How Not to React When Your Favorite Team Loses

It’s late in the evening, you got your favorite shirsey on, glass of beer, some chips and you’re watching your favorite team lose. The chips start to taste stale, the beer isn’t quenching your thirst. The final seconds tick off the game clock and the last horn of the game sounds. The Penguins have lost. What do you do now?

  1. Get on your favorite Social Media. You’ll want to start making posts in all caps to make sure everyone can see your anger along with your asanine takes.
  2. Blame the goalie. It’s always the easy way out. If only he had made this one save out of the 20+ others that he made.
  3. Make a call to action. The most common call will be to strip the captaincy of our beloved Sidney Crosby. Say that he is “washed up” or “isn’t a great leader.
  4. Make fun of the people who don’t overreact like a little child. If someone is talking like a sane person, insult them. No better way to prove your point than to make childish remarks towards good people.

Now, these aren’t the only steps you can take to successfully look like an idiot online, but if you follow these everyone will hate you in no time.
Just remember when they win the next game to scream it from the rooftops that you had faith in them the entire time. Hide the evidence, delete the tweets, and hope nobody remembers what an imbecile you really are.

The Fat Lady Isn’t Signing, So Please Quitcha Bitchin’

The Penguins have an obviously sticky situation on their hands going into game six in Tampa Bay. Their goalie situation is cloudy and their best defenseman was awful last night. The series must be over, right? Relax.

There is no excuses to be made. The Penguins defense was a dysfunctional mess last night without Trevor Daley. But they can’t just crawl into a corner and hide. In fact they have no mulligans anymore. Tampa Bay carries a 3-2 lead into game six at Amalie Arena flying higher than Wiz Khalifa on 4/20. But there is one word that the Penguins have followed all season long: Resiliency.

It’s obvious that every fan is succeptible to overreaction. But the Pens just lost consecutive games for the first time since January. It’s May. That’s a five month stretch for those of you who struggle to realize the math behind that.

It’s also the first time the Penguins have lost when leading after two period all season long. That’s incredible. 46-0-1 when leading after two periods. You can say they “choked it away” when it counts, but there is many reasons they came up short tonight.

Kris Letang was abysmal. That doesn’t excuse the rest of the defensive core and their play, but Letang was a -4. I’m not a huge fan of the +\- statistic, but when a team scores four goals and you’re out for all of them, it makes you look bad. Letang relatively stayed out of the penalty box tonight, only receiving one penalty, a pretty swell accomplishment for him.

However Letang was constantly skating backwards last night. He was hemmed in his own zone for much of the game and had twenty-four shots attempted against him last night. When Letang is skating backwards more than forwards and being given the opportunity  to facilitate the offense, the team struggled as a whole and that was seen under Mike Johnston.

It’s no secret Letang wants to be, and has to be, better if the Penguins want to win these next two games and reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Now as far as the goalie situation goes…

Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t good Sunday night. Sure, the defense in front of him wasn’t great either. You could see the rust in Fleury. He was tested for the first time in nearly two months and it wore him down. He battles pucks all night long and didn’t look like Marc-Andre Fleury.

You can make any argument you want, but Fleury had to play tonight and the Penguins didn’t have a choice. Everyone knew rust was probably going to factor into his game somehow and it did. Fleury isn’t at fault for the game, but again wasn’t sharp enough to get the job done.

I’ve always believed the saying that great goalies will make the usual saves necessary to win a game. The elite goaltenders will make those saves and go above and beyond when the team needs them. I don’t care that Fleury was rusty, he needed to make the big saves when the team needed him and he let them down Sunday.

In my opinion I’m going to start Matt Murray on Tuesday. It’s not because Flower was the reason we lost. He’s not. It’s not because Murray’s better. He’s not. It’s not because Flower is “rusty”. He may be. It’s because Matt Murray got them to this point. It’s because Fleury’s career stats against the Tampa Bay Lightning are terrible. It’s because it’s game six and the Penguins are on the brink of elimination. It’s because it’s the Cup.

On the other end of the ice, we are seeing an elite goaltender possibly shaping right in front of our eyes. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing short of incredible. He made a timely save on Chris Kunitz late in the third period to keep his team down by only one. The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov then tied it less than three minutes later and the Lightning won in overtime.

