Tag Archives: Penguins

CH Column: Is Crosby the Next 50-in-50 Guy?

Don’t call it a comeback, but I’m very excited to be joining the LTP team again. I believe in this group of guys and gals and the Penguins coverage we can provide. We just try to bring our very best to the rest of Penguins fans everywhere.
Someone else who’s bringing their best right now is Sidney Crosby. We may be seeing a version of Crosby that supersedes his level of play before that infamous concussion at the Winter Classic. His shots are going in at a ridiculous rate, but he’s also still finding teammates for scoring chances like he has before. His assist on Letang’s OT-winner in Brooklyn was delicious. There’s been a lot of talk of him possibly accomplishing a feat that would seem impossible in today’s NHL: 50 goals in 50 games. 

Can he do it? I think if anyone in this league could do it, it would be him or Ovechkin. I’d bet on Sid over Ovi because the latter tends to be streaky, and in today’s NHL, streaky players would have a REALLY hard time scoring 50 in 50. 

Now, one thing we have to remember is the “50-in-50” rule is 50 goals in the TEAM’s first 50 games, not the player’s first 50 games played. People recognize players that have accomplished that as “unofficial” 50-in-50 guys, but officially, only five guys have done it (Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky (3 times), Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull (2 times)). Could Sid join such an elite club this season?

My answer is no. I’d love to say yes, and I’m not counting him out, but his shooting percentage is off the charts right now and seems to be unsustainable. It’s just so hard to do in today’s NHL. The last guy to do it was Brett Hull in the 1991-1992 season. The last guy who “unofficially” did it was Mario Lemieux in 1995-1996, who scored his 50th goal in HIS 50th game, but it was the team’s 59th game. 

Crosby has 12 goals in 19 team games (he’s played 13). An official 50-in-50 just doesn’t seem realistic to me. However, if he were to pull of an “unofficial” 50-in-50, in today’s NHL, that’s a legit accomplishment. I also think Sid has a real shot at scoring 50 goals this season, winning his second Rocket Richard, and probably winning the Art Ross. This is in no way downgrading how Sid’s playing right now. He’s the best player in the world right now and there’s no argument against it. And the team really hasn’t clicked on all cylinders yet, and I think once they do, you’ll see even more points from Sid. 

In today’s NHL, 50-in-50 would take some divine intervention. It’s like the NHL tries to prevent goals sometimes. But that’s a topic for a different time. While I don’t believe it will happen, I’m cheering to prove myself wrong.

Advertisements

CH Column: Letang Is The Measure Of A Defenseman

This past Saturday, the NHL announced the three finalists for the Norris Trophy for this past season. Kris Letang was not one of them. This came to the dismay of many in Pittsburgh, who have watched Letang blossom into one of the game’s top defensemen over the years. Take everything that is said in this column knowing that this is coming from someone who has been critical of Letang throughout his career (and I’ll get into that in a bit), but this year, I am convinced that Kris Letang is a legit player, a bona fide superstar, and by the end of his career, may be the best Penguins defenseman ever. I believe him being left out of the Norris running is a joke, but I’m sure Letang himself cares more about a Stanley Cup than the Norris Trophy. Still, Letang’s play needs to be recognized by others outside of Pittsburgh.

I remember watching Letang play in the 2009 Cup run, thinking “this guy could be the guy that anchors our defense for years. He’s still young and raw, but man, when he develops in what he could become, he could be scary special.” Ok, those may not have been my EXACT words, but if I had to paraphrase my thoughts from back then, it’d be something similar to that. And after watching him for the last seven years, he’s gone through his ups and downs, both on and off the ice.

