Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pirates' Plans and Rick Responds

There was an interesting interview of Neil Huntington in the PG today by Dejan Kovacevik, who appropriately grilled him on the one foot in competing, one foot in rebuilding strategy that has been employed by previous GMs and still seems to be employed. I've always been, relative to most people, optimistic about the Pirates, so it comes as no surprise that I'm not too upset with the moves, or lack thereof, so far.

We underachieved last year. Not saying we should have been a division champion or even above .500, but if Bay's strong first half and Laroche's strong second half coincided, we would have been putting up a decent winning percentage. The pitching staff is a year older, and apparently slimmer. I'm not sold on the team by any means, I'm just glad we didn't trade away our players when their value was so low. Giving Bay a chance to show he still has it, before shipping him out, will give us more impact prospects. Not making any deals at this point was probably better for the minor league system in the long run.


Now on to Rick. At least a couple people really found Rick's ideas ridiculous, which is fine. If you don't like what he has to say, then you can stop reading the article now, I promise I won't get upset. What follows, though, is his researched explanation of why he wants to add defense to this team. You may disagree, and if you disagree so strongly that you want to write something that deserves more exposure than the comments section, send it in an email and I'll post it. Guaranteed. Thats what Rick did in the first place, and anyone who spends enough time to write a few paragraphs on a subject deserves to be heard. Other than drunk athletes, link dumps, and the snorg girl, thats what I thought this whole sports blogging thing was about.

Rick's Response:

Ok everyone, I am just a dumb farmer from Somerset County, so you're right I don't know anything about hockey. However, I did help Sam win his fantasy football league 2 years ago when I told him to pick up Drew Bennett.

Also, I kind of like hockey in general. I don't have my head up my ass thinking that the Pens are the only team in the NHL. Sure we have won 7 straight, but if the season ended today, only 1 of those wins would have been against a playoff team. In fact, if you don't count shootout decisions the Pens would have 3 wins and 11 losses against Eastern onference teams that would be in the playoffs. I'm not so sold on this team. Our last 7 games have included the 7th, 11th (2), 12th (2), 13th, and 14th place teams in the conference. Unfortunately, we won't be playing those guys come April.

So I know what you're thinking...why the hate of Scuderi? The truth is I don't hate him, I just highly dislike him. And I have a few reasons, too.

City of Pittsburgh, I must ask, how confident are you going in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with essentially the same defense you had last year. Sure Melichar is gone and Sydor is an upgrade, despite trade rumors that he will be gone. Shero didn't pay this guy $2.5 million to trade him. He knows he will perform in the playoffs, as Sydor does have 2 cups. He has 151 games of playoff experience. By comparison, the rest of this years' defense has 103 games combined, 25 of which they picked up last year.

There is a template for winning the Stanley Cup.

1. You must have a hot (see: Khabibulin, Ward) or perennial all-star (see: Brodeur, Roy) goaltender.
2. You must have a solid third and fourth lines. These guys win games when the first 2 lines play to a tie. (Don't believe me? look at last years Pens who were done in by the likes of Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, and Peter Shaefer.) I know what your thinking 'Our beloved Ryan Malone, Colby, Armstorng, Max Talbot, Jarkko Ruutu and Eric Christiansen have gotten so much better' but lets face it, these guys have too.
3. You have to have a solid defense. So Sergei Gonchar scores goals... so what? He is a defenseman. Defenseman job is to keep the puck OUT of the net. Why don't you just move him to wing?

My point is this. Our defense is good, but not a Stanley Cup defense. Go out and get Peter Forsberg, Glen Murray, Marian Hossa, or Mats Sundin. I still don't think we have the defense to win the cup. I am a betting man, and if our defense stays the same no matter what happens to offense, I will take whatever odds you give me against the Pens winning the cup. Trust me, it's nothing personal, its personnel.

I love the new NHL. Its fast, its fun. One thing does remain the same, however. Defense wins championships. Star players who anchor a defense and chew up large chunks of minutes are an integral components of these championship teams. Below are some notable players of Stanley Cup bound teams.

