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July 30, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Lucky Number

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Penguins announced today the numbers their new acquisitions will wear next season, and one caught my attention.

Nick Bonino, evidently not the superstitious type, will wear No. 13, the number he’s worn for most of his pro career. (He got stuck with 63 as a youngster in the Anaheim organization presumably because Mike Brown was wearing 13 when Bonino got called up for the first time.)

Bonino doesn’t have a lot of company in being comfortable wearing the traditionally unlucky No. 13. In fact, in the 47-year history of the Penguins franchise, only five players before Bonino have worn No. 13, and some of them got out of it as soon as they could. By way of comparison, 24 players have worn No. 12 and 21 players have worn No. 14.

Which raises the question: How many of the five Penguins who have worn No. 13 can you name?

Bye for now,



July 30, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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New look on defense


In the wake of this week’s transactions, there’s been talk about how dramatically the Penguins have reshaped their forward ranks, particularly the bottom six, in the last year or so.

That’s true, of course, but I’ve also noticed a pretty comprehensive overhaul on defense in the last year. Look at this chart.

4. COLE 4. EHRHOFF Free agent
 ————————- ————————- ————————-
8. ERIXON 8. POULIOT Graduated
11. OLEKSY 11. CHORNEY Washington
14. O’NEILL 14. D’AGOSTINO Free agent

The transformation of the NHL defense corps is pretty significant. First you had the Cole and Lovejoy deals, then they promoted two young kids — Pouliot and Dumoulin — to replace departing free agents in Martin and Ehrhoff.

I’m not suggesting general manager Jim Rutherford is done making personnel changes on defense. There are some question marks in the top four. Letang and Maatta have significant serious injury histories, Cole doesn’t have a long track record of success as a top-four NHL defenseman and Pouliot is largely untested. But I am suggesting Rutherford has shaken up the corps quite a bit already.

The 8-12 spots — players who are likely to appear in an NHL game at some point this season due to injuries — are completely different.

I think those guys will form a very good AHL defense group — Andersen and Erixon as two-way guys with experience, Oleksy and McNeill with a physical presence and Clendening, Warsofsky and O’Neill moving the puck — but I’m not sure you’d be as comfortable with them as call-up options as you were with Pouliot, Dumoulin, Harrington and Chorney last season.

Bye for now,



July 29, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Saad to Walker: Your turn



Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad had his day with the Stanley Cup today and he brought it to the 911th Airlift Wing in Coraopolis. When he walked into the hangar, he was introduced by base commander Col. Jeff Van Dootingh, who welcomed Saad and the trophy back to the city of champions.

We’ve used that phrase for a few decades now to refer to Pittsburgh, but these days, it might have a different, more specific meaning. Between Saad and Women’s World Cup champ Meghan Klingenberg, is Gibsonia the new city of champions?

“I pretty much watched that whole series with Klingenberg. It was a special day for her and the city of Gibsonia,” Saad said.

The next step in Gibsonia’s takeover of the sporting universe is an obvious one: Neil Walker has to win a World Series.

“There’s a lot of pressure, but he’s doing a hell of a job,” Saad said. “Every year, I have fun watching him. I’m sure the Pirates are going to bring one home soon.”

An under-the-radar Gibsonia performance from the last month worth noting: Remember when Ty Loney was the star of the Penguins development camp scrimmage, scoring a hat trick? He, too, went to Pine-Richland.

Speaking of championships, a note on the picture you see at the top of this post. It’s Saad, the Stanley Cup and another trophy: the Hennessy Award, given to the top food service program in the Air Force. The 911th force support squadron won the 2015 version.

It was actually a pretty cool competition. Prepare a five-star meal for dozens of airmen using boil-in-a-bag ingredients in a makeshift kitchen. You can read more about it here.

Note to television executives: Now that sounds like a good cooking show. Like Chopped or Hell’s Kitchen, but with airmen instead of preening reality show goofs.

Bye for now,



July 29, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Stats on Sutter, Bonino and Fehr


The general consensus while the Penguins were making moves yesterday was that Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino have better advanced stats that Brandon Sutter.

