Thursday, March 28, 2013

Penguins stun all by acquiring Iginla

Oh that cagey Ray Shero.

Just when it appeared the Boston Bruins were zeroing in on Jarome Iginla, the Pittsburgh Penguins' GM hung in on trade talks with the Calgary Flames and won the Iggy sweepstakesWednesday night. Or Thursday morning.

It was a total stunner.

"You know there’s other teams in it and you can’t control that, I was just focused on what we could offer and making a deal we could live with," Shero told just past 2:30 a.m. ET, capping a long day.

"A player like Jarome Iginla doesn’t come around very often," he added.

I guess I shouldn’t be totally shocked. After all, I wrote on Monday that I believed the Penguins would remain in the Iginla race even after trading for Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray.

I have to tell you, I got my share of tweets and emails saying I was out of my mind on that front.

And truth be told, if you asked me to bet my life savings, I would have pointed to Boston as a more likely destination for Iginla, if for no other reason than the Bruins had more urgency to make an addition after what Eastern Conference rival Pittsburgh already had accomplished.

But despite the Murray and Morrow deals, Shero never stopped chasing Iginla this week.

"We still wanted to add Jarome," the GM said. "We just tried to stay in it."

Even as late as Wednesday morning, a Western Conference executive texted me and said, "Pittsburgh is still sniffing on Iginla."

Turns out the Penguins were more than sniffing, stealing the show late into the night after reports and tweets pointed to the Bruins getting Iginla.

There are certainly people in the Bruins' organization who thought they had him at one point Wednesday, but the deal never closed.

Why? Because Iginla himself chose Pittsburgh as his team of choice, Flames GM Jay Feaster said at a news conference late Wednesday night in Calgary.

A source told after the trade was announced that Iginla’s final list of teams included just three: Boston, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

A Kings source early Wednesday evening told they were out early and felt they were really never that close at all.

Pittsburgh nipped out Boston, sending college prospects Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski and a first-round pick in this summer's draft to Calgary.

Morrow, Murray and Iginla added to the Pens within four days -- can you say "ALL IN?" Tell me that won’t be the Penguins’ playoff motto slapped on their dressing room wall come May.

The Penguins will need to deal with reality next season when talks on extensions for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will take precedence at the same time the NHL salary cap goes down from $70.2 million this season to $64.3 million.

But this is the season to have fun. To play with house money. And to trade away assets to Dallas, San Jose and Calgary that the Penguins can live without because the team has done a superb job of stockpiling those assets over the years.

They far from emptied the cupboard. There are more quality prospects in this organization.

And now they’re locked and loaded for a Stanley Cup run, and who’s going to bet against them?

"All the stuff on paper seems nice, but it doesn’t mean anything," warned Shero. "Hockey is about chemistry and making it work. We have to go out and prove it."

Boston? The Bruins have now lost out to the rival Penguins on Morrow and Iginla in the same week. And twice because the player wanted to go to Pittsburgh instead.

Should Boston and Pittsburgh meet in the playoffs at some point this spring, the Morrow/Iginla storylines are already drawn up.

You’re smarting now if you’re a Bruins fan. But there’s still six days to go before the trade deadline.

I’m a big believer in Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. He already had other irons in the fire in case he didn’t connect on Iginla, and he’ll re-focus on Thursday morning.

This tale isn’t over yet, but what a tale it’s been so far in Pittsburgh.

Flames deal greatest legend in franchise history to Penguins

By George Johnson
Calgary Herald
March 28, 2013

Johnson: Flames deal greatest legend in franchise history to Penguins

Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla hams it up with the kids at the end of the day of his third annual Jarome Iginla hockey school at the Calgary Centennial Arenas July 7, 2004

