All posts by Cody Flavell

I am an avid fan of all major and college sports teams throughout the Pittsburgh area.

Hunwick An Underrated Find For Penguins

The Penguins definitely lost more firepower than they acquired this offseason. Losing names like Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley due to their seeking of bigger money elsewhere wasn’t an aid to the Penguins chances at a three-peat.

They acquired a few new players via offseason moves and resigned a few of their current free agents to deals. None of the signings were spectacular but the signing of Matt Hunwick, in particular, was one I’m a big fan of.

The Penguins signed Hunwick to a 3-year deal at $2.25 AAV.

To the average hockey fan, many won’t recognize the name and wonder why he got a decent chunk of money. The Penguins, in a big way, needed to find NHL capable defensemen without paying an arm and a leg. Hunwick is a great fit.

Hunwick won’t knock anyone’s socks off with his goal scoring ability, or lack there of, from the blue line. His career high is six, which he did twice. But those two seasons were his first and second full seasons in the NHL. His 19 points last year were his second highest aside from his first NHL season.

He will remind you a lot of Brian Dumoulin in the sense that his lack of offensive scoring prowess is made up by his stellar defense. Much like Dumoulin, Hunwick has good puck moving abilities. Hunwick spent some time on the power play in Toronto last season so he has the ability to run it in a dyer situation.

He thrives as a penalty killing defenseman, something the Penguins wanted to replace in the loss of Daley.

Hunwick’s two most recent seasons in Toronto saw him block a career high shot total as well as his hitting totals went up. He’s not considered a “tenacious” defenseman but he seems to have an edge that if things get out of hand, he’ll have his hand in attempting to fix the problem.

If you watched any of the NHL Playoffs outside of the Penguins last season, specifically the Toronto and Washington first round matchup, there is a case to be made that Hunwick was Toronto’s best and most noticeable defenseman.

On a roster with young defenseman such as Jake Gardiner, Morgan Reilly, and Nikita Zaitsev, the 32-year old Hunwick was the one who had the most solid, all-around performance, earning himself the chance to make some money on the free agent market.

It’s very likely that Hunwick will be on the third defense pairing with Olli Maatta. Guys like Chad Ruhwedel and Derrick Pouliot would be next if the Hunwick experiment doesn’t work out. Both have shown flashes of being capable NHL defenseman which means that Hunwick will need instant production.

Another small tidbit about Hunwick is something that may impress you.

Hunwick’s 1.06 points/60 minutes at even strength were the highest of any defenseman on the roster last season outside of Kris Letang, who we know only played half the season due to injury.

The prime years for Hunwick are trending towards the end, but the Penguins do a fine job of bringing in “afterthought” defenseman (i.e. Justin Schultz) and turning them into very good blue liners. The potential to do the same in this situation is there as long as head coach Mike Sullivan deploys Hunwick in the correct way.

We all know how often Sullivan strikes gold with his new acquisitions. This, likely, will be no different.

COLUMN: Who Needs Top 100 When You Are Top 5?

We all witnessed the NHL’s “Top 100” list from earlier in the season. The glaring omission from the list was Penguins star forward Evgeni Malkin. Many analysts and fans said that it was a travesty for Malkin to not be considered a top 100 player of all time.

Despite being much more skilled than Blackhawks forward Johnathon Toews and now as many Cups as him, Toews was selected into the top 100 over Malkin. I’ll stop there and let you digest that.

Good now?

Let me let you in on a secret. Not only is Evgeni Malkin a top 100 player of all time in the National Hockey League, but I’d venture as far as to say that Malkin is back in the conversation of being a top five player in the world right now.

Many people weren’t too keen on this notion about a year ago. How could you not be anymore?

Malkin just won his third Stanley Cup as a player in the league. He already won one Conn Smythe award and, truthfully, should’ve beat out Sidney Crosby for this season’s. Malkin isn’t bothered by it, however. He just wants to win.

Malkin does win and when he does win, he’s usually a big reason why his team wins.

Put this in perspective: Malkin is 14th in all time points per game. That’s all time. Not this season. Not amongst active players. 14th ALL TIME.