I’ll be honest, Letang used to be in my doghouse. And he was in it for quite a while. Call me conservative, but I’d rather one be more responsible and not as aggressive, even knowing that being aggressive pays off every now and then. With Letang, he either made a masterful play or an asinine play. That was what I couldn’t stand. I got sick and tired of him getting caught too deep in the offensive zone, disregarding his teammates, especially his defensive partner, leaving them out to dry. Even for a while, either ex-GM Ray Shero or current GM Jim Rutherford tried to bring in “stay at home” defensemen to prepare themselves for Letang being, well, Letang. Now, one thing that I won’t hold against Letang in regards to being aggressive in the offensive zone is, as a hockey player, when a defensman joins the rush and goes down low, a forward (primarily the winger) needs to recognize that and drop back to the point, just in case the other team gets the puck, so you don’t give up a two-on-one. But in the end, communication is the key there. I don’t know when that would happen if it was a lack of communication or whatever, but that fact is, it happened too often. Letang also tended to get a little sloppy in the defensive zone, either by forcing breakout passes and turning the puck over, especially in the defensive zone, or playing a forechecker too aggressively and leaving his goalie out to dry. And Letang’s biggest flaw over the years has been his temper. It flares up during games. In the past, he’s taken dumb penalties at bad times. And man, that mouth of his. For all those that thought Crosby barked at the refs more than anyone, sorry, but Crosby wasn’t even the worst on his team. It seemed like every time Letang got called for a penalty, he was barking at the refs. No matter how right or wrong refs are (yeah, most of the time they’re wrong), they don’t like it. They remember it. And you (reader), remember this thought about his mouth. I’m going to come back to it later.

Don’t get me wrong, this all sounds harsh. And, I’m no hockey expert, otherwise, I’d be paid for it. And by no means did I think that he was a poor defenseman. From 2009-2013, he was a combined +53. That’s dang good. And maybe I was so hard on him because I expected a little more consistency from him. Some guys get it right away. Some guys don’t get it for a while. And some guys don’t get it at all. But I’ll tell you what, he’s gotten it now. Big time.

In early 2014, Kris Letang suffered a stroke. This dude is in his twenties. He had a stroke. How often does that happen? Seriously? Literally, at his age, .01% of the time. I was starting to really come around on Letang around this time. I liked what I was seeing from him. I saw him maturing, trying to become a more responsible defenseman. And, forget hockey for a minute. This guy has a wife and son. He needs to be there for them. Then he had the stroke. I, along with many others, wondered if he could play hockey again. A stroke, no matter how minor, is nothing to dismiss. I was rooting for him to return, and come back better than ever, but I was totally understanding if he would’ve had to consider retirement. Life and family are way more important than a game or a job. We all witnessed that within the past couple years with Pascal Dupuis’ situation. But doctors assured Letang that hockey wasn’t the cause of the stroke and they cleared him to return. He ended up playing the last three regular season games that year and all thirteen playoff games, playing as much as 28 minutes in a game. Letang trained hard over the offseason and returned, ready to play for a new GM and new coach.

Over the last couple seasons, Letang has matured vastly. He has become a very responsible defensemen, playing with physicality and excellent technique in the defensive zone, while not sacrificing his skills offensively. He’s always been great at moving the puck in all three zones. He’s a great skater. He’s got great speed. And, especially this year, he has matured in just about every facet of the game. He has become the elite defenseman that I saw him becoming. He’s actually exceeded what I thought he could do. He’s logged minutes this year he’s never done before. He’s broken his own career-high in minutes multiple times this season. He plays on the powerplay, he kills penalties, he plays against the opposing teams’ top stars, and he’s had multiple defensive partners over the season. And he’s done all of it without missing a step. And his numbers since Mike Sullivan took over the coaching responsibilites are stupid good. In the 46 games under Sully, he’s recorded 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists), which is 1.15 PPG. He’s flourished in Sully’s system, but Letang is not just a product of the system. As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyone on this team is. Sully puts trust into the 20 guys that take the ice game in and game out. Letang has constantly answered the call and earned the praise of his coach in the process. Letang has done everything he can to become the best player he can be, and he’s done a dang good job at it too. He’s earned my praise, otherwise I wouldn’t take the time to write this. This is the first player profile I’ve done on this site, and he’s well deserving of it.

