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Saturday, December 6, 2014

State of the State by @LCJS and @MikeyD_OandBP

By: Lee C.J. Sobotka | Staff Writer

In order to take a better look at the current state of the Pennsylvania hockey teams, Pens Initiative would like to welcome Mike from the website Orange & Black Pack, for his take on the current situation on the other side of the Commonwealth.

State of the Penguins

Pascal Dupuis (Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
With a record of 17-6-2, one would think that the Pittsburgh Penguins are just fine.  Currently in 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, the Pens seemingly would be in excellent shape for December.

This line of thinking would be wrong.

Riding a 6-3-1 record over their last 10 games, you will notice that half of their season's total losses have come during this span.  It's a downward trend that should make everyone take note.

It's also easy to point to what has attributed to this slide: Injuries.  This is nothing new, as last year the team had 529 man-games lost during last season; over 100 more than the next closest team.

This was covered recently by our own Brian Keenan HERE and our Nick Case HERE.

As the roster currently sits, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Beau Bennett and Kris Letang are all on the shelf.

When Sidney Crosby is centering the likes of Steve Downie and Nick Spaling, you have serious roster problems.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford
GM Jim Rutherford has begun addressing this by trading for big-bodied forward Rob Klinkhammer, but only time will tell if he fits into the system.

Even though Klinkhammer is technically Canadian:

He's a bottom 6 player, and while those types are important to fielding a balanced team, it's not an immediate help to the top 6.  Still, having to play bottom 6 guys on the 1st two lines has drained the 3rd and 4th lines of talent.

This loss of talent through injuries isn't something that can easily be replaced, nor do the Penguins want to go overboard in trying to do so.  Injuries heal and with the exception of Dupuis, these players will return sooner rather than later.  As the team was playing incredibly well before this recent spate of injuries, one can assume the the quality of play will improve once these players rotate back into the lineup.

Adding someone like Klinkhammer will only benefit the bottom 6 once players get healthy, as he is an upgrade over the likes of Sill and Adams, thought don't expect either of those two to no longer receive playing time.  In the effort of keeping players fresh and dealing with future injuries, there will be minutes to be had by all.

Until then, it's a matter of treading water and trying not to drop too far in the standings.

State of the Flyers

A hockey blogger by the name of Bill Meltzer once wrote that the Flyers have habitually screwed themselves by “chasing yesterday’s Stanley Cup.” It’s such a simple statement, yet it’s logged with brilliant observation. Everyone is familiar with the term knee-jerk: it’s an impulsive decision. A reaction, typically one absent of clear thought or consideration. In a way, that is where Meltzer was going with that statement. At least in the context provided, that is how I interpreted it, and that is how I use it moving forward.

Paul Holmgren, former Flyers GM
Paul Holmgren isn’t a terrible hockey mind. In actuality, he has a sharp eye for talent. A scout’s eye, if you will. The problem that lied with Homer and his cabinet of managers is that they were impulse buyers. Given we’re in the Holiday season, I figured that terminology was appropriate.

In today’s NHL – with strict boundaries set by the salary cap – the recipe to build a Cup contender is similar to how life began here on planet Earth; many elements had to come into play at a precise time, in a precise order. Not only that, but once all of the ingredients were added, everything had to coexist perfectly. It had to gel. It had to grow together. From this recipe spawned life. For a hockey Club, it’s no different. It begins with scouting, drafting and developing your core. A team’s core could take years to acquire – there will be successful risks, and failures just the same. That’s why it’s not a science, it’s a theory. But as long as the organization employs an competent scouting department, a strong core of skaters and netminders ought to follow as a result. This nucleus of talent has all the raw skill to play in the NHL – that’s why they were selected in the Draft to begin with. It’s their minds that need developing, and that is what takes up most of the time. Patience and an allowance for maturation are keys to a Cup contender and its core.

Patience has not been this organization’s strongsuit.

“Chasing yesterday’s Stanley Cup”……. It’s the thesis of this entire ledger.

While Paul Holmgren was General Manager of this war room, he did his best to bring another Stanley Cup to Broad Street. And as much as I appreciate that effort, it came at the cost of our future. Primarily from a financial standpoint. Once again, in a salary cap environment, a General Manager has no choice but to keep a thought on the long-term as much as he does the short-term. Holmgren threw much caution to the wind, and unfortunately for our payroll, it has finally come back to bite us in the collective ass. He spent his tenure flipping prospects, Draft picks, and young skill for ‘Win Now’ players who often came with large AAV’s (average annual value, aka ‘Cap Hits’). When his thirst could not be quenched, he turned to the free agency market and signed big name players to big time contracts – and if that wasn’t enough, he anchored these free agents long term in effort to lean out their AAV’s. Sometimes, as an added incentive, these players’ contracts came weighted with some form of a No-Trade or No-Movement Clause.

You see, post-execution, Paul Holmgren’s team building philosophy has rendered our salary cap inflexible; a wasteland of pitfalls and obstructions for seasons to come. It’s a nightmarish blend of immovable contracts, rapidly declining players, overpayment, and stale personnel.

Free agency should absolutely be leveraged while building your Cup contender. But portion size and timing are influential factors, possibly the biggest of them all. Holmgren turned to it like an everyday buffet.

The almighty cap dollar has left current GM Ron Hextall with an immense project. His mission, which he’s chosen to accept, is to find a way to keep this team competitive and cap compliant. However, simultaneously, he must carve out dead weight and liabilities which are contractually rooted to our foundation. He’s begun this campaign by trading Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for RJ Umberger, of all players. Umberger is a terrible hockey player; he was a terrible hockey player before being traded to Philadelphia, so it wasn’t his skill set that Hextall was after…

R.J. Umberger

Umberger’s cap hit is virtually identical to Hartnell’s, but his term expires two-years earlier that Scotty’s. That’s where the value lies: earlier term expiration. We have literally gotten to a point where we’re trading effective roster players for garbage because it’ll relieve liability off our time-line sooner than later.

In the midst of all of this is a small core of forwards: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn. Giroux and Voracek are having a year of their primes burned and wasted. Our General Manager cannot supply a subdivision of complimentary players because he doesn’t have the cap space. He’s having a very difficult time trying to make the space because some of our most expensive contracts are immovable one way or another.

Hextall’s gumption is what must save the Philadelphia Flyers. If his creativity falls short, then this Club is staring down the barrel at a loathsome future…. mediocre, at best.

Ron Hextall needs to begin chasing tomorrow’s Stanley Cup.

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