Pittsburgh Penguins Mid-Season Report
TEAM: Pittsburgh Penguins
Place in Conference: 15th
Mario Lemieux (Irregular Heartbeat), Brooks Orpik (Broken Foot), Ryan VandenBussche (Cervical Strain), Eric Boguniecki (Knee Injury).
Team Point Leader: Sidney Crosby, 21 Goals, 27 Assists, 48 Points
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a mess. A season that began with so much promise has dilapidated into a quagmire reminiscent of the past 6 New York Ranger seasons.
There are many reasons to cite and many fingers to point, but the reality is most of the teams problems center around Craig Patrick. Certainly, he has been a great GM in the past, making famous deals for Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet to propel the Penguins to Stanley Cups, plucking Robert Lang off waivers, etc. But Patrick lost his edge over the past 10 years. Starting with the trade of Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov, continuing with the salary dumps of Jagr and Kovalev, and currently with his two big mistakes this season, allowing Eddie Olczyk to coach, an individual with zero credentials, and not understanding what the new NHL would be like, signing a load of veterans who simply cannot compete.
Yes, Patrick has made some necessary changes. Firing Olczyk and replacing him with a legitimate NHL coach in Michel Therrien is a good first step. It looks even better when you realize he had been the man coaching and developing the teams prospects in the AHL.
However, he is not the man for the future of this franchise. Honestly, can anyone name a quality draft pick by the Penguins in the past 10 years not taken in the top 5 overall? Anyone can draft well when you pick in the top 5 for four consecutive years.
When you are examining a last place hockey team, it is difficult to classify anything as a strength. However, the Penguins do have a great goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury. It is a shame that he has not started the whole year. Joceyln Thibault has been a disaster, and Sebastiein Caron and Andy Chiodo are not “top-tier” goaltending prospects. The Penguins made a huge mistake not starting Fleury at the beginning of the season, the saddest part is that it might have been a money decision and not a hockey decision. Yet, I do not allow money to be an excuse, because if you don’t sign Thibault and John LeClair, then you have the money to pay Fleury’s bonuses.
The Penguins are currently weak at all defense and forward positions, yet the future is bright.
The center position has the most promise. With Sidney Crosby establishing himself as a future superstar, albeit a very whiny one, and with the impending arrival of Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have two first-line centers for the next ten years. All they need to do now is establish a strong third line center. Will it be Erik Christensen? He showed some sings of promise earlier this year but has since tailed off and been demoted back to the AHL. How about Ryan Malone? With Christensen’s demotion, he will now get the opportunity to flourish in that role.
The Penguins have less promise at wing. They have Ziggy Palffy who despite all his critics is second on the team in scoring with 39 points and first in plus-minus at a +7! A quite remarkable feat for someone playing on such a bad team. LeClair and Recchi are washed-up busts, plain and simple. Thomas Surovy has showed promise amongst other young players, but this is a position the Pens will need to address in free agency or the draft. Can Phil Kessel play wing?
The Penguins defense is horrible. Although I blame most of it on a lack of a quality system and frequent partner changes that were the norm under Olczyk. Now that “Mad Mike” is in charge the defensemen are playing better, especially Sergei Gonchar, who, by playing with Rob Scuderi, seems more confident and is performing at a higher level. With prospects such as Ryan Whitney, Noah Welch, and Ryan Lannon, it is not a matter of if, but when the defensive unit will be amongst the best in the league. (Provided they dump Orpik, Melichar, Poapst, and Odelein).
The only “need” the team has is to play their young prospects, which they are now doing, and find some scoring punch on the wings next year. These are the key moves I would make.
Lemieux needs to retire or only stay on as a power-play specialist.
Considering the standings, the Penguins will likely finish last again and be in contention for the first or second overall draft pick. Therefore I would first see if Phil Kessel can play wing, if not, then I would draft Michael Frolik.
I would part ways through trade or buy-out with Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Lyle Odelein, Josef Melichar, Steve Poapst, Brooks Orpik, Rico Fata, and Dick Tarnstrom.
Finally, I would see if I could lure back Aleksey Morozov. Unfortunately, with the new NHL rules and his performance in the Russian Superleague this year, that might be a tall order.
Expectations in Second Half:
Earlier this year, I looked predicted three “scenarios” that the 2005-2006 Pittsburgh Penguins could fall within. I thought the team had the potential to make the playoffs, but in no way shape or form compete for the Stanley Cup. I also saw Lemieux’s health, along with Crosby’s performance as keys to their success. Well, Mario is hurt, again. And Crosby is playing well, although he could complain a little less and score a little more.
Thus lets look at the “Worst Case Scenario” I posed in September:
The team is riddled with injuries, Crosby becomes synonymous with , and the goaltending is inconsistent at best.
Penguins record is 40-42 (80 Points), they finish 10th in the conference, Mario Lemieux retires, and the Penguins move to Hartford (and me along with them).
Well, I suppose we will see how the season ends, but I will venture to say that Crosby will not become synonymous with Lindros, their record will not be that good, and the Penguins will not move to Hartford, because they are moving to Las Vegas.
Can a Penguin survive in the desert?