My dad, who is left-handed, always joked that he screwed up by not forcing me or my two younger brothers to be left-handed as well. That way, if one of us had become a major league relief pitcher, his retirement would have been paid for.
A similar lesson seems to be on tap for hockey parents these days. If you have a young son, force a right-handed stick into his hands.
I bring this up because of the trade that sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson yesterday. Hall is a stud winger, one of the best in the league. Larsson has the potential to be a difference-making defenseman, but he isn’t yet.
The only way I can make sense of this trade in my head is to assume that the Oilers were so consumed with the idea that they MUST have a top-four right-handed defenseman – a somewhat rare commodity in the NHL – that they were willing to dramatically overpay to get one.
I expect the trend to continue when the free agent signing period opens tomorrow as well.
I think there’s a good chance Ben Lovejoy and Justin Schultz, who are defensemen with positive attributes but aren’t big stars by any means, are going to get eight-figure deals in large part because they’re right-handed and can, to one degree or another, move the puck.
I’ve read some speculation that Jason Demers could get upwards of $5 million a season on the open market. I’ll bet guys like Tom Gilbert, Roman Polak and Yannick Weber will end up breaking the bank too.
The NHL is a copycat league, they say, and I think the one lesson other GMs might take away from the Penguins’ recently completed run to the Stanley Cup is the importance of having at least three right-handed defensemen who can handle the puck.
I think the rush to acquire righties is probably overblown. There are plenty of left-handed defensemen who are perfectly comfortable playing the right side, but because righties are rare, they’ll command big bucks.
It’s almost as if scarcity is the No. 1 factor for determining how much players get paid. Using that philosophy, Josh Miller should have made a mint while he played for the Steelers. How many left-footed punters are out there? Benny Distefano should have printed money when he played for the Pirates. He was a left-handed catcher.
Anyway, amidst all this right-handed defenseman mania, I talked to Penguins prospect Ethan Prow at development camp today. He’s a right-handed D who can move the puck. An undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State, he’s about to play his first pro season in the fall.
He’s an excellent stick-handler with an outstanding shot and he skates very well. He has some rough edges to shore up in the defensive zone, like most rookie defensemen.
If he improves in certain areas, he could see some fill-in duty on the Penguins blue line as soon as this season.
Or, worst-case scenario, he could be dealt to Peter Chiarelli for Connor McDavid or something.
Anyway, here’s a little Q and A I did with Prow at development camp today. I felt a little like that reporter who allegedly asked Doug Williams if he’d always been a black quarterback at Super Bowl media day that one time. So, Ethan, have you always been a right-handed defenseman?
Q: When did you first realize being a right-handed defenseman might be good for your career?
A: I didn’t really notice when I was younger. I thought, you know, ‘Righty. Whatever.’ But I think when I was going into college, somebody pointed it out to me, that it’s kind of a dying breed, right-handed defensemen. From that aspect, knowing that you were, honing your skills and looking for those opportunities you can exploit is key.
Q: How do you feel when you see a move like Larsson for Hall yesterday? Does it make you feel like you have a special job skill that could be lucrative some day?
A: I didn’t choose it, but I’ll take it. It’s big. With there being a need for right-handed defenseman, and it’s kind of all around the league, it’s kind of weird. It’s a good problem to have if you’re a righty.
Q: How often have you played on your off side? Enough to realize how much of an advantage it is to be a righty playing the right side?
A: I played a couple times. It is a big difference, just being able to see the ice and still being on your strong hand does help, whether that’s going D to D in the neutral zone or on the offensive blue line, getting ready to rip it over a little faster. It does help being the same shot. It is nice and I like playing with a left-handed defenseman as a partner.
Q: How does it feel to have one of the premier right-handed defensemen in the world, Kris Letang, as a role model?
A: He’s a real special player. Just being able to watch him and see some of the plays he makes, he makes a normal play, but he has the special capability to make that special play as well. That’s key and it helped him all season long. He’s one of their staples. If you can watch him and take away little bits and pieces of his game and kind of funnel it into your own game, it can only benefit you.
In closing, think about Letang for a second. He’s making $7.25 million for the next six seasons, which is starting to look like the steal of the century. If he were a free agent today, in the middle of this right-handed defenseman frenzy, the contract some GM would give him would make Shea Weber’s deal look like an AHL-ECHL two-way.
Bye for now,