Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Pittsburgh Penguins - Champions, At Short Last

Pittsburgh Prolegomena - Having Good Wingmen

In 2003-04, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished last in the league, 23-47-8-4. The top nine scorers were under 30 - only two of them are still playing in the NHL. Only nine players who suited up for this team played a game in the NHL this past season and only three of them for Pittsburgh. They were awful - young and awful, with castaway veterans sprinkled in, and little hope of getting better.

Buoyed by the lockout's institution of a salary cap and the addition of young phenom Sidney Crosby, the Penguins actually began spending money. They embarked on a strategy which they have continued until now - go out and find your washed-up wingers, your former goal scorers yearning to breathe free, and stick them with Sidney Crosby. So they signed Zigmund Palffy, John Leclair, and Mark Recchi, all former All-Stars, and waited and hoped. It didn't take - Palffy retired midway through the season and Recchi got traded at the deadline after the team was woefully unsuccessful. In 2006-07, the Penguins did not really use this strategy - they re-signed Recchi, but John Leclair retired in the middle of the season. The team brought in Gary Roberts at the trading deadline as they cruised to their first playoff berth since 2001. In 2007-08, they brought in Stanley Cup champion RW Petr Sykora, fresh off a disappointing year with Edmonton, and of course acquired Marian Hossa at the trading deadline, sending away their young wingers who'd perhaps become overvalued due to the presence of Crosby and Malkin. This year, however, was their 'finest' year yet - they nabbed Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan in free agency, then latched on to Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin at the trading deadline.

What all these players have in common is that they were almost all coming off down years, or incredibly old, or both. The Penguins didn't care that Ruslan Fedotenko only had 28 goals in his last two seasons combined, or that he was a healthy scratch twice for the Lightning in their last playoff year. They knew he had some skill and gave him a one-year contract to see if he could recapture the magic that led to his 26 goal season in 2005-06. While he didn't replicate this in the regular season, in the post season Fedotenko was tied for 4th on the team in goals and points, scoring 7 goals and adding 7 assists in the 24 Pittsburgh Stanley Cup games. Miro Satan and Petr Sykora were decidedly less successful in the post-season, but Sykora in particular contributed during the season - for a Pittsburgh team that was on the outside looking in at the playoff picture for much of the season, that must have been a boost.

The lesson here is simple: acquire wingers cheaply, let them play with Crosby and Malkin, they'll play well, and if they demand too much money, let them go and find new players whom no one wants who can still be useful in the right organization. This should be a blueprint for all organizations who have a particular item who is made excellent by pieces around him - Minnesota shouldn't pay dearly for goaltending, for example. San Jose shouldn't go nuts when players score on a line with Joe Thornton.

Lots of Names Missing There: UFAs from the Cup winner are: Miro Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Petr Sykora, Bill Guerin, Craig Adams, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, and Phillipe Boucher. Baseball Prospectus once said that most championship teams hoard the players from the victorious squad as though only they possess the magic of title-winning. GM Ray Shero has to tread lightly here - all his players will now be overrated and almost all of them will sign bad contracts.

Projected Lines for 2009-10




Future Watch: Eric Tangradi and Luca Caputi are likely the Penguins' best prospects but neither should be in Pittsburgh next year. The Penguins have traded off many of their draft picks in recent years to augment their team - there's not much forthcoming.


The Penguins should pursue getting rid of Chris Kunitz but that's not likely to happen. Pascal Dupuis was a healthy scratch at points during the playoffs, he may be on the way out also.

Free Agent Discussion

Money To Spend: 8.3 million
Holes to Fill: 5

1st Line RW

Alexei Kovalev (4/20) - Kovalev had his best years with Pittsburgh. They may lack the money for Alexei, but he's a tremendously skilled player who can certainly score 30 goals with Sidney Crosby.
Brian Gionta (4/14) - Gionta scored 48 goals in a season with Scott Gomez's buttery setups - could he do so also with Crosby?
Erik Cole (3/10.5) - Cole had a down year - he might even be convinced to sign for 2 years. He's a big body who can make space for Crosby to operate.
Bill Guerin (2/6) - Dollar Bill is probably the most likely player to fill this role, although emptor should certainly be caveat - he turns 39 in November.

