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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moving Forward by @ExcitedBobErrey

A few thoughts as the Penguins being what could be the most important and defining offseason they've had in a long time:

- The Bylsma/Shero debate has been beaten to death, resurrected back to life, beaten to death again, returned as a zombie, and taken a few shotgun blasts to the temple. That being said, if I had to put money on the outcome I'd say Bylsma goes and Shero stays, albeit after Lemieux/Burkle lay down the law and explicitly tell him that he needs to turn things around if he doesn't want the same fate. While the idea seems to be floating around that Dan Bylsma is somehow paying for Shero's mistakes, it's a completely unintelligent attempt at revisionist history. No question the overall depth was lacking on the Pens this season following the decrease in the salary cap, but this is still a roster that managed to run away with the Metropolitan Division despite 500+ man games lost to injury. It's also a team that played flat and uninspired hockey for large portions of the 2014 playoffs, took far too many bad penalties in the offensive zone, and managed to only go 1-20 on the power play against the Rangers despite the fact the team boasted some of the most elite offensive talent in the game. Depth concerns don't prevent the power play from being competent. Not to mention, depth wasn't a concern last year when Bylsma healthy scratched the current team's 2nd leading playoff scorer while playing a future HOF'er out of position and left him there as he clearly looked badly out of place. Nor was it an issue in 2012 as the widespread Stanley Cup favorites completely melted down in spectacular fashion against Philadelphia. At some point the coach needs to be able to exert some control over his roster when things are going badly, but that never materialized during the Bylsma era.

That being said, Shero has enough issues of his own to worry about. You can't completely separate draft picks from player development, but both have been bad in Pittsburgh and both need to be greatly improved. Shero has had difficulty making tough decisions in the past given his loyalty to those in the organization, and it has hurt his job performance at times. I also took issue with the direction he went with the salary cap last summer. $7.25 million is a fair price for Kris Letang, and I'm sure Shero and Jason Botterill can find a way to fill out a team with Letang on the roster, but the tough decision was to trade Letang last season and reap the reward that would come with the return. With cap hits of $8.7 million and $9.6 million already on the books for Crosby and Malkin, Letang was a luxury the Pens shouldn't have indulged in. Not only would a trade have cleared a good chunk of space from the salary cap, but it would have brought back young talent the team would have been able to control salary-wise for several seasons. The team needed, and still needs, an influx of talent outside the top 6, and a Letang trade would have gone a long way towards building a solid foundation. Bringing back a player like Scuderi for that term and cap hit only made the cap issue worse, especially considering the promising defensive prospects that would have allowed Shero to pass on that deal.

Sometimes in the salary cap world you have to get rid of a player you'd really like to keep because it's the right move to make. That was Letang last offseason, and the effect was already seen this year before the extension even kicked in.

- Speaking of the salary cap, the situation is a bit more dire than it appears on the surface.  According to Cap Geek, the Pens have approximately $16 million in cap space with 7 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies under contract. The $16 million in cap space is with a projected cap ceiling of $71 million for next season, but this number has yet to be confirmed by the league and rumors are that the cap could be set as low as $68 million given current issues with the Canadian dollar. While the majority of forward spots that need to be filled are in the bottom 6, Jussi Jokinen's UFA status could put a huge hole in the top 6. The only possible in house option under contract for next season is Beau Bennett, but while Bennett has shown flashes of potential it'd be a huge risk to have him as the only option for that 6th spot, especially with the uncertainty of Dupuis' injury. Jokinen carried a cap hit of $3 million this past season ($900k of which Carolina paid) and would seem likely to get at least that much on his next contract. Brandon Sutter hits restricted free agency this summer, and his qualifying offer will bring him back at a minimum of $2.7 million. Even if the teams chooses to move him, it'd be likely that they'd take back at least that much salary in a trade.

On defense, Matt Niskanen has likely played his way into a $5 million AAV. While that alone would make it difficult to bring him back, trading Scuderi to a team needing to get to the cap floor would be the ideal scenario, and a Nisky for Scuderi swap would only add about $1.6 million to the salary cap. If there's no takers for Scuderi he could always be bought out instead, though the team would inherit $430k of dead cap space this year and over $1 million in dead space the folllowing 4 years, though it might be well worth the price of not have Scuderi on the roster. Getting rid of Scuderi would be the easiest way to free up cap space, although it's still unlikely the Penguins would be able to adequately rebuild the bottom 6 in a single offseason.

Without shedding salary the team is likely to either create new holes while plugging old holes or eat up the remaining cap space in a hurry. The Penguins need to hope the cap doesn't dip below the $71 million projection, otherwise a tight cap situation could get even tighter. A Scuderi trade/buyout could help, and a potential Neal or Letang trade, while removing a top end talent from the roster, would free up a big chunk of space and go a long way towards rebuilding the organizational depth and preventing the bottom 6 from dragging the team down as much as it did this year.

- The official coaching search is likely to begin sometime soon, though the unofficial search began as soon as the clock hit 0:00 Tuesday night. If I had a say in the matter, there are a few things I'd want to have coaches address in the interview proccess. I'm not sure if there's necessarily a right or wrong answer, but I'd be very interested in seeing the thought process play out while answering.

1) The previous coaching staff preached getting up ice as quickly as possible to allow the elite offensive talent to transition towards attacking, yet it often left forwards trapped up ice when things broke down, leaving defensemen to complain about being isolated and unsupported. Given the current roster, how do you structure your breakout to provide the best balance, and given the roster's strengths/weaknesses would you ideally go for a more aggressive or conservative approach?

2) One of the most damning things to take away from the NYR series was the inability of the power play to convert opportunities despite being the top unit during the regular season and one of the league's best the past few years. While there's certainly no reason to blow up this unit, when slumps have set in the power play has had a tendency to play along the perimeter and pass up good scoring chances by trying to create a better one on someone else's stick. In a vacuum, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would prefer to set up along the right half wall and direct the power play from that spot. How do you address these issues, and based on your answer of where to play Crosby and Malkin how to you structure the rest of your power play unit around that decision?

3) This team, at various times and seemingly up and down the lineup, has shown lack of interest, lack of heart, lack of discipline, and a penchant for taking bad penalties far from their own net. What steps would you take as the coach to best prevent these issues from cropping up, and if they do become a problem how to you propose to handle them if it's: a) Crosby or Malkin; b) another of the team's big name players; c) a depth player; d) a young player.

1 comment:

  1. I think if a player is taking bad penalties and playing without interest you sit them down regardless of talent. Let someone hungry spsrk some life, when the star is ready to step it up put them back in.


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