The Boys Are Back: Analysis of Pre-Season Games 1&2

Over the past two days I’ve been privileged to make the road trip to Columbus to attend the Pens’ first preseason game as well as attend the Pens/Detroit game this evening. Despite dropping both games, there are plenty of positives to take out of the past two days. In my opinion the positives outweigh the negatives. Although there are areas for improvement, no one should be concerned. So here’s my first post of the season (well, preseason anyway) where I’ll break down what I observed over the past two days.

After two days of hockey I have about a page and a half of notes. Note: Yes I take notes at hockey games. Judge me. Despite both games resulting in a loss, be it one in overtime, the majority of my notes are positive. If you kept up with my posts from last season I’ll be doing the same format as most of last year’s posts. I’ll go over what we did well, what we didn’t do so well, and what we can do to improve in those areas that weren’t so great. So here we go. First post of the 2013-2014 season.

The Good Stuff
Starting with the Columbus game there are a lot of positives to take away. The most notable is the play of the second line, especially Beau Bennett. If there was any question of whether or not Bennett could play with the big boys on one of the top two lines there isn’t anymore. The kid’s ready to make an impact and he did just that Sunday night. While I could watch Neal’s wrist shot on repeat for hours on end, the goal was the result of a great play by Beau at the blue line. He stepped up on the puck carrier, forced the turnover, and despite being in an awkward position, was able to get the puck through to set up Neal for the score just forty-seven seconds in. Beau was a presence on the ice the entire night, both with his vision on the ice that makes him an effective passer and some solid backchecking and physicality. Moving on from Beau to the other winger on the line (Can I call it the firing line, or is that reserved for when Kunitz is on the left wing?), I was also impressed with James Neal. He opened the game with his signature wrister and was an offensive threat every time he stepped on the ice, but what impressed me the most about Neal was his conditioning. He’s in the best shape of his life right now and that can be scary to opponents. It’s also a great contrast to his play in the Boston series. While none of the forwards played well that series, Neal’s skating in particular stood out to me, and not in a good way. Several times during the series against the Bruins I watched Neal taking wider, slower turns which is a result of a lack of conditioning. He was a completely different skater Sunday night. He was quick on his feet and that will be a great asset this season. Neal’s a pretty big guy at 6’2 with his build. Add in speed and agility and you’ve got yourself a pretty lethal threat. I don’t see any reason to play the “second” line again this preseason. One more game maximum. You can rest them. They’re ready.

Other offensive standouts were Chuck Kobasew and Tom Kuhnhackl. With two goals, Kobasew was the star of the stat sheet. I doubt we’ll see Kobasew see time with the team this season, after all he’s here on a professional tryout, so I won’t get too excited, but he gave a great effort and it’s nice to know we have him in the system if we need him. Minus the experience, it is a similar situation with Kuhnhackl. I don’t expect him to get called up this year, but he has been developing into a nice player. Not to mention it’s fun to listen to opposing team’s announcers try to pronounce his game. The in-house announcer in Columbus struggled greatly. There was an audible pause between his first and last name as he tried to plan out the pronunciation. He failed.

Dustin Jeffrey also had a solid game (insert press box joke here). He notched a goal and was strong on the puck all night long. He’s gritty, which is something the Pens lack in their bottom six forwards. Jokinen and Sutter are great, but they’re not exactly a bunch of tough and rugged guys to go up against. Jeffrey could see time on the bottom two lines, and he seems to be getting off to a good start. And if you recall last season, he was effective in the limited number of games he played.

Now to the defense. Obvious standout was Scott Harrington. Drafted in the second round in 2011, he seems to be about ready for the NHL. That’s not to say he’ll be called up at all. The Pens have depth, especially in prospects, at defense, and for now I think he’s still just outside the top 7. The Pens first round pick in 2012, Derrick Pouliot, also stood out. He still needs to clean up some areas of his game but he could eventually be the point man on the power play. By next year he could be NHL-ready as well.

Final thoughts: Fleury was alright. He wasn’t great, but there wasn’t a breakdown. Giving up two goals in two periods with four AHL defensemen in front of you isn’t bad. Also, the Pens outshot Columbus by a large margin. Wins will come.

Now onto the Detroit game, in which the Pens also outshot their opponent. There are less positives in this one that Sunday’s game, but my gosh Olli Maatta. Best Penguin on the ice by far. All night long he took the right angles on his opponent, worked hard for the puck, was always in position, and handled the puck well. He could start in the regular season opener and I wouldn’t be a bit concerned. I don’t think that will happen, but he has the skill level. Over the first two games, he’s been the best Penguins defenseman. Maatta was great tonight, but you can’t talk about him without talking about his defensive partner and Norris candidate, Kris Letang. Letang took a lot of criticism during last year’s playoffs, some deserved and some not so much. He had a solid game tonight. He controlled the puck well, and played solid defense. Him and Maatta were in position and didn’t give the opponents much. Letang will most likely be paired with Rob Scuderi during the regular season, but after tonight it will be interesting to see if they do in fact bring Maatta up and play him with Letang. The two certainly had chemistry.

Another standout was Jussi Jokinen, who in my opinion was the Pens best forward tonight. He played a great two-way game and was smart with the puck. He had solid backchecks and was one of the few people to go to the net. He’ll be a great skill guy to play on the third line this season, who could fill a role on the top two lines in case of injuries.

Hartzell and Megna also stood out. I had a great view of Hartzell from my seats and was very impressed with his constant composure and calmness. He took great angles against shooters and didn’t panic when traffic was in the crease. If you’re a fan of college hockey, you know this kid’s for real. Jayson Megna also played a solid game. While on the fourth line tonight, and not having a huge impact, he stood out to me for his tenacity on the forecheck. He was one of the few players who got pucks in deep. It was almost like having Joe Vitale back out there tonight.

In conclusion, the Pens second line should be dominant once again and the depth on defense among prospects could help them immensely.

The Not So Good Stuff
While there are lots of positives to take out of the first two games, there are negatives as well. After all, the first two games were also the first two losses, so obviously not everything is great.

In the Columbus game Tanner Glass was back to his usual self, and unlike last year where we had more depth in the bottom six forwards, we don’t have much of a choice but to play Glass. He was on the ice for two of the Blue Jackets goals, one of which was scored off his turnover. Another goal was scored while he was in the box. He’s a liability when he’s on the ice and I wish we would play Megna or Kobasew in his place, but I don’t see that as a reality given the coaching staff and what recent history has shown about who they choose to play. Additionally, Matt Niskanen also had a rough night. Trade rumors were already flying and Sunday’s game didn’t help his cause. After just discussing how solid the play of Maatta and Harrington has been, I see no reason to keep Niskanen, especially since the Pens are currently over the cap and Nisky has a cap hit of $2.3 M.