2nd line RW

Anyone can really go here, but the five most interesting names are:

Ruslan Fedotenko (3/7.5) - Ruslan's overvalued due to his 2 Stanley Cup Championships - he certainly steps it up in big games, but he's not so good during the regular season it seems.
Mikael Samuelsson (3/6.5) - Okay, so Mikael's first pass with the Penguins wasn't great (22 GP, 2 G, -21, in 2003). The Red Wings resuscitated him, making him into a solid scoring threat that happens to shoot a ton. It's not really in the Pens' playbook to get a guy who is probably overrated at this moment, but who knows, maybe they want to steal a player from the team they beat in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Todd Bertuzzi (2/4) - Bertuzzi's played for 5 teams since the lockout and hasn't impressed any of them. Calgary's probably not going to bring him back - why not try him out with Malkin or Crosby? He could be a 25 goal scorer on their wings.
Maxim Afinogenov (2/3.5) - Afinogenov has little finish but he can play in a high-powered offense., and it's hard to believe that the skills that led him to score a point a game after the first two post-lockout seasons have completely dissipated. Afinogenov is exactly the sort of player Pittsburgh has been signing of late.
Mark Parrish (1/.8) - Parrish is only 31, his career should not be over. He doesn't do very much well, but he's still an excellent tip man in front of the net. If Pittsburgh signed him, it would not be shocking for him to score 20 goals.

4th line RW

Tom Kostopoulos (2/2.2) - Former Penguin is a ferocious hitter who can chip in a goal or two.
Craig Adams (2/1.5) - Adams is the fringiest of fringe players but he has 2 Stanley Cup rings and can certainly kill some penalties. He was also born in Brunei and went to Harvard.
Brian Willsie (1/.6) - Ultra-fringe player manages to be in the NHL somehow.


Derek Morris (3/7) - Morris was once thought to be a top defenseman, but he's spent the equivalent of 40 years wandering in the deserts of Phoenix. He could re-acquire some verve playing for a Cup champion.
Rob Scuderi (3/6.5) - Scuderi earned his money with his kick-save in the waning seconds on Johan Franzen. There's not much to suggest he's that good, he's already 30, and provides very little on the offensive side of the puck - he has 3 goals in 300 career games. This is the kind of mistake Cup winners typically make.
Nick Boynton (2/4) - Boynton is a strong defensive player who takes the body - with Gonchar, Letang, and Goligoski on the backline, there isn't really a need for an offensive guy.
Hal Gill (2/3.5) - Gill is 33 and turns 34 in April - his career may be about over. Slow and prone to terrible decisions, his 6'7" height and tremendous reach is what keeps him employed.


Any backup goalie will do.


With Evgeni Malkin's long-term extension kicking in, the Penguins are fast running out of money with which to sign players - it is quite fortunate they won the Stanley Cup this season, as they may have missed their window had they not accomplished it this year. Decisions like signing Alex Goligoski to a 3 year deal worth 5.6 million suggest that Pittsburgh is going to lay low this coming season - they'll be a contender, no doubt, but over-the-top moves like Kovalev are less likely - they will be hoping to strike gold in the next 2 or 3 seasons instead. With Letang and Goligoski potentially filling in for Gonchar's offense, the $5 million spent on him might instead be freed up to do something more interesting. In a salary-capped environment, teams must pick and choose when they are going to go for a Stanley Cup - next year will not likely be a year that Pittsburgh pulls out all the stops.


The Penguins should be near the top of the Eastern Conference standings next season, and certainly shouldn't be ruled out of another Stanley Cup in the next 3 to 4 years.


  1. Good write up, I agree with mostly all of it, especially in regards to how Pittsburgh searches for wingers (and rightly so). You really don't need to be very good to score goals with Sidney Crosby. That forumula resulted in Pittsburgh's cup win and will make them even more likely to continue that trend, especially since they are all but forced to with how money is tied up in their centers.

    Also, look for Dupuis to get moved soon. He was a healthy scratch for a fair amount of playoff games this year; likely because he didn't score a single point in 16 games. He's not good enough to play a top 6 role on this team no matter how hard they try to make it work. With the third line likely staying intact he'd be reduced to a 4th line type role and would be making far too much money for that. I think Caputi has a pretty solid shot at making the team this year and filling his role, but Tangradi is at least another year away from being NHL ready.

    Fedotenko and Guerin are the most likely guys to resign in Pittsburgh. Also I would expect Zigomanis to sign cheaply to center the fourth line and Talbot to continue playing on Malkin's line. Talbot isn't that great, but he opens up space for Malkin and works hard along the corners. Since he only makes 1 million a year the Penguins can get a little cap relief in the process.

    Defensively I see Scuderi, Gill, and Boucher likely moving on elsewhere. Scuderi really played well this season in his shutdown role with Gill and many teams will take notice of him. I'd expect him to sign for 3 million or so on another club. If Pittsburgh can get him for around 2 million it would be a bargain, but I think teams like Tampa and Atlanta will give him an offer the Pens can't beat.

  2. ah, glad you saw this.

    caputi may be ready but i wouldn't expect much out of him. not much more than dupuis anyway. i'm not sure anyone wants dupuis.

    yeah zigomanis is kind of a waiver wire kind of player.

    scuderi provides literally no offense - that's tough to pay out much money for a guy like that. i also don't think he's very physical. he plays solid positional defense. paying anything more than 2 million for that is nutty but surely someone will.