Let's look at the last 10 Stanley Cup champions:
2007- Anaheim Mighty Ducks- Pronger 6'6, 210 (99 games experience) and Niedermayer (162 games), need I say more.
2006- Carolina Hurricanes- Mike Commodore. You may not consider him among the NHL's elite defenseman, but he is 6'4, 225. Also, not only did he help the Hurricanes win the cup, he had the Flames within one game of the cup in the last cup pre-lockout. Also, on this defense was Glen Wesley (144 games).
2005- Lockout
2004- Tampa Bay Lightning - This was an undersized and unpolished group that included Kubina (6'4, 244), Sarich, Lukowich, Pratt, Boyle, Sydor (139 playoff games), Cullimore (6'5, 220). Tortorella fixed this by rotating 7 defensman. He kept his guys fresh and ultimately won the cup with a beat up group.
2003- New Jersey Devils- Scott Stevens (209 playoff games experience). Yes, as Penguins fans we hate Scott Stevens, but he was good. Really good. Also, Scott Niedermayer was on this team and was discussed earlier.
2002- Detroit Red Wings- Chris Chelios (210 games) played beside Nik Lindstrom (129 games).
2001- Colorado Avalance- Ray Bourque was 6'0, 219 (193 games experience). Beside him was 6'3, 222 Rob Blake (57 games.)
2000- New Jersey Devils- Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.
1999- Dalls Stars- Zubov, Sydor, Hatcher, Matvichuk. The Fab 4.
1998- Detroit Red Wings- Nik Lindstrom.

I end at 1998, because that was the last time the Capitals played in the Stanley Cup finals. Sergei Gonchar was on the team that was swept in 4 games...

To recap:
In the past 10 years either, Lidstrom, Niedermayer, and, yes, Darryl Sydor have been on 7 of the 9 NHL championship teams. Only the 2006 Hurricanes and 2001 Avalanche were absent of one of these players.

So how does this relate to Scuderi. You guys are right, he is a good role player. He plays well at times, and like all NHL defensemen, makes mistakes. However, if you read my earlier post you would have seen that I feel the Penguins should be financially committed to 4 guys: Eaton, Letang, Gonchar, and Whitney. Because of his valuable playoff experience, I feel Sydor should have the fifth spot on the roster. I also feel that Orpik is gone next year to free agency.

This leaves a 6th roster spot available. I feel we could fill this spot with a skilled or sizeable playoff tested veteran to anchor our defense. If this is done, I believe there is nothing stopping us from winning the cup. Otherwise, Scuderi holds us back and we get eliminated in 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals or 5 in the conference finals. He's ok, he's just not a championship piece.


Anonymous said...

Your right, defense wins championships, but there's no reason why Scuderi can't be a "championship piece" We should get another solid defensemen, but no one wants to hear it right now, and I agree with them. Until we come down from this 7 game high its tough to argue.

Anonymous said...


"In fact, if you don't count shootout decisions the Pens would have 3 wins and 11 losses against Eastern onference teams that would be in the playoffs as of today. I'm not so sold on this team. Our last 7 games have included the 7th, 11th (2), 12th (2), 13th, and 14th place teams in the conference."

Apparently, you missed this. Also, if beating up on these teams gives you a high, you need to get out of the house a little more.

Have fun beating up on the 15th place Lightning tonight.

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is that its a tough position to argue right now. This little streak won't stay forever. And according to you our defense will be exposed the first time we play a good opponent. When that happens I'll believe you.

Sam said...

I believe in Scuderi, even if that means my decision is based upon liking the guy for being a gutsy player. I think he has heart and has tried, and has been fairly successful at filling Mark Eaton's shoes.

I do agree we can't have enough defense though. Both moves Patrick made back in the early 90s were to obtain defense. Cullen (94 points through 65 games) and defensman Zalapski (48 pts through 66 games) for a two-way center in Francis and a physical presence in Ulf Samuelsson. Then the next year he gets rid of Recchi and Paul Coffey for Tocchet, Kjell, and Wregget.

After the Pens acquired Francis and Ulf, our GA/G went down by nearly half a goal for the rest of the regular season, and they finished the season 9-3-2, improving on the 32-30-4 record they had before the trade. Obviously, Francis was not a huge drop off in offensive talent compared to Cullen, and in the playoffs he is best remembered for his season changing offensive performance in game 4 of the Rangers series the next year. Still, both trades were giving offensive talent for defensive talent, and both times we won the cup.

This team is different than the early 90s teams, but we've never had as much defensive prowess since then. Maybe what we have now in our defensive corps is enough and we've turned some sort of corner, but if we start slipping on defense again, we should make some sort of splash, if not this year than the next.

Anonymous said...

Would we have to mortgage the future for any trade, at least according to this guy at the Toronto Star:

What a stupid trade idea. We don't need blake, but at least you're not giving up Esposito and Staal to get him.