TribLIVE
Blogs | Sports | News
Chipped Ice

May 15, 2015
by Jason Mackey


18 comments so far - add yours!

Mackey: More on Hynes, Farnham

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Hope by now you’ve had a chance to read my Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-centric analysis piece that ran in Thursday’s Trib.

It essentially looks at whether Bobby Farnham, Kasperi Kapanen or Matt Murray will be in Pittsburgh next season. Ditto for Bryan Rust and coach John Hynes.

An interesting note on Hynes, who could interview for the New Jersey Devils head coaching job under Ray Shero – although he hasn’t yet.

Hynes spoke to reporters in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday, and look below for what he said. Thanks to future beat partner Jonathan Bombulie for passing it along.

“You always have an interest in being able to get to the National Hockey League, but as of now, this is where I’m coaching,” Hynes said. “This is what my focus has been, and nothing has changed.

“At this point in time, I’m the coach in Wilkes-Barre, and that’s what my focus will be. If something comes along the road that makes sense for myself and my family, then that’s something I would consider. But none of that has happened at this point.”

My read on the Hynes thing: First off, nothing will happen until Shero gets back from the IIHF World Championships. I think he will ask to speak with Hynes, and I think there’s a 50-50 chance the Penguins deny Shero permission.

Hynes is a solid coach. The Penguins aren’t dummies; they know this. Keeping Hynes in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, should something go awry with Mike Johnston at the NHL level early next season, is not the dumbest idea. Could almost mirror what happened with Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids, Mich., who soon could replace Mike Babcock in Detroit, if the latter decides to leave.

Not allowing Hynes to interview might not appear great to outsiders – you know, stopping someone from furthering their career – but it also might not be the dumbest move tactically. Like I said, will be interesting, for sure.

A couple other things to note:

=You see in the piece I quoted general manager Jim Rutherford. One thing I asked Rutherford that didn’t make it in was, if he had it to over again, would he have had Farnham here for the playoffs. Rutherford answered simply, “No.”

=Another quote from Rutherford, on Farnham, that didn’t make it in: “If he doesn’t make (the NHL team) out of camp, I believe you’ll see him play quite a few games because he just brings a certain energy level that drives everyone.”

=Farnham was his typical, legendary self when I talked to him in the locker room after, sporting a few stitches in his lower lip. One of the questions I asked was whether, on some nights, it’s tough to find the intensity he’s known for.

“You have to get yourself going some games, you know?” Farnham said. “I’m a pretty intense guy. I always like to think of it as a switch that you turn on. You’re off the ice, you’re someone else. When you’re on the ice, there’s another person in you, that you have to find that within you every single game to go out there, play that way and be that person.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

May 12, 2015
by Jason Mackey


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Pouliot asserting himself, TribLIVE link

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Here’s a link to my weekly TribLIVE Radio appearance, talking Mike Babcock and other Pens-related topics with Ken Laird and Guy Junker.

WILKES-BARRE — Let’s rewind to the second period of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins’ 5-2 loss to the Manchester Monarchs on Monday. Power play. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot at the top. Huge hole opens up.

In the NHL, Pouliot likely would have looked to pass to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Here, in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference semifinals, Pouliot stickhandled his way to the net for a scoring chance.

The Penguins didn’t score, but this was an important development given what management has wanted to see, which is for Pouliot to shoot the puck more and be more assertive on the power play.

“I think I need to be a little more aggressive attacking the net,” Pouliot said. “On that play, maybe pulling up at the blue line wasn’t the best decision. I made everyone stop, and we kind of lost our speed. It opened up, and I tried to get through. Like I said, I think I need to be a little more aggressive.”

Far too many times through his 34 games the NHL level this season, Pouliot passed on perfectly good shots. To be fair, though, so did several members of the Penguins’ power-play units; Pouliot is hardly alone.

That Pouliot pulled up early in this instance is minor. That the 21-year-old’s next thought was to take advantage of open space is not.

“Those guys have been playing for a long time,” Pouliot said of Crosby and Malkin. “You know what they can do. You want to get them the puck. They want the puck. You have to trust yourself that you’re going to make the right choice.

“You can still make good plays, and then you dish it off to them.”