If I have a theory on why Letang wasn’t considered even as a Finalist for the Norris (or even the Masterton last year after returning from a freaking stroke), it’s his reputation (picking up from my previous thought earlier). Fans don’t like guys who complain, but refs REALLY don’t like guys who complain. And they won’t help out the guys they don’t like. Case and point is game two against Washington in this year’s playoffs. Letang was slashed, punched, and slashed and punched again, and nothing was ever called. Letang makes a clean, defensive play, and gets called for tripping. I mean, seriously:

penalty_zpsafm8pffs

What a joke, right? But when the refs don’t like you, they won’t help you out. It’s stupid and it’s not right or fair, but I really think Letang’s reputation could possibly be a reason why he doesn’t get the respect or credit he deserves. Now, Letang has even admitted himself, that he’s getting better about it. He knows barking at officials does absolutely nothing. Sully has helped out in that regard as well. It’s one of the reasons why he’s the coach this team needed. And Letang has reaped all the benefits from it. Now you bet, he was screaming at the refs after that one last night. I was too. I don’t there was a voice wearing black and gold last night that wasn’t. It gift-wrapped a Washington game-tying goal. And I’m not saying he can never plead his case, but he’s got to make strides to earning the officials’ respect back. It’s clear they don’t have any for him, so what does Kris need to do? Shut up and play hockey. And you know what? He’s done it for the majority of the year. Just that. And he’s played at levels that exceed human ability.

Yep, the Penguins have an elite defensemen. His name is Kris Letang. And we wouldn’t trade him for anyone. Not Karlsson, Doughty, or Burns. They’re all great defenseman, but Letang is ours. And he may not get the credit he deserves on the level he deserves, but we know the truth. And he’ll take a Stanley Cup over a Norris Trophy. Every time.

Kris2BLetang2BStanley2BCup2BFinals2BPittsburgh2BzL3AoVzlWc0l

Just keep doing it, Kris. They’ll have to hand the Norris over to you eventually. And if you keep playing the way you played in game two, they won’t have choice. #LetangForNorris


412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content.

Penguins vs. Capitals: Round 2 Preview

As time ticked down in game five against the Rangers, Consol Energy Center stood on their feet – 20,000 strong – screaming and cheering on their beloved Pens, who were about to wrap up a convincing 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers. As the horn blows and the clock hits 0:00, fans become more ecstatic and the team celebrates a great series, where, except for two periods of hockey, they pretty much dominated. But you know the celebration wouldn’t last long. Nope, not this team. Yeah, they wanted to get the monkey off their back and beat the Rangers in the playoffs, but that’s not their goal. Their goal is to win 12 more games. And the next day, their next opponent would be revealed to be the opponent that is sure to be hyped up: the Washington Capitals.

Now, this would be a great match up to see in the Eastern Conference Finals, but thanks to the seeding in the NHL (a different topic for a different time), it will have to be right now. Nevertheless, whichever team wins this series will be heavily favored in the Conference Finals. The Capitals were the NHL’s best team in the regular season and the Penguins were 2nd in the East in points, 4th in the NHL. As I said before, it will be a series of big hype. It marks the second time we’ll see Crosby vs. Ovechkin in the playoffs, and they have a lot to do to upstage what they did in 2009. The Caps/Pens match-up that year was a classic series, and the two superstars lived up to the hype. Now, there are other things to focus on in this series, and I’m here to point them out to you.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin
I’ll start out with the marquee match-up of this series. Like I said before, they have a lot to do to live up to the 2009 series. In all seven games, Ovechkin recorded 14 points, and Crosby recorded 13 points. They each seemed to carry their teams on their backs and lift them up to another level. The Penguins prevailed in seven games. Since the series, Crosby has won a Stanley Cup and captured other individual achievements, but many in the hockey world believed Crosby would’ve won more Cups by now, but a Penguins dynasty never started. Crosby is motivated to win again. He looks more focused than ever since 2009. Ovechkin on the other hand, has not lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup, much less reached the Finals. He’s proven that he’s the most prolific goal-scorer of this generation and recorded his 500th goal this season. He has every reason to have a chip on his shoulder. At the end of the day, Ovechkin wants a Cup. And this year, he probably has the best chance to win. This is the best team he’s been on in his career. Both superstars want it. It should be fun to watch them go at it again. I believe Crosby has an advantage over Ovechkin. While Ovechkin can change the course of a game with a single shot, Crosby impacts his team in more ways, which gives an advantage when trying to win four out of seven games.

What About the Other Superstars?
Crosby and Ovechkin aren’t the only superstars on these teams. The Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel. The Capitals have T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, and Braden Holtby. The roles of these players will be just as vital. Malkin seems to have shaken off the rust of missing several weeks, and Letang and Kessel and been arguably the most consistent Penguins since about February. Oshie is ultra-talented, Backstrom is about as consistent and reliable as they come, and Holtby has had a breakout season. The lone player that stands out of this group is Malkin. When he’s on, nobody in hockey is better. Nobody. And if he heats up in this series, look out.