The penalty kill also wasn’t good, but it’s hard to judge as Scuderi was the only true penalty killer in the lineup. Other negatives of Sunday’s game were the result of the young guys who won’t see NHL ice this year, and personally, I’d rather discuss those who could be in the starting lineup in greater detail instead of nitpicking the play of seventh round picks not under contract.

In the Detroit game there were a few more concerns. Overall, the team just looked flat. Sure, it’s a meaningless preseason game but that’s still not what you want to see. My biggest problem with the Detroit game is the lack of forechecking pressure. The F1 wasn’t getting in deep enough and that led to the Pens having trouble getting set up in the offensive zone. This is probably why Megna stood out, because he was the only one in the F1 role that actually pressured consistently. We didn’t get pucks in deep and didn’t get guys to the net, which is huge against Detroit. Tonight Jimmy Howard reminded me of a better version of Ondrej Pavelec. He made the initial stops but consistently gave up rebounds. Fortunately for Detroit, the Pens never had people creating traffic in front of the net and following up initial shots.

Another downside was our powerplay. We had a very lazy power play with the great majority of shots coming from the halfwall. It didn’t take Detroit long to have it figured out. We didn’t send bodies to the net, and on the rare occasion that the shot didn’t come from the halfwall the Pens would try to force the puck into the high-slot which usually resulted in the puck simply being sticked away by the defender.

Another negative is the play of Brooks Orpik and Simon Despres. Orpik was caught out of position multiple times and wasn’t much of a presence. This was seen in the play of Paul Martin at some points as well. Despres might have been even worse, which is troubling because I expect him to play a bigger role this year. Turnovers, poor puck possession, and a lack of smart decisions hurt Despres’ game tonight.

How To Improve / Final Thoughts
A lot of the Pens preseason struggles should right themselves and it’s hard to judge without playing the full lineup. So far the Pens have lost the special teams battles, and it has resulted in them losing the game. Tonight the power play was a mess with its predictable halfwall shots. Having Malkin and Neal in the lineup gives the Pens more options on the power play; options that could allow Kunitz to get to the net where he is the most dangerous. I think Malkin could be an option for the halfwall which would let Sid and Kunitz work down low with Martin and Letang at the points. They could also use Malkin at the point and go with four forwards, which would allow Neal to be on the top power play unit as well. After all, Neal is a power play specialist. The penalty kill as well should also improve slightly. Against Columbus Scuderi was the only true penalty killer out there. Against Detroit they had Orpik and Adams in the lineup but were without Scuds. It will be interesting to see how it all works together. I’m not expecting a dominant penalty kill but it should certainly be better than what we’ve seen the past two days.

Also, the first line needs to step up, and I believe they will. Like most of the team, the Crosby/Dupuis/Kunitz line just looked flat. There were times this evening where they didn’t connect. However, I don’t think is a huge concern as we obviously know how well they can play together.

It will be a lot better to tell what the Pens need to improve on once they’ve all played together in the first week of the regular season. It’s hard to judge and fix a power play that isn’t even going to be the power play unit this year. I would like to see them be more aware on defense and possibly let the young guys get a chance. I think a Niskanen trade would benefit the team and get them under the cap and I also believe this is the last year for Orpik. His cap hit is too big and his level of play has declined.

As a final musing, I wish D’Agostini would have played tonight. Can’t blame the guy at all for not playing, as his wife was in labor, but I wish I could have seem him on the right wing alongside Sutter and Jokinen. That’s a potential third line and we’ve already seen the complete first and second lines.

In conclusion, overall the first two games have shown a lot of promise. We haven’t seen the complete team yet but the important parts of the team seem to have it together, mainly the second line. The second line seems dominant and we know the first line will be. The Pens really do have the potential to have the two best lines in hockey. Special teams need to improve, but is also hard to judge as we haven’t seen the complete power play and penalty kill units together yet. More pressure needs to be added on the forecheck and we need to get guys to the net. Despite having opened up the preseason with two losses, I think we’re in for a great year of hockey.

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2013 Season: Advanced Stats Review

I’ve written a few posts on advanced stats throughout the playoffs and they usually concentrated on certain lines. In all my previous posts I’ve broken up the advanced stats into their categories and discussed them one at a time. For example, I’ve talked about which players have the best Corsi numbers or who has the best PDO. Instead of doing the same thing here, I decided to come up with my own stat to evaluate the best overall player when it comes to advanced stats. The spreadsheet I used for my calculations as well as the results can be found here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_LzoGepDraqMVAtR3pIUDlWaTA/edit?usp=sharing

My equation that I used to combine the stats is: 10*Corsi Rel Qoc + 10*Corsi QoC + Corsi Rel + Corsi + PDO – 10*Pens Taken + 10*Pens Drawn + 5*Zone Differential

I decided on this equation so certain stats would we weighted. For example, I think Corsi QoC numbers are important when evaluating a player. However, QoC numbers are typically small in comparison to regular Corsi numbers. Therefore I multiplied them by 10 in order for them to have an effect on the final value.

The results varied from 907.43 to 1134. At the top of the leader board was Chris Kunitz, followed by Pascal Dupuis and Sidney Crosby. According to the combining of advanced stats our first line was the most effective all-around line, followed by the third line, then the second, and then the fourth.

I then decided to alter my calculation slightly. The only difference is that I unweighted the zone start differential percentage. I did this because it is not always an accurate depiction of a player. It depends heavily on your line. Third and fourth lines guys will benefit from the zone differential being weighted. As you could see from the results of the first equation, the third line was technically better than the second line. However, the second line led in most of the stat categories but because zone differential was weighted it brought their final value down. This is because the second line started such a high percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone that it would be nearly impossible to have a positive differential. On the other hand, the third line started the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone so it was not difficult for them to have positive differentials. Also, the second line will draw better defensive pairings than the third line, which is another contributor to the difference in zone start and finish percentages.

After choosing not the weight the zone differentials the results were somewhat altered. Kunitz, Dupuis, and Crosby were still the top three. After that things start to change. The next in order are Malkin, Bennett, Sutter, and Neal. Neal, Malkin, and Bennett were near the bottom of the order in the first calculation. The second equation led to more realistic results, as it gave the order of the lines as first, second, third, fourth with just a single outlier here and there.

Oh, and since for some reason people have been all of a sudden posting that Toews is better all-around than Crosby I figured I’d use this combination of advanced stats to compare them. After all, it gives a depiction of how good a player is all-around. Crosby came out ahead using both equations and it wasn’t what you’d call close.