Ideally, the Penguins could deploy a group of six defensemen next season that looks something like this:

Olli Maatta-Kris Letang
Pouliot-Ian Cole
Brian Dumoulin-Ben Lovejoy

This, of course, would mean they traded or bought out Rob Scuderi. That could be dicey. If Scuderi’s still here, put him on the third pairing and take two of three from Cole, Lovejoy and Dumoulin.

Cole and Lovejoy could play the right side with Pouliot. Would make more sense — for me, anyway — to keep Dumoulin on his natural side.

Regardless of how the Penguins configure their defense, they want Pouliot, assuming there’s no regression in his play, to see significant power-play time.

That requires that he shoot the puck, and he knows it.

“A big part of the power play, especially when you play the top like that, is you get a couple shots through, especially early, and then stuff opens up for (Crosby, Malkin, etc.),” Pouliot said. “They have to respect your shot. I don’t think I made them respect my shot that much.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

May 7, 2015
by Jason Mackey


37 comments so far - add yours!

Mackey: Welcome Bombulie, offseason questions

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

First and foremost – this is for the three of you who read this but aren’t on Twitter – I’d like to introduce my new beat partner, Jonathan Bombulie.

Jonathan has covered the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins since the franchise’s inception in 1999. He will handle more of the biographical stuff when he gets here, but Bombulie replaces Josh Yohe, who left to pursue another opportunity alongside Dejan Kovacevic at DKonPittsburghSports.com.

Josh was a great coworker and remains a close friend. I/we wish him nothing but the best. Like Josh, Jonathan knows a ton about the game. He’s similarly friendly, easygoing and hard-working.

Together, Jonathan and I will do everything we can to deliver the best Penguins coverage possible.

And hopefully Bobby Farnham.

(Bombulie will be here following the Baby Penguins’ playoff run; he has until then to convince Farnham that he should live in Pittsburgh and Penguins’ management to pay Farnham to be here.)

Also, and I feel inclined to say this after what has been a crazy 17 days or so since the Ice Cream Incident, thank you for reading.

Seriously. There’s never a day where I take for granted the idea that you have a choice, and you’re actively choosing to read what I have to say. It’s humbling.

Anyway, with things mostly quiet – publicly, anyway – around Consol, I thought I’d toss out a few offseason questions and provide answers based on what I’ve learned from talking to people within the organization.

Q: Will the Penguins buy out Chris Kunitz and Rob Scuderi?

A: I don’t believe so. The Penguins want to maximize what they get out of the salary cap, and this would be, to quote Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, money for nothing.

Also, as we were told at general manager Jim Rutherford’s season-ending presser and I was recently reassured, the Penguins view Kunitz’ 2014-15 season as a one-off situation; an iron deficiency put him in a weird place physically, and confidence was a major factor.

Scuderi – like Ben Lovejoy and others – was basically playing out of position or role because of the multitude of injuries to defensemen.

Q: If the Penguins make a trade, who’s involved?

A: First, the Penguins will do something. Too few draft picks and too many needs at the NHL level not to. Maybe for a top-six winger, too (see below).

Based on what I’ve been told, Brandon Sutter is the most logical option – no, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury are not on the trading block.

Resigning Sutter when his contract expires after next season will be tough based on what other teams will be willing to pay and the money the Penguins have invested in those four. Trading him at the 2015-16 deadline could send the wrong message.

Sutter’s stock is also extremely high based on the 21 goals he scored this past season.

Q: Among the Penguins’ free-agent forwards, who’s the best bet to come back?

A: Blake Comeau. Plain and simple. Wrote it before in my season-ending analysis. Comeau appreciated that the Penguins saw him as more than a fourth-liner. Provided some grit and offensive punch, too … but not enough to where he’ll be out of their price range.

Maxim Lapierre underperformed during the regular season but may want too much to fit within what the Penguins can offer based on his profile and postseason work. They also have a third- or fourth-line center worth monitoring in Oskar Sundqvist.

There remains a concern that Steve Downie will similarly seek more than the Penguins can afford based on scoring 14 goals in 2014-15. Another team might bite, but it’s hardly a secret the Penguins weren’t thrilled with Downie’s penchant for taking penalties, especially in the third period.

Q: Who will the Penguins get to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

A: That’s tough. It’s early. Drew Stafford? Jiri Tlusty? Not terrible ideas. General manager Jim Rutherford knows the second of the two from Carolina. But there’s a lot of variables at play here.

One variable I believe the Penguins will consider is having a fellow Russian on the team to benefit Malkin.

