Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Judging Jordan (and other playoff nuggets)

Be careful what you wish for?

Maybe. If you would have told Penguins fans they'd make the SCF in February, most would have looked at you funny and mocked your turtleneck. Yet here they are after a resounding sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Some scattered thoughts from the playoffs:
  • It's not fair to blame Cam Ward and Eric Staal for the series loss. Both had some low moments (Staal being held to a mere sprinkling of points; Ward allowing that ugly Max Talbot goal), but they need some help. Ray Whitney was abysmal. The Hurricanes' D couldn't handle Malkin or Crosby. Media members always want storylines, but a lot of times one team is just deeper, meaner and more talented.
The Hurricanes should seriously consider going after a quality offensive free agent to ease some of the burden off of Staal.
  • After witnessing Rob Scuderi limiting Alex Ovechkin toward the end of their second round series and playing very well against the Hurricanes, I was prompted to check his contract status. Rut roh: he's an unrestricted free agent for 2009-10. Could this be a problem for the Penguins?
  • Rudy Kelly rightly pointed out that the Penguins might have been wrong when they passed up talents like Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel to draft Jordan Staal. Still, Kessel is injury-prone and Toews might be too great to keep under contract (or as the third banana). Staal's lack of finishing touch can be really frustrating, but he's still an extremely impressive player who's willing to play a lesser role alongside the Penguins other blue chip centers.
His size and defensive instincts give you the impression that he could be an amazing asset going forward. It's hard to say, really. Would it be better to put a Todd Marchant-type cheaper veteran in Staal's spot and put the $4 million toward a younger winger who could finish all the great opportunities created by Crosby or Malkin? Or could Staal continue to blossom into a player who could allow the Penguins to more or less roll three great lines all game long?
  • This year's Penguins team is more of an adventure than last year's runner-up. Last year, they didn't even go to a game 6 (until the Red Wings claimed the Cup on Mellon Ice, the bastards). Yet this year's scrappy bunch almost missed the playoffs, went down 0-2 to the Capitals and won a Game 7 on the road.
This team has really grown on me. Even to the point that I think I like this team more than last year's version. In 08-09, Ryan Malone played with marshmallows sticking out of his nose, showing an undeniably endearing amount of grit.

This time around, it seems like everyone is willing to put it on the line. Even Miroslav fucking Satan looks like he's expending energy out on the ice each game. They're also less "stacked" without Hossa and some other solid supporting players, making them about as close to an underdog as a team with Crosby and Malkin can be.

Will some extra sand paper and an extra year of experience be enough to overcome (probable opponent) Detroit? Probably not. But either way this Penguins team is special.


Joe said...

Still, Kessel is injury-prone and Toews might be too great to keep under contract (or as the third banana). Staal's lack of finishing touch can be really frustrating, but he's still an extremely impressive player who's willing to play a lesser role alongside the Penguins other blue chip centers.

I think this kinda goes out the window when you consider how much he's being overpaid. I love a good defensive forward, but you gotta pay them within the context of the entire team.

As for the actual final... Well, I'm not terribly concerned about the Penguins themselves. They're gonna put up a hell of a fight. The thing that's going to make this series is different is that Pittsburgh won't come out and roll over for the first two games. A 2 game lead is so huge, especially when you're talking one of the best teams in the league (Washington isn't there yet). Even if the Pens lose the first two this year too, they're certainly not going to do so in embarassing fashion.

Joe said...

Oh, and if Pitt does win a Cup, at least they'll be able to say that they had to go through the best of the West. It's disappointing when some shit team makes it to the finals and can't hang with their opponent, though this is usually a problem with the Eastern side moreso than the West.

jamestobrien said...

Yeah, I kind of rushed the point in the post but the line about using a Todd Marchant-type center was to reflect the fact that guys in Staal's current role (checking center) tend to be equally effective defensively at a cheaper price.

The make-or-break thing is whether or not Staal progresses as an offensive player. He's still extremely young and seems to make a lot of plays (he was truly great in Game 4) but cannot seem to score. It will be interesting to see if he can give the Penguins their money's worth.

Joe said...

Oh, I noticed that. I just think its the single biggest factor in evaluating Jordan Staal as a player, given the situation in Pitt. When you're paying out what, 17M+ to two players, you absolutely need to make good decisions with ever other contract you give out. Staal and Fleury both have contracts that hurt the franchise more than either player helps the franchise. Sure, maybe they develop down the road to live up to their contracts, but it doesn't change the fact that they're currently being overpaid.

jamestobrien said...

I totally agree Joe. Then again, not every team can be constructed as intelligently as the Red Wings.

Joe said...

Its not just the Wings. "We're not the Wings" is not a valid excuse for an inability to manage a cap correctly. San Jose has done pretty well at it too, though both DET and SJ are going to have a bit of a hard time these next two seasons with a cap that doesn't escalate, or even slides back. Obviously the Pens have a bit of a unique situation with having two of the best players in the game, but there's multiple solutions to that. I don't think they've adequately pursued the best solutions to that.

jamestobrien said...

Despite the fact that Boyle's great now, I think his contract will look pretty awful in a couple years. Maybe.

The Penguins are always going to struggle a bit with depth. They've made their place. It's all about finding solid veterans to sign cheap, short term contracts (like the one Petr Sykora signed before he turned into a corpse). One interesting thing to watch is when Gonchar's contract expired.