Sidney Crosby Lives Up To His Off Ice Reputation

Sidney Crosby brought the Stanley
Cup back to Cole Harbour this summer. If my social media feeds mean anything, pretty much everyone in the world covered the event. For days I saw photos and footage of Sid and the Cup, and the parade.

I think the estimates for the parade crowd were somewhere around 46,000 people, almost double the population, and all 92,000 eyes were glued to the hometown hero.

He publicly praised his community and paid homage to everyone who’s helped him get where he is today.

But this isn’t a show for the cameras. He privately gives back to his community in many ways and there’s something else he did that week BEFORE the world was watching.

For the past couple of summers, Sid came home and put on a hockey school at Cole Harbour Place, the very rink in which he (and I, 8 years earlier) started hockey. It raises money for his Sidney Crosby Foundation.

After everything he’s accomplished and with an unimaginable possibility of more to come, he returns to his roots not just to share victories but to help those who’s life journeys are only beginning.

As Pens fans can attest, he’s generally pretty busy in the month or two leading up to it so he’s definitely not the only one organizing the school. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Someone involved with the school is my long time Cole Harbour Red Wings minor hockey team mate, Ottawa 67’s standout goaltender, and former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Craig Hillier. I had the opportunity to catch up with him, and he talked a little bit about Sidney Crosby Hockey School.

“This was my second year in a row helping out Sid and Paul Mason with the hockey school”, Hillier said.

“I feel very fortunate to run the goalie on ice training for the school. I enjoy every minute of the camp from helping out with goalies, players, and enjoying the conversation in the dressing room with the great staff Paul assembles.”

Some of you may remember Paul Mason as the man who initiated the effort to rename Forest Hills Parkway after Sidney Crosby. Of Crosby himself, Hillier confirms everything we like to think about him with his first hand account.

“The most amazing thing about the camp is getting to talk hockey with Sid about the Pens and everything going on in the NHL. Sid makes every staff member feel a part of it from the runners to the on ice staff.”

Of course, 2016 was a little bit different. There’s some great shots of Sid around Dartmouth and Halifax with the Cup, at hospitals and landmarks, and of course at the local Tim Horton’s. But there’s not many better pictures than this one:

“Sid snuck the Cup into the rink Friday morning and surprised the kids with it. It was without a doubt the best moment I’ve witnessed at a hockey school.”

The building was electric and the kids had a once in a lifetime experience.”

After spending a special night with the Stanley Cup, Craig and his family spent the next day like everyone else.

“My wife and the kids and I walked down to the parade and enjoyed the crowd and Sid letting everyone know how much he appreciated the Cole Harbour community’s support.”

Sid really makes everyone around him feel like they were also part of that special victory in San Jose. Hillier closed with something we’re all thinking:

“I hope this won’t be the last time we get to enjoy Sid winning the Cup, and I truly believe it won’t be!”

Where Are They Now?: Pens’ First Rounders

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a trend of trading first round draft picks.

Sometimes trading a first round pick turns into Phil Kessel, who helped bring a Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh. Other times, trading a first round pick turns into two months of Jarome Iginla. Regardless, this article will dive into the Penguins last 10 years of first round picks and where they are now.

2007- #20 Angelo Esposito, Quebec. 

After years of picking in the top five, the Penguins finally had regular season success, dropping their spot in the draft. The Penguins hoped Esposito could still be a part of the team’s top six and compliment Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Esposito was originally regarded as the top overall pick of the draft, but due to declining stats, he fell to the Penguins at the twentieth spot. With his play declining even worse, the Penguins threw Esposito in a package to Atlanta for Marian Hossa. Hossa helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup Finals where they eventually lost to the Detroit Red Wings. Esposito, on the other hand, never played a game in the NHL. After spending much time in the AHL and the ECHL, Esposito was out of work and finally signed a contract in the Italian Hockey League. Esposito, now 27, will be most likely never see NHL action. He’s currently playing with SG Cortina of the IHL. Other players available at this pick: Max Pacioretty, Mikael Backlund, P.K. Subban

2008- Pittsburgh traded pick #29 to Atlanta as a result of the Marian Hossa trade. Atlanta selected: Daultan Leveille, Saint Catharines.

Other players available at this spot: Jakob Markstrom, Jake Allen, Slava Voynov
2009- #30 Simon Despres, Saint John. 

