Inside Pittsburgh Sports


*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*


1. A young up and coming coach with Pittsburgh ties who coaches at Dayton had no interest in the job, showed immediately during the Panthers coach search of how the program is viewed. Pitt was never going to get a named coach like Sean Miller from Arizona that brought great excitement to the fan base but some had to at least hope Pitt would get the attention of his brother or a coach like him.

They didn’t and some of this also isn’t Pitt’s fault as a program.

Many coaches, notably some of the top young coaches, weren’t interested in the job because of who they have to compete with in the ACC, the likes of North Carolina, Duke, Louisville and Syracuse. That had a few on Pitt’s radar not even interested in interviewing, Archie Miller being among them.

The immediate reaction from the the fan base and pundits with the Kevin Stallings hire is that AD Scott Barnes has no shot of winning the press conference or selling the hire, especially with this infatuation there seems to be that Pitt should have hired a young up and coming coach from a smaller program or an assistant coach from a top program like Pitt hired in Pat Narduzzi on the football side.

The Stallings hire is certainly underwhelming, but there’s still some intrigue with the hire. What Jamie Dixon was doing wasn’t working. The goal for Pitt with this hire isn’t that Stallings will make Pitt a perennial top-10 team, because that’s unrealistic. Pitt will never be Duke or North Carolina.

The goal is to change the dynamic offensively with this program and bring in different kind of offensive players. Jamie Dixon was not getting that first-round pedigree NBA player who can take over games in the NCAA Tournament.

Kevin Stallings has proven he can recruit that player that Dixon couldn’t, all while at a smaller less appealing school and one of nations hardest schools to get in. Vanderbilt was ranked as the 12th hardest school to be accepted to in 2013.

In 2012, Stallings had 3 players among the top-31 picks selected in the NBA draft. This season he coached two projected first round picks. Point guard Wade Baldwin IV (the player Stallings berated on the court) is a projected top-20 pick in the 2016 draft and power forward Damian Jones is projected to be a late first round/early second round pick. ESPN’s Chad Ford has Jones going No. 28 in his latest mock draft, Baldwin No. 18.

Some can argue Stallings teams should have been more successful with some of the NBA talent he brought in and that’s warranted, but the reputation he brings as an offensive coach and the ability to recruit NBA talent that Dixon couldn’t, gives some background as to why he was appealing to Pitt AD Scott Barnes, regardless of the connection Stallings had with the search firm.

Retread hire? Maybe, but there’s still some intriguing aspects about the hire. Let’s see it play out.

letang ddd

2. You don’t get to the Stanley Cup Final or win the Stanley Cup without having a game changing shutdown No. 1 defenseman on the backend who eats up nearly 30 minutes of ice time and is a dominant force in all three zones.

Just look at the last three seasons with the representatives in the Cup Final. All five teams had that necessary ingredient.

Chicago Blackhawks – Duncan Keith, Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty, New York Rangers – Ryan McDonagh, Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins – Zdeno Chara.

There’s only six or seven of these type of players out there and the Penguins have had that missing element. Kris Letang has been a very good ‘2’ with the ability to move into that group but has failed in the past to put it all together for an entire post-season run. He’s had a past where he gets rattled in a series and while not implode but not suit himself as that true No. 1. The Flyers, Bruins series losses were good examples of that.

A deep run for Pittsburgh could come down to Kris Letang than anything else. Letang is now playing at that Drew Doughty type level where he’s taking over games and just playing out of his mind. Now it’s going to be on Letang’s shoulders to put it all together as he’s venturing into the territory of being one of the NHL best defensemen but this story won’t be fully finished until after the post-season.

3. A big weekend for Nick Bonino doesn’t change the fact that his season has been a disappointment to this point, though, he’s making a little headway to changing that.

Bonino’s improved play on a line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel has shown that the best way to utilize Bonino is playing him with higher end players and that’s something the Penguins need to evaluate this summer.

Bonino led the Canucks in points/60 5 v 5 last season at 2.04. One of his prominent wingers in 2014-2015 was Radim Vrbata who had a 31 goal season. So it might be no surprise that Bonino’s game is starting to take off when the coaching staff is now leaning on him to play a more offensive role and has skilled wingers around him.

For all of Brandon Sutter’s faults, he deserves some credit for his time in Pittsburgh in that you could put crap around him on the third line and he could still get you a 20 goal season. Nick Bonino does not appear to be that type of player.

When Mike Sullivan initially took over, he wanted to put Bonino and Phil Kessel together on the third line to space out the Penguins depth. [hide] Still a ways to go here, but if the chemistry continues by the time Malkin returns, playing if game again, there could be a temptation to keep those two together.

4. The Penguins showed strong interest in Oilers winger Nail Yakupov prior to acquiring David Perron last season. Despite a log-jam at right wing long-term, Pittsburgh kicked some tires again in February when it became known in NHL circles that Yakupov demanded a trade.


5. The Pirates are giddy about John Jaso’s ability to draw walks in the leadoff spot, enhancing the belief in the organization that Andrew McCutchen in the No. 2 spot will succeed. Jaso has nine walks in 31 at-bats. Big hope internally from those in the front office that manager Clint Hurdle experiments during the season with batting the pitcher eighth.[/hide]


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