Size vs. Speed
This is the match-up I believe to be the most crucial. The Capitals size vs. the Penguins speed. Both can be overwhelming for the opponent. It will truly be the most telling factor in this series. For the Penguins to win, winning puck battles is the key in beating Washington. Don’t allow Washington to sustain a forecheck in the offensive zone, or they will wear you down, especially in front of the net. While Matt Murray has been unreal in these playoffs, he will still need help clearing the garbage in front of the net. The best thing to do though is limit Washington’s pressure. Keep the puck out of the zone. The Penguins will need to put the pressure on in the neutral and offensive zones. Washington’s defense lacks speed, so put them on their heels. Attack them at full speed. Win puck battles in the corners when on the forecheck. The Penguins’ third and fourth lines are great at this, and if they can keep it up, they’ll have success.

My X-factor for this series is Conor Sheary. He ended up being a difference maker in the Rangers series. And when he’s skating the way he has been, he can wreak havoc on a team’s ability to make good decisions with the puck. I love watching this kid play. He fits in with this team, because he is special. And putting him on a line with Crosby has only made him step his game up.

Both teams don’t have many injuries. The Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with concussion symptoms, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he’ll be ready soon. I’d expect Matt Murray to play this entire series. It’ll be a great test for the 21 year-old goaltender. Washington’s Brooks Orpik doesn’t seem like he’ll play in game one, but we’ll see. He’s still recovering from a big hit in the series against the Flyers. Karl Alzner has had back-to-back maintenance days, which could be a concern for Washington. Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary also had back-to-back maintenance days, but head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t seem concerned about Sheary missing any game time. He just said it was just bumps and bruises.

Ultimately, I think the Capitals are a great team. They can score, they can beat you up, they can play defense, and they have one of the better goalies in the league. There’s a reason why they won the President’s Trophy. However, I think the Penguins have just as vicious of a forecheck as Washington and the Penguins speed is ridiculous. I think each game will be close. They are both great teams. It’ll be another great series.

Penguins in six. Buckle up baby!

CrosbyHeadNod


412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content.

Penguins vs. Rangers: Round 1 Preview

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, at least for hockey fans. And the fans of the Penguins have every reason to be confident in their team. The Penguins just capped off a great run to end the 2015/2016 season, winning 14 of their last 16 games. In the process, they set themselves up in great playoff position. They finished with 104 points, good enough for 2nd in the division, only behind the Washington Capitals, this year’s President’s Trophy winner. It’s also good enough for the 2nd most points in the conference, giving the Penguins home ice against any Eastern opponent other than Washington.

And to think, in early December, the team was out of the playoff picture. They looked lost, unmotivated, and stoic. The team made a coaching change, and new coach Mike Sullivan has turned this team from the most boring team in hockey into a serious contender for the Stanley Cup. For more details on the coaching change, check out my column.

On Wednesday night, the Penguins begin round one of this year’s playoff against the familiar New York Rangers. Yes, the same Rangers that fought back after being down 3-1 to beat the Penguins in the second round two years ago. And yes, the same Rangers that turned the Penguins away in just five games in last year’s first round. There’s a lot of cliches that can be used here, and one would think maybe “third time’s a charm” for the Penguins. However, it goes way deeper than that. This Penguins team is different. They’re special. And unlike early December, they’re focused, motivated, and alive.

The Penguins have had success under Sullivan because they have done something that they had a hard time doing under Dan Bylsma (at times), and couldn’t come close to doing under Mike Johnston: they have established an identity. And that identity is that they play their game. That game is an aggressive forecheck, aggressive penalty kill, creativity in the offensive zone and the breakout of the defensive zone, and most importantly, speed. That’s what this team has defined “Penguins hockey” to be this year. And they play it no matter what. Whether they’re up 3-0, down 3-0, or tied late in the 3rd period or overtime. They don’t stray away from their game. And the most impressive part is that they’ve done it against the teams that would get inside their heads and rattle them. No more of trying to match numbers in the “hit” column against Flyers by throwing bodies all over the ice or trying to match Boston’s tough defensive game. No more letting Henrik Lundqvist getting in their heads. They aren’t intimidated by him anymore, and his cage can be rattled a little too. I mean, how can we forget this:

LundqvistBabyStuff_zpsthaf3ozd

This Penguins team is not phased by anyone, And if anything, they force their game on their opponent. And if they can do that successfully, they won’t just win this round, but they’ll go deep in the playoffs. And I say that because I have a hard time believing any team in the East can keep up with the Penguins speed.

