Monday, July 07, 2014

Notes for the Penguins' offseason

Christian Ehrhoff

Refreshing Penguins notes: During the offseason, they’re the next best thing to unrestricted free agency. Deryk Engelland got WHAT?
-- Now that Christian Ehrhoff is signed, it’s logical for GM Jim Rutherford to shop Paul Martin if a proper winger can be had in return. Martin is in the last year of his deal and reportedly wants to test free agency next July 1. The Penguins have an abundance of puck-moving defensemen, and an overflow of young defensemen overdue for a chance. They have contract control over Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot moving forward. Three skilled blueliners.
-- One worry regarding a potential swap of Martin: There’s no telling when Maatta will be 100 percent after shoulder surgery. Can he avoid the sophomore jinx?
-- The Penguins’ defensive corps figures to be effective nearly everywhere on the ice. Except in front of its own net.
-- Ex-Penguins coach Dan Bylsma sold the notion that vanilla too-short Brian Gibbons not only belonged in the NHL, but could play on Sidney Crosby’s line. Yet, when Gibbons hit free agency on July 1, all 30 NHL teams passed on signing him. On Friday, Gibbons signed a two-way (minor-league) deal with Columbus. Gibbons will soon be back where he belongs: In the American Hockey League.
-- Brooks Orpik was a great Penguin. Good when times were bad. He should be revered. But Orpik’s five-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington smacks of abject insanity. The money is too much and the term too long for a 33-year-old defenseman who had concussion and knee problems just this past season.
-- Matt Niskanen should send Bylsma a cut of his pay. Niskanen got a seven-year, $40.25 million deal with Washington based on his first outstanding NHL season. His six previous were, at best, decent. But Bylsma gave Niskanen opportunities that most coaches would not, like using Niskanen on the power play ahead of Letang. Niskanen made the most of it, and of ice time afforded by frequent injury to the Penguins’ defensive corps. Timing is everything.
-- Niskanen is not better than Letang. Nor is he better than Ehrhoff. That will be more than evident this coming season.
-- Letang makes $7.25 million per season through 2021-22. That suddenly seems a bargain given last week’s free-agent paydays.
-- Engelland is a marginal NHL defenseman who didn’t win many fights after an initial run of victories when he was unknown. Why did Calgary give him $8.7 million over three years? Who did the Flames bid against? Brian Burke, Calgary’s president of hockey ops, always did like a cementhead. Being one himself.
-- Ehrhoff must really think the Penguins can win. If Orpik, Niskanen and Engelland got what they got, what could Ehrhoff have gotten?
-- The Penguins should try Steve Downie on Sidney Crosby’s wing. Downie scored 22 times for Tampa Bay in 2009-10 while playing on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Downie would watch Crosby’s back. Pascal Dupuis could be part of a quality third line also including Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling.
-- Crosby should not skate with Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. The Penguins are changing. Crosby needs to experience that change. He should get good linemates, but decisions can’t always be made in order to leave Crosby’s comfort zone intact.
-- The same goes for Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins should do more to help Crosby and Malkin. They haven’t yet, not in terms of linemates. But for the Penguins, the last five years have been a stink sandwich. So, in some ways, is the current situation. So the stars have to take a bite. A bigger bite, perhaps.
-- It’s hard to knock Crosby’s production when he led the NHL in scoring. But prevailing wisdom holds that Crosby doesn’t go to the net as much as he used to, or as much as he should. That showed during the playoffs.
-- Bylsma and former GM Ray Shero will again work in the NHL. But their current unemployment says a lot about the bloom being off their rose.
-- Goalie Thomas Greiss is 28 and has played 69 career NHL games. The idea that Rutherford sees Greiss as a potential successor to Marc-Andre Fleury is ludicrous.
-- Rutherford says first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen has a chance to make the Penguins. After all, the GM points out, he played against men in Finland’s top professional league. Yes, Kapanen did. Against men who aren’t good enough to play pro in North America. If Kapanen is ready for the NHL, it won’t be based on what he did playing in Finland.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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