Vasilevskiy has come up huge ever since starter Ben Bishop went down with a lower body injury. He hasn’t wavered in the least when the Penguins barreled on him with pressure. The Lightning were the clearly worse team for games 2&3 of the series and he almost stole both of those games.

I still am not ready to point fingers at just those two guys though. There is something the Penguins absolutely need to fix right now. Their ability to hold a multi-goal lead.

I know it sounds contradicting to the earlier statement that the Pens are 46-0-1 when leading after two. Many of those games, the Pens had multi-goal leads and let them slip away, only to win late in the third or overtime.

No team worthy of a Stanley Cup should get complacent. Every team that deserves a Stanley Cup needs to grab a team by the throat and throttle them harder and harder. If you have to win a game 7-0 to prove a point, then do it. Don’t get complacent because you own a big lead. The Penguins did that Sunday night and it but them right in their ass.

Despite pointing out all the things the Penguins need to fix to extend this series on Tuesday night, I never once said I don’t believe in this team. I never once said they can’t come back and win this series. They are a very resilient bunch and I’m nothing but confident going into game six. I actually have no doubt the Penguins could win this in seven games.

I don’t hear any fat ladies singing yet, so do yourself a favor. Stop being the terrible fans that 95% of you are and help rally the Penguins to a game seven back in the ‘Burgh where the Penguins will get the job done. If I can believe in this team, so can you.

Murray vs. Murray!

As far as I’m concerned the three things the Pittsburgh Penguins should be concerned about going into game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals are getting more bodies to the net through the middle lane, the physicality of Tampa Bay, and preventing cross seam passes in the defensive end.

Apparently, however, the big debate is who the starting goaltender should be.

As far as I’m concerned, this debate isn’t Murray vs. Fleury. Let me explain.

As I statistically proved in my playoff preview article, the Penguins were THE hottest team heading in to the post season. That was accomplished without Malkin, and partly without Fleury. I predicted that Murray would come in and do such an amazing job that it would push Fleury to be his absolute best just to prove he was the guy. My quote was that “this would undoubtedly be the playoffs of Marc-Andre Fleury!”

Well, that didn’t pan out, but the bit about Murray sure did. This team has beaten Lundqvist and defeated the “sure thing” Caps pretty handily. Are you telling me this team doesn’t play for Murray? They’re in tough against Tampa, no doubt. But it’s 2-2 and home ice advantage.

It’s easy to name a bunch of reasons to start Fleury. He’s playoff proven. He’s won the Cup. He was what held them in earlier in the year. Blah blah blah. NHL.com analysts even said he should start because he’s handled being a backup with such grace, and because Murray is mature enough to not be ruined by being taken out. How much do they get paid for that?? Those aren’t even reasons! Who would keep Murray in on account of he’s not mature enough to handle being taken out?? As a coach, there’s no way you care about that.

IF Fleury is to get the start, it’s for one reason only: because you as a coach have a gut feeling or an understanding that Murray isn’t feeling it any more. No other razzle dazzle bullshit. Leave Fleury out of the decision completely.

Murray has shown signs of fatigue. He’s not as quick going post to post anymore which is critical against Tampa’s completely back door pass based scoring. On some of the goals, I as much as anyone am guilty of passing those off as “he had no chance”. But earlier in the playoff he was making more consistent predictions and better reads. Maybe he is slowing down a bit. As my brother said to me moments ago, “Sure he had no chance. You don’t have a chance when you’re not there.”

On the other hand, the Penguins have played one horrific game every series so far(game 2 – round 1, game 5 – round 2). Game 4 could have just been that hideous game for round 3. No one said this would be a sweep. The whole point of making a big change like a goalie switch is because the team needs a big change. I really don’t think we’re at a “big change” moment yet.

I tweeted last night that getting Fleury in for a period down 4-0 was the best thing that could have happened. The worst would have been actually getting to a big change moment, making the switch, and finding out the hard way that Fleury wasn’t ready.

Now, we do know he is. Now, Tampa knows he is. That in my opinion is just as good or even better than actually starting Fleury.