Amongst active players? He’s second. Behind his teammate, the one and only Crosby.

Only one active player has more Cups than Malkin and that’s former teammate Chris Kunitz (4), who was also around for all three Cups the Penguins have won in the Crosby-Malkin era.

Remember the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 against the Carolina Hurricanes? I remember when Evgeni Malkin dominated that series to the point where Carolina was embarrassed to have even showed up. But remember, some bogus group of writers say that Malkin isn’t a top 100 player.

The list was compiled early on in the season so it’s understandable that they were unaware that Malkin would become a three-time Stanley Cup champion. If they had to redo the list now, he’d be top 100 and I don’t think they could even mistake it this time around.

But, the main point of this article was not to plead his case for top 100 all-time. It was to talk about how Malkin’s name should be again thrown into the conversation of top five player in the league today.

There have been times where Malkin fell out of that conversation. I’ve been hard on him at times. But, that comes with the territory of being an elite player. It doesn’t help playing second fiddle to Crosby your entire career.

My top five changes about every few months based on dominant performances and “elite” players showing they might still have it.

If I had to rate my top five…

  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Connor McDavid
  3. Erik Karlsson
  4. Patrick Kane
  5. Evgeni Malkin

That’s my list. Last season, Malkin was top 10. McDavid wasn’t so high up. Neither was Karlsson. The argument could’ve been made that Kane was potentially going to take Crosby’s spot at the top.

Now? Crosby reasserted himself as a clear number one. McDavid is the future of the league. Karlsson literally dragged his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Kane’s team was swept out of the playoffs after entering as the West’s number one seed.

And Malkin?


All jokes aside…

He lead the playoffs in scoring. He was runner up to Crosby in Conn Smythe voting. He won his third Stanley Cup.

On July 31, Malkin will turn 31. He’s probably one of the most accomplished players ever by that age. And his prime years have brought him two Cups already. Him and Crosby both will be gunning to threepeat.

While the thought of threepeating seems ridiculous, the Penguins have two of the top five players in the league. I’m not quite sure if any team has two players in the top 10. One of those guys is a Russian who is driven by winning.


When Geno puts his mind to something, he does it. Mr. Number 101 is now soaking in the glory of being a three-time Cup champion. We know what Geno has done and it’s clear to see that he’s a top five player in this league to date.

Offseason Player Grades: Marc-Andre Fleury

Statistics (Regular Season)

38 GP, 18-10-7, .909 SV%, 3.02 GAA, 1 SO

Statistics (Postseason)

15 GP, 9-6-0, .924 SV%, 2.56 GAA, 2 SO

Player Grade (B-)

This season was hard on Marc-Andre Fleury. He was supplanted as the number one goalie in last season’s playoffs and got to start the first few weeks after Matt Murray broke his hand. Fleury had a horrific regular season but was a big reason for the Penguins repeating in 2017.

Review

After Murray broke his hand at the beginning of the season during the World Cup of Hockey, Fleury got the opening night start and won in convincing fashion. It seemed that Flower had his mojo back after being benched in the playoffs during the 2016 Stanley Cup championship run. Things headed south in a hurry.

With Murray seemingly close to returning, the Penguins long time goaltender started really seeing some rough outings. Him and Murray split time for a little less than a month until Fleury was benched for good in favor of Murray.

All the way through the trade deadline, Fleury had been horrible. Many of people had turned on him and things were trending down for what little time he had left in a Penguins uniform.

Once the deadline had passed, Fleury was back to his normal self. So much so that, when playoff time came, Fleury was the starter.

Murray reinjured his hamstring in warm ups of game one in the first round which threw Fleury into action. He was sensational against Columbus. He may have been even better against the Capitals. He shut them out in game seven after the Penguins blew a 3-1 lead and seemed to be on their heals.

Game three of the Eastern Conference Finals was Fleury’s last start as a Penguin after he was lit up for four goals on nine shots and got pulled. He watched as Murray fetched his second Stanley Cup.

Preview

The Vegas Golden Knights selected Fleury to be their goaltender as they begin their franchises existence next year. Fleury will have the chance to be the face of a franchise starting next year and will have the starting crease with no doubts as either Calvin Pickard or Jean-Francois Berube will be his back up goalie.