Coming off of a Stanley Cup Championship, the Penguins looked to add more depth to their defensive pool. Drafting Simon from the QMJHL, he was a player that was going to need a few years to develop. Despres finally moved to professional hockey after spending two seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs. Throughout almost his entire Penguins tenure, Simon was very inconsistent. Some days he would play stable and reliable defense, yet others he was unsound and shaky on the back end. His play improved during the 2014-15 season as he found top four minutes, but Despres was traded to Anaheim for veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy was also shaky at first with the Penguins but eventually helped the team win its fourth Stanley Cup. Despres is still with Anaheim, and though his play is much better, he still plays much like he did with the Penguins. Other players available at this spot: Ryan O’Reilly, Jakob Silfverberg, Kyle Clifford

2010- #20 Beau Bennett, Penticton. 

Looking to add a piece to their top six, the Penguins drafted Beau Bennett from his native California. Spending two years with Denver University, Beau played half a season of minor league hockey before finding a full time spot in Pittsburgh. Looking impressive in his first season, Bennett was supposed to be a top forward for the Penguins. Suffering multiple wrist injuries, Beau was never in the lineup enough to find consistent play. He was constantly out of the lineup with injuries, and when he was playing, he could never generate enough offense. Beau spent four seasons with Pittsburgh and won the Stanley Cup, but with the Penguins needing more cap space, Bennet was shipped to New Jersey for a third round pick. Beau will try to find better play and more opportunity now with the Devils. Other players available at this pick: Riley Sheahan, Kevin Hayes, Evgeny Kuznetsov

2011- #23 Joe Morrow, Portland.

A defenseman with great offensive upside, Morrow was a steady puck moving defenseman. After spending another year with the Portland Winterhawks, Morrow made the jump to professional hockey. Spending all of his time in the AHL, Morrow never played a regular season game for the Penguins. He was traded at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline for Brenden Morrow and then shipped to Boston a few months later as a part of the Loui Eriksson trade. Now in Boston, Morrow just signed a one year extension worth 800K and is struggling to make the Bruins lineup. Other players available: Vladislav Namestnikov, Brandon Saad, Ty Rattie, John Gibson.

2012- Pick number 8 acquired from Carolina as a result of the Jordan Staal trade. #8 Derrick Pouliot, Portland. 

Highly regarded by the Penguins management, Pouliot was drafted earlier than expected. Still a top prospect of the Penguins, Pouliot played an additional two seasons in Portland before coming to Pittsburgh. His play didn’t pick up as fast as Maatta which resulted in Pouliot spending much of his time in the AHL. Still struggling to make the Penguins roster, it should be interesting to see how the Penguins handle the Pouliot situation. I believe he can still be a top four defenseman in the NHL, and if the Penguins play him more this season, he can elevate his game. Other players available: Filip Forsberg, Mikhail Grigorenko

2012- #22 Olli Maatta, London.

A player the Penguins scouts felt fortunate to fall to them turned out to be a top pairing defenseman. After spending just one extra season in London, Maatta made the Penguins opening night roster for the 2013-14 season and made an immediate impact. Though slightly inconsistent at points, Maatta has been a steady force for the Penguins over the last few years and was a big part of the Penguins Stanley Cup Championship. Signed for another six years, Maatta will be apart of this Penguins team for a long time. Without question, Maatta has been the best draft selection by the Penguins in recent years.

2013- Pittsburgh traded pick #28 to Calgary as a result of the Jarome Iginla trade. Calgary selected: Morgan Klimchuk, Regina.

Players available at this spot: Robert Hagg, Tyler Bertuzzi, Chris Bigras

2014- #22 Kasperi Kapanen, Kalpa.

The son of Sami Kapanen, Kasperi was a player that management thought could be an immediate boost to the team’s top six. After a great preseason, Kapanen didn’t make the team’s final roster, but was no doubt their best prospect. When the Penguins made the move to acquire Phil Kessel, though, the team needed a high level prospect to send back. That player was Kapanen. Now a member of the Maple Leafs, Kasperi was on the Toronto roster at the end of the 2015-16 season and should look to make the roster full time next season. 

2015- Pittsburgh traded pick #16 to Edmonton as a result of the David Perron trade. The pick was then traded to the New York Islanders. New York Selected: Mathew Barzal, Seattle.