My X-factor for the series is Carl Hagelin. The Rangers used to be faster than the Penguins, but now the tables have turned. The addition of Hagelin is multiplied when playing the Rangers. The Rangers aren’t as fast without him, and the Penguins are faster with him. New York still has speed (Chris Kreider could give the Pens’ defense fits in this series), but the Penguins have more. And Hagelin playing on a line with Kessel had brought the best out of him, making that line arguably the most dangerous in hockey.

And to think that nobody named Crosby or Malkin is centering that line.

Both teams have injuries. The Rangers will be without their captain Ryan McDonagh for at least game one. The Penguins have a lot of question marks with their injuries. Marc-Andre Fleury has practiced both Monday and Tuesday, as has Olli Maata, but both still aren’t guaranteed for game one. Malkin, Murray, Rust, and Bennett are day-to-day, but I’d say we probably won’t see them until game three. The good thing is there’s a two-day gap between each of the first three games. Even with all the injuries, the Penguins have proven that they have depth. As I said before, they’ve won 14 of their last 16, and they’ve done it without Malkin. That’s scary. And I put to rest any fashion of an idea that Malkin would disrupt the chemistry of this team. That’s absurd. He’ll make the team even better. They won’t win the Stanley Cup without him.

For me, the Penguins speed and depth is too much for the Rangers to handle. The Rangers defense, especially for however long McDonagh is out for, isn’t as good as it used to be. Even if Zatkoff has to start the first two games, I still see the Penguins winning in five. They don’t have to rely on goaltending like they did early this year under Johnston. If the Penguins control the puck and the tempo, they’ll dominate the series. Even so, I think Lundqvist stands on his head and steals a game, but other than that, it will be all Penguins. It won’t be easy (as no playoff series is), but this team has what it takes. Like I said before, this team is special. Now, it’s time for them to play like it in the playoffs. Buckle up baby!

CrosbyHeadNod

Follow me on Twitter @chalicke for more Penguins playoff coverage.


412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content.

CH Column: How Is This Team Different Under Sully?

On December 11th, 2015, the Penguins dropped a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings, bringing the Penguins to a 15-10-3 record; good enough for 5th in the Metropolitan Division and out of the playoff picture. General Manager Jim Rutherford decided at this  point to end Mike Johnston’s tenure as the head coach of the team. There were a couple names being thrown around as a replacement for Johnston, including assistant coach Jacques Martin. Rutherford instead took a familiar route that the Penguins took in the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup season and hired Mike Sullivan, the head coach of the minor league affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The move was made with some optimism from the fan base, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the Mike Johnston era had drained some water from the proverbial glass half-full. I’m an optimist when it comes to the outlook of the teams I cheer for and follow, but I had just gotten to the point where I just wanted the Penguins to be fun to watch again. I didn’t care about Stanley Cups, division titles, Hart trophies, or any other accolade. I just wanted games to be fun again. Mike Johnston’s system not only crippled the talent on this team, but it was the most boring style of hockey I’ve watched in my entire life. It made the New Jersey Devil’s neutral zone trap look like a trip to Disney World. Johnston’s system took away one of the team’s strongest assets: speed. Players like Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel are all at their best on the rush, putting the defense on their heels.  Johnston’s system was all about moving through the three zones as a team and supporting each other. While it had its strengths, especially in the defensive zone (the team was allowing 2.39 goals against per game under Johnston this season), it had many weaknesses in the neutral zone and offensive zone. Johnston wanted shot volume, but disregarded shot quality. Most shots were from defensemen on the point or from forwards way outside the slot and because the team couldn’t establish a good forecheck, offensive zone pressure was minimal (the team scored 2.39 goals per game under Johnston). Johnston’s system wasn’t a good fit for this team. I’m not saying it can’t work in the NHL, it just didn’t work with the Penguins. It especially didn’t work with Crosby. Under Johnston, Crosby registered 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in 28 games, a whopping 0.68 points per game. Crosby was also a minus-6.