Conclusion

While Fleury’s time in Pittsburgh has come to an end, his contributions will soon be recognized when he comes back to Pittsburgh in February. They won’t be forgotten by those who appreciated him as a hockey player.

Fleury’s the face of Vegas and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy. Merci, Fleury.

Top 10 Saves Of Marc-Andre Fleury’s Career

Marc-Andre Fleury is now a Vegas Golden Knight. He has had an illustrious career in Pittsburgh as he’s been a part of three different Cup teams.

It’s only fitting to set aside some time to compile a list of, what I believe, are Fleury’s top 10 saves in a Penguins uniform. We start with number ten…

No. 10- Chef Fleury With The Stop

There isn’t a lot to this save. Flyers defenseman Matt Carle winds up for a slap shot outside his offensive zone. It hits Flower right in the chest. He then takes the puck and flips on his stick a few times before gloving it down to be frozen. I included this because it happened in Philadelphia where Fleury has had demons before. It was cool for once to see the Philly crowd booing him as opposed to getting on him for allowing a goal in the building.

No. 9- Kubi-NO

This is ridiculous. Fleury moves from right to left to shut down the Lightning’s Paul Kubina. He spins while kicking his pads up in the air. He gloves it after the pad hits it. It’s too hard to explain. Just enjoy.

No. 8- Don’t Back Down

As Daniel Alfredsson bares down on Fleury during a shootout, Fleury squares him up. Alfredsson should’ve lifted the puck but instead beats Fleury…until he doesn’t. Fleury rolls over on his back and gets his glove hand down before the puck crosses the line. It’s beautiful. So poetic.

No. 7- Saving Blake

Maple Leafs forward Jason Blake had already buried two goals on the night. He just about had a guaranteed third when he carried the puck around Fleury. Somehow, someway, Fleury dived back across the crease and got his glove out to absolutely rob Blake of that third goal. This is number seven. I promise the list is getting even better.

No. 6- No Luck For Atkinson

I’m a huge fan of this goal because of Cam Atkinson being a Columbus Blue Jacket. Fleury softly let the puck squeak through his six hole as he couldn’t hold it to his side. He turned around alertly and fell back swiping the puck away with his stick as it was inches from crossing the goal line. Fleury is a savage.

No. 5- Setting The Tone

Just one piece of the multiple playoff flops by the Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin is given a breakaway in the first three minutes of game seven. Fleury, up to the task, calmly follows Ovechkin’s every move and flashes the leather to keep it at 0-0. The Penguins went on to win the game and the Cuo in the following round.

No. 4- Green With Envy

This one is a nifty play on all accounts. Defenseman Mike Green displays some silky mitts by deking in and out of potential defenders. He even had Fleury fooled. Somehow, Fleury reached back and stopped it before Green was able to dispose of it into the back of the net and win the game in overtime. Green’s face went right into his hands in disbelief. Fleury was all smiles. Classic Fleury. Classic Capitals.

No. 3- Flying Fleury

You’ll all remember this one. As the puck flips into the air, Fleury flies backwards and amazingly knocks the puck out of danger while spinning. The puck likely would’ve hit the ground and spun in due to the way the puck was flipping in mid-air. Had Fleury hit the puck any later, it probably would’ve been knocked in. Quality save by your favorite Flower.

No. 2- “OH MY GOODNESS!”

This is my favorite save that Fleury has ever made. Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson had just about done what they wanted on the play and Karlsson’s shot looked destined to get to the back of the net. I’m not sure how he did it, but Fleury’s glove stopped it. The puck never crossed the line and, even more amazingly, Fleury’s arm stayed in his socket. It’s probably my favorite save he’s ever made. Number one should be obvious…

No. 1- Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, Bring Me The Brandy

I don’t think anything will ever have made Fleury more iconic than this. The initial save on Brian Rafalski through traffic was impressive enough. The ensuing save on Nicklas Lidstrom? Legendary. The Penguins hadn’t won a Cup since 1992. That save there was the dagger in the Red Wings attempt to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Something the Penguins did these past two seasons.