Final results:

  1. Good move re-signing Dupuis and Kunitz
  2. No need to re-sign Murray
  3. Buyout Glass anyone?
  4. Letang deserves his $7.25M
  5. Martin is in fact an American hero

Pens Coaching: Time for a Change

Dan Bylsma’s coaching in Pittsburgh couldn’t have started any better than it did. After coming in as interim head coach midseason in 2009 with the team in tenth place, the Pens rallied for a playoff spot and won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992. Unfortunately, the Pens have lacked postseason success in the years that followed and despite winning the first two rounds this year, we are once again witnessing a collapse that has a lot to do with coaching. I was a big fan of Bylsma when he came in in 2009. Even when the Pens came up short the next two seasons I gave him the benefit of the doubt. In 2010 we ran into a hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak, and in 2011 we played without Sid and Geno. However, 2012 against Philadelphia was different. We witnessed the Pens lose their composure and disregard defensive responsibilities. Multiple people brought up possibly making a coaching change at the end of last season, but like most people, I was still living in 2009 and was willing to give him another year. So now it’s a year later and once again the Pens find themselves down three games to none in a series. I’ll go into detail as to all the reasons why in a bit, but bottom line is, that if the Pens lose this series it’s time for a coaching change.

Before I go into all the reasons I believe a coaching change is necessary I want to address the most common response from Bylsma’s supporters. I find that those that refuse to consider a coaching change would be best for the team are very similar to the Fleury fangirls who, even after Vokoun’s proven that he should be the starter, go back to an event that happened four years ago to defend their favorite player/coach. Since Bylsma defenders are so quick to bring up the fact that he led us to the Stanley Cup in 2009, let’s do exactly what they want and go back to 2009. When the Pens won the cup they were still mostly under Therrien’s system. This system demanded attention to detail on defense and composure and discipline. Therrien’s system was also very good at finding a healthy balance between defensemen joining the rush and hanging back. There were also limited stretch passes. Playing in this style is what won us the Cup. If you’ve been reading my description of Therrien’s system and thought to yourself, “hey, that’s exactly what the Pens need to do better in this series” then you’re absolutely right.

Flaws in the System
The flaws in Dan Bylsma’s system strongly tie into what I just discussed. There is nothing wrong with playing an offensive style, but it has to balance out. You can’t completely neglect defensive responsibilities. Under Bylsma, defensemen have not had discipline when it comes to defense. Several goals in the past few playoffs have been caused by defensemen leaving their man and neglecting their defensive assignments.

Also, under Bylsma, composure and discipline have completely gone out the window. This was especially evident during the Philadelphia series last year and has been a problem so far this series. The Pens lack of composure has cost us games and possibly entire series. This is on the coach. As the leader in the locker room you have to communicate clearly to your players that they need to stay composed on the ice and not play into the other team’s hands. Obviously he didn’t get that point across because we saw the exact opposite thing happen the past two years. There is a difference between playing physical and getting out of control, and I’m not confident that Dan knows the difference. Or at least he doesn’t know how to communicate the difference to his team.

2013 and the Misuse of Talent
I read a great tweet yesterday. It read, “The Pens getting swept is like Bylsma bringing a Ferrari to a soap box derby and not winning.” I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such as misuse of talent, and it all stems from a lack of team chemistry. While the Pens’ roster looks like that of an all-star team, all-star teams only work if they learn to play within a system. I understand when knew guys are brought in it’s expected that there will be an adjustment period, as well as there should be. No one can be expected to learn a new system instantly. However, what worries me is that I’m not sure how much we’re even trying to teach newcomers the system. When Iginla first came to Pittsburgh he played the same day as his flight landed. He hadn’t been able to have a true practice with the team before his debut. Following the game he was asked about how much he tried to cram the system into his head before the game. He replied that Bylsma had told him to just go out and see what he can do. This is reasonable for his first game. The team was rolling at the time and the Pens won the game. What worries me is that it doesn’t look like much has changed.

At the trade deadline a valid description of Iggy would have been: a skilled playmaker that isn’t afraid to play gritty and go to the net, very capable on the power play and can fight if he needs to. Basically, a perfect description for a winger for Sid. When Iginla was traded to Pittsburgh, Sid was still out with his broken jaw. He was instead put on a line with Malkin and Neal as a left wing. It didn’t take long to realize they had no chemistry. Wingers need to be good compliments to each other. Neal and Iggy are not. More importantly, Geno and Neal rely on being able to read each others minds. which leaves the question, why would you throw a new guy on his off wing on a line that relies on that type of chemistry? Kunitz proved last year that he is more than capable of playing on that line. Now that Sid is back, Iggy should be playing on his right wing with Dupuis on the left. Bylsma went with those lines for the final two games of the Islanders series and I thought he had finally figured it out, but for some reason Iggy found himself back on the second line with Malkin and Neal. As a coach you need to realize when something isn’t working and make adjustments. You also need to simplify the game. Bylsma’s system takes way too long to pick up and you can’t expect new guys coming in to fit right in right away. That’s why he needs to simplify players’ roles and let Iggy be a guy that can go to the net on Sid’s line.

Bylsma and the Stifling of Development
When you look at the Pens lineup on paper it looks as though we have tremendous depth. The Pens do indeed have depth, but not all of it is being utilized properly. This is especially evident when looking at the number of games played by Simon Despres and Beau Bennett during the regular season. Both of these guys will eventually be constants in the lineup, probably next season. They’ve also both seen playing time so far in the playoffs. However, Bylsma didn’t play them hardly enough in the regular season. He should have been grooming both of these players throughout the season to be ready to go for playoffs. After all, that’s what the regular season is for. How are we supposed to develop players if we don’t play them? If you think about it, who on the team has Bylsma developed from a draft? Despres and Bennett are the two guys that have been drafted since Bylsma took over at coaching that have been in the lineup and neither of them are being developed correctly. There were several times during the regular season where I felt that Bennett should have just been sent back to WBS because he wasn’t being played or he was being misused. I expect Despres and Bennett, especially Despres, to be in the starting lineup on a nightly basis next season. They have the talent and ability to do so, but they have not been developed correctly. I’m fine with wanting to win now, but as a coach you can’t completely neglect the future.

Lack of Adjustments
In hockey there are two types of adjustments: changes to the lineup and in-game adjustments. Bylsma’s lack of both have been extremely frustrating in these playoffs especially. First lets look at adjustments to the lineup. Again, Iginla isn’t playing on the line that he should be. He is also not being used correctly on the power play. The power play has seen so many different looks I’m not sure anyone knows what our top unit is anymore. What I do know is that, despite the large amount of turnovers we’ve seen, Dan continues to play Geno and Letang on the points. The two of them back there is a turnover waiting to happen. Play Iggy and Martin on the points with Kunitz and Crosby down low and Geno on the half wall. On a different note, our defensive pairings are a mess. Matt Niskanen, while consistent throughout the regular season, has been awful these playoffs. Right now he does not deserve to be in the lineup. I would love to see Despres take his place, and he should, but like I said in the previous section, Bylsma has done nothing to help Simon be playoff-ready. I think Despres would be a great change to the lineup though, and I wish they would play him. Also, Bylsma has been playing Engelland and Murray on the same line. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like a line that’s allergic to speed. They’re both slow and need to be paired with a faster defenseman.