87 &71: Brushing off the Critics

By Sidney Mahan (@PuckSniper_3)
When you’re a superstar, you’re expected to step up big in clutch moments. You’re expected (if you’re a forward) to have your name dominating the scoresheet. You’re expected to be the guy who’s worth a couple of points every game. Those expectations are the burden of stardom in the NHL. And it’s a burden that has been taken on by the two crown jewels of Pittsburgh hockey in this Penguins era, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The playoffs are especially stressful times for the stars when it comes to being expected to put up points. That’s where Crosby and Malkin have really taken some heat sometimes in recent years. Think back to the last time the Penguins were in the Conference Final, three years ago, where they ended up being swept by the Boston Bruins. Both Crosby and Malkin went pointless in a series where the Penguins scored a total of two goals in their last four games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. These two guys are already two of the first people to take the blame for any struggles the team has, but especially when the Penguins’ numerous playoff disappointments in recent years coincides with a trending lack of playoff production by the team’s stars, the criticism reaches new levels.

Look, it’s simple. When 87 and 71 score, the Penguins are a better team. Depth and secondary scoring have both been areas where the Penguins have enjoyed success, and it’s helped them get through so far. But right now, playing what’s proven to be a tight and  intense Round 3 series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, star play from the stars can be a factor that tilts the momentum in Pittsburgh’s favor, not only in how the actual games go but in providing a mental boost and a shot of energy and confidence to their team.

Coming into Game 2 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins were coming off a 3-1 loss in the series opener, giving up home-ice advantage and already hitting a rut in the road. They were heading into Game 2 trying to tie the series in Pittsburgh, rather than heading to Tampa Bay for Game 3 in a 2-0 hole that would be difficult to recover from. And as the Penguins sat in the locker room getting ready, two guys were feeling waves of fire in their stomachs.

Both Crosby and Malkin entered Game 2 on mini-slumps. Crosby had gone eight games without a goal, and Malkin came in with a six-game point drought.  Crosby especially had struggled to produce in the Round 2 series against Washington, going without a goal the entire series. Expectedly, he came under severe fire from the media for his lack of production in a series that anyway was much more about the secondary scoring than star power for both teams.

Game 2 saw Crosby respond to his critics in the best way. In fact, during the second intermission of that very game, NBCSN analyst Jeremy Roenick had criticized Crosby for his work ethic, saying that Crosby would do well to watch the nightly work ethic of Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin. That comment didn’t sit well with almost anybody who heard about it, since Roenick was suggesting a star like Crosby who in reality works hard shifts every game take pointers on work ethic from a guy who was suspended by his team without pay for failing to report to an AHL game and who at one point had requested a trade from the franchise.

It didn’t matter in the end, though, because Crosby got the last laugh. He’d showed signs of heating up in the third period, where fans saw Crosby start to look like he was getting back that inner fire and intensity that sets him apart on the ice. He generated a lot of offensive chances, at one point getting robbed of what looked like a sure goal by Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and also played some responsible defense and backchecking well. That streak ended up paying off in the most desirable way. Crosby came out for overtime ready to take charge, and take charge he did. Forty seconds into overtime, Crosby cashed in on a pass from Bryan Rust, who had received a brilliant zone entrance pass from Brian Dumoulin, one-timing a wicked wrister past Vasilevskiy and into the net. Incredibly, it was Crosby’s first career playoff OT goal, and he also managed to set a record by scoring the fastest overtime playoff goal in Penguins history.

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/crosbys-overtime-winner/t-277350912/c-43983303?autostart=false

That shut the critics up. And this might also be the best roast a player has given to Jeremy Roenick through success on the ice since John Scott at the All-Star Game.

But here’s the thing – while fans and analysts often act like a star player needs to actually be scoring points to be effective in a game, that’s the wrong way to look at it. Even before Crosby started looking like he was going to score again, I was seeing both him and Malkin doing some really good stuff around the ice. The thing is, these guys are valuable to their team in a lot of ways, and one of the biggest things about them is that they manage to help out, be effective, and play well even if it doesn’t translate into points.