Photograph by: Calgary Herald file photo , Calgary Herald

He arrived here in the spring of ‘96 for two playoff games, a 19-year-old, largely-unknown, rawboned kid with a weirdly square helmet, a penchant for oversleeping and a name that went on forever (Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla). He inherited Jim Peplinski’s old No. 24, if none of the facewashing acumen, and was entrusted with the daunting task of making fans forget an all-time goal-scoring maestro, Joe Nieuwendyk.
That kid scored 21 his first full season. Only 13 in his second.
Fifteen years later, he departs as the most luminous legend this town has yet seen.
No, Jarome Iginla didn’t win a Stanley Cup here, despite a desperate desire. But he has nothing to prove, no more to give, nowhere to lead a franchise that long ago lost its way and has too late at last acknowledged that it must grope frantically for a new direction.
It was time. Past time, actually.
We knew.
He did, too.
And from the flat, drained look of him following the 2-0 loss Tuesday in Chicago -- exhausted by the speculation, torn by emotion and loyalty -- this couldn’t have happened soon enough. At least the Flames didn’t dither and let this play out all the way until the April 3rd deadline.
Word broke out of Boston pre-puck-drop at the Scotiabank Saddledome that it was a done deal -- a first-round pick (conditional on Iginla's re-signing in Beantown), defensive prospect Matthew Bartkowski and Providence Bruins’centre Alexander Khokhlachev in exchange for future Hall of Famer. To those locals still living in the rosy hue of 2004, steeped in the lore and in nostalgia, it might not seem enough but for a 35-year-old rental that’s more return than many felt would be coming back this way.
When it turned out to be Pittsburgh, for a pair of forwards, Yale's Kenneth Agostino and St. Cloud State's Ben Hanowski, and a first-round pick.
How well either of the U.S. college prospects and the pick turn out is, naturally, anyone’s guess. Identifying kids and projecting their upside always a crapshoot. But no one could’ve forseen that Joe Nieuwendyk would eclipse Kent Nilsson and Iginla would in turn eclipse Nieuwendyk when those deals were controversially struck, either.
Only time can make those determinations.
When news filtered out that Iginla was to be a healthy scratch against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, no one was buying that "protecting the asset" rhetoric. Something was up.
The destination turned out to be a surprise.
In leaving, Iginla joins a select group of players who’ve graced the jersey - Kent Nilsson, Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Theo Fleury - that transcend it.
With Iginla, as with all lasting heroes, the influence went far beyond the 525 goals and 1,095 points. He became a source of pride to this community. A double Olympic gold medalist. An All Star. A Maurice Richard and Art Ross Trophy winner. Respected and revered league-wide.
Not the community presence McDonald was, maybe. Not the feisty bantamweight underdog to make an emotional investment in, as was Fleury. Not the sublime talent of Nilsson, certainly. He never won a Conn Smythe, as MacInnis did, or was a championship difference-maker, like Doug Gilmour.
But the entirety of the package, the unassuming person who at least outwardly never seemed to change as the millions mounted, the commanding power forward who was indisputably the game’s best player for a spell, the guy who’d still stoop to offering to buy a weasly media mutt a cafe latte at Starbucks rather than flee at the sight of him, made him singular, unique. Add those franchise-busting numbers and his is a legacy that’s impossible to top.
For everyone, including those of us who’ve covered his exploits from the beginning, from the moment he ventured down from his mom’s house in St. Albert, it’s a vastly different Calgary Flames’ landscape today. But that’s change, and change - even for an organization as resistant to it as this one - is inevitable.
With the hard one out of the way, more deals may be in the offing. Jay Boumeester, perhaps? The first, and most important, domino has fallen,
Iginla exited the building Wednesday night. Reportedly said his goodbyes to his peers and left. It would’ve been a gong show had he hung around, he knew, and his teammates, still holding out faint playoff hopes, had a game to try and win.
So everyone expects him to say a proper goodbye, 10:30 a.m. today.
He did well by Calgary. Calgary did well by him. They part on the best of terms. Those are the kinds of relationships you remember.
An era has ended. The scoreboard Iggy Dance is now but a kitschy memory. His iconic No 12 jersey will undoubtedly one day hang up in the rafters of a building he dominated for the better part of two decades in a city that embraced him like no one else.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

McCutchen and Martin have Pirates focused on elusive goal

By Matt Gagne
Inside Baseball
Sports Illustrated
March 27, 2013

Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen will try to help lead the Pirates to that elusive winning season, which they haven't had since 1992.
Icon SMI
For more of's 2013 Major League Baseball season preview coverage, click here.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2012 Record: 79-83, fourth in NL Central
2013 Projection: 76-86, fourth in NL Central

Andrew McCutchen became the face of the Pirates franchise when he signed a six-year contract worth $51.5 million last spring, then backed it up by finishing third in the National League MVP voting. He had 194 hits (most in the NL), 31 homers, 96 RBIs, a .327 average and a .953 OPS. The fourth-year big leaguer also won his first Gold Glove and went to his second All-Star game. This season he adorns the cover of the MLB 2013 video game.
Yet the 26-year-old from Fort Meade, Fla., a town of roughly 6,000 about an hour away from the Pirates' spring training facility in Bradenton, doesn't fully comprehend all of the attention he's been getting.
"I never really looked at myself as being The Guy, the one person. I always wanted to be a person who just did his job," he says. "I'm from a small town. In high school there were more cows in the outfield than fans."
McCutchen was drafted by the Pirates with the 11th pick in the 2005 draft and has seen a dramatic shift in the franchise's culture -- even if a winning season has eluded Pittsburgh for two decades. He points to catcher Russell Martin's free-agent contract as a watershed moment. In years past, McCutchen says, a player like Martin probably would have taken less money to remain with the Yankees.
"It used to be that people didn't want to get traded to the Pirates and people didn't want to come here unless they were trying to redeem their careers," McCutchen says. "Now we've got guys who come here and want to be here. They see what we have and they want to be a part of it."
Even though his star is still rising and his voice is an unquestioned one in the clubhouse, McCutchen fully appreciates what Martin brings to the Pirates.
"He's a guy who's been playing for a franchise that won, that's all they did and that's what they're known for," McCutchen says. "(The Yankees are) a team that's not just satisfied to be in the playoffs, they're always trying to win a championship. He's bringing that mentality over to the Pirates. We'll be able to pick his brain and he'll be able to give insight."
Martin's wisdom alone won't make the Pirates playoff contenders. They'll need Pedro Alvarez to at least match last season's 30 homers and 85 RBIs, and Gaby Sanchez to return to 2011 form, when he was an All-Star for the Marlins, after playing last season with a surgically repaired right knee that diminished his power. But Martin fully understands his true value.
"All I've done pretty much in my career is been on a winning team," says the former Dodgers and Yankees backstop. "That's all I pretty much know. Some guys here have kind of tasted that during the season, but they haven't fully grasped what it means.
"The best players that I've been around have been so consistent in their mental approach and their routines, from hitting before the game to getting in cold tubs after the game. That's the difference between good players and good teams, versus teams that fall off at the end of the season. I haven't had to have guys ask me about it, because I just tell them."
Tom Verducci's Quick Pitch: Pirates
Source: SI's Tom Verducci previews the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Biggest Addition: Russell Martin
Martin is an instant defensive upgrade over Rod Barajas (now with the Diamondbacks) and Michael McKenry (still the Pirates' backup). Opponents last season stole 154 bases against Pittsburgh (most in the majors) while getting thrown out just 19 times (an MLB low) -- a stupefying 89 percent success rate by the runners. Martin, who signed a two-year contract worth $17 million during free agency, caught 128 games for Yankees and threw runners out 24 percent of the time last year.
Offensively, the Pirates hope Martin can bounce back from a poor showing in 2012. Although he belted a career-high 21 homers, he hit .211 while striking out 95 times, both the worst of his career.
Biggest Loss: Joel Hanrahan
Closer Joel Hanrahan might have struggled with control last season, averaging 5.4 walks per nine innings, but he still finished with 36 saves while going 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA. In December, he was traded to the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Mark Melancon, who worked in the closer role for the Astros in 2011 and could do the same for the Pirates on a spot basis this season.
The likely closer, however, is 36-year-old righthander Jason Grilli, the Pirates' setup man last year. Grilli has just five career saves but is coming off a season in which he struck out 90 in 58 2/3 innings and posted career bests in ERA (2.91) and WHIP (1.142).
What they do best: Look forward
The Pirates don't get weighed down by the shame of 20 consecutive losing seasons. "As a team we're not just thinking about breaking through and having a winning season -- that's not the goal," says infielder Gaby Sanchez. "The goal is to make it to the playoffs. Last year it was right there, but things got away from us. Learning from that experience and knowing what type of team we have here, we can take the next step and get to the playoffs."
"You can't alter the past," McCutchen adds. "We can't dog ourselves for 20 years of losing. We haven't been here for 20 years. Of course we're going to have that on our shoulders, but we're not worried about it. All we can do is keep pushing forward and be the team to change things around."
What they do worst: Fade
The Pirates have been on the verge of having a winning season the past two years, and advancing to the postseason seemed like a real possibility both times. In 2011 they were tied for first place on July 25 with a 53-47 record; they finished 72-90 and in fourth place, 24 games behind the NL Central champ. Last year they were tied for first on July 18 with a 51-40 record; they finished 79-83, again in fourth place and this time 18 games out.
"When we take care of business we've shown that we're able to compete with the best teams in the league," general manager Neal Huntington says. "We just need to take care of our business more consistently over a six-month stretch."