Now onto in-game adjustments. What concerns me most about the way this series has gone so far is that we seem unprepared for a team we had a week to prepare for. Boston plays a 2-3 trap defense and we continue to run stretch passes. It is not going to work. It never will. Therefore, adjustments need to be made in order to score a goal. As a coach you can’t wait until the game is over to make changes. You need to be able to make in-game adjustments and communicate to the team that they need to either carry the puck into the zone or dump and chase. Furthermore, if they are going to dump and chase they need to make sure they are quick to the forecheck. Last night’s game was a large improvement. However, we can’t wait until we’re down 2-0 in a series to make adjustments. They needed to be made halfway through game one. Adjustments weren’t made and it cost us.

Lack of Effort
When those in favor of a coaching change bring up the team’s lack of effort as a reason for a change a typical response is that he can’t make the players try harder and that he doesn’t play. I just want to ask those people that think that way what they think a coach is for then. The goal of the coach is to get the best from his players. Dan’s not accomplishing that. Sometimes I think the Pens just need to be yelled at Tortorella or Boudreau style. I doubt Bylsma has ever done that. To be honest, I think he’s just too soft. He needs to be willing to call them out. Remember when Therrien called out the Pens defense? “Der goal is to be de worst defense in de league. Dey act like dey care, but dey don care.” At some point Bylsma needs to realize when his team isn’t playing well and actually get angry. He’s not there to be everyone’s best friend. He’s there to be the coach. It’s all about winning. He needs to demand more, and if they don’t meet his demands he needs to angry.

The Arrogant Nature of the Pens Locker Room
There’s no worse feeling in the world than being told you need to get over yourself. However, that’s exactly what the Pens need to do. They need to realize that they are not entitled to anything. When I think of the Pens I think of the scene in Miracle after the game against the Norwegians where Herb Brooks has the guys skate until they’re sick. At one point Brooks yells, “You think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.” This is how I feel about the Pens most days. Forget the ghost of Lord Stanley telling Nicklas Backstrom about car insurance. I think we need the ghost of Herb Brooks to scream this at every guy in the locker room. This quite frankly arrogant attitude stems from coaching. I’m not saying Bylsma is an arrogant person. He seems like a great guy. He does, however, have a very arrogant coaching style, which can be seen in the lack of adjustments. I thought the
manner in which we lost to Philly last year would have been humbling. I thought it would have made us realize that we have to work for every win. However, we’re seeing a similar situation take place this series against Boston. If there wasn’t an arrogant attitude in the locker room they would be playing differently than they did a year ago. The point is, they are unwilling to change; and it’s costing them games and series. I once had a volleyball coach that told me that you have to be more willing to change than you are willing to lose. It seems like the Pens are more willing to lose games than they are willing to change their attitudes and play.

I’m not bashing the Pens. I absolutely love them, but that’s why I’m willing to call them out. They won’t win another cup until they face the fact that changes need to be made. They can’t just think they’re good enough to win. They have go out there and earn it.

In Conclusion
The Pens need a change. They are too talented a team not to win a Cup simply because they are unwilling to make changes. This starts from the top down. I think a coaching change is necessary unless the Pens make history and comeback against the Bruins. I also think a massive roster overhaul will happen this offseason. This is mostly because of the reduced salary cap and the large number of free agents, but it could be helpful. In conclusion, Bylsma’s lack of adjustments, misuse of talent, and inability to get the best from his players calls for his removal.

Should the Pens Buyout Fleury?

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Marc-Andre Fleury was the first overall draft pick in 2003, played in two Stanley Cups, won one, and was named to Canada’s Olympic hockey team. It seems as though he would be everything you want in a starting goalie. Unfortunately, the most recent of those achievements took place in 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics in which he didn’t play. Fleury was brought in to be the franchise goaltender, and when the Pens won the Cup in 2009 it seemed like they had the right guy. Likewise, it has seemed like they had the right guy during the past several regular seasons. However, all the great regular seasons in the world won’t win you another Cup if you forget how to play in the playoffs.

Goaltending has once again become a hot topic for the Pens during these playoffs, and the question has been raised if the Pens should buyout Fleury. I’ll admit I originally scoffed at the idea. After all, the guy led us to the Cup in 2009. Without him we may not have even made it out of the first round. However, since winning the Cup, Fleury’s playoffs numbers have drastically declined. Since 2009 Fleury has a playoff save percentage of .880. This is the same as his save percentage from the 2007 playoffs, his first in the NHL. This isn’t a good sign. I remember right after we won the cup my dad turned to me and said that the team is only going to get better because Fleury is still young and is just going to improve. It was a perfectly logical statement at the time. However, Fleury hasn’t improved in the postseason. His numbers are right back where he started in 2007. His numbers from 2012 and so far in 2013 have been especially bad. Monday night he was given the chance to come in the game, and when he skated onto the ice I had a sense that he was back and would shut the door the rest of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the defense was atrocious, but the goals he let in were simply too soft. The sixth goal especially annoyed me. At that point we were down 5-1 and the game was lost. I can understand a weak goal going in at a time like that. However, I don’t like seeing my goalie play lazily, and that’s exactly what happened on that sixth goal. He didn’t even bother to have his blocker up. It was down at his side as the shot was fired. That’s not what you want to see from a goalie that is apparently fighting to get a start. After another poor performance in the playoffs, I decided to look into the idea of buying out Fleury’s contract, and I found out that it actually might make sense to do so.

The largest factor over this offseason will be the smaller salary cap for the 2013-2014 season. The cap will be $64.3 M. Keeping everything the way it is the Pens will have $7,876,667 in cap space. This is before signing any free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. If they were to buyout Fleury’s contract it would cost $1,166,666 against the cap for the next two years, and then $1,916,667 for the two years after that. Fleury currently has a cap hit of $5 M and the buyout would result in a savings of $3,833,333 in cap space for the next two years and a loss of $1,916,667 for the last two years of the contract. With the buyout, next season the Pens would have $11,710,000 in cap space.

While the buyout would give them more cap space it also leaves them with the task of finding a starting goalie. Tomas Vokoun is 38 years old and will likely be done after next season when his contract is up. Long term, I believe Eric Hartzell may be the answer, but he hasn’t even played in the AHL yet. That leaved the Pens with the task of finding a starting goalie for the 2013-2014 season. Since Fleury’s buyout would save the Pens approximately $3.8 M in cap space, it would be ideal to find a goalie that would cost the same price. In my opinion, the best goalie that will be an UFA this offseason is Niklas Backstrom. However, he has a cap hit of $6 M and I don’t expect us to be able to sign him for less. Also, I think the Wild will be more than willing to pay him what he wants, especially since their backup, Josh Harding is battling MS. If they lost Backstrom, they would be left with the same problem as us, trying to find a goalie. Other UFAs this offseason are Jose Theodore ($1.5 M) and Ray Emery ($1.15 M). If we were to get a goalie from free agency I think Emery is our best choice. We could get him at a reasonable price, which would give us more cap space. Chicago still has Crawford and I don’t think it would be a tremendous loss for them.