Malkin was the guy who I thought was going to step up big in Game 2. He came out with the kind of spring in his step and the fire that I’ve learned to associate with “beast mode Geno”.  He made some really good offensive plays in Game 2, most notably somehow managing to get off a great pass to Crosby to set him up – that was the play where the Penguins captain got off a solid backhander at a seemingly open net that was stopped by Vasilevskiy. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan decided in Game 2 to put Crosby and Malkin together, an especially good decision suggesting the two of them were both heating up, and it resulted in a chance that almost became a go-ahead third period goal because of a collaboration between Sid and Geno. Meanwhile, Geno for the most part did a good job breaking out, entering the offensive zone, and helping set up an attack. Crosby made some great passes, such as a solid, hard pass from closer to the blue line in the Tampa Bay zone to Justin Schultz, who was crashing the net.

The thing is, these two guys may not have scored as consistently as people would like them to, but they have still done a lot of good things. I especially like to see the games when you can tell these guys are feeling passionate and feeling confident. That’s the vibe  that I was pumped up from seeing in Game 2. And guess what? That vibe continued into Game 3.

So, the situation entering Game 3: The Penguins are coming off the overtime win that tied the series, and are looking to hand Tampa their first consecutive losses of the 2016 playoffs while grabbing a lead in the series. Crosby’s coming in with renewed confidence, Malkin showing stronger and stronger signs of breaking through. Sure enough, they both came in strong. Crosby especially showed up, making some phenomenal passes and plays, playing aggressive and hard-checking defense, getting in the faces of his opponents, and eventually scoring the game-winner for a second consecutive game after a blasting a one-timer off a feed from Geno himself on a 4-on-3 power play in the third period. It was a great game for everyone on the team, but Crosby stood out; so much so that he received tons of praise fron NBCSN analysts Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury, and Keith Jones after the game. So Sid got the game-winner for the second game in a row and built a goal-scoring streak for himself, and Geno snapped his career-long playoff points drought with the assist on the Crosby goal.

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/crosbys-top-shelf-snipe/t-277350912/c-43998803?autostart=false


“You guys (the media) were all over him and then he scores the biggest goal of the year.” – Patric Hornqvist on Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner in Game 2


So now, they’ve finally gotten past the majority of the criticism. With some fantastic team efforts by the Penguins recently, and with these two guys really starting to show up again, it’s no longer easy to point fingers. The truth is, I never really saw Crosby and Malkin playin badly enough to be criticized so much. To be honest, it was pretty obvious it was only going to be a matter of time before the two of them caught on fire. So maybe people will ignore the little, brilliant things the two of them do around the ice. Maybe people somehow manage to miss Crosby’s genius passes and quietly effective defense, or Malkin’s galloping breakout and strong plays on the puck. That’s fine. Because the amazing thing about these two guys is how they’ve channeled their emotions. The critics and the boos were ringing in their ears, but they took any anger and frustration and turned it into flames to torch the Tampa Bay Lightning and torch the nay-sayers. So opposing fans, critics, haters, those types of people – keep on hating. Because with every doubtful word or “BOOOOO” when they touch the puck and make awesome plays, you’re just motivating these guys to take their game up a few more notches.

The Real Debate

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a goalie situation. That is obviously not a surprise at all. Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury are the current NHL goalies and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The young, 21-year old protege currently being flanked by the man who helped win the Penguins a Stanley Cup in 2009. It’s a perfect storm.

But you guys are missing the real point. We aren’t going to see Fleury in the playoffs unless we go down 3-0 in a series and the Penguins have to make a desperation move. That just seemed to be the consensus. The debate is no longer “Who’s going to start in goal for the Penguins tonight?”, but rather “What is Marc-Andre Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh?”.

This question has become relevant. It’s one that’s going to begin plaguing the organization as early as this offseason. There are teams who may be one goalie away from becoming an elite threat in a playoff race.

As a 30 year old Flower is at a prime time in his career, so there is no reason a rebuilding team is going to swing a deal for a guy like Fleury. He is suited more for a team like Calgary who really has a nice makeup of a team, but had a pathetic goalie situation throughout the year. They’ve got some pieces that could come the Pens way in a trade as well. I’m not suggesting that Fleury will be traded to the Flames, or even traded at all, but the NHL is a business.