Bottom Line

At times the Pirates played good enough baseball over the past two seasons to be talked about as a playoff team, only to disappoint the black and gold faithful still turning out at PNC Park. The biggest takeaway from 2012 was that Pittsburgh didn't lose 90 games for the first time in eight seasons. That's far from being the rally cry of progress, but if the Pirates don't finish better than .500 this year, will they ever?
Pittsburgh might win early and often in 2013, but it'll be hard to get excited about this team without thinking it's just another tease and that another collapse is imminent. In a best-case scenario they earn a postseason berth in the wild-card game. In a worst-case scenario, the streak of losing and playoff-less seasons matches Roberto Clemente's jersey number (21).

Penguins focusing on defense, not fireworks, as perfect march through March continues

By Will Graves

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

PITTSBURGH — Brooks Orpik couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but something felt off.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had just finished off a string of thrill ride victories over Montreal, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Toronto earlier this season when the veteran defenseman — and apparently the rest of his teammates — decided they’d had enough.
Sure, the Penguins were winning, just not the way they wanted to. Grabbing games 7-6 or 6-5 makes for good highlight fodder, sure, but it’s hardly the way to get a firm grip on the Stanley Cup.
“There was a handful of games we won early this year when you leave the rink after the game and you’re not really satisfied,” Orpik said. “When that happens, you’ve got to change things up.”
And just like that — at least on the surface — the NHL’s highest scoring team grew a conscience. The risky passes through the crowded neutral zone stopped. The lackadaisical backchecking disappeared. The defensive breakdowns that often put goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun in difficult situations all but vanished.
“I think everyone has bought into what we’re doing here,” Orpik said. “Even our high-profile production guys like Sid (Crosby). They’re putting team goals way ahead of individual goals. We all realized what our ultimate goal here is.”
Hint: it’s not turning every night into a more intense version of the NHL All-Star Game.
The Penguins beat Toronto 5-4 on March 9 to push their winning streak at the time to a modest four games. Nine more victories have followed, including a grinding 1-0 triumph over Montreal on Tuesday night.
In those games, Pittsburgh has allowed just nine goals, the lowest total in the league over that span. The second-longest streak in team history heading into Thursday’s visit from Winnipeg includes seven wins when the Penguins have scored three goals or less.
“There are times we haven’t played our best, but our focus has been strong defensively,” said Crosby, who still leads the NHL with 54 points.
In the process, the Penguins have become comfortable playing the kind of tight-checking, playoff-style hockey that portends a very promising spring. The Canadiens outshot Pittsburgh 37-25 on Tuesday night and spent long stretches in the offensive zone.
Yet Fleury was spectacular while stopping 22 shots and Vokoun proved every bit Fleury’s equal when forced into spot duty in the third period after Fleury left with an undisclosed injury. He collided with teammate Tyler Kennedy and Montreal’s Brian Gionta. Fleury was being evaluated on Wednesday and his status for Thursday is uncertain, though coach Dan Bylsma said Vokoun will start against the Jets.
Given a full intermission to get ready against the Canadiens, the 14-year veteran turned aside all 15 shots he faced as the Penguins posted their fourth combined shutout in franchise history.
Most of Montreal’s chances came from outside prime scoring areas, as the Penguins did a solid job policing the front of the net and keeping the surprising Canadiens at arm’s length. It’s a game the Penguins might have lost six weeks ago. Not so much anymore.
“We’re more comfortable playing defense, more comfortable defending when we do give up zone time,” Bylsma said. “We were confident and good in how we defended and we have been.”
Pittsburgh has vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference in the process despite playing most of the month without reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin — out indefinitely with an upper body injury — and having star defenseman Kris Letang limited by lower-body issues.
Letang returned on Tuesday after missing three games with a lower-body problem and played 24 minutes against the Canadiens only to sustain a different lower-body injury. He was sent back to injured reserve Wednesday morning. Bylsma expects Letang to be out 7-10 days.
Though he’ll be missed, the timing of the injury shouldn’t damage Pittsburgh’s depth. At the same time the Penguins made the move on Letang, newly acquired defenseman Doug Murray participated in an optional skate after being obtained in a trade with San Jose Monday.
The hulking 6-foot-3, 245-pound Murray could play as early as Thursday, and the Penguins will certainly welcome his physical presence in front of the net. The 33-year-old nicknamed “Crankshaft” is a steamroller on skates, taking opponents who like to create havoc near the crease and simply mauling them out of the way.
Murray understands the comparisons between himself and fellow Swede Ulf Samuelsson, who Pittsburgh brought in late during the 1991 season and promptly helped Mario Lemieux lead the Penguins to their first Cup.
They’re both big. They’re both aggressive. They’re both in charge of restoring order amid chaos.
Murray isn’t the only new guy in the dressing room. Pittsburgh acquired forward Brenden Morrow from Dallas on Sunday, and Morrow played just the way the Penguins expected in his Pittsburgh debut against Montreal.
“There was probably five times on the ice in terms of what he was supposed to do, where he was supposed to go, he was bang on to do that,” Bylsma said.
Morrow even took on Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban on two separate occasions, the open-ice collisions drawing a roar from the Consol Energy Crowd. They also sent a message to Morrow’s new teammates he is all in.
So are the rest of the Penguins. They were embarrassed by last year’s first-round flameout against Philadelphia in which they surrendered 30 goals in six games. After some early tweaking, things seem to be falling into place.
Though Pittsburgh insists it’s not focused on making a run at the 17-game winning streak put together by the 1992-93 Penguins, with some very winnable games on the horizon, it looks like they have a chance. Not that they’re paying attention or anything.