Although there are a few options through free agency, our best bet might be via trade. Goalies that I believe are realistic options are Jaroslav Halak ($3.75 M), Brian Elliott ($1.8 M), and Jonas Hiller ($4.5 M). All three goalies are at a price we can afford against the cap and I believe they would all fit in well with our system. Also, both the Blues and Ducks would be in decent positions after the trade no matter who they got in return. The Blues would either have Halak or Elliott, both capable starters. The Ducks have John Gibson coming up, and (although I’m biased because he’s my favorite goalie in the world and he’s from Pittsburgh) I think Gibson is going to be great in the NHL one day really soon. All three of these goalies would be great for the Pens, but they come with a downfall. They are all UFAs at the end of the 2013-2014 season. Which leaves the question, do we trade and then resign them, or do we wait another year, give Fleury one more chance, and then sign them through free agency if Fleury doesn’t work out? It’s something to think about at least.

Personally, I’m not sure what I would do. I think if the Pens get the opportunity to sign a starting goalie then they should take it, but I wouldn’t trade an arm and a leg for one. For all I know, the Pens could make it to the Cup, Fleury could get a start after a poor game from Vokoun, and win it for us. Then this whole idea may be gone, but for right now it’s a possibility.

Another thing to consider when talking about this offseason and the smaller salary cap is the large number of UFAs the Pens have. If we find a cheaper goalie it could give us more cap space to work with. These are our UFAs this offseason:

  • Jarome Iginla – $7 M
  • Brenden Morrow – $4.1 M
  • Douglas Murray – $2.5 M
  • Matt Cooke – $1.8 M
  • Pascal Dupuis – $1.5 M
  • Mark Eaton – $725,000
  • Craig Adams – $675,000

The Pens also have a couple of restricted free agents:

  • Tyler Kennedy – $2 M
  • Eric Hartzell – $1,595,625

If you’ve been doing the math in your head you’ve realized we don’t have the cap space to resign everyone. This is the saddest part of hockey. As much as I would love to keep Iggy on the team, if his cap hit remains $7 M, we simply won’t be able to afford him. Out of the UFAs this offseason, I think it should be Shero’s number one priority to resign Dupuis. I think we’ll resign Adams as well, especially since he won’t take a up a lot of the cap room. After that it’s whoever Shero thinks is best for the team. Maybe he’ll bring in someone else. It’s not up to anyone else to decide. Before I get too emotional over who will and won’t be coming back next season, I’ll remind myself that this was a goalie post and stop talking about it. When free agency gets here I’ll be back with more.

Anyway, let’s concentrate on winning this series against Boston. Let’s go Pens.

Round 3 Game 1: Patience is the Name of the Game

The Boston Bruins take game one of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 3-0. Actually, a score of 1-0 would have probably been a better description of how the game went. Like my previous game analyses, I’ll analyze what went right, wrong, and how we need to improve for Monday. Also, I’ll go through the Cooke and Marchand hits since that’s one of the only things people seem to remember from last night.

What We Did Well
First, I have to point out that until the last 10-15 minutes of the game, the Pens actually played quite well. It was a very even game, and it should be a very even series. I’ve read a lot of comments like, “the Bruins destroyed the Penguins” and “the Bruins completely dismantled the Penguins”. These statements are simply not true. Any educated hockey fan watching the game last night would say it was a lot tighter than the score indicated. The shots were 30-29 in favor of the Bruins and the Pens had plenty of chances, including at least three goalposts. A few inches made the difference.

The score could have been 3-1 in favor of the Pens at the end of the first period because their forecheck was, quite frankly, dominant. At the start of the game they were getting pucks deep and pressuring in the Boston zone. They were leading in shots and getting high-quality chances. Besides a few sloppy defensive plays in the neutral zone, they were by far the better team on the ice in the first. Unfortunately, sometimes you can play great and nothing finds the back of the net. That was the Penguins last night. They hit at least three goalposts and had a puck trickle just wide of the goalmouth after beating Rask with 4.5 seconds left in the period. Had the puck been an inch or two to the left the score would have been tied going into the first intermission, and it’s a completely different game. But hey, that’s hockey for you.

The Pens were also able to have a large amount of chances due to the elevated play of Evgeni Malkin. Geno said earlier in the week that he felt great and was ready to go. He wasn’t lying. Last night was Geno’s best game of the playoffs, and if he maintains that level the Bruins won’t be able to keep him off the score sheet for long. Also, Geno drew three penalties throughout the game, two in the first period. The Pens then had several chances on the power play, but couldn’t get the puck on net. Neal and Martin both had some great chances that went just wide. This is where patience comes in. Just give it time, and some of those high quality scoring chances will turn into goals. This is similar to game four of the Ottawa series. At the beginning of that game it seemed as though the Pens couldn’t find an answer for Craig Anderson. However, as soon as they got one past him, things snowballed. There’s a real possibility that once the Pens score of Rask, a similar situation could take place. Note: the Bruins play overall better team defense than the Sens, so don’t expect to be scoring six or seven goals a game, but there is a definite chance that once we score one we will score on a regular basis.

Another good note for the Pens and Pens fans is that Tuukka Rask, while putting up a shutout, was honestly not that great. Don’t get me wrong, he made some great saves, but he also gave up numerous rebounds. This is something that is typical of his game, which is why I’m surprised that we didn’t have someone in front of the net at all times. He’ll give you opportunities to score, you just have to be patient.

Even though the Pens came out of the first period last night down one to nothing, if they play that way the rest of the series they will win. They just have to be patient and stick to the forecheck they had in the first.

Negatives
Well, for starters we won 16 faceoffs to the Bruins’ 32. So um, yeah, not much to say about that. However, while lost faceoffs took away from opportunities for the Pens, they didn’t lead to goals by Boston. This was mostly caused by the fact that much of the game was played in Boston’s zone. What did lead to Boston’s goals was a lack of defensive discipline. The defense gave up numerous odd-man rushes, something reminiscent of the Islanders series. However, the Bruins goals were not on these chances either. The goal that bothers me most from a defensive standpoint is the second one. The play begins with Mark Eaton having the puck in his own zone along the left hand boards. Letang is the trailer. While carrying the puck, Eaton engages an opponent along the boards. He should have chipped the puck up the boards and out of the zone beforehand, but instead holds the puck, loses it in his skates, and it results in a turnover. That’s defensive blunders number one. The puck is then flipped through the air almost on top of Vokoun with Letang and Krejci in the paint. Here’s where Letang makes one of, if not the worst, plays of the night. He attempts to play the puck with his stick instead of his glove. The puck lands in the paint, and Letang’s stick has now been taken out of the play because he has it elevated. This causes Letang to just be an obstacle that has taken himself out of the play in front of Vokoun. In other words, not the type of play you want from a Norris Trophy candidate. If the Pens tighten up defensively, there’s a good chance none of those goals go in.