Not that he needs shown the city or anything like that. More of a comfortability thing. And Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov, a former No. 1 overall pick, would provide an intriguing option if the Oilers finally agree to part with him.

There will also be a push, much like there was with Crosby this past season, for Malkin to play more of a two-way game in 2015-16. Have to give to receive, right?

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

May 2, 2015
by Jason Mackey


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Pens Roundtable link

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Josh Yohe, Ken Laird and I got together one last time to wrap up the 2014-15 season.

We tried to sort out the series loss to the Rangers and what affected the Penguins this season.

Also offseason priorities and what might happen over the summer.

Most importantly, Bobby Farnham came up. Hope you can listen.

Here’s the link. Thanks, again, from all of us for listening all season.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

April 30, 2015
by Jason Mackey


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Year-end evaluation: bottom-six

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

You could theoretically configure a third line that includes a total of 44 goals scored in Nick Spaling (nine), Brandon Sutter (21) and Steve Downie (14).

Yet I don’t think anyone would say the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards were a strength this season.

A big part of that was the fourth line.

If you slot the aforementioned players on the third line, that essentially left some combination of Beau Bennett, Craig Adams, Maxim Lapierre, Daniel Winnik, Blake Comeau or Scott Wilson.

Management grew frustrated with the first two on that list, to the point of saying they’d explore options from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the playoffs – eventually Wilson.

Expect for this area to be addressed further this summer.

Daniel Winnik

The regular season was fine. In 21 games, Winnik was 2-7—9 and a plus-8. But his performance in the playoffs was not great. Winnik was 0-0—0 and a minus-6 against the Rangers.

Winnik seemed to struggle playing with more skilled players. He’s a solid PK guy, but he’s also 30 years old.

Management wants to get younger and faster, which would squeeze Winnik out of a job. Winnik is an RFA whose cap hit this past season was $1.3 million.

Really doubt the Penguins are going to want to pay that for the possible return on investment.

Nick Spaling

Spaling scored nine goals, but that number is skewed slightly because of the amount of top-six time he was given. He finished with one goal over his final 31 games, when he was consistent case in a bottom-six role.

On the positive side, he’s an above-average penalty killer – statistically speaking, anyway, their best forward – capable of playing all three forward positions, consistent, durable and a solid locker-room guy.

The downside is that, through arbitration, Spaling wound up making $2.2 million this season.

He’s signed through 2016, and my guess is he’s back; it’s not exactly a transportable contract for the production another team would theoretically get.

Steve Downie

Take penalties out of the equation, and Downie is an incredibly skilled hockey player. Great hands. Can score. An asset to any team’s third or fourth line, for sure.

But you can’t take penalties out of the equation.

General manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday at his year-end news conference that discipline was a problem for the Penguins.

Nobody fell into this category more than Downie, who led the league in penalty minutes. Really wouldn’t expect Downie to be back for that reason alone.

Craig Adams

Adams’ career as a Penguin closed with one 35-second shift in a game, then dressing and sitting for the entire game. Strange, to say the least.

Adams won’t be resigned, and that’s hardly a surprise.

He was cited by many as the team’s top penalty killer, though coach Mike Johnston had no problem pulling him out of the lineup down the stretch.

A lack of scoring ability and speed were the two most frequently cited flaws on the Penguins’ fourth line by management, and I don’t think Adams did much to address either of those concerns.

It will be interesting to see whether another NHL team wants to bring in a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Or whether the 38-year-old Adams wants to hang ‘em up.

Scott Wilson

Wilson impressed management with how he played in the playoffs. It validated what they thought when they promoted Wilson in December, only to see him injured in the first period of his NHL debut.

Don’t want to say Wilson is a lock for NHL duty next season, but a bottom-six spot will be his to lose.

Wilson produced 19 goals and 41 points this season for the Baby Penguins, despite playing just 55 games because of his leg injury.

He doesn’t have a ton of size, but he can play a gritty game and is an underrated playmaker.

Pascal Dupuis

What to make of Dupuis? I’m not sure.

Best case, he returns and doesn’t belong in this discussion – he’s a top-six guy playing with Sidney Crosby.

He also hasn’t been cleared, so I’m trying to be realistic.

I could also see value in deploying Dupuis as a third-liner, if he’s healthy at the start of next season.

