All posts by brendanlabra

Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

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Pens Sign Brian Dumoulin to Six Year Extension

The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed standout defensemen Brian Dumoulin to a brand new 6 year contract. The deal comes just a few weeks before the arbitration meeting that would have taken place; meaning that the Penguins avoid arbitration and have locked up Dumo long term.

What the Deal Is

The 6 year deal carries an average cap hit of 4.1 million dollars and is reportedly a flat level deal. This means that the cap hit remains $4.1 million for each year of the deal, never going up or down. This contract also makes Dumo the 3rd highest paid Penguins defensemen on roster, falling behind superstar Kris Letang and other new signee Justin Schultz.

What the Deal Means

With any new contract comes extended meaning beyond just simply signing the player. The $24.6 million deal leaves the Penguins with 6.28 million dollars left in cap space for the upcoming season according to CapFriendly. This means that the Penguins only have that much room to work with to acquire a third line center and sign the other RFA, Conor Sheary.

There has been little to no action on the Sheary front, however, Post Gazette writer, Jason Mackey, reported that Sheary and Dumoulin’s agent, Lewis Gross, is planning on getting a deal done before Sheary’s arbitration date. No rumors or even rumblings have been discussed as to what the 25 year old Left Winger’s contract could look like. However, when taking a look at his stats, one could make an argument for a somewhat lucrative deal, but I don’t see him getting much more than $3 million. Sheary’s 63 points in 103 NHL games is certainly nothing to turn a nose to. However, this is only over two NHL seasons, which usually is not enough for GMs to give long term deals. I expect a bridge contract to be offered for Sheary, somewhere in the area of 2-3 years with an AAV of $3 million would be absolutely perfect. On top of this, given his lackluster playoffs last year, the cap hit could fall even farther below value.

The Penguins should then still have enough room to sign/acquire a decent enough third line center that would fall anywhere between the $2-4 million range depending on what got sent back *cough cough Tyler Bozak.*

The deal also shows just how important defense is in today’s NHL. The Penguins now currently have 7 NHL defensemen signed for a total of 25.9 million dollars, with $20.93 million locked up in what can be the assumed Top 4 (Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta.)

Is Brian Dumoulin really worth 4.1 million dollars a year? Probably not, however, is a Left Handed Defensemen worth that in today’s NHL? You bet. When looking at other deals around the league, the Dumoulin deal is actually more of a steal.

KesselMania

How far will people go to find a narrative?

In the past few weeks, several Pittsburgh Sports Media figures have been doing their best Toronto impression and have attempted to make a case for as to why Phil Kessel should be traded.

Back to back Stanley Cups along with proven statistics that show his exceeding worth to the Penguins apparently aren’t enough to show to the hockey world that Kessel belongs in Pittsburgh.

There have essentially been two main stories that have crawled through the woodwork this offseason that “prove” that a Kessel trade should be considered, that his statistics are slowing down and his value isn’t worth the $6.8 million he acquires per year and that the leaving of former assistant coach Rick Tocchet will affect Kessel’s relationship to the Penguins. Let’s take a few minutes to debunk both those myths.

Last year, Phil Kessel notched 23 goals in 82 games which was topped by 58 players that scored 24 or more with the Penguins’ own Sidney Crosby scoring 44.

Out of those 58 players, the average cap hit is $4,207,052.22. While that may seem like an overpayment to some, please keep in mind that that number is including player on entry level contracts and bridge year contracts that certainly are outliers. So when that is considered, the $6.8 that Kessel costs the Penguins is certainly a fair value.

On top of this, one of the things that I have seen and loved from Kessel is his outstanding playmaking ability.

While his “quarterbacking” of the powerplay in Kris Letang’s absence absolutely drove me up a wall, his raw ability to see the ice is unparalleled. This led to Kessel having a whopping 47 assists, a number that was bested by only 10 NHL’ers last season.

The average cap hit of those ten players is $5,560,833.03.

Again, while this does fall under Kessel’s cap hit, there are two entry level contracts in that top ten, just for fun, if we take out the two contracts, the average cap hit increases up to $6,719,791.62, which is obviously about Kessel’s paygrade.

Finally, looking at overall points, Kessel had only 17 players score more than the 70 points he notched.

The average cap hit of those 17 players, while again still including the outlier contracts is $5,694,951. Take all three of the average caps hits that include the entry level deals and find that average leaves us with a cap hit of $5,154,278, just $1,645,722 under Kessels’ current cap hit against the Penguins.

Now one might wonder as to where he makes up that extra money. That would in the playoffs.

Without a shadow of a doubt, he makes up for all of it in the playoffs. In 71 playoff games, Kessel has an outstanding 66 points with a tremendous 31 goals and 35 assists in what is often considered the hardest hockey to play all year. The 66 points in 71 games leaves Kessel with a .929 ppg in the playoffs putting him eighth amongst all active players.

For those wondering, the average cap hit of those seven players above him is $8,103,571.43….which is almost 2 million dollars more than what Kessel costs the Penguins per year. If you think Kessel’s overpaid or his value to the Penguins is decreasing, get out of my face.

The second mind-numbly dumb point that the Pittsburgh Sports media is trying to make is that because of Tocchet’s departure from assistant bench boss, Kessel is now all of a sudden going to be uncoachable.

This thought that Kessel is uncoachable is honestly laughable at this point. The reason he’s torn through so many coaches throughout his career is that he played on the Maple Leafs for all but two years of it. And Leafs fans will agree, it was like a carousel of coaches there for a majority of his tenure and it had absolutely nothing to do with him, he was bar none their best player.

And he’s done nothing but produce since he’s been shipped to Pittsburgh.

Sure the goal totals are lower than expected but when you’re coming down the wing with the stallion that is Evgeni Malkin down the center, you’re not scoring all the goals on that line.

And as I mentioned earlier, his assists numbers and playmaking ability is among the top tier of the league. So even if Mike Sullivan has a “problem” with Kessel, guess what, too bad, get over it, the guy can flat out play.

And I do think Sullivan sees how Kessel is in the locker room and something tells me a guy like Sully really sees the value in that. There is no evidence to suggest that there is or ever was a rift between Sully and Kessel so I have absolutely no idea why it’s being made as if there is one.

Kessel is and will continue to be a premier player in this league. He’s worth his cap hit and will continue to be as the salary cap should increase as the years go on. I’m for one glad that I can proudly say, Phil Kessel is a Pittsburgh Penguin.