Enter Mike Sullivan. HCMS brought a new attitude to this team. He also implemented an up-tempo style, giving the chance for players to work creatively, especially in the offensive zone. He wanted a hard working team, in all phases of the game. He wanted the team to push past adversity and be resilient. And while it didn’t start out that way when the team went 0-4 in his first four games as head coach, after some time, changes seemed to take place, especially offensively. After the 0-4 start under HCMS, the Penguins are 25-10-5. The team is scoring nearly a goal more per game, and Sidney Crosby has turned into the best player in the world again (of course, he never stopped being the best in the world). Under Sullivan, Crosby has 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists), scoring 1.33 points per game, and is a plus-21. I always believed that Crosby’s dreadful start was more attributed to the Johnston system. Crosby didn’t forget how to play hockey. His performance under Sullivan proves that. Oh, and since the coaching change, Crosby leads the NHL in scoring.

The most impressive thing I’ve taken away from the team under Sullivan is their resilience. They never break or give up when down in a game. There have been several games where they’ve fallen behind 1-0 or 2-0 early, and have ended up coming back, sometimes even winning. The team knows how to score again. The players seem to respect and respond to Sullivan more. Just watching this team each game is the only way to see that something special is going on.

The additions of Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin (thank you GMJR) have given huge jolts to both the offense and defense. Sure, there’s still work to do. They’re not a perfect team by any means, but they’ve gotten to a point where the fight they put up makes me think they could beat any team in a best-of-seven series.

The playoffs are looming. Ten games remain. The Penguins are finding their stride at the right time. We can hope they continue to trend this way. And they wouldn’t be where they are without Mike Sullivan steering the ship.


 

412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the National Hockey League. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content.

CH Column: #BestSportWorstLeague

I’ve been pretty active on Twitter during Penguins games, and probably at least once or twice during a game, something happens where I am once again baffled at the NHL and the state the league is in and I tweet my two cents. I usually use the hashtag #BestSportWorstLeague in those tweets. While it’s fun to use it just to take a jab at the NHL, it’s four words that could not be more true. 

Hockey is a sport of great skill, passion, history, tradition, and the sport has arguably the most committed fans. My reasoning for hockey having the most committed fans is that NHL hockey is probably the worst it’s ever been and yet, teams like the Penguins, who aren’t doing very well, are still selling out games. 

The fans deserve a better product. There are two MAJOR issues the NHL has right now that need to be fixed in order for the league to not just thrive, but grow to a wider audience:

LACK OF SCORING: If you look at the scores in the NHL at 11:40 pm ET on 12/27/15, not one team scored more than 3 goals in a game. Last year’s Art Ross winner, Jamie Benn, did not eclipse 90 points. Average people want to watch hockey for two things: goals and fighting. The NHL could gain many more fans and, simply, make the game more exciting if they tried to take positive steps towards increasing scoring in the NHL. They claim they’ve done this, however, with every step they’ve taken, they’ve taken two steps back. After the 2004 lockout, they eliminated ties and introduced shootouts to excite fans, however, there are mixed feeling among hockey fans when it comes to the shootout. Recently, the NHL implemented 3-on-3 overtime to increase chances of scoring in overtime, therefore not having to go to a shootout. However, this doesn’t fix the actual problem. The problem is that the NHL doesn’t enforce rules like they did in the 80’s and 90’s. Teams aren’t getting anywhere near the amount of powerplays per game than they were back in the day. Powerplays increase scoring, plus not enforcing rules allows players to get away with murder by crosschecking, slashing, high-sticking, hooking, etc.. That in turn does not give players open ice to increase scoring chances. And this leads to the second problem.

LACK OF ACTUAL PLAYER SAFETY: To save time, I’ll paste a rant I went on on Facebook last night

 And no, there won’t be further discipline for the hit on Letang. Players are not safe in the league nowadays. There is not heavy punishment to players who need to be punished for injuring players, intentional or not. Obviously, intention requires further discipline. 

Commissioner Gary Bettman has seen three work stoppages under his tenure and if that’s not enough for his job to be in question, these problems should be enough. I can only hope the NHL looks into these issues with actual consideration for change. 