Of course, the 1992-93 version of the club indeed raced through the regular season, preparing for a third straight Stanley Cup. But then, as a No. 1 seed with 119 points, the Penguins were bit by the New York Islanders and eliminated in the second round.
“We’re all aware of where we’re at,” Orpik said. “We aren’t trying to put anything to it, to be honest. We’re just trying to play the right way.”
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Pens' streak reaches 13

Pens Insider: Fleury hurt in win

By Chris Bradford | Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:13 am
Beaver County Times
PITTSBURGH – The smallest member of the Montreal Canadiens created a big problem for the Penguins on Tuesday.
What had been a goaltending duel between Marc-Andre Fleury and Montreal counterpart Carey Price was spoiled when diminutive Canadiens captain Brian Gionta prematurely ended the Penguins goalie’s night.
It cast a pall on what had been a pretty good night for the Penguins. Not only did they extend their win streak to an NHL-best 13 games, they put some more space between themselves and the Canadiens atop the Eastern Conference standings.
However, Fleury’s health is of greater concern.
The 5-foot-7, 174-pound Gionta appeared to drive Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy into Fleury during a scrum late in the second period. The franchise goalie was replaced to start the third period and is being further evaluated, according to coach Dan Bylsma.
Tomas Vokoun made 12 saves over the final 20 minutes as the Penguins held on for a 1-0 win to extend their NHL-best winning streak to 13.
Sidney Crosby, who scored the game’s lone goal at 13:19 of the second period, took exception to Gionta’s play.
“He goes to the net hard but I don’t think it’s the first time (Gionta’s) been in the blue paint and collided with a goalie,” the Penguins captain said. “I wanted to make sure we’re protecting our goalie out there. He’s a gritty player, but we don’t like to see our goalie have to take contact.”
-- Good thing G Tomas Vokoun didn’t get hurt in the third period. “Nope, definitely not me,” said RW Chris Kunitz, when asked who the Penguins’ emergency backup would have been. C Sidney Crosby played in goal for a few street hockey games this summer but … “Hopefully that’s not something we have to deal with,” Crosby said with a smile. “I played a few games of street hockey, but I don’t know.”
-- It was just the Penguins’ fourth combined shutout in franchise history and first since Brent Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury teamed up for a 3-0 win over the Islanders on Feb. 2, 2011.
-- The Penguins have allowed just nine goals in their last nine games.
-- The 13-game win streak is the second-longest in franchise history behind only the team’s NHL-record 17-game win streak from Mar. 9-Apr. 10 1993.
-- The current winning streak began with a 7-6 overtime victory over Montreal back on March 2. The victory was also their 10th in a row on home ice, which ties the second-longest home winning streak in franchise history. A victory on Thursday night against Winnipeg would equal the all-time franchise mark.
-- The Penguins’ current streak is just the eighth streak of 13 or more games in NHL history. To put that in perspective, of the NHL’s 30 franchises, 13 have never won 10 or more consecutive games.
-- C Sidney Crosby extended his scoring streak to five games with the game-winning goal. He now has seven points (three goals) over that span. Crosby still leads all NHL -- D Kris Letang returned to action after missing three games with a lower-body injury sustained against the Islanders on March 22. Letang logged 24:20, while playing in all situations. He picked up two shots on goal and three hits in the game. Letang still leads all defensive -- The Penguins are now 11-3-2 in their last 16 games against Montreal, including 4-1 in their last five meetings. Each of those last five meetings have been one-goal games.
-- The Penguins pushed their record in one-goal games this season to 11-1.
-- The Penguins have gone 6-2 against Montreal in the last eight meetings in Pittsburgh. During that span they have outscored Montreal 24-17.
-- D Simon Despres was re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton prior to the game to make room for the return of Letang. Despres is one of the few players on the Penguins’ roster that doesn’t have to clear waivers to be re-assigned. He will likely be recalled following the April 3 trade deadline, when teams can expand their rosters beyond 23 players.
-- D Brooks Orpik played in his 619th game as a Penguin, tying him with D Ron Schock for sixth place on the franchise’s all-time list. He now sits just two-games behind Ron Stackhouse for fifth on the team’s all-time list. Passing Stackhouse would make Orpik the franchise leader in games played by a defenseman.
-- The Penguins were again without C Evgeni Malkin, who missed his 13th game of the season. The team is now 11-2 without the league’s reigning MVP. The Penguins’ all-time record without Malkin is now 46-26-6.
-- The Penguins extended their sellout streak to 271 with 18,646 in attendance.
“A streak is not really something on the minds of the players. ‘But I haven't done laundry for a long time,’ that's really the mindset of the players: You don't talk about those types of things. We're just trying to win hockey games.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma on if he has emphasized the team’s current winning streak
The Penguins power-play has struggled on home ice in recent years against Montreal. Counting two missed opportunities Tuesday; they have now gone scoreless with the extra man in six straight home games (0-22). Their last home ice power-play goal against Montreal? LW Chris Kunitz scored it on Oct. 28, 2009.
Trailing by a wide margin in shots, the Penguins finally got the break that they had been waiting for. LW Chris Kunitz collected the puck along the left wing boards in the defensive zone and headed up ice. C Sidney Crosby broke up the right wing boards and Kunitz wasted no time in sliding a diagonal tape-to-tape pass across the neutral zone that caught Crosby in stride as he entered the Montreal zone. The Penguins’ captain took a few strides and fired a wrist shot from the right circle that beat G Carey Price to the far side over his blocker, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead. "He's the best player in the world, so we got beat tonight by the best player in the world by the perfect shot,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “He was tough to contain.”
1. Sidney Crosby, PGH
2. Brooks Orpik, PGH
3. Carey Price, MTL