Now do I expect Fleury to be traded this offseason? I do not. But with the emergence of Matt Murray and the proof that Murray can handle the heavy load and play in the grueling Stanley Cup playoffs, there is no doubt that any team with a goalie problem will at least give a call to Jim Rutherford to see Flower’s availability.

In my opinion, trading Fleury still doesn’t even become an option until after next season. A case can be made that you will see more of a time share between Fleury and Murray next season but there is a problem with that.

Marc-Andre Fleury is an awful goaltender when he doesn’t play the vast majority of the games that season. It’s statistically proven. If you need that proof, check here:

http://www.hockey-reference.com/players/f/fleurma01.html?mobile=false#stats_basic_plus_nhl::none

It clearly shows that if Fleury is playing a ton of games without a backup goalie getting too many opportunities to play, then Flower finds a groove and plays better. Why is this a problem? Well if the Penguins want to get rid of Flower, why would you let Murray play, on example, 35 games or so next year? You obviously want a definitive view of where you’re going with your future goalie situation, but your also possibly ruining Flower’s trade value at the same time.

Even if the Penguins were to go on and win the Stanley Cup, I need to see that Matt Murray isn’t just a hot hand. I need more proof that he’s a great goaltender and that proof comes through playing this season.

It’s really hard to keep a contract like Fleury’s on the bench. He makes $5.75 million which is a really good deal for a starting goaltender. I would hate to see another team take on such a nice contract. But after next season, the Penguins will be forced to resign Matt Murray. At that point, Fleury will still have two seasons left on his deal and the Penguins aren’t going to want to be paying two goalies.

I’m not even suggesting the Penguins trade Marc-Andre Fleury. I hate the very thought of it. He’s my favorite player on this team. But he’s going to begin falling out of favor. Matt Murray looks to be the future goaltender of the Pittsburgh Penguins. We must accept this. We must realize that every rose has its thorn. Marc-Andre Fleury was a blessing to the franchise who took us to two Stanley Cups (and was at fault for us not winning others) but as I stated before, the NHL is a business.

I hate losing in Monopoly and I don’t think the Penguins enjoy it either.

Ray Shero vs. Jim Rutherford: Who Did It Better?

Ray Shero current General Manager of the New Jersey Devils and former Penguins GM spent 8 seasons at the helm of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since being relieved of his duties former Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes General Manager, Jim Rutherford took over the reins of the Pens. The question that has been popping up lately has been, who’s done better as the Penguins visionary? 

During the Ray Shero era, Pens fans were promised a dynasty. The expectations were high as the talent of the team, now with Sidney Crosby, was on the rise. Also with the new CBA, small market teams like the Penguins were expected to turn things around and be potential playoff contenders on a regular basis. When it comes to being in the playoffs, Mr. Shero delivered. Since taking over, the Pens were a mainstay in the post season picture. Even making back to back appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals and walking away with Lord Stanley’s famous chalice in the second of the two. But after that the Penguins began wane. While it’s hard to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals it’s extremely hard to make it 3 years in a row. So losing in the Conference Semi-Finals the year after winning the cup was something most seemed to forgive and understand. However, with early exits in all of Shero’s following years but one, where the Bruins swept the Penguins in the Conference Finals, questions surfaced about his abilities as GM. The fan chatter quickly went from “In Shero We Trust” to “Fire Shero!” After the Penguins, who ended their season in 1st place with 109 points, lost in the second round after having a 3-1 series lead versus the New York Rangers in 2014, the fans got their wish and Shero was relieved of his duties as General Manager. After his departure, angry fans who were promised a dynasty became unchained. Statements like, “Ray Shero never got Crosby a scoring winger”, “Shero did nothing in the draft!” and “He wasted some of Malkin and Crosby’s best years with poor management”

 

