By MARK MADDEN When Jordan Staal trade rumors first circulated a few years ago, I asked Ray Shero for comment. The Penguins GM bluntly replied: “I am not trading Jordan Staal.” It still goes. The latest tripe has Staal going to Los Angeles for winger Dustin Brown, with different versions including different players. Defenseman Jack Johnson, Sidney Crosby’s prep-school buddy, is often mentioned as coming to Pittsburgh. But Crosby isn’t the Pens’ de facto GM, and loneliness is no problem for Sid. The Kings likely scoff at such innuendo, too. Brown, their captain, is signed to a pact that pays $3.175 million per year through 2013-14. Excellent player, affordable contract. The Kings might like to deal Johnson. The third pick overall in 2005, it’s too early to call Johnson a bust, but he is underachieving. Staal is an important part of the Penguins’ three-center model. Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and StaalRead More »
On my radio show yesterday, we didn’t talk about Dennis Dixon. We didn’t talk about the Steelers’ loss at Baltimore, or their playoff chances. We didn’t talk about the defense’s weekly fourth-quarter collapse. We didn’t talk about Pitt-West Virginia, Tiger Woods or Sidney Crosby’s hat trick. We talked about Hines Ward. That’s Ward’s doing, not mine. Ward did a phone interview on SportsCenter yesterday. He admitted being frustrated by the situation he created, but didn’t apologize. Ward should. But here’s betting he won’t, unless the Steelers force him. You simply can’t justify or excuse Ward’s nationally-televised tirade about Ben Roethlisberger not playing hurt. Ward went so far over the line that he might actually be in danger of alienating much of his considerable fan base in Pittsburgh. He questioned a teammate’s courage and toughness. I still can’t believe it. The Steelers are trying to downplay this. They can’t. The SteelersRead More »
By MARK MADDEN If pets grow to resemble their owners, it seems likely that football teams take after their coach. I don’t know what Dave Wannstedt’s dog, cat or goldfish looks like, but I know his football team has Wannstedt written all over it. Pitt will hit you in the mouth, and not wait for you to swing first. That may be Wannstedt’s biggest contribution since taking Pitt’s reins in 2005. Under Walt Harris, Pitt was an Xs & Os bunch looking for technical ecstasy, a bunch of four-eyed geeks with pocket protectors. Wannstedt has rebuilt both lines and the team’s will to fight. Given the relative lack of competition in the Big East – make no mistake, though; the Big Ten and ACC are no better – it’s difficult to buy Pitt as the true, legitimate eighth-best team in college football. I’m not even sure the Panthers would crackRead More »
By MARK MADDEN Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been a leading scapegoat in the aftermath of the Steelers’ disheartening 18-12 loss to Cincinnati Sunday. At first glance, I disagreed. I thought the Steelers should have used the no-huddle more. But when they did use it, it sputtered, and the no-huddle depends on the passing game being in sync, which it decidedly wasn’t. So Arians gets a pass. I also thought Arians mishandled the Steelers’ final possession by going deep twice. With 67 yards to cover, 1:49 left and a time out to work with, QB Ben Roethlisberger should have taken what the Bengals were giving for a few plays and made the field shorter. But when you look for a miracle and don’t get one, blame Jesus, not Arians. But I do blame Arians for abandoning the run too quick.
I’m usually the last guy who pays attention to what announcers say before, during and after games on TV. But what I heard before, during and after Monday Night Football on ESPN drove me NUTS. The lowlight was when Matt Millen said that Ben Roethlisberger is tough to coach and tough to coach against, and that he ruins precision. Like a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback really needs to be evaluated by the architect of the total collapse of the once-proud Detroit Lions franchise, Mr. 0-16 Matt Millen. In some twisted way, Millen was attempting to compliment Roethlisberger. But it was so ham-fisted, it seemed insulting. When analysts praise Roethlisberger, it usually comes off as clumsy, condescending, or damning with faint praise. It’s never unconditional. Despite being on pace to break Terry Bradshaw’s team record for passing yards in a season by over 1,000, Roethlisberger still doesn’t get proper respect fromRead More »
By MARK MADDEN Sidney Crosby has just seven assists in 15 games. I don’t blame him. You got no help, you get no helpers. I blame the stagnant power play more than lack of 5-on-5 production from Sid’s wings. It’s a minor concern right now because Sid is playing great, the Penguins are 12-3 and if the latter continues, the former will manifest itself on the stat sheet. Then again, B traditionally follows A. I used to suggest trading Jordan Staal for a scoring winger. Lately, I haven’t, The three-center model won a Stanley Cup. But just because it worked last year doesn’t mean it will work again this year, or that it will ever work again. The situation is liquid. For right now, answers must come from within. Not from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: Eric Tangradi or Luca Caputi (or both) could be summoned in January, but not before. So, how doRead More »
By MARK MADDEN Sarge is out. Who’s gonna take his place? No, the answer isn’t Jesus. But defenseman Alex Goligoski is certainly showing the Penguins what he’s got. Now that he’s doing it in the absence of the injured Sergei Gonchar, I wonder how General Manager Ray Shero will approach negotiations to extend Gonchar’s contract. There’s no doubt Gogo isn’t Gonch. But with the Penguins’ power play populated by a host of killers aside from Gonchar, all Goligoski needs to be is a reasonable facsimile. The Pens’ PP has underachieved the last two years even when Gonchar has been available to quarterback. Gonchar isn’t to blame, nor is he to credit. Perhaps the “too many cooks” theory applies. Meantime, Goligoski piles up points: five goals and seven assists in 13 games and a stratospheric +11 mark. His game-tying goal at Columbus Oct. 30 gave him a seven-game points streak. GoligoskiRead More »
By MARK MADDEN For months, I implored Penguins GM Ray Shero to trade Jordan Staal for a scoring winger, or for Staal to be permanently moved to wing. The talent imbalance between center and wing didn’t seem to make sense. One Stanley Cup later, well…shows what I know. Shero’s three-center model won’t be copied because it’s nearly impossible to assemble three centers the caliber of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal. The intent is clear: Dominate the ice from slot to slot through skill, speed and physical play. Don’t underestimate Crosby and Malkin in the latter department. Sid’s a bull. Geno can be nasty.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If Charles Dickens played quarterback, he would have been Bill Stull this past Saturday. Give Stull credit. He initially played so putrid, he was on his way to single-handedly sabotaging Pitt’s season. But Stull showed GUTS in the second half, undid his own damage and propelled Pitt to a crucial Big East Conference win over Connecticut. Don’t pity Stull because Pitt fans jeer him. It’s part of the job. Anyway, the barrage of boos at the start of the second half weren’t directed at Stull. The Heinz Field faithful were lamenting Dave Wannstedt’s decision to leave Stull in the game. It was a reasonable opinion to have. In the first half, Stull was as bad as a quarterback could possibly be. The Pitt senior made Kordell Stewart at his worst look like Johnny Unitas in his prime. StullRead More »