Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Penguins, The NHL Trade Deadline, and the hype it causes; One schmuck's opinion....

This is one of those posts that I feel a blogger, webmaster, journalist, or whomever should tread lightly on.

Blogging in itself has skyrocketed in popularity the past few years. It must have, it brought my hairy ass out of the woodwork to do it.

The matter of those people jotting down ideas or opinions online, or even those who simply type a couple of sentences then just cut and paste other website's posts on their own sites (and I really dislike those, you know who you are), open themselves up for opinions coming back at them (unless they don't allow comments, and what fun would that be ??).

Then you get to pro sports blogs. What a different animal these are.

The thing that separates these from other blogs is the speculation aspect of them. You know, free agency, trades, drafts, contracts, and the like. That portion of the sports world has exploded over the last several years, so now there are these types of speculation shows in all venues of the media, TV, radio, newspapers, and now, the Internet.

And of course, that has further caused the formation of those types of shows/blogs to focus more intensely on the opinion and rumor aspects of the sport. Unfortunately, it has also caused more and more people in that business to become too wrapped up in their own opinions and causes them to speak more in "absolutes", or shall I say, their own perceived absolutes.

The best example recently came in the days prior to the Superbowl, when ESPN blowhard #1 Sean Salisbury boldly exclaimed "If Devin Hester runs back a kickoff for a touchdown, I GUARANTEE that the Bears will win the Superbowl".

We saw how far that prediction went, huh ??

Moreover, who in the hell do you think you are even to suggest a guarantee on national television ??

Anyway, the hockey world is no different, although understandably, as hockey is next to breathing in Canada, the NHL trade deadline annually causes speculations in the thousands as it leads up to this year's Feb. 27th deadline.

The Canadian big media boys, like TSN, Sportsnet, CBC, and the others all have big plans heading into that day.

Sportsnet has even gone one step further this year, enlisting the often-discussed anonymous hockey blogger Eklund into it's trade deadline special on the 27th. Of course, in true Bruce Wayne-ish fashion, his identity will be hidden, all the while on the phones behind a Wizard of Oz-ish partition to his supposed contacts around the NHL.

I'm not going to turn this into an Eklund post, I tire of it, to be honest. I personally enjoy reading all rumors, not just from Eklund, but from the others as well, like Spector (Lyle Richardson), but just as personal speculations that I like to think about myself.

In the States, I haven't read anything specifically that ESPN will be doing, but I'm sure that they'll have some sort of special that afternoon on ESPNEWS, such as having Barry Melrose and E.J. Hradek on there. Nothing too elaborate, as compared to what TSN and Sportsnet will be having (I mean, let's not get carried away, this IS the States after all), but they'll have all of the big deals listed just as much as their Canadian counterparts, just without as much speculation on them, that's all.

So anyway, that leads us to a discussion on how this year's trade deadline will affect (or won't affect for that matter) the Penguins.

This will be most difficult trade deadine for a Pens GM in several years, arguably since the Cup years for Craig Patrick.

These Pens are close, THIS close, to being a Stanley Cup contender.

Hell, if you consider last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, when the #5 through #8 Western Conference seeds all advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs, and the #8 seed, Edmonton, went all the way to Game 7 of the Cup finals against Carolina, this makes the trade deadline for Pens' GM Ray Shero even more enticing.

He's got the best player in the game in 19 year old Sidney Crosby. He's got the overwhelming choice for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year in Evgeni Malkin. He may have the Calder runner-up in Jordan Staal, although LA's Anze Kopitar will have something to say about that. He's got the hottest goalie this side of Martin Brodeur in Marc-Andre Fleury. He and head coach Michel Therrien have the team's chemistry flowing at a rate not seen since Mario's magical return in '00-'01.

So the question becomes, do you disrupt that chemistry, and if so, how much ??

In my opinion, for as much (or little) as that's worth (emphasis on the little), I say you need a few tweaks to this club.

If I were GM on the 27th, my priorities at the trade deadline;

  • Scoring winger for the 1st line - Sorry, but I'm continue to not be impressed with Ryan Malone, in terms of having him on the 1st line with Crosby and Recchi. He does not generate hardly any scoring opportunities, and while he has done a good job at penalty killing and freezing the puck again the boards when it's needed, the Pens need more production out of that slot on the 1st line. Rumors a couple of months ago indicated that the Pens and Rangers were talking about a Malone-Prucha swap, possibly also involving Brooks Oprik. While Prucha may not be the ideal choice, his type (that of a right-handed young sniper), certainly would be better on the 1st line than having Malone clod his way around the ice. I don't feel that Malone specifically needs traded, as I think he'd also be good on the 3rd line, or 2nd in a pinch, but Malone, in my view, is expendable.
  • Right-handed defenseman - While the Pens' overall defense is no doubt one of the primary reasons for the team's improvement this year, mainly due to the addition of Mark Eaton, it certainly is not without it's liabilities. Nearly all of the Pens' D-men have had their times in the spotlight of making horrendous defensive lapses. The Pens' penalty killing is starting to hurt them. The lack of a right-handed D-man restricts their ability to put more shots on net from the point. It's for these reasons that I believe it would do the Pens good to acquire a right-handed D-man for the postseason run. I'm not talking about a Pronger-like, who would cost the Pens way more than they'd be willing to take, but simply a decent D-man who can also play the powerplay. Who to give up ?? In my view, I think there are several players on the team right now who are realistically expendable. Malone, Ouellet, Welch, Petrovicky, Thorburn, even Armstrong should be considered if the right D-man or scoring winger is offered.
  • Enforcer - This is the controversial one. Does Sidney Crosby really NEED an enforcer, one that can pummel someone on the opposition, because of Crosby's nightly muggings on the ice ?? Or do the muckers that just so happen to be able to throw a few punches after the fact, such as Malone, Ruutu, Petro, Army, or Thorburn suffice for the retaliations ?? Well, going back to the chemistry of the team, if you do acquire one, you bench someone off of the 4th line most likely. In that respect, I have no problem with someone such as Phoenix's George Laraque (my #1 choice) replacing Petrovicky or Thorburn. Moreover, with 20 points in 51 games in Phoenix, Laraque would be MUCH more of an offensive asset to the Pens than any of the current 4th liners. As a matter of fact, if the Pens were to acquire Laraque, not only would they have arguably the top enforcer in the league, but he would be the 9th highest scorer on the team as a "goon", with his scoring totals higher than players such as Malone (17 points - 1st line), Christensen (18 points - 3rd line), and Dominic Moore (13 points - 3rd line). If I'm Ray Shero, I pull this trigger, and pull it quick.

Of course, we have literally no idea how many, if any, of these types of ideas are going through the minds of Shero and the Pens' front office. I'm sure that with the stable of young stars the Pens have (the majority of which are untouchable), a lot of calls will be made to the Igloo over the next 17 days.

In addition, how much leeway do Lemieux and Burkle give Shero in terms of future payroll ?? If the right deal comes along, but will require adding a few million to the payroll, will Shero get the go-ahead, or will the ownership reject it due to the instability of the franchise and the eventual change in ownership ??

All of which leads to much speculation, which always makes the NHL trade deadline day so exciting.

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