Insider Only Crosby starting to get that “IT” factor back? Letang situation, X-Factor for the Pirates & more in Today’s TIOPSDailyFive


*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*

1. From the penalty kill in overtime, the Penguins performance last night was a great story in the team effort they got in playing with five defenseman but one win against a non-playoff team shouldn’t take away the criticism the front office deserves for the salary cap debacle. Ray Shero put the team in a tough spot going into this season but Jim Rutherford and the Shero left overs are also to blame for the situation the Penguins are in now.
It started in the summer when they over-extended in free agency when they had around $3 million (per season) budgeted for an impact free agent, money that was discussed with Nikolai Kulemin and defenseman Tom Gilbert, but once Christian Ehrhoff became available, Jim Rutherford became fixated on Ehrhoff, a player he coveted for years. The extra $1 million for Ehrhoff than they had budgeted towards the cap and the extra $400,000 that Thomas Greiss cost in place of a signed Jeff Zatkoff, were two key factors that put the Penguins so tight with cap space to start the season.
When you start the season as tight as the Penguins were with the cap, there is no room for error, and for example the Penguins decision to have Scott Harrington around the team to start the year for the purpose of him seeing what the NHL’s about are little things that have come back to haunt them now where they could use every dollar. Everyday Harrington was up sitting in the press box and missing out on playing time in Wilkes Barre, he counted towards the cap.
The Penguins are at fault for not being cautious enough.

crosby2. Sidney Crosby the last couple weeks — We’ve seen him play his best hockey of the season. He’s not putting up a substantial amount of points, those days are probably over, but he’s dominating play in the offensive zone and he has that extra little step right now that separates him from the rest of the pack. For one of the few long stretches this season, you look at Crosby right now and you can say again he’s the best player in the NHL and seems to have that “IT” factor about him.
This could be a real important playoff run on how Crosby is viewed. 2009 seems so long ago, and with the Penguins multiple playoff disappointments since, he has this Peyton Manning type cloud hovering around him where he’s kind of viewed as a player who doesn’t step up in the clutch when the going gets tough in the playoffs. That will happen when you’re the games marquee player and you have 1 goal in your last 18 playoff games.
This season the script is going to be a bit reversed and will be ever so more if Kris Letang does not play in the post-season. The Penguins aren’t looked at as the clear cut favorite in the East like so many past seasons and with expectations a bit lower from the outside, Crosby has a chance to carry an under the radar team and flip the script. Do I see it happening? No, but the way Crosby is trending right now at the right time gives a glimmer of hope.

letang3. Initially the worst fear for the Penguins was a spinal type concussion for Kris Letang as his neck whipped back into the boards. It won’t be known for least a week or longer to see how significant or whether Letang has any chance to play for the start of the playoffs, but a must for the Penguins is being very cautious with Letang who has seven years left on his deal. You don’t want to botch this one.
This is now Letang’s 4th concussion. In the 2011-2012 season, he had two concussions. Letang was concussed vs the Canadiens on November 26, 2011. He would not return for nearly two months until Jan 19, 2012 that season. About six weeks later, Letang was concussed again, this time vs Dallas on February 29. He would have a much quicker recovery, returning to the lineup in about two weeks. You just never know.
As positive as Sunday’s win over the Sharks was, and stating the obvious here, this team  has no chance for a deep run without Letang and even missing Letang for a couple games in round 1 would be extremely troublesome. The defensive group got it done for one game against the Sharks and even with Christian Ehrhoff, this group would break down over a seven game series and struggle mightily to get the puck up, especially against a fast puck possession team like the Islanders.
You can get away playing Rob Scuderi, Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy 25+ minutes for a game but not one of them in a seven game series, especially this year where most teams in the conference are so even. If Scuderi has to play another game of 25+ minutes, he’s going to need carried to the team plane afterwards.

4. The Hockey News Ronnie Shuker makes the argument that the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for Connor McDavid. Would be a genius idea for the Penguins, getting a once in a decade talent (Again) in McDavid at an ENTRY LEVEL CONTRACT and McDavid who could become the new face of the NHL, would alleviate the off-ice value Crosby has brought to the organization that you would lose in trading Crosby.
Despite the unknown with McDavid, the Penguins would then get to build around McDavid at a much cheaper cap hit and Malkin, who projects to be a better player into his 30’s than Crosby.
But it’s a silly and ludicrous suggestion for whichever team gets the No. 1 pick. No GM with the No. 1 pick in their right mind would want Crosby, who will be 28 years old this summer (age that players decline) and a salary of $12 million next season, over McDavid, and you think Crosby’s waiving his no movement clause to Edmonton, Buffalo or Arizona?
Shuker writes: “Gretzky was traded August 9, 1988, when he was 28 years old. Crosby turns 28 August 7. The logic isn’t ludicrous, even if the scenario is surreal. And stranger things have happened.”

260px-pittsburgh_pirates_logo2-150x1505. Pirate officials have been thrilled with how Corey Hart’s fit into the clubhouse right off the bat but the team believes he’s going to have value on the field too. Wishful thinking?
He’s a player those in the organization are calling an “X-Factor” for them. Hart missed the 2013 season due to knee surgery and batted just .203/.271/.319 in 68 games for the Mariners last season.
Hart looked broken down last season but the Pirates insist the knee’s are fine and they are optimistic he’s going to show flashes of the player from 2012 in a platoon role at first base and right field than the player from 2014. Regardless this could be a make or break season for Hart in his career at age 33.
Jung Ho Kang is the biggest wildcard for the Pirates when it comes to their entire roster and bench, and Hart is also a key wildcard. If you’re banking on Andrew Lambo to provide anything off the bench, good luck with that

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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