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Trade proves Pens are all in

By Mark Madden 
Beaver County Times Sports Correspondent | Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 12:30 am
In the days of Penguins bankruptcy, the motive for trading Joe Morrow for Brenden Morrow would have been obvious: A new nameplate wouldn’t be required for the acquisition’s jersey. Money saved. Cash was tight.
Now, the motive seems equally obvious.
Televised poker has led to the phrase “all in” becoming hackneyed, but the Penguins are indeed “all in.” The window is open. Winning now is an ownership mandate. General manager Ray Shero is charged with executing said dictum, and he’s executing it well.
“All in” trickles down. When management wants to win as much as the players do, the players get even more motivated. Adding key components without losing established players is a bonus. Chemistry remains intact.
The Penguins’ locker room is “all in.” Sidney Crosby strikes me as too intense to bluff. He probably doesn’t even know how.
Joe Morrow is a big-time prospect. But the Penguins have plenty of what Joe Morrow’s got.
The Penguins need what Brenden Morrow’s got.
Brenden Morrow provides a gritty winger to do the dirty work for Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. He is a different kind of locker-room leader, a veteran compliment to Crosby. He is 34. This may be his last best chance at a Stanley Cup.
Brenden Morrow is “all in.”
Joe Morrow provides later. Brenden Morrow provides now.
Douglas Murray is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds and plays like it. He’s not fast or skilled with the puck, but Murray can be an intimidating hitter and has a solid defensive foundation. Murray is 33. This may be his last best chance at a Stanley Cup, too. Murray is “all in.”
Murray dated Tiger Woods’ ex after the split. His nickname is “Crankshaft.” My mind reels with things this paper won’t publish.
The second-round draft pick sacrificed for Murray might help someday. Murray helps now.
Each franchise must decide on its priorities. Some clubs just want to make the playoffs every year. Consistency in the standings equals consistency at the box office. Finances come first.
But the Penguins will sell every ticket at Consol Energy Center as long as Crosby is on the team. Given that, and given an amazing nucleus of talent that has Crosby as its centerpiece, the Penguins can take risks.
These trades are not without risk. Brenden Morrow was not sparkling with Dallas. Murray was struggling with San Jose.
But a move to Pittsburgh and a shot at a Stanley Cup should provide both a shot of adrenaline. Morrow and Murray are rentals. You’re not looking for a new beginning. You’re looking for an effective last gasp.
The future is now. Worry about later, later. That goes for team and player.
Shero was previously assistant GM at Nashville, a franchise that worries about selling tickets. He needed prodding from owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to pull the trigger on the 2008 deadline deal that netted Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis and a Stanley Cup final.
Shero has since been fearless. His transactions have been right on the money a lot more often than not.
Trust these deals because Shero made them.
Joe Morrow was a first-round draft pick. But so was Angelo Esposito, who went to Atlanta in the Hossa/Dupuis deal. Esposito plays in Italy now.
Joe Morrow is a highly-regarded defensive prospect. So are Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington. Simon Despres is racing right past prospect all the way to bona fide big-leaguer. The organization likes Despres, Maatta and Pouliot more than Joe Morrow. The organization wasn’t crazy about Morrow’s attitude or maturity.
Second-round picks can be valuable. But the last time the Penguins used that choice with any impact was 1976. Greg Malone. Ryan’s father. Since then, it’s been a bunch of Ryan Stones and Shane Endicotts.
The Penguins traded unproven for proven, unknown for known. They traded from surplus to fill needs. That’s what teams within reach of a championship do. What they should do, and must do.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Penguins paid dearly for run-down version of Brenden Morrow – and it's the right move

By Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports
March 25, 2013

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not trade for Brenden Morrow, at least not the Brenden Morrow we remember. They did not acquire the kid who went to the Stanley Cup final in 2000, the captain who carried his team to the conference final in 2008, the Olympian who won gold in 2010 or the guy who scored 33 goals in 2010-11.
Brenden Morrow had been in Dallas his entire career, arriving the season after the Stars won the Cup in 1999. (USA …They traded for a player who is 34, an old 34, someone who has racked up the mileage, who has slowed down considerably, who has slipped as low as the fourth line this season. There are legitimate questions about how much this Brenden Morrow has left.
But that’s OK. Even at the price they paid.
Because the Penguins knew what they were getting and what they were giving up, and this is what you do in today’s market to make a run at the Stanley Cup, if you have put yourself in position to do so.
They don’t need a captain or a top scorer; they need a complementary piece to fill a specific role. They could afford to send defense prospect Joe Morrow, a 2011 first-round pick playing in the minors, to the Dallas Stars for Brenden Morrow, a veteran whose contract is expiring, because they’ve stockpiled young defensemen as assets and have even more where he came from. They also traded a fifth-round pick for a third-rounder.
Frankly, they couldn’t afford not to do it. The Penguins have won only one playoff round since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Sidney Crosby is healthy again and the best player in the world again. The team is on a winning streak – 12 games now – and atop the East. When you have a chance to go for it, seize it. This might just be the start.
“As a general manager, it doesn’t make you feel great all the time,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told reporters. “But that’s what we’re trying to do – win.”
Brenden Morrow was done in Dallas. He gave everything he had to the only organization he had ever known, but it was time. It says a lot that the Stars moved their captain while still in a playoff spot.
GM Joe Nieuwendyk, a friend and former teammate, wanted to put Morrow in a good situation while getting a good return. He did that. But it also says a lot that it wasn’t hard to do.
[Related: Brenden Morrow waives no-movement clause to join Penguins]

At least one other Stanley Cup contender thought Morrow had value, too. The Boston Bruins reportedly offered defense prospect Alex Khokhlachev, a 2011 second-round pick, plus a second-rounder. Nieuwendyk had his choice. He asked Morrow to waive the no-trade clause to go to Pittsburgh.
So both Shero and the Bruins’ Peter Chiarelli – two GMs who have built championship teams – thought Morrow could still contribute in the right situation. Both thought he was an attractive option, if only because the trade market is so thin with the standings so stacked.
And how could Morrow say no to the Penguins? What better chance could he have to resurrect his career? If he can’t play for Pittsburgh, then he can’t play. If the chance to win his first Cup doesn’t get him going, when he broke into the league a year after the Stars won in 1999, nothing will.
Morrow made more sense for the Penguins than the Calgary Flames’ Jarome Iginla, another longtime captain on an expiring contract expected to waive his no-trade clause. Iginla is the better player at this point, no question. But he is a right winger, and Morrow is a left winger.
The Penguins don’t need a right winger in their top six. They have Pascal Dupuis playing with Crosby in the middle and Chris Kunitz on the left, and that has been the most productive line in the NHL thanks to its chemistry. They have James Neal playing with Evgeni Malkin.
The Pens could afford to part with defense prospect Joe Morrow, a 2011 first-round pick. (USA Today)What they needed was a left winger on the second line and depth in their bottom six, and Morrow can provide one or the other. He can play with Malkin and Neal, winning battles, digging out pucks, feeding the big guys. He doesn’t need to put up points, but he could just by playing his game with those two. If that doesn’t work, he can play on the third line with Brandon Sutter, helping pin teams in their own end. If that doesn’t work, well, he can add character in the room, and at least the Pens didn’t give up someone off their roster.
Joe Morrow seems like a prize. He’s supposed to be able to skate and shoot. Shero said he would play in the NHL for a long time, and maybe he will. But there is a reason the Penguins were willing and able to give him up in this deal.
It is no secret the Penguins draft young defensemen and stockpile them. Some they keep, like Kris Letang, who has blossomed into a Norris Trophy candidate, and Simon Despres, a promising rookie. Others they use as trade currency, like, well, Alex Goligoski, the guy they sent to the Stars two years ago for Neal and Matt Niskanen, a deal that now seems lopsided in the Penguins’ favor.
Joe Morrow has been transitioning from junior to pro hockey this season. He was a healthy scratch eight times in the first half of the season in the American Hockey League as the Penguins tore down his defensive game and built it back up again, according to The Hockey News, which rated him as the Penguins’ fourth-best prospect in its latest “Future Watch” issue. Two other defense prospects were rated higher: Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot.
How Joe Morrow ranks compared to Olli Matta and Derrick Pouliot really isn’t the point. The point is, the Pens still have other young defensemen in the pipeline, and this is a big reason why they have so many young defensemen in the pipeline. To win bidding wars. To win the Cup.
“Every year now, you’re seeing less and less players that are available at the deadline,” Shero said. “Thus, the prices go up. You’ve just got to decide as a team if you’re buying if you’re willing to pay them. If you’re not, then you’re not going to get anybody.”
Even if he isn’t the Brenden Morrow he once was in Dallas, Brenden Morrow, in Pittsburgh, could still be somebody.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Moneyball-ization of hockey pays off for Penguins

