Day the First of Free Agency 2013 is almost a wrap, so this seems like a good time for some thoughts:
= SHERO HAS A PLAN
Think what you will of his recent moves, but Penguins GM Ray Shero clear has a vision for what will get the Penguins to their next championship. Starting with the retaining of Dan Bylsma and the coaching staff through the signing of Rob Scuderi, Shero has shown he believes in what he knows more than what he presumes.
He has also show the right mix of stubbornness (by sticking by this group) and humility (admitting that losing Scuderi was a mistake). Those are signs of a comfortable general manager, and Shero has never more looked that than over these past six months.
To chase other clubs’ players is a risky business, one that has not always served the Penguins well (see: Zbynek Michalek). Shero, this summer, has invested in what he knows – from Pascal Dupuis to Craig Adams – instead of chasing higher-priced options on the market. His offseason was not sexy, but it was effective.
It also was aimed at taking one last big swing with this group.
Shero has assessed – correctly, as is the prediction here – that this group of Penguins had a couple of bad days that swung the Eastern Conference final against Boston. He believes that next postseason should prove different.
The players will or will not prove him correct. If they do not, some of them will not get another crack at the Cup while wearing a Skating Penguin crest.
People keep asking me how the Penguins are better today than they were against Boston. Perhaps they are not.
They will be, though, if their four most important players – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury – are significant factors throughout the next postseason, certainly against an opponent of equal or greater standing.
Overanalyzing the Penguins’ playoff problems in three of the last four seasons is useless. Aside from 2011, when Crosby and Malkin were injured, the Penguins’ problem in those springs was the lack of domination by their four best players.
If that happens again, well… that is the big plot line for next season, isn’t it?
= THE LOCKOUT WAS POINTLESS
See, oh, 90 percent of the contracts handed out on Friday: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/signings/
Everybody in the NHL is acting as though the salary cap will speed along toward about $70 million next season, meaning the four months that good, honest people – low-level team and league employees, arena workers, merchants – were out of work for, well, what?
Never forget this last lockout.
Especially never forget that it was pointless.
More proof came Friday.
= MATT COOKE WILL BE MISSED
Minnesota signed itself a pretty good player, one that will make an impact on a team that could use an edge. Matt Cooke’s five years with the Penguins had more ups than downs, and people that want to say he wasn’t worth any trouble he cost – well, there wasn’t all that much trouble the last two years.
When Cooke was some trouble to the Penguins, he was also a menace to opponents. That is what he was paid to be, too.
In five seasons, he was mostly a difference maker.
Keeping a deep squad full of veterans is not easy in the cap era, and it may be a long time again before any NHL club has a four-year run with a third line like the Penguins did from 2008-2012: Cooke, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
= SPEAKING OF LINES.
My early lines and pairings for the start of next season:
First line: Chris Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Second line: Jussi Jokinen-Malkin-James Neal
Third line: Dustin Jeffrey-Brandon Sutter-Beau Bennett
Fourth line: Tanner Glass-Joe Vitale-Craig Adams
Second-D: Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin
Third-D: Robert Bortuzzo-Simon Despres
Read into those what you will.
= AND FINALLY…
Jarome Iginla can never get back what he gave away by deciding to leave Calgary and chase the Cup. Now, neither can Daniel Alfredsson, who just turned his back on Ottawa.
It always felt somewhat discomforting seeing Iginla wearing any gear not designated with the Flaming C. It will seem equally discomforting seeing Alfredsson in a Red Wing emblem.
They are future Hall-of Famers, but on this Friday, Iggy and Alfie each seem like just another mercenary.
“Well for a while I’ve been watching you steady
Ain’t gonna move ’til you’re good and ready
You show up and then you shy away
But I know pretty soon you’ll be walkin’ this way
Sad eyes never lie
Sad eyes never lie”
— “Sad Eyes” by Bruce Springsteen (Tracks, Disc 4)