I come from an AHL background, where the most advanced stat is probably shooting percentage, so I have only a basic, elementary understanding of analytics in hockey. Please keep that in mind. Still, I wanted to compare the three centers in question using some stats other than goals, assists and points. So that’s what you’ll see here.

14-15 13-14 12-13
SUTTER 1.2 1.1 1.1
BONINO 2.0 2.0 1.6
FEHR 1.5 1.8 1.3

Here’s where Bonino looks the best. A 2.0 points per 60 rate is in the top 100 in the league, around guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Sedin and Marian Hossa. Sutter is around 350th in the league, around guys like Mark Letestu, Mike Richards and Tyler Bozak.

SUTTER 49.5 43.8 42.2
BONINO 50.9 49.0 43.6
FEHR 50.6 49.0 52.9

This is probably what people are talking about when they say Bonino and Fehr are superior to Sutter in advanced stats. Last year, Bonino and Fehr’s teams attempted more shots than they allowed while they were on the ice. The Penguins allowed more shots than they attempted while Sutter was on the ice. It’s only a matter of a few percentage points and my reading of the stat is probably crude, but it is what it is. They’re over 50 percent and he’s under.

SUTTER -30 -103 -58
BONINO -5 -6 -13
FEHR 36 16 39

I don’t know if this even counts as an advanced stat, but I like it. It’s just like regular plus-minus except for scoring chances rather than goals. This isn’t a good look for Sutter.

SUTTER 50.6 47.7 50.2
BONINO 47.4 48.8 46.8
FEHR 52.0 46.0 0

This isn’t an advanced stat at all, but worth looking at anyway. Sutter is a decent faceoff guy and Bonino is a little less effective than that. Fehr, meanwhile, is an interesting case. A former winger, he’s only been taking draws for two years now. If he continues to improve with experience, he could be a real difference maker there.

What have we learned here today? I don’t know. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably feel like 5 minutes spent thinking about hockey in July is better than 5 minutes spent thinking about something else, so good times.

Bye for now,



July 28, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Twenty-one notes on today’s moves


Twenty-one notes on the Penguins moves of the day, sending Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick to Vancouver for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a second-round pick and signing Eric Fehr to a three-year, $6 million contract.

— GM Jim Rutherford said he started discussing the basics of a Sutter-for-Bonino trade with Vancouver about a month before the draft.

— The third-round pick the Penguins gave up is the one they got from Buffalo as compensation for Dan Bylsma. The second-round pick the Penguins got was originally Anaheim’s. Because Anaheim will probably be one of the league’s better teams and Buffalo is still rebuilding, those picks probably won’t be too far apart in the draft order.

— Advanced stats say Bonino and Fehr are good possession guys.

— Quotable Rutherford: “The nice thing is we’ll have a competitive camp. It’s not like guys will be automatically put on the top six or the top nine. We have enough good players now that the guys are really going to have to compete for those spots and compete all year. If a guy falls off, there’s a guy waiting to jump right in there. I like the fact that we have enough guys that each guy can push each other.”

— If Sutter was super psyched about making the climb up the depth chart from third-line center with the Penguins to second-line center with the Canucks, he hid it well. “When you get to a team, you’re not too concerned with what your role’s going to be,” he said. “I just want to do what’s asked of me, but I hope to play an increased role. It sounds like there’s a opportunity for me to be a second-line center, but at the same time, whatever works for the coaches and whatever makes our team better.”

— Sutter on the fact that none of his three seasons with the Penguins ended with a championship: “There’s always a little bit of disappointment there, a bit of a sour taste, but there’s a good group there. I can’t say anything bad about it.”

— Bonino said he actually likes blocking shots, and he led Canucks forwards in the stat last season. He said that comes from his college days at Boston University, when coach Jack Parker used to give out helmet stickers for blocked shots.

— Rutherford said Bonino could play on the half-wall on a second power-play unit. That doesn’t seem too likely, unless there are injuries, but Bonino has been a scoring-line player in the past. I remember him centering Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon on a very good line in Syracuse of the AHL. Bonino was BU’s leading scorer one season too.

— Bonino said the one Penguins player he knows well is Ben Lovejoy. They were teammates in Anaheim. “Maybe he liked me a little bit and he’ll say a few good things about me before I get there. He’s like the mayor. He talks to everybody,” Bonino said.

