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Pens Push (Fantasy Draft edition): Neal nervous, Letang on defending Malkin, and wise words from a Flyer.

Some quick-hit observations from the 2012 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft:

= So, it seems like forever has passed since I covered a hockey-related event; but for all the ones I have covered over the many years I cannot say I have experienced anything quite like the All-Star draft. This provided yet another example of how wrong a reporter can be about something. Upon stepping onto a US Airways flight at 5:15 a.m. on Thursday I was sure that this draft would be thoroughly miserable to cover and that the All-Stars wanted no part of it. Doesn’t really matter that I was stone-cold wrong on the former, but it is important for the dear readers to know that, from my perspective anyway, the NHL All-Stars really dig this concept.

The odd part is that the draft really is all about who gets taken last. In that way it’s the opposite of an actual draft – though, considering the players selected at this draft will play against one another in a game on Sunday, I take issue with the “fantasy” angle. Still, there is no denying that that last pick has taken on a life of its own, and not just because the last player chosen has received a car in the two years of this format.

It’s almost a badge of honor, near as I can tell, to be the last guy taken. It’s as if anybody can go, say, fifth – well, not just anybody, because the fifth pick in this draft was arguably hockey’s best player (Evgeni Malkin) – but only one All-Star gets to spend the entire draft backstage with the boys, and draw sympathy from the fans and media. If this All-Star handles himself with grace and humor, or just generally well, his stock goes up instantly.

Also, there is this to consider: What does anybody remember from the first All-Star Fantasy Draft in 2011? I would say that most people remember that Phil Kessel was the last man standing. They will remember that about Logan Couture from the 2012 process.

The Last Man Standing Club is fairly exclusive, and it might be fast becoming the NHL’s version of the CBGB.

– 

= So, James Neal thought he might be part of that club, per Kris Letang.

“What was I thinking? A little nervous I guess (backstage). You never know who’s going to go next,” Neal said, adding that his Team Alfredsson squad “looks good.”

“A couple of good goal scorers there in (Steven) Stamkos and (Claude) Giroux.”

Fair enough, but for team captain Daniel Alfredsson to snag a 27-goal scorer such as Neal with the 28th overall pick – well, that is a nice haul, too.

Neal was going to spend his All-Star break on vacation in Florida, where it will be slightly warmer than Ottawa. Still, the thermals I brought on this trip probably weren’t necessary, as the All-Star weekend forecast is calling for mid-20s – not balmy by most standers, but for Ottawa at the end of January, practically sandals weather.

– 

= Penguins fans might loather the Flyers, but they would love Scott Hartnell if he was on their team. (I’ve long though Hartnell was a Ray Shero kind of player, and I’m convinced had the Flyers not snagged Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen from the Predators in summer 2007 that the Penguins were going to make a play for both players on the free-agent market.) Anyway, Hartnell, who is as affable off the ice as he is crusty on it, placed some perspective on the All-Star experience for players:

“I don’t think it’s hard at all, these guys are all good guys,” Hartnell said of putting aside team rivalries. “Like, for example, Dion Phaneuf in Toronto. You hate playing against him. He hits you hard, finishes every check. He’s a great player, and an event like that he’s having fun, chirping around, we’re chirping each other.

“It’s amazing you can have that (type of fun) when you’re here, but we’re going to go play Toronto next week and we’ll be back to hating each other.”

Might have been my tired eyes playing tricks on me, but I’m pretty sure I spied Hartnell and Malkin sharing a laugh shortly after the Fantasy Draft.

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= Letang, who will play against Malkin on Sunday, on his strategy:  

“I don’t know to do that because it’s never happened against me.”

Letang seems much taken aback by his All-Star nod given the extensive amount of time he missed because of a concussion.

“I was not expecting it,” he said. “They decided to bring me here, and it’s an honor.”

On my weekly radio appearance on “The Mark Madden Show” this week I was asked who the three stars of the Penguins’ seven-game winning streak were, and the answer did not come to me easily. Clearly Malkin and Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury – somehow not on the All-Star team even though he would be one of the five goalies any GM in this league would take as franchise player –  are in the win, place and show categories; but what about Chris Kunitz and Letang? I suspect Penguins coaches would tell you that Kunitz is playing as well as anybody on the squad, and the team has looked sure and sharp since Letang returned over these past five games.

My hunch is that if Malkin wins the scoring title, even finishes top three, and the Penguins make the playoffs, he will finally snag that Hart Trophy as league MVP. That said, I’m not so sure the player most necessary for the Penguins to make a long playoff run, save for Fleury, isn’t Letang. He is the rare player who elevates an entire unit, and if the fact that he is at the All-Star Game despite his limited play this season shows just how respected he is among his peers.

 

= OK, this day was long and tomorrow will rate longer if I’m to deliver my goal of providing some intriguing stories on Saturday and Sunday. Sheesh, somebody tell Josh Yohe I forgot how tiring this hockey coverage stuff can be.

A special thanks to some dear readers who kindly dropped me a note today expressing kind words about my brief return to Penguins coverage; their words were too kind, but they meant the word to a reporter who will always keep pucks close to his heart.

 

Cheers from Gatineau in Quebec,

Rossi

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

Comments

  1. Deb Cathcart says:

    Hi Rob: I’m a transplanted Pittsburgher in Ottawa–let me know if you need any info getting around the City or things to do. I’ve been here a while now….enjoy your stay and love your writing and especially your time with Mearsie in the morning.

  2. Chuck N says:

    Hi Rob,

    I think your initial thoughts on the Draft are right on. I’m sure that it’s a great time for the players/captains to participate…but as a fan does anyone really care about this process? Not that there was much to begin with, but it takes away all rooting interest in the actual game. At least in the past it would be Conf v. Conf. Now the real interest is focused around the skills competition…where maybe the draft has an impact. Still, unless you care about each captain…there’s no rooting interest. Individual players aside.

  3. Chuck N says:

    BTW….always checking your blog…hoping for some info…always look forward to reading it. Thanks!!

  4. Tim says:

    what is your job now?

  5. Jay Walker says:

    The fact that MAF isn’t on an All-Star team says a lot about how he is viewed around the league. Not worth $5.5 mill, pure and simple.

  6. Dejan Shortpants says:

    Very disappointed in the Shero and the front office have handled the Sid situation. You would think Mario of all people would know better.

  7. Frank says:

    Yeah, let’s base our goaltender’s production on if he made the All-Star game or not. That’s how you truly judge a goaltenders worth in weight.

    Plus, we would have been much better off if we traded Fleury in the offseason for a bag of pucks and signed one of those ‘great’ goaltenders who’s earning his paycheck, like Vokoun, Halak or Bryzgalov. I would rather have one of those consistent goaltenders over some hack who is 3rd overall in wins, is sporting a .913 save percentage, 2.25 GA and has helped bring us to two Stanley Cup finals, winning one.

    That six game losing streak this season? Yep, that was all on Fleury. I mean, why wasn’t he scoring us any goals? He has to earn that $5.5 and he didn’t help us score one goal during that entire losing stretch. Not one! That’s completely unacceptable, “pure and simple”.

    On a serious note, there are not many other goaltenders I would take over Fleury in that league. I’m perfectly content with Marc-Andre Fleury. In fact, I love having him between the pipes and he’s the least of my concerns with this team. I guess others would prefer Aubin, Caron or Sabourin, assuming they were even watching hockey when those guys were some of our best options?

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