Last night was also not the best game of Sidney Crosby. It was pretty bad. He didn’t win faceoffs and was not up to his usual backchecking abilities. Also, he made some poor decisions with the puck on the power play that stifled some chances. His line as a whole was pretty quiet, which brings me to Chris Kunitz, who also had a bad game. Kunitz makes his living by going to the gritty areas in front of the net. Last night, Rask gave up numerous rebounds with him on the ice and Kunitz was no where to be found in front of the net. Like Sid, he also made some bad decisions with the puck and was lax defensively. He needs to play the way he always has and get to the net.

Speaking of Kunitz not getting to the net, this is something that practically no one did last night. I’ve stressed Rask’s tendency to give up rebounds and this is something the Pens need to take advantage of. We saw them go to the net against Ottawa and it paid off. We need to play the same way.

What We Can Learn From Game One
Skill beats strength. The Pens need to realize that they don’t have to outmuscle the Bruins. Pittsburgh has more depth skill wise and they need to take advantage of that. The Pens can hang with the Bruins physically, but they’re not going to win games that way. They’ll win games because they are skilled and can score. If they get back to doing that they will be absolutely fine in this series. The Bruins will try to get the Pens to retaliate and play Bruins style hockey. Unlike last night, moving forward we can’t let that happen. We have to be disciplined. Play physical, but use it as a defense. Do not initiate. This is something that watching video and a day off will help with.

Second, the Pens have to be patient. This goes hand in hand with my previous point about being disciplined. Last night, despite several chances, the Pens failed to score. It resulted in them getting frustrated, which took them off their game. They got sloppy and tried to force passes. It was as though they were in desperation mode. They need to relax and establish a forecheck instead of forcing stretch passes. They need to realize that goals will come, but they need to remain patient.

Third, like I said earlier, the Pens need to get to the net. Rask will give up rebounds and we need to be ready for them. Go to the net and play gritty instead of looking for the perfect play.

I also believe individual players will up their game. Last night was not a good one for Sid, but he is also very good at adjusting. There aren’t too many times in his career where you can point to multiple bad games in a row. Look for him to have a much better showing Monday night. This in turn will cause his line to be more effective. The second line did a good job last night, and if the top line starts rolling too it will be hard for Boston to defend.

Vokoun
As expected, as soon as the Pens lost a game, there are people yelling for Fleury to be back in net. Ironically, it’s these same people that wanted to give Fleury another chance after three bad games in round one. First off, the defense collapsed on those goals last night. I’m not sure a different goalie would have made a difference. Second, Vokoun’s style of play matches up better against the Bruins. Fleury plays a typical butterfly style and is very modern when it comes to clearing the crease. He relies a lot on the defensemen to clear the puck. While having the defense clear the puck is desirable, the Pens have not been great at this. Also, the Bruins send guys to the net. Relying on the defense to clear the crease is an accident waiting to happen. However, Vokoun has an old fashioned European style to his game. He’s confident handling the puck and is very efficient at clearing the crease himself. This is huge against Boston, who uses large bodies like Lucic to get to the net and create havoc at the goal line. Bottom line is, Vokoun is the starter and until he has a bad game, it stays that way. If the Pens lose Monday, which I don’t think they will, then there could be a goalie discussion, but certainly not now after one loss.

Cooke/McQuaid and Marchand/Neal
Last night was a great night of hockey. Unfortunately, dirty hits by both teams have left the actual hockey in the rearview mirror. First, both hits were dirty. Both McQuaid and Neal were hit on the numbers and their heads went into the boards. There are some slight discrepancies that made each hit a bit different. First, McQuaid is squared to the boards when Cooke hits him. Neal is not completely square. This makes the Cooke/McQuaid hit more dangerous in those regards. However, things go both ways. Neal didn’t see Marchand coming, which makes for a very dangerous hit. McQuaid saw Cooke coming yet put himself in a vulnerable position. Take a look at this picture.BLt8s0SCAAAv9cAMcQuaid has time to react and doesn’t. Yes, it is a dirty hit and Cooke shouldn’t have done it, but it was definitely avoidable. I’ve heard some people say that McQuaid had no time to react. I’m also willing to say these people haven’t learned to skate properly. Look at the position of McQuaid’s skates in the picture. All he has to do is take the inside edge of his left skate going into the boards to make himself perpendicular with the boards, therefore avoiding the hit completely. That’s not what he does. Instead he turns his right skate into the boards, causing himself to put his back to Cooke leaving him vulnerable. I like to think of this like the Gryba hit on Eller in the Montreal/Ottawa series. No one denies the hit by Gryba was dirty. However, most rational people understand that the hit was practically set up by the Canadiens themselves. Eller’s teammates made a dangerous pass into the neutral zone, setting Eller up to take a hit. That’s why you play pucks out along the boards. While it was a dirty hit by Gryba, the Canadiens could have avoided it. Last night it was a dirty hit by Cooke but McQuaid could have avoided it.

Where my frustration comes in about these hits is the penalties that were assessed. If you’ve read my previous posts or follow me on Twitter you know I’m not one to blame refs for a loss. I don’t blame them for last night’s loss either. What I do have a problem with is them letting the game get out of hand to the point that someone gets hurt. We’re lucky no one was hurt last night. On the Cooke/McQuaid hit Cooke was given a five minute major and a game misconduct. Personally, I think if it were someone other than Cooke it would have been two minutes, but honestly I don’t have a problem with the call. If anything, severe calls like that are good for the game of hockey. After all, the goal is to eliminate those kinds of hits from the game. The problem I have is with the call on Marchand. I said earlier how the hit on Neal was basically the same as the hit on McQuaid except for a few differences. Therefore, the same penalty should have been given. However, Marchand got away with just a two minute minor for roughing. This is unacceptable. I’m not upset that the Pens didn’t get three extra minutes on the power play, although it would have been nice considering at the time it was still a 1-0 game. I’m upset with the fact that by not giving Marchand a major penalty, the league is not sending a message that those hits have no place in the game of hockey. Handing out two game misconducts for illegal hits in one game would have gone a long way in eliminating hits such as those from the rest of the series. Instead, now it’s a guessing game of what players can get away with. Another problem I have with the call on Marchand is that Marchand and Claude Julien didn’t even think it should have been a penalty. People say Sid complains about calls, but my gosh, Marchand was complaining in the box. It was a dirty hit and he needs to realize that he was wrong.

Another note, both Cooke and Marchand have had sketchy pasts. Cooke on Savard, Marchand on Salo just to throw out two examples. Regardless, a player’s past should not dictate the penalty assessed because no matter who the player, those hits have no place in the game, and the league needs to make that known.

Anyway, I’m upset that the proper penalty wasn’t given, but again, it’s not just because of the missed power play time. I’ve said time and again how refs have let games get out of hand and then someone gets injured. A good example is game one against the Islanders where the refs stopped calling penalties due to the lopsided score and then a scary hit on Jokinen took place. Last night the Pens were frustrated with the call on Marchand and at the end of the second period fighting broke out. No one can be sure, but I have a good feeling that if Marchand was given a major and game misconduct the mess at the end of the period doesn’t happen. Bottom line is, the refs need to call it both ways and dirty hits need to be removed from the game by assessing them with harsh penalties.