Chris Kunitz and Dupuis as third-line wingers around either Oskar Sundqvist, Sutter or a third-line center the Penguins acquire? It’s not terrible.

And having Dupuis in the lineup certainly upgrades the whole team speed thing.

Others

As I typed above, this area will be addressed through trades and free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team make a run at resigning Comeau, for one.

The development of center Sundqvist and a potential trade of Sutter could also affect the makeup of the group.

And there’s the case of Bennett, too. Is he a third-liner? A top-six guy? I don’t think Bennett is suited to play on the fourth line.

If you’re going to do that, you might as well trade him; it’s a style that’s not even close to suited for his talents.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

April 28, 2015
by Jason Mackey


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Year-end evaluation: top six

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Yesterday we examined the Penguins’ centers. Today, their top-six wingers. Tomorrow, their bottom-six.

Chris Kunitz

Everything looked fine early. Kunitz scored eight goals in the Penguins’ first 11 games, then 10 over his next 68.

There was a fractured foot and a nasty slump. Kunitz talked on locker-cleanout day about needing to get healthy in the offseason and work on his quickness, two things I can’t exactly argue with.

It’s likely the Penguins will explore moving Kunitz – I was told mid-season that the perceived value on Kunitz and Brandon Sutter would be higher in the summer than it would in-season – but I’m not sure on the return; I was also told there wasn’t much interest, if any at all, around the trade deadline.

If they could move Kunitz for a seventh-round pick in 2016, to me, it would seem like a victory. If not, a checking-line role in the future must be explored.

We can say this about Kunitz this season: He still played a physical game. An expensive physical game but a physical game.

David Perron

Remember the time Perron scored nine goals in his first 16 games as a Penguin? Few do.

That also happened to be the time when Perron was his most physical and assertive, when he averaged 3.875 shots on goal per game. In the final 27 games of the regular season, Perron scored three goals and averaged 2.222 shots on goal per game.

On getaway day, Perron talked about having a full offseason, something he didn’t have last year because of a hip injury. This summer, Perron needs to get his ribs healthy. He also needs to find a way to assert himself, whether it’s with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Patric Hornqvist

A case could be made that Hornqvist deserves to have an “A” on his sweater next season, and I wouldn’t argue with it. His energy was contagious. His play was effective. Fans complained about some of GM Jim Rutherford’s moves, but I never heard a peep about this one.

For good reason.

With a broken rib, at times, no less.

Hornqvist’s goals per game mark of .39 ranked second on the Penguins behind Malkin (.41). Hornqvist (11.1) averaged the third-most scoring chances per game, according to war-on-ice.com, behind Crosby (12.5) and Malkin (12.3), in all situations.

Beau Bennett

I don’t know if Bennett is a top-six winger, and I really don’t think he’s a left wing. Yet Bennett-as-top-six is a pressing issue with the Penguins, and he spent the majority of his games this season at left wing. So here we are.

Bennett has 10 goals in 96 professional hockey games, an average of .10 per contest. Looking at this season, Bennett’s closest comparable is Nick Spaling (.11).

Rutherford blamed himself for what he essentially called the flawed development of Bennett. Said, essentially, that the Penguins rushed him. Should have let him play more in Wilkes-Barre.

It also wouldn’t hurt to, once he’s developed, give him actual top-six opportunities.

Blake Comeau

I put Comeau on this list because he really did see a decent amount of top-six time this season.
Do I think the Penguins should resign Comeau? Yes. Do I think they should count on him in their top six? No, I don’t.

Comeau is a physical player, an honest player. Someone the Penguins need. But I have a tough time saying he’d be who he was – when healthy, mind you – early in the season for an entire year.
If he does, great. But I would look elsewhere first.

Others

Oskar Sundqvist is a solid prospect, but he projects more as a bottom-six center. The name to watch here is really Kasperi Kapanen. There are holes in his game, sure. But he’s 18 years old. There are holds in a lot of 18-year-old’s games.

As Rutherford said today, “Kapanen had a really good first game and then he dropped off a bit for a couple of games. … Now, he’s back on track and playing really well.”

The best thing that could happen for the Penguins is for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to make a long run in the Calder Cup playoffs, giving Kapanen more time in the minor.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

April 27, 2015
by Jason Mackey


4 comments so far - add yours!

Year-end evaluation: centers

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Each day this week, we’re going to be examining various parts of the Penguins. What we thought about how they performed. Who we think who will be back. Who we think is due to produce. Basically, any insight we can provide.