The Globe and Mail
March 21, 2013

Call it Moneypuck, as Pittsburgh uses statistical analysis to predict which hockey players will be worth their weight in data

It's a deal that, nearly two years later, looks like a true no-brainer.
But when the Pittsburgh Penguins went through a lengthy search for a power forward leading up to the 2011 trade deadline, the organization was split, with a handful of candidates in front of them and arguments for and against from various members of their scouting staff and management.
And that's where the analytics came in.
Speaking at the Predictive Analytics World Conference in Toronto on Thursday afternoon as part of a panel on hockey statistics, Penguins director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon explained that the team's trade for James Neal was the first time the organization referenced the work of a company called The Sports Analytics Institute before pulling the trigger.
The end result of that unique behind-closed-doors process has been widely visible on the ice ever since, as the player they eventually chose has scored more goals since the start of the 2011-12 season than all but Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos.
"I don't think we've made an impact decision since then without consulting the analytics," MacKinnon said. "I'll put it that way."
While Neal was just 22 years old and viewed as a rising talent when the Dallas Stars moved both he and Matt Niskanen to the Penguins in exchange for defenceman Alex Goligoski back in February of 2011, what tipped the balance for Pittsburgh in terms of going for Neal over anyone else was what MacKinnon calls his "conversion rate."
And even though the trade was ultimately a huge win – with Neal scoring 40 goals and being named a first-team all-star in his first full season – MacKinnon admits there were anxious moments when he didn't provide immediate results.
"We made the deal and in the final 27 games of that season he scored a total of two goals," MacKinnon said during his presentation. "I remember just like it's yesterday having this conversation with my GM – and, believe me, scouts have been fired for less in the business – and he said 'you know, Dan, everyone likes James Neal. He plays hard, he hits guys, but he scored two goals.' But he never got to play with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby [who were injured at the time]... and I said, to truly evaluate this guy, we're going to have to give him time playing with these centremen."
What had set Neal apart for MacKinnon was his ability to produce goals at a high rate based on where he was shooting from, something SAI analysts Mike Boyle and Kevin Mongeon felt meant he could score far more often if elite players were getting him the puck in better areas on the ice.
"It looks like a good deal now, but at the time, out of all the possible players to get, it wasn't that simple," Mongeon said.
"They had other choices," Boyle added. "Neal wasn't necessarily the most obvious."
SAI's analysis relies on breaking the offensive zone into sections based on the probability of scoring from those areas and weighting for other factors such as what type of shots players are taking.
The use of shot-quality data is still hotly debated within analytics circles and some of the concern is over the accuracy of the league-tallied location information, which can vary from building to building. Much of the other advanced statistics work being done, both for teams and independently, is more focused on puck-possession metrics that use shot attempts for and against to measure the amount of time teams and players spend in the offensive zone.
Boyle and Mongeon, however, have found converts for their "predicted goals scored" system with the Penguins and one other undisclosed NHL team they said is also among the best in the league.
And a lot of their success making inroads in the typically old-school NHL came as a result of the Neal trade.
"To see the first deal we really used analytics with come to fruition the following year was just a win internally where it led us to more comfortably work them into future discussions," MacKinnon said, adding that signing backup netminder Tomas Vokoun was a more recent move influenced by SAI's metrics.
"It gave them a sort of a confidence," Boyle said.
While other organizations using advanced statistics continue to keep their work top secret, the Penguins have taken the stance that the more they talk about what they're doing, the better the available analysis and data will eventually be.
Boyle, meanwhile, notes that their anecdotal evidence reveals the better teams in the league are following Pittsburgh's lead by applying Moneyball-type principles developed in baseball to hockey.
"As far as we can see, the clients we work with as well as the organizations who call us back and ask the right types of questions happen to be the teams that are in the upper ranks of the league," Boyle said.
"We're just trying to be an early driver on this and get a bit of a leap on the rest of the league," MacKinnon said. "Maybe we can be a little bit better than the competition at every turn."