After saying goodbye to Mr. Shero, the Penguins ushered in Jim Rutherford. Mr. Rutherford sold his ownership shares and left after 20 years as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes’ franchise. The only franchise Rutherford as ever been a GM for. This move was an interesting choice by the Penguins ownership group. Fans and media alike were not sure what to make of it and it seemed as though there was mixed feelings about the selection, and rightfully so. While Rutherford had come from a long tenure as General Manager of a franchise which gave him lots of experience, that did not translate into winning. In fact, in the 20 years Rutherford was GM with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise, his team only reached the post season 5 times and winning the Stanley Cup once, which came directly after the lockout of 2004/05. His record did not speak volumes for the length of time he’s been a GM in the NHL. But the fans were willing to give him a chance and felt that maybe this front office shake up and coaching change will be just what this Penguins team needed to bring home the silver glory again. But skepticism arose in Rutherford’s first season, as the Penguins were bounced from the playoffs in the first round in a truly dominate fashion by the New York Rangers, four games to one. Now, in Rutherford’s second year in the front office, the Pens picked up where they left off last season. The struggles in the beginning of this season were real. A little too real for Pens fans around the world. It looked as though the Pittsburgh franchise had a real shot at not making the playoffs for the first time since 2005/06, Crosby’s rookie campaign. The reality of not making the playoffs set in for Rutherford and he knew it was time to make a change. A mid-season coaching change seemed to do the trick when Rutherford hired Mike Sullivan as the team’s new bench boss. Taking the Pens from outside the playoff picture to second in the division in a very short amount of time. Along the way Rutherford made some defining moment trades in acquiring Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, and Phil Kessel. Now, fans have gone from “Rutherford is a joke” to “Rutherford is a genius!” in the matter of one year.

 

Who is the real king of the 7th floor suites? Is it Shero, the man who brought the Penguins their first Stanley Cup since ’92? Is it Rutherford, who is in the process of potentially bringing another cup to Pittsburgh this year? Or is it the fact that Penguins fans can only see 6 inches in front of their face and immediate results are all that matter when it comes to vilifying or praising Penguins’ General Managers?

 

The case for Shero is strong. He not only brought constant post-season appearances but also a Stanley Cup to the city of Pittsburgh. And if people think that he did not try to bring a scoring winger in for Crosby, then they are sadly mistaken. Ray Shero brought Marian Hossa, James Neal, and Jarome Iginla to play alongside number 87. Hossa spent some time injured and when he came back Crosby was injured. There just wasn’t a lot of time between when Hossa was acquired and when they were both healthy for anyone to see what they could do together. But the short time they did play together before Hossa left for what he thought was greener pastures, they did work well. Neal and Iginla didn’t work out because Crosby is not an easy person to play with (which is something I’ll get into in another article). He expects a lot of hard work from his linemates, and that was something those two were just not able to give. But, was Crosby not successful with the wingers of Dupuis and Kunitz, both of which Shero traded for? But he did nothing in the draft, people say. Once the Penguins began to have success on the ice, they of course began to choose lower in the draft. It is incredibly hard for any GM/team to draft a lot of players, low in the draft and make them successful. The few that do, a lot of the time are players that don’t make an impact until later on, at least not immediately like most expect. Some of Shero’s draft picks are players we see now beginning to make a statement in the NHL, like Rust, Kuhnhackl, Sundqvist, Pouliot, and Murray. While GM Rutherford gets the credit for calling these players up to the big team, it was Ray Shero that saw the potential in them and drafted them, many of which were very low in their class.

 