— Bonino just bought a house in Vancouver in mid-May. Didn’t even have it fully decorated yet. “The way the market is, we should be OK,” he said, looking at the bright side.

— Rutherford said Bonino is a smart player who could be used on the wing. I’m sure that’s true, but Bonino said he has very little experience playing anywhere but center.

— Quotable Bonino: “It’s turned more into a top nine (league) these days. Teams have good centers in the three spot. They’re getting a good amount of ice and they’re producing. That’s something the league has trended toward. I remember the Ducks in ‘07. They had Rob Niedermayer and Sami Pahlsson. It’s rare to find lines like that who are just solely checkers. Everyone can do everything, and that’s something I hope my line can do.”

— You know that whole joining-the-enemy angle that hack sports writers like me always take when a player goes from the Capitals to the Penguins? Here’s what Fehr had to say about it: “They’re two teams that didn’t really get along, but all along, really respected each other. I’m excited to join the Penguins and hoping to do great things.”

— Fehr was a right wing for most of his life. Transitioning to center in recent years meant learning to take faceoffs. He’s become pretty good at it, winning 52 percent of his draws last year. “When coach Adam Oates wanted me to play center, that was probably the biggest challenge for me, trying to win faceoffs against guys who have been doing it their whole life,” Fehr said. “I took it seriously. I worked with Jay Beagle. He’s one of the better faceoff men in the league. I picked his brain and took some strategies that he had. It’s a science. It’s not just dropping a puck. There’s a lot of skill involved in it. I’ve learned a lot the last couple years.”

— With all this talk about trades today, it’s easy to forget that Fehr was a free agent. He had multiple offers. He chose the Penguins. Here’s why: “The opportunity is there. There’s really good skill up front and a really exciting team that pushes the pace and wants to play offensive hockey. It’s also a team that has the ability to win. Being in Washington all these years, we always had a good team. We always had a shot. I want to have that. I want to have a shot at winning every year. With Pittsburgh, it’s a great opportunity. They’ve made some great additions and I’m happy to be joining the team.” Also, he liked the stability of a three-year deal.

— Clendening said he doesn’t know much about the Penguins organization, but he became good friends with Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad when they were teammates with the Blackhawks, so he has a little inside info on the Pittsburgh area. “He shot me a text and told me about the area and told me about maybe a place to live,” he said.

— Clendening is coming off a run to the Calder Cup finals with the AHL’s Utica Comets. “This is a very short summer. We didn’t finish until the 20th of June. Before I know it, I’m going to have to turn around and do it all again,” he said.

— Clendening has been one of the top offensive defensemen in the AHL over the past three seasons. His first two years, he made the league’s postseason all-star teams.

— Here’s how Clendening describes his offensive game: “I think just moving the puck, putting the puck in the right spots, getting it to the right guys, especially on a team like this. You give it to the right people, something’s bound to happen. I was lucky. I got to do the same thing in Chicago as part of a similar roster filled with NHL all-stars. I can’t be more thrilled to go back to a situation like that. I had at one point Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Keith. Now it’s Sid and Malkin and Kunitz. They know what they’re doing when they get it.”

— Clendening realized he forgot to mention Phil Kessel when ticking off the list of Penguins stars. He apologized. “It’s probably frowned upon to forget about that guy,” he joked.

— Here’s what Clendening says he has to get better at to become a full-time NHL regular: “I obviously need to improve everywhere, but I don’t think there’s any one thing that sticks out. Obviously, the better I defend, the easier it is to get the puck back and play to my strengths. That’s always been the same answer for me. Ever since I’ve turned pro, it’s been the same answer. Obviously playing defense at the NHL level is a hard thing. The quicker and more efficient I am at that, the quicker I get the puck back and play to my strengths.”

Bye for now,



July 24, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Friday fun and games


I’ll have a story on Tom Fitzgerald leaving the Penguins to join Ray Shero in New Jersey, but in the meantime, some Friday fun and games.

Colleague Mike Palm and I were corresponding about NHL expansion, and it got me thinking about good hockey cities. One way to measure the quality of a hockey city is by looking at how many players from a city go on to play in the NHL.