Friday, March 22, 2013

McCutchen becomes rock of Steel City

By John Perrotto
USA Today
March 15, 2013

BRADENTON, Fla. — Joe Walsh sang the memorable line, "Everybody's so different, I haven't changed," in the song Life's Been Good.
That was back in the summer of the 1978, more than eight years before Andrew McCutchen was born. Nearly 35 years later, Walsh's line applies to McCutchen.
The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder is one of baseball's burgeoning superstars, coming off a season in which he finished third in the National League MVP voting. No longer is he a good young player hidden in the baseball hinterlands, but rather one of the new faces of the sport.
McCutchen is the cover boy for the video game MLB 13: The Show, pretty heady stuff coming from someone who plays for a team that hasn't hosted aSunday Night Baseball game on ESPN since 1996.
Yet McCutchen has his feet firmly on the ground. His teammates have noticed no discernible difference in McCutchen's personality as his profile has risen.
"The great thing about Andrew is that he's the same person every day," Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett says. "He has that big smile for everybody he sees. He doesn't treat some people one way and other people another way. He's a great teammate and a great person. You won't find anyone in this clubhouse who would say one bad word about Andrew."
McCutchen, though, notices people treat him differently than they did even a year ago.
He smiles when he recalls the story about the little girl who was so excited about meeting him on the Pirates' winter caravan that she burst into tears. On that same caravan, a Pirates fan in his 20s asked McCutchen to hold the engagement ring while he proposed to his girlfriend.
Then there was the rather awkward moment in his hometown of Fort Meade, Fla., this past offseason, when one of his old classmates made such a big fuss that McCutchen had to laugh and remind him he was still the same person.
"I get noticed more, there's no doubt, but I guess that comes with the territory," McCutchen says. "It doesn't bother me. I'm not the type of person who goes out and seeks attention, but it's nice that people want to say hello. I look at it like this: People are either going to notice you if you're doing something good or if you're doing something bad. At least, they are noticing me for the right reasons."
Since arriving in the major leagues in June 2009, McCutchen has hit .290 with 82 home runs and 98 stolen bases. He has been selected to the last two All-Star Games and had a breakout season last year when he led the NL with 194 hits, batted .327 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI, finished with a .400 on-base percentage and won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.
That enabled him to finish behind Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers in the MVP voting. Considering McCutchen is 26, he figures to have more big years in his future and possibly an MVP trophy or two, particularly if the Pirates can eventually get over the hump of 20 consecutive losing seasons and begin contending in the NL Central.
"He can beat you in so many ways: with his bat, with his glove, with his legs," Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum says. "He's still young, too. We probably haven't seen the best of him yet. He even isn't in his prime. Who knows what he could end up accomplishing?"
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland follows the Pirates with great interest, and it goes beyond the fact Detroit and Pittsburgh have been designated as natural rivals by Major League Baseball and face each other each season in interleague play. Leyland managed the Pirates from 1986 to 1996, still lives in Pittsburgh in the offseason and is admittedly a Pirates fan.
"It's exciting to see a player like that in Pittsburgh," Leyland says. "He gives the fans a reason to go out to the ballpark because he can put on a show every night with the talent he has. He is the type of guy you can build a winning ballclub around.
"What I really like about him is he plays the game hard, he plays it the right way and he seems like a great kid. From what little bit I've got to know him, he's a very impressive guy."
Pittsburgh's golden boy
The last time the Pirates had a player this talented was in the days when Leyland was managing and they were winning three consecutive NL East titles from 1990 to 1992.
That player was Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader.
McCutchen is a similar all-around player with his ability to hit for power, steal bases and make great plays in the outfield. But McCutchen is more beloved than Bonds ever was during his seven seasons with the Pirates from 1986 to 1992, and his popularity rivals such current iconic Pittsburgh sports figures as Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Though Bonds won two NL MVP awards with the Pirates, he never won over the fans because of his sometimes abrasive personality. McCutchen, on the other hand, is a hit because of his charismatic personality, megawatt smile — and loads of ability.
McCutchen also has the Everyman-type attitude that comes from growing up in Fort Meade, a small town in central Florida. It is a close-knit community of 5,600 in the heart of phosphate-mining country.
"I think my background keeps me grounded, and a lot of that has to do with my parents and the way they raised me," McCutchen says. "They taught me to work hard, be humble and always be thankful to the Good Lord for being blessed with the talent to play baseball at the highest level."
McCutchen has talents beyond baseball. He likes to write poetry, draw and freestyle rap, and he cracks up his teammates with impersonations, two of his best being the Peter Griffin and Cleveland Brown characters from the cartoon TV series Family Guy.
Being so well-rounded seems to help McCutchen cut through any cultural or positional divides that might exist in a clubhouse.
"You don't usually see a player so young be that guy that everyone in the clubhouse kind of gravitates to," says Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes, a 10-year veteran. "He just has that type of personality. He's a fun guy, and you feel good being around him."
The Pirates felt good enough about McCutchen that they signed him to a six-year, $51.5 million contract extension last year during spring training. The deal goes into effect this season and includes a club option for 2018.
It was the second-largest contract ever handed out by a small-market franchise noted for frugality, behind the six-year, $60 million deal catcher Jason Kendall received in the 2000-01 offseason, just before the Pirates moved into PNC Park.
"It meant a lot to me," McCutchen says of the contract. "I love Pittsburgh, love the fans and appreciate the organization thinking so highly of me. I want to play in Pittsburgh for a long time, and I want to win a championship. That would be the ultimate."
The Pirates haven't won a championship of any kind since 1992 when they captured the NL East title during their last winning season. They haven't won or been to a World Series since 1979.
The Pirates have been building their way back toward respectability in the last two seasons behind a core group of players that also includes second baseman Neil Walker and third baseman Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates improved by 15wins to 72-90 in 2011 in Clint Hurdle's first season as manager, then jumped to 79-83 last season, though that was tempered by going 15-35 in the last 50 games to again finish below .500.
If the Pirates are to take the next step and contend or get to the playoffs, McCutchen is surely the player who will lead them to that level.
"The simplest thing I can say is when your best player is your hardest worker, your organization has a tremendous advantage," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington says. "He shows up every day to get better, to do everything in his power to help his team win the game, and as a result he sets the bar high for his teammates. It has been and will be enjoyable to watch him continue to develop as a player and as a man."
Hurdle echoed those thoughts.
"You're getting to see a young man grow up right in front of your eyes in a city that's very deserving of having that kind of player," Hurdle says. "The commitment he's made to our organization is significant. The commitment we've made to him is significant. The passion that he goes out and plays with, the reverence for the game and his teammates, is special. You talk about a win-win opportunity to watch a young man grow up and take this game wherever he's going to take it, we're all fortunate to be along for the ride."