least thought about. That is why I wrote that I don’t envy JR right now. The problems are rather large with consequences to match.

      • December 15, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        Hey tOR,

        Thank YOU! I love reading your opinion. It is always based on good arguments and numbers. I probably agree with you as much as i do Rutherford. I like to think I’m right just about 50% or less of the time with my opinion (in hindsight), which in isn’t bad for a scrub. I also do not envy Rutherford as I am not even sure what the answer is this time. Even the no brainer move like picking up Duchene doesn’t seem to be panning out in Ottawa.

        • The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
          December 16, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          Great point about Duchene. As much as I mused over the possibilities of the Pens trading for him, I never wanted to pay anything near the price Sakic was asking and got. Boy, at least right now, that looks like the biggest swindle in history; Colorado got the bank and Ottawa is now near the bottom of the league.

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    December 15, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I woke up this morning with blood shot eyes from lack of sleep. Yes, I was a bit silly last night and stayed up to watch the Penguins reruns. No, I am not referring to a true rerun, just the same old, same old against a new opponent. The plot played out the same, only the names were changed, however, in this case there were no innocents to protect.

    I wanted to write a new article to post, but I am getting tired of repeating the same old same old material. So I will not waste your time with another full article but place this rant right here; “Time is well past for change.”

    In the end, regardless of the whys the Penguins lost another game and drifted one game farther away from a play-off spot. There still is plenty of time, mathematically, to reverse fortunes but the probability that the players on this current Penguins NHL roster of reversing those fortunes seems more remote with each loss. Patience is a virtue, and giving the team a month to get themselves together in October was virtuous. Putting up the mediocrity was understandable in November, considering the memories these players have given us. Burying our heads in the sand in December will be disastrous.

    No longer can the excuse of playing so many road games be tolerated after going 2 – 3 – 0 on the recent home stand. Nor can the team hide behind the scheduling of back-to-back games to explain their poor play, since they have lost 4 of the 5 games since their last back-to-back set.

    Complacency may still be a legitimate excuse as to could exhaustion still be a contributory factor. However, even in these cases the best and only solution is change. Making a trade may take some time and with the Penguins failing fortunes, the stock value of their players is dropping for open trading. Sitting some of the under-achieving players in exchange for some kids from the Farm can be done rather quickly. It may not work but it can’t really get much worse; missing the play-offs by 1 game is the same as missing the play-offs by 20 games.

    Writers outside of this city (Adam Gretz of NBC sports) are questioning why Sprong hasn’t been brought up, even though the team keeps on insisting that he is basically one dimensional (offensive) he points out that Hagelin and Reaves are basically one dimensional players and they are playing at the NHL level. In Hagelin’s case he further points out that the game is decided by who scores the most points and since Sprong’s Dimension is scoring Getz insinuates that he (Sprong) should get a shot. He goes on to question exactly what one dimension Reaves actually brings. I would add that Sheary has never shown any defensive acumen and he gets regular shifts.

  3. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    December 15, 2017 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Hey Coach,
    Just brilliant writing my friend. You really have found your calling. Love the inside straight Poker analogy. I am a terrible card player, so this probably will not work, but here goes…
    To me the Pen’s are playing Blind Man’s Bluff and everybody in the league knows it. We got nothing. A pair of Queen’s at best. In 33 games we are 9th in our conference, ( 5 and 5 in our last 10 games). The young talented Flyers are just one point behind with 2 games in hand. They have a much deeper talent pool than us now. The 8 teams ahead of us in our conference are GOOD TEAMS and many are very well coached ! Meaning that Sully and JR were able to surprise everyone in 2016 with the run and gun approach and they had the players to do it with. Two years later and this team is NOT as good as the 2016 version. Not even close. They were a full house in 2016 with 2 Kings and 3 Tens and nobody had 4 of a kind or a flush to beat them.
    Last year in 2017 we WERE VERY LUCKY in that we had two pairs, Kings and lucky Sevens and our opposition could not catch a break. We won but it was not pretty. Lady Luck smiled upon us.
    Today’s 2017-18 Penguins are just not good enough to win it all !! Plus as we said before our cards are old, worn out, and really we have very few face cards left ! Only if we trade a major asset will we get anything in return ! Nobody wants a 30 year old Letang with his concussion history, or a 30 year old Hornqvist, an under performing and over paid Hagelin with a bad contract, or even a small Connor Sheary !! JR has been trying to make deals all fall and nobody wants our assets !! Yet in the burgh we value this AHL talent masquerading as front line NHL stars and wonder why nobody wants to trade with us anymore.Only Jarry may fetch us a decent return.
    To finish with your wonderful Poker analogy…To win it all in Poker you need the cards, the skill to play them and a little luck. I am afraid in 2018 we do NOT have the cards anymore, the rest of the league have become much better card players,( better coached), and our Luck just ran out.