In Conclusion
Overall, it wasn’t a bad game. Defensively there were some collapses, and that’s about the most negative thing you can take away. If the Pens are patient and rely on skill rather than strength they should come out on top of this series. I think it will go six or seven but at the end of the day I think the Pens will find a way to win. So if you’re a Bruins fan acting like you’ve won the series because you won game one, stop. If you’re a Pens fan acting like you’ve lost the series because you lost game one, stop. I haven’t heard any educated hockey fan pick either Boston or the Pens to sweep, so get ready for a long, hard fought, intense series. This is what playoff hockey is all about everyone. Enjoy it.

Advanced Stats Through Round 2: The Rise of Tyler Kennedy

This is more of an update on the advanced stats standings rather than a blog post, but some of the changes in the stats from round one are interesting.

If you would like to read my post on advanced stats from the first round it can be found here: https://pghhockey.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/round-1-advanced-stats-leaders/

Also, if you would like to read my explanation of advanced stats categories you can read about it in my post about the Hart Trophy here: https://pghhockey.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/advanced-stats-say-crosby-for-hart/

Top 5 in Advanced Stats Categories Through 2 Rounds

Corsi Rel. QoC

  1. Matt Cooke
  2. Brandon Sutter
  3. Brooks Orpik
  4. Tyler Kennedy
  5. Brenden Morrow

Corsi QoC

  1. Matt Cooke
  2. Brandon Sutter
  3. Brenden Morrow
  4. Kris Letang
  5. Pascal Dupuis

Corsi Rel

  1. James Neal
  2. Kris Letang
  3. Evgeni Malkin
  4. Chris Kunitz
  5. Matt Niskanen

Corsi On-Ice

  1. James Neal
  2. Evgeni Malkin
  3. Kris Letang
  4. Chris Kunitz
  5. Matt Niskanen

On-Ice Sh. %

  1. Mark Eaton
  2. James Neal
  3. Evgeni Malkin
  4. Tyler Kennedy
  5. Jarome Iginla

On-Ice Sv. %

  1. Craig Adams
  2. Tyler Kennedy
  3. Jussi Jokinen
  4. Brandon Sutter
  5. Matt Cooke

PDO

  1. Tyler Kennedy
  2. Jussi Jokinen
  3. Mark Eaton
  4. Paul Martin
  5. Brooks Orpik

Pens Taken/60

  1. Tanner Glass
  2. Matt Cooke
  3. James Neal
  4. Jussi Jokinen
  5. Douglas Murray

Pens Drawn/60

  1. Tyler Kennedy
  2. Jussi Jokinen
  3. Matt Cooke
  4. Brenden Morrow
  5. Craig Adams

Off. Zone Shift Start/Finish Differential

  1. Brandon Sutter
  2. Tyler Kennedy
  3. Brooks Orpik
  4. Matt Cooke
  5. Brenden Morrow

At the end of two rounds the Pens’ advanced stats are normal for a team that has been winning games in their fashion. James Neal, who led the team in Corsi On and Corsi Rel. after round one is still in the lead. The last two games of the Ottawa series definitely helped. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the advanced stats leaderboard is Tyler Kennedy. TK leads the team in PDO and penalties drawn per 60 minutes. He also has one of the best On-Ice Shooting percentages on the team. He is tied for first on the team with Craig Adams and Jussi Jokinen for On-Ice Save % with a perfect 1000. They haven’t let in a goal on even strength throughout the entire playoffs. What I think is his most impressive stat, however, is that he is finishing 17.9% more of his shifts in the offensive zone than he starts there. He sure sets the play up well for our top two lines. I’m not the biggest Tyler Kennedy fan. Personally, I feel we are paying him way to much for what he produces. This was true in the regular season. There’s no denying that he greatly underperformed this past season. (and in the few seasons prior to that). However, I will also be the first to give credit where credit is due, and TK has been great in the playoffs. Unfortunately, you can’t afford to keep a guy like TK (a 2 million cap hit) on the roster if he’s not going to do anything during the regular season. He will need to maintain the play he has had in the playoffs if he hopes to keep his spot on the team.

I would also like to bring up a point about Brooks Orpik. Earlier this week I read an article by a Boston blogger about how Orpik is awful. She attempted to use advanced stats to prove her point, and quite honestly, she failed. She relied on Orpik’s negative On Ice Corsi and Relative Corsi numbers. However, it is not unusual for shutdown defensemen such as Orpik to have such numbers. What she failed to mention was that Orpik has the highest Corsi Rel. QoC among Pens defensemen. Corsi Rel. QoC is similar to Corsi Rel., but it takes into consideration the quality of competition. So while Orpik does not generally produce offense (not sure why she was trying to prove a shutdown defenseman wasn’t producing offense), he does when you consider that he is up against the top lines of opponents. Also, she showed a chart that depicted that he was a shutdown defenseman because he only started 45.7% of his draws in the offensive zone. However, she conveniently forgot to mention that he finished 58.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This is the third greatest offensive zone start/finish differential on the team. My point is, if you would like to use advanced stats to prove a point make sure they either all support your point, or admit in your article that not all stats prove your point.

Concluding Points on Advanced Stats

  • All skaters except for Douglas Murray have a PDO greater than 1000 (above average)
  • Adams, Kennedy, and Jokinen have a perfect on ice save percentage
  • Brandon Sutter ends 20.7% more of his shifts in the offensive zone than he starts there
  • The second line as been the most offensively productive
  • The third line has been effective against the opposition’s top line
  • Jussi Jokinen takes the same amount of penalties that he draws
  • Penalties for being Matt Cooke exist. CONFIRMED.

Moneypuck: The Pens Aren’t Buying a Cup

Stanley Cup Finals - Pittsburgh Penguins v Detroit Red Wings - Game Seven
As the Pens gear up for their series against the Bruins, talk has inevitable tuned to the Iginla deal at the trade deadline. Personally, I don’t think people should focus on the trade as much as they are. Iggy chose Pittsburgh and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. He’s one of the best players to play the game and is respected across the league. It’s a shame some individuals are bashing him over his decision. However, what I wasn’t expecting was to hear people accusing the Pens of “buying a cup.” First, I’d like to point out it’s impossible to buy a cup with a salary cap. It’s not baseball. There isn’t a large gap between rich and poor teams. Trust me, being a Pens fan that had to endure the financial struggles of the early 2000s and the hardship of building the new arena, I know some teams are not as well off financially. However, it’s a level playing field. All teams can spend the same amount of money and some teams are just better at using that money efficiently. Pittsburgh is one of them, if not the best. I’ve also seen a lot of people bewildered over how the Pens manage to sign everyone they have. I hope to break down some numbers to show how the Pens get the most production from their wallets. So here is my version of moneyball, moneypuck if you will.