As for Jim Rutherford as a Penguins GM the evidence to back the notion that he’s the right man for the job is minimal. Rutherford is only in his second year as the Penguins GM and in his first season the team was ousted out of the playoffs like a Space X rocket out of Earth’s atmosphere. In the second season at the helm, the team had the rockiest start of any Penguins team since the last year they won the cup. And what happen then was the same thing that happen this year, Head Coaches were fired and the new men behind the bench turned things around. But look at what Rutherford has done in trades to help improve this team, is what some would say. Right out of the gate the Penguins GM went out and made a deal that brought Patric Hornqvist to Pittsburgh. Mr. Rutherford went also set out to get a top end scoring winger to play alongside 87 in Phil Kessel. However, Kessel has never found any real chemistry with the Pens captain. And so Kessel has become another failed experiment in the search to find a goal scoring winger to play alongside Crosby. In other trades though, the Pens GM made out like a kid in a free candy store when he traded for the likes of Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley. Rutherford dumped players in those deals that just no longer fit into the Penguins system, which now boasted speed as its main fuel source. That’s something that Peron and Scuderi just didn’t have. As for Rutherford’s ability to draft prospects that either make a statement in the NHL immediately or over time, his track record is bleak. While the Penguins GM has only NHL draft under his belt in Pittsburgh, he can’t be judge based solely on that. The only player at the moment that is worth mentioning that he has drafted since arriving in Pittsburgh is Daniel Sprong. Drafted 46th overall by Rutherford and has had his career poorly managed by the Pens executive since day one. As for Rutherford’s other 20 years of being a GM and making draft choices with the Hurricanes’ franchise, you won’t be able to find evidence of anything much better. Routinely picking high in the draft due to poor regular season performances by his teams, Rutherford still only managed to draft a handful of players in 20 years that have made any sort of contribution in the NHL. The most significant players Rutherford drafted while in Hartford/Raleigh were Jeff O’neill, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Sami Kapanen, Craig Adams, Erik Cole, David Tanbe, Cam Ward, Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, Jack Johnson, Brandon Sutter, Jeff Skinner, and Justin Faulk. While that is a list of significant players who most have played over 400 games in the NHL, many of them accomplished that with different franchises. Let us not forget as well, that GM Rutherford was in charge in Carolina when the, at the time Penguins GM Shero, made an offer to trade Jordan Staal for Brandon Sutter. Rutherford approved and Staal went on to be a non-dominate factor, unlike he was playing in Pittsburgh. Sutter came and filled the third line center role nicely at a much cheaper price. This wasn’t the first time Rutherford agreed to a deal that relieved the Penguins of some of their salary cap hits. Pre-lockout/CBA era the Pittsburgh Penguins were floundering like a fish out of water when it came to money. They no longer could afford certain players like Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis. Jagr was sent to the Capitals and Francis was picked up by none other than Jim Rutheford’s Hurricanes. Francis went on to captain the Carolina squad as Rutherford pieced together a team that consisted of the likes of Rod Brind’Amour, Kevin Weekes, Tom Barrasso, Artus Irbe, Glen Wesley, David Tanbe, Craig Adams, Sami Kapanen, Erik Cole, and Jeff O’Neill. In 2002 that team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings 4 games to 1. In Jim Rutherford’s now 22 years as a GM he’s had some great moments that have been spattered on a canvas of mediocrity.  

 

When it comes to being the General Manger of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the expectations are high from a city that takes its sports teams very seriously. The expectations are so high that I believe that not one singular GM is responsible for the good and bad that has befallen upon this franchise. If you take a look at the Penguins roster the core players of the team are of course Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury. These are the players that are the foundation of this Penguins franchise. These are players that championship caliber teams have been built around. These are players that were not drafted by the two previously mentioned General Managers. These are players that were drafted by Craig Patrick, the man who held the Penguins’ front office keys for 17 years. Ray Shero took what Patrick started and built upon it to create Stanley Cup contenders in Pittsburgh once again. And now Pittsburgh gets to see the fruits of Shero’s labor now that his low draft picks are beginning to make an impact on the big stage. Rutherford’s job now (with the help of Jason Botterill) is to put the roof on the house that Patrick and Shero built. Meaning find a way to win a few more cups before the foundation crumbles.

Hmm…What a Surprise?

At the beginning of the season, the NHL was hard enough to watch. Fans were getting bored watching many teams face a deficiency in scoring. Even top stars were being held off the scoreboard for stretches of four or five games at a time. That’s a mute point now. There’s a new cancer rearing its ugly head in the National Hockey League: NHL Player Safety.

There were three different instances of questionable hits in last night’s game one between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. None of which were handled correctly by the referee’s, which results in none of them being handled correctly by the NHL Department of Player Safety either. It’s a sad concept that it’s come to this point, but unfortunately that’s what the NHL is in 2016.

As many of us woke up today, we were given the news that Tampa Bay Lightning forward, Ryan Callahan will not face a hearing for his hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, Kris Letang. That is absurd.

Video courtesy of: SPORTSNETCANADA

I will give Lightning fans this much. Letang did start to pull up in the corner expecting that Callahan wasn’t going to plaster him for no reason. But Callahan had no intention on pulling up. He drove his elbow to the head of Letang, while Letang’s numbers were exposed for Callahan’s viewing pleasure and knocked Letang unconscious for a good five seconds.

