TIOPS DAILY FIVE
*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. The Globe and Mail did a study on which NHL teams have the highest contributions from young players (24 years old or younger) and the lowest.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were No. 1, the New Islanders No. 3 in the study of teams with the highest contributions from players 24 years old or younger. The team that ranked dead last in contributions from young players, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail writes: “Sid is a kid no longer. And the Penguins remaining in a win-now mode for years has really hurt their ability to incorporate youth in a significant way. With Sidney Crosby approaching 28 and Evgeni Malkin already there, Pittsburgh’s core is moving out of its prime as the NHL continues to get younger and younger. The highest-scoring Penguin 24 and under this season has been defenceman Simon Despres (17 points) – and they already unloaded him to Anaheim. Olli Maatta’s injury issues have hurt the Pens’ ranking, but even with him healthy, they’d remain bottom three. This is a growing concern.”
Penguin fans surely don’t need a study to make them realize the Penguins are lacking youthful energy and contributions from young players but it’s a key ingredient missing again.
The Penguins 2008 Stanley Cup run and 2009 Stanley Cup winning season was a team filled with youth. On the team that won in 2009, Sidney Crosby, 21, Evgeni Malkin, 22, Jordan Staal, 20, Kris Letang, 21, Tyler Kennedy, 22, Max Talbot, 24, Alex Goligoski, 23.
The key attribute that team had that the Penguins haven’t had the last couple years is young role players like Kennedy and Talbot were in 2008 and 2009 to provide energy, grit and depth scoring.
Those type of players aren’t hard to find but they’re still not around today despite ownership wanting to get more youthful legs in the lineup.
“You can look at the draft and say what we did or didn’t do, but we’ve got forwards and D-men who we have drafted and didn’t always take advantage of them or done a lot with them,” Co-owner Ron Burkle said in an interview with the Tribune-Review last May. “So we have ended up with an older team. When we do see our younger guys, we see a lot more energy, a lot more of what we’d like to see in our game.”
“They [Columbus] had that nice mix of older and younger players that you need in the playoffs. A lot of fresh legs,” Owner Mario Lemieux said of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the same interview.
The No. 1 complaint from ownership over the summer was the Penguins didn’t give enough young players a chance under Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma. When you’re a win-now team, though, it’s easier said than done, especially when ownership places Stanley Cup expectations on your back. Like Shero, Jim Rutherford has also gone the safer route with veterans than opening a few doors for some young energy guys to try to play their way onto the roster. It’s been a fault of both but pressure to win a Cup will do that.
2. Anytime the bottom looks to be falling out, the Penguins have found a way to redirect the ship this season back to sea level. Saturday afternoon was an example of that where the Penguins fell behind 1-0 to an atrocious Coyotes team and it took them 47 minutes to score a goal. That win might have more significance to them from a mental standpoint than anything else in regards to how the rest of this season goes. If they would have lost that game, the mood would be very different today, even with the win on Sunday. That said, Wednesday night is going to be telling on how the Penguins build off of what they claim was a significant weekend, highlighted by their win against the Sharks. You need to get to another level going into the playoffs.
3. An under the radar Hart Trophy Candidate? The Even Strength Points leader in the NHL is Jiri Hudler with 55 ESP. 78% of his points have come at even strength this season and Hudler is tied for 7th in the NHL in scoring with 71 points. 10 goals, 23 points in his last 15 games, if Hudler continues his strong finish to the season and Calgary gets in, a team no one expected to make it and are missing their best defenseman, Hudler deserves consideration but will get overlooked. How Hudler has stepped up in a big way with Mark Giordano out of the lineup is what the MVP award is about.
4. There is more optimism this time around than last spring in regards to the Pirates signing Gregory Polanco to a long-term deal as the sides are revisiting talks in the last couple weeks. One reason being, both sides are open to such a deal. With Scott Boras clients, The Hendricks brothers, and a few others, there’s little to no chance of getting deals done like the Pirates did with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte to buy-out a free agent year or two. Those type of prominent agents brain-wash their clients to go to free agency no matter what. There’s no sport like baseball where who the players agent is dictates whether you have any chance of signing a young player to a long-term deal before you even talk financials. The Pirates have been lucky with McCutchen, Marte and possibly Polanco where those players have agents who are not ego maniacs and let the players actually do some of the deciding.
5. Mike Tomlin wants a pass rusher, Kevin Colbert wants a cornerback. Tomlin almost always gets his way but the worthy one’s could be long gone by No. 22.
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