Hopefully you enjoyed the list. Obviously, there were other saves I wanted to put on but were omitted. I leave you with this: Marc-Andre Fleury, you will always be my favorite goalie and human being. While the Penguins are in great hands with Matt Murray, you are part of the puzzle that has helped keep this ship afloat. You will be missed greatly.

Offseason Player Grades: Sidney Crosby

Statistics (Regular Season)

75 GP, 44 G, 45 A, 89 PTS, +17 +/-, 24 PIM

Statistics (Postseason)

24 GP, 8 G, 19 A, 27 PTS, +4 +/-, 10 PIM

Player Grade (A+)

He proved again why he’s the MVP of the NHL. He had torrid paces throughout the season that left people shaking their heads wondering how he does what he does. He got his 1,000th career NHL point. He helped power a second consecutive Stanley Cup to the city of Pittsburgh. He won his second straight Conn Smythe. Crosby, yet again, exceeded expectations in captaining his team to victory.

Review

Sidney Crosby was right back at it again in 2016-17′. After a slow start the previous season, Crosby was able to turn on the jets and finish the season in an outstanding matter. This season was a little different.

From the outset, you could tell Crosby was going to dominate. Starting with his brilliance in the World Cup of Hockey where him and Brad Marchand teamed up to help lift Canada to the gold medal. He didn’t stop there. He finished second in scoring and won the Conn Smythe as the playoff’s MVP. Most importantly, he won his third career Stanley Cup.

Despite missing the first six games of the season, he continued the dominance by going on a torrid scoring pace to begin the year. He had 26 goals in 31 games at the onset. He did go on a spell where he was struggling to find the back of the net. He finished with 44 goals, which led the league.

He notched his 1,000th career point on a goal assisted by longtime linemate Chris Kunitz in a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. He went a long stretch of the playoffs without a goal but won the MVP and the Cup. It’s safe to say that Crosby’s season was pretty successful.

Preview

As Crosby heads into next season, the Penguins should be very encouraged with where he and they are headed.

The leader of this team practically dictates how the collective unit will do. Crosby exemplifies that. His captain qualities as well as being the league’s best player really make the Penguins a top team in the league.

He’ll likely be right back where he was this year: He’ll, of course, be centering the top line but whether he will be back with Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary remains to be seen. While they played together over the final two games of the season, the Sid and the Kids line was split for some time in the playoffs, too. It seems Guentzel will definitely be on the line as he fell one goal short of tying Dino Ciccarelli‘s record for goal’s scored by a rookie in the playoffs.

Conclusion

Crosby put to rest any doubt that whether Connor McDavid had passed him as the league’s best player. He had one of the more dominant season’s he’s ever had. He dealt with a concussion, missing the first six games of the season. That didn’t stop him from scoring 44 goals and trailing McDavid pretty closely for the majority of the season.

Crosby wasn’t going to be denied in his quest to be the first team to repeat in the salary cap era. People want to play with Crosby because he wins. That was proven this season when the whole team reassembled to go on a quest that they won’t soon forget.

Derrick Pouliot Should Get A Chance

Reading this title may have given many of you a few aneurisms. By now, the Penguins have given defenseman Derrick Pouliot ample chance to prove himself at the NHL level, right? To be quite honest, I don’t think he’s been given ample chances.

Sure, he’s been up and down from the AHL to the NHL and back again multiple times. It seems that anytime Pouliot makes one mistake, it’s magnified and he’s immeadiately benched or sent down. With a young, steadily developing “prospect”, if you will, the worst thing to do is mess with any potential confidence he has.

The Pittsburgh Pirates faced a similar situation early in their season.

Top prospect, Tyler Glasnow, was given the opportunity to be in the Opening Day rotation. His struggles with his control issues were a well-known fact going into the year. Despite a few rough starts, Glasnow began to find himself a bit. He then tailed off and was sent back to the minor leagues. The Penguins need to attempt a similar approach.

Pouliot has served his time in the AHL and has looked good doing it. Although his NHL transition seems to be rough at times, how is he going to get any better continuously being sent up and down?

Thus brings me to my argument: Derrick Pouliot should be in the lineup on Opening Night next year.

