TIOPS DAILY FIVE
*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. A year away from unrestricted free agency, the Penguins had to move Brandon Sutter this summer. Once you start the season it’s harder to move a well liked player in the room who is productive. Just look at the Penguins last season with Paul Martin. Last summer Rutherford was telling other GM’s he was very open to moving Martin (getting something for him before he leaves as an UFA) but he wanted to wait at least a couple months into the season. Once the season started, you get into the win-at-all cost mode and overlook the big picture. That’s what happened with Martin as the Penguins could have easily got a first round pick for him last summer.
When it comes to Sutter, the market wasn’t strong for him around the draft but the hope was always going to be that someone would over-value him and that’s what fell into the Penguins lap with this move.
The Penguins got an excellent return for Sutter in adding Bonino, young skilled defenseman Adam Clendening and not to mention a 2016 2nd round pick, while moving Sutter’s $3.3 million cap hit opened the door to sign Eric Fehr.
The Penguins have $3.9 million tied into Bonino/Fehr for the next two seasons, while Sutter carried a cap hit of $3.3 million and was eyeing a new deal over $4.5 million per.
Another incentive with the Bonino/Fehr acquisitions: Both are center/winger capable.
2. The Steelers had been quiet about what type of scheme changes we were going to see under Keith Butler, but Monday’s practice gave a strong glimpse that the Steelers are transitioning to a cover-2.
Mike Tomlin is a cover-2 guy, he’s been here almost 10 years, yet he’s never been able to put his stamp on this defense. Now is his time. Tomlin is taking a big role in mentoring the cornerbacks and there’s a reason former Tampa Bay Buc Dexter Jackson is in town as a coaching intern. It’s not just Tomlin helping out a friend, Jackson’s knowledge of playing a cover-2 scheme is why he’s around helping out the secondary.
What to expect this season is a much more conservative approach with the safeties to help minimize the big plays by staying away from the line of scrimmage and have an attacking front-seven.
Among other reasons for the change, the coaching staff has identified this group just isn’t very good to play a two-gap scheme, which is paving the way to run a cover-2 scheme much more freely by putting the likes of Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt in one-on-one battles.
You don’t give Cam Heyward nearly $60 million to just absorb blockers and open lanes for Arthur Moats.
Limiting big plays in the running game is also an area the Steelers are trying to identify and by having their ends crash more, the Steelers feel it projects to make the running back have to dictate faster.
Whether the move to a cover-2 makes the Steelers much better on defense remains to be seen but it’s a positive development that the staff has identified this personnel group is not built to play the type of scheme the Steelers have always been accustomed to for the last 10 years.
3. Lawrence Timmons at 29 years old has two years left on his contract and will he get one more big contract as a Steeler next summer? The hope in Steelers circles is that Ryan Shazier will play a big role in Timmons being able to have four to five more high level seasons. Prior to drafting Shazier, the Steelers had sought to team a star linebacker next to Timmons and with Timmons now pushing 30, on paper it looks like the perfect fit for the next several seasons if Shazier can live up to this ability.
Timmons’ move back to the buck had him being the cover story this morning for the two local papers. It remains to be seen what the Steelers have in Shazier but as one Steelers official told me, the team feels Shazier’s freakish ability and explosive speed will take the pressure off Timmons from roaming the field and help Timmons play very well into his 30’s.
4. One trend in baseball. All first place teams are at least seven games above .500 vs their own division.
New York Yankees, 24-17 vs AL East
Kansas City Royals, 25-15 vs AL Central
LA Angels, 28-20 vs AL West
Washington Nationals, 25-16 vs NL East
St. Louis Cardinals, 26-13 vs NL Central
LA Dodgers, 29-20 vs NL West
*The Pirates are 17-24 vs the Central, combined 12-19 vs Cubs, Brewers, Reds*
5. One of the NHL’s greatest defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom made some headlines Monday, saying Mario Lemieux was the best player he faced during his career, according to a report in the Swedish newspaper Expressen.
“Lemieux had an incredible reach and some really good skills with his stick,” Lidstrom said. “Gretzky had that too, but he made all the players around him better. Individually, I would say Lemieux was the better player.”
Gretzky’s numbers will always trump Lemieux but from standpoint of trying to defend Gretzky or Lemieux one-on-one, there couldn’t have been a more daunting player for a defenseman than Lemieux coming at you.