Penguins Free Agency Day 1: Kessel, Plotnikov, and more

The Penguins made the biggest splash on a busy first day of NHL Free Agency by acquiring Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, a good amount of other signings happened, and it already leaves the Pens with a different looking roster. Here is a list of all trades and signings that affected the Penguins today:

Kessel Run: First and foremost, the Penguins won the Phil Kessel sweepstakes by pulling off a trade that many are calling a steal. Personally, I’m amazed at how Rutherford pulled it off. Pittsburgh gets Phil Kessel and prospects Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixon in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, and a 2016 3rd round draft pick. There are also conditional draft picks: if Pittsburgh makes the playoffs this upcoming season, Toronto will get Pittsburgh’s 2016 1st round pick and Pittsburgh will get Toronto’s 2016 2nd round pick. If the Penguins fail to make the playoffs, Toronto will receive Pittsburgh’s 2017 1st round pick and Pittsburgh will receive Toronto’s 2017 2nd round pick. If the Penguins do not make the playoffs the next two seasons, Toronto will get Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick and Pittsburgh will not receive any draft picks. Toronto has also agreed to retain $1.2 million of Kessel’s cap hit through the end of his contract, leaving his cap hit against the Penguins cap at $6.8 million.
My take: I was almost certain, along with many in the hockey world, that Rutherford would have to trade away one of his two young defensemen: Maata or Pouliot. Pittsburgh did give up two players with good upside, especially Kapanen (last year’s 1st round pick), a solid 3rd/4th line player in Spaling, and more draft picks. However they landed an elite goal scorer to play alongside an elite center who can feed him the puck. Kessel has the ability to make a run at the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Award playing next to Crosby or Malkin. Adding him adds scoring and depth to the forward position, while maintaining the young defensive core.

The Great Exodus: Several players that were on the Penguins last season have signed elsewhere or still remain free agents. Among the players that have signed contracts elsewhere are Paul Martin (San Jose), Steve Downie (Arizona), Blake Comeau (Colorado), Taylor Chorney (Washington), Jayson Megna (New York Rangers), and Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders). Maxim Lapierre, Daniel Winnik, and Christian Ehrhoff still remain unsigned.
My take: I expected all who signed contracts today to not return except for maybe Blake Comeau. I know the Penguins wanted him back, but only at the right price. At $2.4 million per year (which is what Colorado signed him at for three years), that was too steep for someone who more than likely would fill a 4th line role. I don’t expect Ehrhoff or Winnik to be back, but I have a feeling if Lapierre doesn’t sign elsewhere in the first few days of free agency, and the price would go down for him, the Penguins would try to bring him back. However, they wouldn’t be very aggressive. They have other targets they are considering. Jim Rutherford said today in a press conference that he is in the market for a 4th line center.

The “Plot” thickens: The Pens landed one of the Russian players they were after this offseason when they signed Sergei Plotnikov to a one-year entry-level contract. The 25-year-old winger has played his entire six-year professional career in the KHL in Russia.
My take: It has been rumored that Malkin wanted another Russian on the team and this signing gives them a possible winger to play alongside Geno. He’s physical, big, and has a decent scoring touch. He was also Malkin’s linemate at the IIHF World Championships earlier this year. This is a low risk signing with it being only one year. It is cheap, and this kid is young and seems to be on the rise based on his KHL career.

Adding depth: The Penguins also signed four players to two-way contracts: forwards Kael Mouillierat and Kevin Porter and defensemen David Warsofsky and Steve Olesky.
My take: These are signings to add depth at the minor league level. Especially since Kapanen and Harrington were traded away as part of the Kessel deal.

All in all, this was a successful day for the Penguins organization. There are some that do not like the Kessel acquisition because of reported laziness and issues in the room, but most of those rumors have been shot down by many insiders close to the Penguins and the Maple Leafs. Sidney Crosby is also excited about the acquisition: “He’s an elite scorer and has a lot of speed. I see him fitting in well with us,” Crosby told Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports. “We’re excited to have him on our team.” The bottom line for the Penguins is that Rutherford wanted to add scoring to this team. Mission accomplished.

Follow me on Twitter @chalicke for continued coverage of the Penguins offseason.