It was huge that he wasn’t tossed from the game. The Lightning had dressed 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. If Callahan is removed from the game, the Lightning only have 10 remaining forwards and have to double shift players. This changes the dynamic of the game, but the referees are scared. They’re scared to change the game and put their foot down.

Do you want to know why the hit on Callahan isn’t even going to get a hearing? 

It’s because Kris Letang returned later in the first period and played the entirety of the game after that.

Since when is a player’s return to a game enough to keep the offender’s punishment to an absolute bare minimum? It’s happened on multiple occasions throughout this season, not only to the Penguins, but all 29 other teams as well. That can’t be the basis whatsoever.

Letang’s reputation has a lot to do with it as well. Kris Letang is no saint and if you think he is, then you’re not a hockey fan. He’s got the worst attitude on this hockey team and has a shorter leash than Jeff Locke pitching in a baseball game. It doesn’t take much to set Letang off and because of that, I have no doubt in my mind that the Department of Player Safety takes that into consideration.

I think the following tweet from the quite Twitter famous account @EvgeniMalkinEgo on Twitter pretty much sums up how the NHL handles bad hits in the league anymore:

Obviously, as every questionable hit, the Kunitz knee-on-knee to Tyler Johnson in the second period must come into question as well.

Video courtesy of: SPORTSNETCANADA

Obviously, you see Johnson playing a puck in the corner and Kunitz coming over to finish off his check. You can make the argument that Johnson turns, but you can’t hide the fact that Kunitz sticks his leg out to make sure he makes contact with Johnson.

It’s a cheap shot and it caused Johnson to leave the game. But yet again, the refereeing crew did not call a penalty on Kunitz for the hit. And Kunitz won’t be suspended if a penalty hadn’t even resulted on the play.

I think it’s assanine for people to call for a suspension on it, anyway. It’s tough to give Kunitz a ban when you clearly see in the video that Johnson plays the puck as he is turning into the hit of Kunitz. Kunitz’s leg comes out and makes contact with Johnson’s and Johnson couldn’t put any weight on the leg before hobbling into the locker room.

And finally, we get to take a look at Ondrej Palat’s boarding call on Brian Dumoulin late in the third period.

Video courtesy of: SPORTSNETCANADA

I actually have more of a problem with this hit than I do the Callahan hit. You can see Palat give Dumoulin the first shove to the back as they reach the goal line. This begins to give Dumoulin more momentum as he’s heading into the boards. Palat proceeds to shove him again which propels Dumoulin head first into the boards. Dumoulin didn’t return to the game, granted there was only 4:46 left when the hit occurred.

Dumoulin laid on the ice for a good while and had no idea where he was when he smacked his head and was helped off the ice. Palat could’ve avoided the hit.

Arguments were made that Palat was shoving Dumoulin from the side, but those are irrelevant. Even if he was, the numbers were exposed and Palat could’ve easily avoided the hit anyway.

It could’ve changed the dynamic of the game and I think that’s a huge reason why the refs didn’t change the 2-minute boarding to a 5-minute major. Because again, they were scared to change the game.

The Penguins were down 3-1 at the time of the call. If it is a 5-minute major, the Penguins are on the power play for the remainder of the third period. Who’s to say the Penguins don’t score twice? All it really comes down to is speculation, but the hit on Dumoulin warranted a major and didn’t receive one.

All in all there was some ridiculous calls made in regards to game one last night. I am even in more of a belief now that it is literally going to take someone dying on the ice during a game to give a suspension worth meaning.

It’s called Directors of Player Safety (DOPS) for a reason. Their name is pretty much self explanatory. They’re supposed to direct the safety of players and protect players (and not just the league’s stars contrary to the belief of some people).

The next time we watch as a player crumbles due to a hit and the game isn’t changed as a result, don’t riot it’s the usual in the league now-a-days. Then just remember that until the NHL actually puts their foot down and hands out a suspension that is going to teach a player not to be a goon anymore, then there will continue to be nasty hits and non-suspensions without a doubt.

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