Hello again my good friends! It has been almost nine months since real life started kicking my ass and about seven months since I’ve posted anything here, which is kind of crazy. All pleasantries aside, and though I know you care about my personal life, I don’t want to waste any time and just feel like jumping in to a good old fashion post about hockey. The title of the post is Fast Five because that’s what these used to be, but this one lends itself to fewer “points,” I just don’t feel like making a “Thrifty Three with Rad” graphic.
1. Phil and Chuck
Now that the dust has settled on the trade that moved my beloved and possibly all-to-serious mancrush Phillip to the desert I can look at the trade with a clear thought process. Regardless of their reasons, the relationship between Kessel and the Penguins was over. As soon as Kessel vetoed the trade with Minnesota it was clear he wasn’t playing another game as a Penguin. With this common knowledge Rutherford should’ve lost all leverage but he was able to swap Kessel for a younger and slightly less productive winger as well as a prospect. When two sides have soured on each other getting anything in return is a plus, and Rutherford was able to make a decent BLT out of moldy bread and rotten tomatoes. Despite his inability to pronounce Galchenyuk, the real question is whether Rutherford is considering keeping the young forward beyond this season or not. I believe the move was done purely for salary cap reasons, and with “Chucky” in the final year of his north of $4 million per season deal, that is some decent cap savings next season when certain key players (Matt Murray and Jared McCann) will be due slight raises (McCann will make $1.25 mil this year while Muzz will earn just $3.75) and others like Justin Schultz will also be negotiating a new deal. As for Chucky himself, I’ve always been a fan of the way he plays the game and I feel like he will be a good addition to this team and Sullivan’s system. With my emotions in check and the Philboner put to the side, this was actually an impressive deal for Rutherford considering the situation.
2. Free Agency Cash Me Outside
Freeing up some space by moving out the $10 million allotted towards Olli Maatta and Kessel allowed Rutherford to purchase a free agent. His choice was hard-nose grinder Brandon Tanev. As a player Tanev is a great addition to the hockey club, he has a good skillset and the fans of Pittsburgh will enjoy that good ‘ole grit that he plays with. The issue I think everyone has with the signing is the pay and the term. I’m not a fan of contracts that are more than 4 years with the exception of the True Exceptions, which I view are true franchise altering players. If a player isn’t going to bring you a realistic chance at a Stanley Cup during that 8 year contract why are you signing him to it? With that said it is important to remember next season while watching Tanev that it isn’t his fault he was given a check from a man with signs and symptoms of dementia. If you were offered three times your salary tomorrow to do the exact same amount of work you’re doing now you would take it. I personally love the signing in terms of the player, and that brings me to the next point.
3. What’s it Look Like?
To me, Tanev feels like Kunitz 2.0, but before he lost his hands, and it isn’t hard to recall the chemistry Crosby had with that type of player. With all of the similarities, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tanev with Crosby at soem point. This would also allow Sullivan to use a third line of McCann-Bjugstad-Hornqvist, a trio that worked together towards the end of the year and looked like the only pulse the Pens had during their attempt at postseason play. A lot of people are mentioning that Galchenyuk is just as bad as Kessel at defense and as such putting him with Malkin won’t help the team. This kind of stuff always interests me so I turned to our trusty friend Micah over at hockeyviz and used his heat maps to create a line map. Essentially I took each players 5v5 unblocked shots for and against and overlayed them, each with the same transparency percentage so that one doesn’t overweigh the other, to see where a group of players tendencies would be. That was a bunch of words, so let me show you with the first image:
On the left you’re looking at the 5v5 unblocked shots for (or generated by) the Penguins line. This is a lineup of Guentzel-Crosby-Tanev with Dumoulin and Letang all on the ice. To the right is the same group of players defensively. As expected with the top defensive pair the area directly in front of Murray is rather protected.
When we do the same for the second line of Galchenyuk-Malkin-Kahun with Pettersson-Schultz on defense we get this:
The second line continues to get good scoring looks in front of the goal while doing a decent job keeping high danger shots away from Murray. Keep in mind that these overlayed images are based on last years stats, so Galchenyuk’s and Kahun’s are both coming from pretty poor defense teams in Arizona and Chicago, disrespectfully.
This leaves the third line of McCann-Bjugstad-Hornqvist with a third pairing of Johnson and Gudbranson. I know what you’re thinking but hear me out. Jack Johnson is here to stay as of right now, and all indications point for the future as well. My thought was putting the two defenders together along with the most defensively responsible line in hopes of once again creating a dark blue zone in front of Murray. The results:
It isn’t pretty (and it helps that Gudbranson was better as a Penguin than he was a Canuck), but this could at least stop the bleeding.
The free agency period is just two days young right now, and by the time this post goes up, Rutherford has probably already made a move that makes most of it obsolete. It isn’t a secret that the Penguins defense is the weakest part of the team. The front office has been trying to counter that by building up a tough to play against offense that plays a 200-foot game, and they have been successful with the additions of Bjugstad, McCann, Kahun, and Tanev. One common trend is height and weight, the Penguins are getting bigger bodies on the roster as Rutherford attempts to get images of the team getting thrashed around out of his head. Will it be enough to keep up with a quickly improving Metro division? Only time will tell. I suspect Rutherford will still make one or two more moves, including moving someone out. Though we would all love for it to be Jack Johnson any of the players making $3 million probably have for sale signs on their backs. So far this offseason hasn’t been as gloomy as Twitter makes it seem. The Maatta and Kessel trades weren’t as bad as they seemed. Overall this team still has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as their one-two punch, and I can’t think of many other teams that can say that. More importantly, the newest additions will allow Sullivan to run a four-line system that he hasn’t been able to deploy since Ryan Reaves was brought to the team. A lot of people saying the team the Penguins would ice tonight isn’t as good as the team that played in game four of the first round, and that just isn’t accurate. Kessel and Maatta have been replaced with Galchenyuk, Kahun, and Tanev. Those three forwards provide more depth than the point-per-game Kessel did, and if I, a self-admitted over infatuated Kessel fanboy, can admit that, everyone else should be able to, too.