    With a pair of Queens we are bluffing all the way. !!! … and the good teams all now know it… Come mid January you will see the fear start to set in !!
    You had better be prepared to trade one of your Queens !!
    Not going to happen… 🙂
    Cheers OTR.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      December 15, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Well played Jim, there aren’t too many people who would like to hear what you are saying but what is the old saying, “Pretty words are seldom true and true words are seldom pretty.” As a penguin fan, a penguin fan who has bled black and gold since 1980 and blue and white before that, all the way back to 1967, I would love to believe that the frustration of watching the farce that this season is turning into is causing you to see the team too bleakly, but it gets harder and harder to drink the Kool Aid.

      You may be right, the Penguins may need to toss in a Queen for new cards. However, since JR was able to deal Scuderi for Daley a couple of years back, I still maintain a little hope that he could swindle someone into taking Letang. Letang, at least, has an offensive upside. Furthermore, with some of the decisions the Penguins have made lately (Paying Vegas to take Fleury, Signing Hunwick, trading for Reaves and Sheahan) combined with the bad luck that seems to be following them with the scheduling, I fear that if JR would throw in one of our Queens we would draw Aces and Eights to go with our last Queen.

      Unfortunately, after Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins do not have anyone at Center who can even play number 3 Center let alone top 2. So trading one of them would be tantamount to acknowledging not only the season is over but so is the Stanley Cup window and that the team is in rebuild mode. Trading one of them right now, really would be drawing Wild Bill’s last hand.

      The way Sullivan has doggedly stuck to playing the usual suspects despite the run of futility makes me really wonder if JR has really considered trying to trade Letang, Sheary, Hornqvist, or Hagelin. (Well maybe Hagelin, since Hagelin has been a healthy scratch).

      However, since I am one who believes everyone is trade able for the right price, if JR would toss in a Queen and draw a Royal Flush, I wouldn’t complain.

  4. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    December 14, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Wow, Other Rick. Excellent stuff, just excellent.

    We all seem to be pretty much in agreement on what the Pens need. I’m appalled at times by how much difficulty we have protecting our net and clearing the zone. Case in point, the recent Islanders game when failed to get the puck out during the crucial last minute of play.

    I’d like to think that either Pedan or Tinordi might help in that regard. In particular, the former seems to be doing a good job for the Baby Pens (nine points, plus-6 in 21 games).

    Here’s where I wonder if we might have a little organizational tug-o-war going on. This is just my sense, mind you, but I think Sullivan and Rutherford prefer mobile defensemen who can move the puck.

    Bill Guerin, who’s taken over as Baby Pens GM, seems to have a better appreciation of the need for size and gristle. He made an abrupt U-turn away from David Warsofsky types and added some notably bigger guys over the offseason (Kevin Czuczman, Tinordi and Zach Trotman). I sense his influence in the Pouliot for Pedan trade as well.

    You can supply the horses. But, ultimately, it’s up to Sully (and JR) to use them. I wonder if there’s some resistance there.



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