Insider Only Daily 5: On A.J. Burnett’s brilliant season; Why Mike Johnston trying to change Phil Kessel would be a mistake & more

DHP_5483 TIOPS DAILY FIVE

*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*

1. For A.J. Burnett, an All-Star for the first time in his 17th Major League season, some are calling it a fairytale season to what is expected to be his final season.
Burnett on Monday night lowered his ERA 1.99, his seventh start this season where he’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed one run or fewer. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only two NL pitchers have more, Max Scherzer (9) and Zack Greinke (8).
This is only his third season in Pittsburgh in what has been an almost 20 year MLB career but Burnett has really become a Pittsburgher. He’s putting everything out there for this team and his teammates who just love him.
The reaction of Burnett’s teammates when he exited in the eighth soon after a clear strike three was missed by Home Plate ump Paul Emmel, and First Base ump Jerry Meals that would have ended the inning — was priceless.
You could see how mad his teammates were that Burnett didn’t get to finish the inning because of a missed call but Burnett’s reaction when Tony Watson struck out Matt Kemp to end the inning was even better.
“This is my home,” Burnett said. “I want to represent these guys and this locker room and this city and this organization now my first time in the All-Star Game. I’m excited.”

2. The Pirates are an MLB best 22-10 since June 1. The St. Louis Cardinals are 21-11 since June 1.

Kessel3. James Mirtle wrote an article last week in the Globe and Mail that is spot on about Phil Kessel.
Don’t try to change him, he is what he is, was the point.
[Kessel is what he is. He is what he was when Brian Burke foolishly bet the farm on him back in 2009; he is what he was when his coaches in Ann Arbor tried in vain to get him to backcheck and forecheck and do everything else they’d come to expect from eager top prospects,” Mirtle wrote.
“I said to him ‘You need to be a well-rounded player,’ ” said David Quinn, Kessel’s coach with USA Hockey in those early years. “He looked at me with this bewildered look and said ‘Well I’ll just go out and get another goal.”
More than 10 years later, that’s still Kessel]
This is so true for how Mike Johnston needs to handle Kessel. There is this infatuation from Johnston that he has to make Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin into Anze Kopitar or Patrice Bergeron, dominant defensive two-way centers. Johnston asks his centers to work extremely hard down low in the defensive zone, Crosby bought in last season, but was it at the expense of his offense? That’s up for debate.
Crosby’s game, though, is built more towards that, Malkin’s is not. A priority again going into this season for Johnston is making Malkin more committed to the defensive zone.
Trying to change a star player who is closer to 30 than 25 often doesn’t work.
When it comes to Phil Kessel, if Johnston tries to make him into Ryan O’Reilly this isn’t going to end well. Kessel not being committed to back checking is likely going to drive Johnston nuts but he’s one of those players where you have to just live with it. Toronto, though, no longer wanted to.

neal4. Have the Penguins replaced James Neal with Phil Kessel? Mike Colligan in a feature about Kessel touched base on this.
When you breakdown the numbers, that’s what the Penguins have pretty much done.
It often gets overlooked but Neal put up some special teams here. 40 goals, 81 points in 80 games in 2011-2012. 61 points in 59 games in 2013-2014. Averaging a point per game or more in today’s NHL is quite impressive.
40 goal, 80 point range is where expectations should be for Kessel but Kessel’s impact should feel stronger to the eye test.
The big difference between the two is Kessel’s ability to create scoring chances much more effectively and likely being able to carry the Penguins for stints when Malkin or Crosby are injured or not playing well. Neal has a great shot like Kessel but not that type of game breaking ability Kessel has.
That’s where the Penguins have upgraded but something I’ve thought about for days now is with the Kessel addition now, would the Penguins be better off with Kessel/Hornqvist as currently constructed or Kessel/Neal as their top-2 wingers?
As much as I like Hornqvist and the different element he brings, I’d lean in the direction of Neal.

5. The Penguins have been conducting studies through outside firms trying to figure out why their players are injured so often. Obviously the research isn’t going to provide any answers on the freak injuries/health scares some of their prominent players have suffered, but one belief I’m told Jim Rutherford is taking is that the Penguins off-ice training during the season is too strenuous, a source says, and it won’t be a surprise if Mike Johnston is asked to tone down the hard practices he often put his team through in between games, especially late in the season.
Some players privately expressed concerns about the rigorous practices that were conducted.

— Check out the TIOPS DAILY 5 Monday – Friday’s —

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

Comments Disabled

Comments have been disabled for this post.