So I called up and made up a Sporcle quiz. What cities have produced the most NHL points?

Pittsburgh, if you were wondering, is 130th with 1,328 points, led by 381 from R.J. Umberger and 370 from Ryan Malone. Brandon Saad is fourth with a bullet with 126. It’s right between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Worcester, Mass.

Sidney Crosby, incidentally, has Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia in 218th place with 853 points, even though he’s the only player contributing to the total.

Follow this link to the quiz. I have to warn you. You’d better brush up on your Ontario towns before playing. There are 15 of them on there. Also, if you can spell Henrik Sedin’s hometown, more power to you. I only included the city’s name, sans state or province, to make it a little easier to type in guesses.

Bye for now,



July 22, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Playing the lottery

Craig Patrick points and smiles. (Getty Images)

Craig Patrick points and smiles. (Getty Images)

Ten years ago today, the 2005 NHL draft lottery was held.

A little refresher on how it worked. Because it was after the 2004-05 season was wiped out by a lockout, it was a different kind of lottery. Each team started with three lottery balls. A ball was subtracted if the team made the playoffs in the previous three seasons or picked first overall in the past four drafts. That left the odds like this:

3 in 48: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus and the Rangers

2 in 48: Anaheim, Atlanta, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville and Phoenix

1 in 48: Everybody else

The Penguins obviously won the lottery, chose Sidney Crosby and changed the course of franchise history. But what about the other three teams that had the same shot at getting Crosby but did not? How did they fare afterwards?

— Columbus picked sixth and chose Gilbert Brule. Mistake. He scored 12 goals in 146 games with the Blue Jackets, bounced around the league for a while and played in the KHL last season.

It wasn’t a terrible decision at the time. Brule was ranked fifth in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American forwards. The sting of losing the lottery would have been lessened greatly if the Blue Jackets had instead looked to the top of the European skater rankings, where Anze Kopitar was first, but instead, he went 11th to the Kings. The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs twice in the 10 years since, falling in the first round both times.

— The Rangers picked 12th and chose Marc Staal. That’s a case of making the best out of a bad situation after they lost the lottery. Staal has become and excellent defenseman for the Rangers, a cornerstone of the franchise.

You might make a case that they would have been better off taking Kris Letang or Keith Yandle, but they were ranked much lower in the Central Scouting rankings. Staal was an excellent choice. The Rangers have made the playoffs in all but one of the 10 years since.

— The Sabres picked 13th and chose Marek Zagrapan. It was a questionable pick at the time, since he was the 23rd ranked North American skater by Central Scouting, and it looks even worse in retrospect. Zagrapan had a couple of OK years in the AHL, then went back to Europe and landed last season with a team in Austria. He never played in the NHL.

If the Sabres felt they needed a center, picking Paul Stastny might have eased the pain of losing the lottery. If they could have shifted to the wing, James Neal or T.J. Oshie would have been nice consolation prizes. Instead, they took Zagrapan and haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 or won a round since 2007.

The moral of the story? Losing the draft lottery didn’t deal a crippling blow to any of these franchises. Compounding that loss with a bad draft pick probably did.

Bye for now,



July 22, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Hockey geography


The ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers announced today that they’ve extended their affiliation agreement with the Penguins for another season, running their partnership to a remarkable 17 years.

For the first time since 2009-10, the Penguins won’t be sharing the Nailers with another team. Montreal moved its ECHL operations to Brampton, Ontario. That’s significant in the goaltending department. Peter Delmas and Mike Condon have been Habs prospects who have done a great job in net for the Nailers in recent years.

Without that additional goaltending option, the Nailers will probably rely heavily on the goalie who comes down from Wilkes-Barre at the end of camp, whether that’s rookie Tristan Jarry or a veteran minor leaguer added in free agency.

From a trivia perspective, this is as good a time as any to break out a new Sporcle quiz. By my last count, 50 former Nailers have made their way to the NHL. How many can you name?

Anyway, the announcement got me thinking aboutgeography. I enlisted Google maps to look at the distances between the NHL, AHL and ECHL teams in various organizations.

I decided to put the maps after the jump so this doesn’t become a massive post. Click here and let’s talk geography.

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