Players available at this spot: Thomas Chabot, Kyle Conner, Nick Merkley

2016- Pittsburgh traded pick #30 to Toronto as a result of the Phil Kessel trade. Toronto traded this pick to Anaheim as a result of the Frederik Andersen trade. Anaheim selected: Sam Steel, Regina.

Schultz Signing Bolsters Penguins Defense

A deal that many people saw as improbable, the Penguins resigned Justin Schultz to a one year, $1.4 million contract. With veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy leaving the Penguins in free agency, there was still a need for another defenseman. Derrick Pouliot can be a future top pairing defenseman, but this Penguins team is in a win now mode. That is why signing Schultz is critical to the Penguins success.

Many people thought Jim Rutherford was crazy when he said there was a chance to sign both Cullen and Schultz. I especially thought that it would be impossible to sign either, but with this contract to Schultz, there is still a small amount of room left for a Cullen return. (Rule 1: Never doubt Jim Rutherford). 

This signing almost surely solidifies the Penguins defense. Schultz should be an everyday defenseman now come October, and given the need for right handed defenseman, Schultz should fit into a role similar to Ben Lovejoy. As of now, this is how the Penguins defense looks:

Maatta- Letang

Dumoulin- Daley

Cole- Schultz

Pouliot- Warsofsky 

That is an amazing defense just too look at. Derrick Pouliot was an 8th overall pick in 2012, and a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Jim Rutherford would be smart to keep Pouliot at the lower end of the totem pole this season in order to pay him less at the end of his contract. While it may not be best to keep him in the press box every night, it helps everyone fit under the salary cap. Pouliot will see NHL time this season, because if you know the Penguins at all, he will surely come in as an injury replacement.

Pouliot was also very inconsistent in his play. He began the season in the AHL after a very poor preseason and it took him over half the season to make it back in the NHL. When he did play, there were two types of Derrick. He either dominated possession stats or brought the team down. That level of inconsistency is not what the Penguins need right now, especially for a team looking to repeat a Stanley Cup championship. Maybe Pouliot will pick up his play, but adding Schultz gives the Penguins more stability.

Signing Schultz for cheap also means that he can be qualified for a lower amount of money. At the end of this upcoming season, Schultz will be 26 and still a restricted free agent. Under the current CBA, the Penguins will still hold possession of Schultz after this season, being able to retain his rights for another season after this year. With this contract, I’d expect to see Schulz for at least another two seasons.

When Schultz signed with the Edmonton Oilers, he was expected to be their top defenseman. Right out of the gate he was given 25 minutes a night, with some even calling him a future Norris Trophy winner. Things never panned out that way for him and his play suffered. Media scrutinized Schultz to no end and fans were ecstatic to see him leave. Once arriving in Pittsburgh, though he was slightly sheltered, Schultz was relieved of the pressure and able to focus on just playing. He did just that, and in return, helped guide the Penguins to the Stanley Cup.

Fighting To Keep Hockey Exciting

Let’s get this straight right now. The NHL is a business where fighting should be welcomed. The NHL is not an elementary or high school where it’s run by principals who look down upon fighting. In school, you’re suspended for fighting, even if you are standing up for someone or something. The suspension varies based on that school’s guidelines.

In hockey, you’re encouraged to fight when things go against what you believe in. When you or your team feels bullied, you stand up for each other and drop the gloves. What I’m not understanding is why the in the hell people want fighting extinct from hockey.

It’s a subject that has been discussed by fans for a few years now ever since the game is evolving into a more skill driven game. The services of guys like former Penguins Georges Laraque and Aaron Asham, and current Penguin Tom Sestito, are hardly needed. Laraque and Asham were pretty much never going to generate any offensive scoring chances, much like Sestito. They were there when you played your biggest divisional rivals and they would shadow your best player waiting for someone to slip up and do something stupid to put your star player in jeopardy. From there, they probably just flat out kick their ass because it was their job.

Terrible, questionable hits are still a part of the game and forever will be. The sad part is, many teams don’t have guys who have fighting skill AND playing skill. So usually a player who throws out a nasty, uncalled for hit is gathered around by a crowd of players who scream in his face and are broken up by referees within thirty seconds. Because the referees are so off-the-wall these days with some of their calls, everyone is afraid to retaliate and take an unwarranted penalty that can cost their team a game.