The most common question surrounding the Pens contracts is how the Pens manage to sign as many star players as they do. Let’s take a look at their contracts from this past year.

The players with the highest cap hit are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and rightfully so. In the 2012-2013 season they each had a cap hit of $8.7 M, or a total of $17.4 M. This is only $1.2 M more than the combined cap hit of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. I don’t know anyone who, given the choice, would choose Ovi/Backstrom over Sid/Geno. It is also only $2.2 M more than the combined cap hit of Lecavalier and Stamkos. Again, the pair of Sid and Geno is worth a lot more than Lecavalier and Stamkos. Note: I’m not necessarily debating who the best overall player is, but rather the tandem of both players. So yes, Sid and Geno make a lot of money (more than anyone individually except for Ovechkin) but for a superstar pairing it’s not unreasonable.

Now let’s move on to the Norris Trophy candidate, Kris Letang. Letang has a cap hit of $3.5 M. Let’s be honest, he’s worth way more than that. This is another reason Pittsburgh can afford all their stars; because not all of their stars are making “star” amounts of money. To compare, Ryan Suter, also a finalist for the Norris Trophy, has a cap hit of $7.5 M. While a great defenseman, Suter is definitely not worth $4 M more than Letang.

More Goals for Your Buc: The Efficiency of the Pens
Despite the past season being shortened due to the lockout, the Pens still had three players with at least twenty goals. James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, and Chris Kunitz combined for 63 goals…..and only a $10.225 M cap hit (Neal=5 M Kunitz=3.725 M Dupuis=1.5 M). That’s approximately $162,000 per goal. There were only twelve other players in the league to score at least twenty goals. If you combine the three smallest cap hits of players that have scored at least twenty goals (Tlusty, Voracek, and Couture) you get $8.725 M, or $1.5 M less than the three Pens players. But remember, while Voracek, Couture, and Tlusty are great deals as far as efficiency goes, none of them are on the same team. The only team besides the Pens to have multiple players score at least twenty goals is the Blackhawks with Kane and Toews. Their combined cap hit? $12.6 M. In other words, Chicago is paying more money on two twenty goal scorers than the Pens are on three. (Again, not saying Dupuis, Kunitz, and Neal are better than Kane and Toews, but as far as money goes, they’re more cap efficient).

Advanced Stats
If you’ve kept up with my posts, you could probably guess that advanced stats would creep their way in here somehow. If you want to read my explanation of the advanced stats categories please refer to my post about the Hart Trophy. Anyway, here are some interesting points combining advanced stats and cap hits.

  • The Pens leader in Relative Corsi QoC, Mark Eaton, has a cap hit of $725,000
  • The leader in On-Ice Corsi QoC, Robert Bortuzzo, has a cap hit of $525,000
  • Bortuzzo is under an entry level contract
  • Pascal Dupuis, second in On-Ice Shooting %, has a cap hit of $1.5 M
  • Mark Eaton also leads the team in On-Ice Save %
  • Dustin Jeffrey, second in On-Ice Save %, has a cap hit of $575,000
  • Chris Kunitz leads the team in PDO. His cap hit is $3.725 M
  • Mark Eaton and Pascal Dupuis are second and third in PDO
  • Craig Adams, cap hit of $675,000, is third on the team in drawn penalties per 60 minutes
  • Joe Vitale ends 9.4% more shifts in the offensive zone than he starts there.
  • Vitale has a cap hit of $550,000. It’s the lowest on the team.

Offseason Deals
While all the talk about the Pens cap space seems to be centered around the deals made at the deadline, it seems that people forget that the Pens made deals in the offseason to set themselves up for big moves. In a way, not getting Parise and Suter was a blessing in disguise. It gave us the cap space to go after big names at the deadline. By sending Michalek to Phoenix and Staal to Carolina, the Pens freed up plenty of cap space. Since they didn’t make huge moves in the offseason, they were able to make their moves at the deadline instead. As for offseason moves themselves, the move that has paid off the most is the signing of Tomas Vokoun. The Pens got Vokoun from the Capitals for a seventh round pick. Better yet, Vokoun’s cap hit is only two million. He’s leading our team through the playoffs and was solid in the regular season, and we signed him for just two million.

Deadline Moves: Buying a Cup?
As I stated in the previous section, the Pens had plenty of cap space at the trade deadline due to their offseason moves. Therefore, when the time came for moves to be made, Ray Shero wasted no time in getting in on the action. At the time of the deadline the Pens were in the middle of their fifteen game winning streak. While the belief that they could win the Stanley Cup was always present, I believe they really felt they had a great chance to do so this season during the streak. Think of it from Shero’s point of view. Your team is dominating and you’re sitting there with millions in cap space. So you see what could made a good team great. And that’s when Shero left all other teams in the dust. He signed Morrow and Murray before anyone had time to even think about signing them. He then went on to sign Iginla. Is this buying a cup? Absolutely not. Like I said, we had it in mind to make big deadline moves from the beginning of the season. Also, Shero didn’t just go and buy these players. Morrow and Iginla chose to waive their no-trade clauses to play in Pittsburgh. They chose to play here because they wanted to win the Cup. It was never about the money. Also, almost every team that has won the Cup has made moves at the deadline. It’s what you’re supposed to do. The trade deadline exists so GMs can make their teams better. Why shouldn’t they take full advantage of it?

Some points as to why the Pens have cap space:

  1. They have the cheapest twenty goal scorer in the league (Dupuis)
  2. They were able to sign Neal for $5 M before his contract was up last year
  3. We’re paying an amazing goalie 2 million
  4. Crosby could have made a lot more and chose to take less to help the team
  5. We got rid of expensive contracts in the offseason
  6. Three players who have played in the playoffs are under entry level contracts
  7. Our penalty killers are cheap…..and good

I’d like to spend some time on just one of the above points. Last year (2011-2012) James Neal was a 40 goal scorer. He was an all-star and made the first all-star team. Shero was able to resign him midseason. I’m not sure how many people realize how important this was. Had we waited until the end of the season, there’s a good chance we would have had to pay a lot more to resign him. Can you imagine how many teams would have been willing to pay big bucs for a forty goal scorer? He would have been a hot commodity to be picked up if a team were willing to pay enough. However, the Pens didn’t let it get that far. James wanted to stay in Pittsburgh and Shero was able to take care of resigning him during the season. Thank goodness.

So no, the Pens aren’t buying a Cup. They just make the most out of the money they spend. They sign underrated players such as Dupuis and Kunitz and get them to produce. They practically stole Neal and Niskanen from Dallas. But most of all the Pens can get players to sign with them, at times for less money, because the Pens provide the chance to win the Cup. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

If you’d like to check out all the numbers for the Pens cap hits and salaries they can be found here: http://www.capgeek.com/penguins/