Pouliot isn’t going to get better at the NHL level without playing there. Mike Sullivan needs to guarantee Pouliot a spot in the top six to open the year so Pouliot can readily focus on what he needs to do to be a quality and serviceable player. Sullivan has yet to make any player around him worse so Sullivan’s guidance can only help Pouliot.

His struggles to play defense at times can be overcome by the offensive capabilities that Pouliot brings to the table. That’s something that can’t be overlooked.

He scored on his first NHL shot against the Florida Panthers in 2014. He can really skate with the puck and has puck moving abilities that the Penguins sorely could use.

The Penguins used the eighth overall pick on him in 2012. They expect a lot out of him and they can get it if they actually decide to play him.

The Penguins are likely going to need one defenseman when the season begins. It’s safe to assume that Trevor Daley‘s best days might be behind him and that the Penguins will allow him to walk on July 1st. With guys like Nick Bonino, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz needing contracts, the Penguins will have an in-house defensive option or two if they’d like to let Daley go elsewhere.

That would leave the likely pairings to be as follows heading into the season:

Dumoulin-Letang

Cole-Schultz

Maatta-Pouliot

The obvious chemistry of the top four defensemen can’t be understated. The Maatta-Pouliot pairing may look scary, but it’s got the potential to be very effective.

The only way to really grow Pouliot’s game is to let him work out his kinks at the NHL level under Sullivan and defensive coach Sergei Gonchar‘s guidance. He’s shown flashes of being an offensive juggernaut and could really be a great boost to the second power play if in fact Daley signs with another team.

Unless the Penguins go out and sign somebody, your other in-house options include Chad Ruhwedel, Cameron Gaunce, or Frankie Corrado. They’re all perennial seventh defenseman that you can find on the free agency wire. Pouliot is a former first round draft choice with the potential to be just that. He should be guaranteed a spot on the Opening Night roster next year. I don’t think there is much of a question about that.

The question is, how much of a chance will Sullivan give him and how does he respond?

Losing Fleury Is What’s Best For Pittsburgh

Not too often do you hear that a team would do itself a favor by letting go of a quality player for absolutely nothing. The Penguins case is actually a little different heading into the Vegas expansion draft next week.

By now, its widely known that Marc-Andre Fleury waived his no-movement clause that is in his contract for the purpose of the draft. Vegas is very likely to take Fleury and his wife has reportedly been looking at some homes in Vegas as well as school districts for their kids.

A few weeks ago, it seemed as Fleury had boosted his trade value by his carrying of the team through the playoffs’ first two rounds. Calgary and Buffalo had been reported suitors but those rumors have since died down and it seems Vegas will not flip Fleury after taking him in the draft.Fleury has been an integral part of this team’s success since he was drafted in 2003. It’s never an ideal situation when an expansion draft like this arises. While it looks as though the Penguins will lose Fleury for nothing, not all is bad.

Had the Penguins agreed on a trade partner for The Flower, even though it could still happen, they would have likely lost a key top four defenseman from the previous season.

Due to expansion draft rules, you can only protect seven forwards, three defenseman, and a goalie. Fleury’s no-movement clause had to be waived or the Penguins would’ve taken the chance of losing Matt Murray, something they don’t want to happen.

With Kris Letang also having a no-movement clause in his contract, the Penguins would be forced to protect two of Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and Ian Cole. The four of those players are a bit more valuable than losing Fleury for some draft pick off of another squad.

The rules of the expansion draft state that if there is a trade by Vegas with another team, that player the Golden Knights acquired would be the “draft” choice for Vegas. Thus, that team wouldn’t lose anyone else.

It looks like Flower will just be drafted by Vegas so it won’t matter. But if the Golden Knights do send a draft pick to Pittsburgh, that would be considered Vegas’ draft choice.

Fleury heading to Vegas would also take $5.75 million off the books, something the Penguins will need greatly if they want to have a shot at a championship again next year. They can use that money towards the resigning of key players

So while the emotional connection to Marc-Andre Fleury will likely be moved to a new team, the Penguins will be better off assuming Fleury is traded for or selected for nothing by Vegas.