That is not at all how hockey should be played.

Players are now taught to fear the referee giving them a stupid penalty more than they are to fear a guy like John Scott chasing after them ready to pound their face in with his fists. And it’s quite sad because with the game changing to skill, guys who have made their money off beating the crap out of people are out of jobs. Teams don’t want their services anymore.

When I’m talking about fights, I mean clean ones. Two guys, one ice surface, both capable of landing a few fair punches. I’m not talking about fights like this mug job of Braden Holtby by Ray Emery.

I just think that hits like Ryan Callahan’s on Kris Letang during the Eastern Conference Finals is one that you don’t just let fly into the wind. Everyone knew Callahan’s intentions. Everyone knew Callahan had no plans of stopping, even though Letang’s numbers were facing him and he was already in a precarious position. But Callahan finished the game without anyone so much as challenging him to a fight. Partly because the game is all skill-driven and partly because the players in the NHL anymore are cowards softer than “Charmin Ultra Soft”.

It’ll probably never happen again, but you know the NHL needs fighting again when the damn commissioner is begging for it to comeback.

Top FA’s Remaining

The offseason has been a quiet one for the team out of Pittsburgh. Many rumors have had fan favorite Marc-Andre Fleury leaving but GMJR had other plans. 

However, D Ben Lovejoy and G Jeff Zatkoff had other ideas also. Both left via free agency on July 1 which opens some roster spots.

You may ask who can fill them? I’ve got a couple players still on the market that can assist the Penguins.
WPO means what the Penguins should offer.

1) C Matt Cullen

2015 Cap: $800,000

WPO: $825,000

The Penguins should bring Cullen back because of how good of a two-way forward he was during the team championship season. However, Rutherford should not compete with Minnesota to overpay for him.

2) D Justin Schultz

2015 Cap: $3,900,000

WPO: $2,500,000

Schultz was a great addition for the Penguins run once Trevor Daley went down. Justin paired with Ian Cole was an amazing defensive pairing for Mike Sullivan.

3) D Luke Schenn

2015 Cap: $3,350,000

WPO: $2,500,000

The former Flyer, who was dealt to Los Angeles, is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. With the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the defense is missing a steady player. Luke Schenn has speed and can throw his weight around.

4) F Jiri Hudler

2015 Cap: $4,000,000

WPO: $2,750,000

Everyone thought Jiri was going to join the team last year but Florida offered a lot more. Jiri would be a perfect LW for Evgeni Malkin if the Penguins can move Kunitz. Hudler has that scoring touch that would fit perfectly with Malkin and Rust.

5) D Dennis Seidenberg

2015 Cap: $4,000,000

WPO: $1,000,000

The former Bruin, who was bought out this offseason, is very similar to the Christian Ehrhoff situation. Both being bought out of their heavy contracts. This could be nice for the Penguins because Wideman is looking to get another chance in the NHL and will come cheap.

6) LW Tomas Fleischmann

2015 Cap: $750,000

WPO: $815,000

Tomas was a 50/50 chance last year for Montreal. Good thing was, he was the only thing that was going last year for the Canadiens. Tomas has found his scoring touch back last year and could be perfect if Matt Cullen doesn’t come back. Fourth line would look like Fleischmann-Fehr-Kuhnackl.

7) RW Radim Vrbata

2015 Cap: $4,000,000

WPO: $1,000,000

After a disappointing stint with the struggling Vancouver Canucks, Vrbata is looking for a new home. The former 20+ goal scorer could find his touch with the talented Penguins.

8) LW/C/RW Brandon Pirri

2015 Cap: $975,000

WPO: $995,000

The very underrated Pirri could be a steal for whoever lands him. Brandon has speed and skill which sounds like a perfect match to me.

9) LW Jiri Tlusty

2015 Cap: $800,000

WPO: $900,000

Jim Rutherford and Jiri Tlusty have been close once Jiri started his career in Carolina. Jiri could be also another steal and benefical for the Penguins. Tlusty can play on the power play and pentaly kill which is very nice.

10) D Matt Bartkowski

2015 Cap: $1,750,000

PWO: $900,000

The Pittsburgh native would love to play infront of his hometown. Matt, who started off his career in Boston, found a big pay day last year. However, like everyone else in Vancouver, the deal didn’t work out last year. 