Today, centers. Tomorrow, top-six wingers. Wednesday, bottom-six wingers. Thursday, defensemen. Friday, goaltenders. Or something like that.

Sidney Crosby

Despite finishing third in the NHL scoring race with 84 points, Crosby had the worst full season of his career when looking solely at numbers. Don’t, though. It’s not fair. Crosby adopted a more defensive game following an offseason request from first-year coach Mike Johnston.

Crosby’s defensive numbers, as I wrote, aligned with past Selke Trophy winners. This season, his GA60 of 2.0 was better than both Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (2.49) and Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk (2.08).

Also keep in mind the dramatic decline in Chris Kunitz’ production and the fact that Pascal Dupuis played only 16 games. Patric Hornqvist fit on Crosby’s right wing, but even he had injury issues.

Evgeni Malkin

Dominant early, invisible late.

Remember the guy who had points in 28 of the Penguins’ first 34 games? Might be obscured by the fact that Malkin closed the year without a point in 10 straight, including playoffs. He went without a goal in his final 15.

Was Malkin healthy? No. Fought health issues all year. Also fought not having James Neal or even Jussi Jokinen. David Perron struggled meshing with Malkin early before appearing at least adequate together later in the Ranger series. Blake Comeau was hot early in the regular season, got hurt, and the water found its career level.

Nick Spaling, Andrew Ebbett, Rob Klinkhammer, Bryan Rust and Mark Arcobello saw time with Malkin on the Penguins’ second line. Few will debate Malkin’s ability, but it doesn’t take a lot of creative thought to write that Malkin needs to score for the Penguins to be effective.

Brandon Sutter

The advanced stats community hates Sutter. They point to his CF% of 49.48 while ignoring his defensive assignments or the fact that he ranks among the Penguins’ leaders in defensive-zone starts.

His 21 goals tied a career-high. There are few better at scoring when skating down the wing. He also has 6-3—9 over his past 18 playoff games.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Penguins tried to trade Sutter. He represents one of their few movable assets, even if those among you are split on his value. His contract is worth $3.3 million and expires after the 2015-16, at which time he’ll still only be 27.

Sutter is also coming off a career-best 51.1-percent faceoff mark, for whatever that’s worth.

Maxim Lapierre

Do the Penguins bring back Lapierre for his age 31 season at around $1 million? (His 2014-15 cap hit was $1.1 million). Well, it depends.

They need to give him more to work with, first off. Hammering a guy for not scoring while he’s flanked by Craig Adams and Beau Bennett hardly seems fair. See what Lapierre did in spurts against the Rangers whenever he played with Spaling and Comeau, guys who should be drawing NHL paychecks as solid bottom-six guys?

There’s also the idea that Lapierre is a different player in the playoffs. While I don’t disagree, I think reminding Lapierre – should the Penguins resign him – that 82 games do exist prior to the postseason wouldn’t be the worst idea.

Others

Oskar Sundqvist is pretty much the Penguins’ only prospect down the middle. Sundqvist put up 9-10—19 in 41 games this past season for Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League. The numbers aren’t eye-popping, but keep in mind it’s a different style of game. If Sundqvist is deemed ready for NHL duty, then it could impact what the Penguins decide to do with Sutter and Lapierre.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

April 17, 2015
by Jason Mackey


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Pens Roundtable show link

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Do the Penguins stand a chance? What’s up with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? What went wrong last night?

Josh Yohe and I tackled this issues from separate parts of Manhattan yesterday for a really round Pens Roundtable Show, with Ken Laird doing all the actual work.

We also touch on whether we’ll see Derrick Pouliot and Christian Ehrhoff Saturday and what the Penguins need to do in Game 3.

Hope you can listen. Here’s the link.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

April 10, 2015
by Jason Mackey


2 comments so far - add yours!

Pens Roundtable show link

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Strange days in Penguin land, no?

Win tonight to get in? Well, it can happen. There are other ways the Penguins can make the playoffs, too.

Josh Yohe, Ken Laird and I talked about that this afternoon for our weekly Pens Roundtable show.

Here’s the link. Hope you can listen.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
 
Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: This Just In | Trib List | ICycle | Flow Back | Stories Behind Trib Stories  


» Top TribLIVE.com Sports
» Top TribLIVE.com News
» Top TribLIVE.com Breaking News