In review, GMJR can look at:

  1. Matt Cullen
  2. Justin Schultz 
  3. Luke Schenn
  4. Jiri Hudler
  5. Dennis Seidenberg 
  6. Tomas Fleischmann
  7. Radim Vrbata
  8. Brandon Pirri
  9. Jiri Tlusty 
  10. Matt Bartkowski 

Is It Time To Let Cullen Go?

It’s hard to not like Matt Cullen.

As a 38-year-old free agent last summer, he decided to sign a 1 year contract worth only $800K, simply because he felt as though joining the Penguins would give him the best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and what a signing it turned out to be for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Congratulations Mr. Cullen, not only did you get your wish, but you became an extremely popular and loveable player in Pittsburgh.

You put up 16 goals and 16 assists, good for 32 points, despite playing mostly as a 4th line center at the age of 38 (and 39 by seasons end). You were a huge mentor to the “Wilkes-Barre guys” such as Rust, Sheary, and Kuhnhackl. You were a role model to all of the players in the locker room, and many even made parallels between you and the ’09 Bill Guerin.

Heck, some of the young players and even the Penguins fan base started calling you dad, leading to the ever so popular #TeamDadWatch this offseason.

As much as I, and the rest of the Penguins fan base, would love to see Matt Cullen back in a Penguins sweater for what will likely be his last year in the NHL, the Penguins do not need Matt Cullen.

Say what?!

At this point in time, Oskar Sundqvist is more than capable of taking Matt Cullen’s spot as the 4th line center. Matt Cullen’s likeability is making it extremely hard to imagine him leaving Pittsburgh, but he is replaceable.  So, what will happen to Matt Cullen? Will he come back 1 more year, or will the torch be passed down to Oskar Sundqvist?

Here are my thoughts as “GM for the day”

The Penguins are already in a tight cap situation. That being said, I read a report today from DKPittsburghSports that GMJR felt that he could fit both Cullen AND Schultz under the cap. Although this may be true, it would be pushing it, and we saw 2 years ago what happened when the Penguins had little to no cap space. Sundqvist can play, and not signing Cullen may free up more money to sign Schultz, which gives a huge jolt to the lack of defensive depth, especially after losing Lovejoy to free agency.

Matt Cullen is a leader and a role model in the locker room. Losing him just would not give this team the same feel as it did last year.

Cullen is slightly more versatile.  Sundqvist is solid, but has not developed his offensive game yet, which is odd because it normally works the other way around. Sundqvist is solid defensively, but Cullen can score and play strong defense, and was also one of the Penguins’ top faceoff guys. He could even take a temporary spot alongside Sid or Geno if need be. However, I would not put Sundqvist in that kind of role.

Unlike the Penguins’ defensive depth, they have a ton of forward depth. If Cullen were to sign back with the Penguins, Sundqvist likely stays with WBS barring injuries, along with guys like Wilson, Sprong (who likely won’t be with PIT next year due to his injury), Uher, Porter, Simon, Guentzel…all capable NHL players. Also, remember that Fehr can play center, too.

Cullen would be nice to have, and no one would complain if he came back to Pittsburgh for 1 more year, but do the Pens really need to spend limited cap space on an aging Matt Cullen that will almost for sure decline after his spectacular performance last season?

You decide.

As a side note, I have heard from multiple reliable sources that the Penguins gave Cullen a contract offer. The only other known team to offer Cullen a contract is the Minnesota Wild, which happens to be his hometown. Will Cullen come back to Pittsburgh where he had success, or will return home and sign in Minnesota? 

Only time will tell.

Possible Cap Dumps

The Stanley Cup Champions offseason has been quiet for mostly one reason, the cap…

Before the NHL draft a couple weeks ago, tires were kicked up about All-Star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the Calgary Flames. At the end of the day, Calgary decided to give up a couple picks for St. Louis’ Brian Elliot. If GMJR pulled the trigger on Fleury, the Penguins would have dropped a significant amount of money and have a good amount of cap free.

Just thinking about what can help the Penguins, I’ve came up with a couple trades that could help the Penguins open up some cap.

1) Penguins trade Marc-Andre Fleury and a 2018 3rd Round pick to Dallas for F Antoine Roussel, G Anti Niemi (1,000,000 retained), 2018 2nd Round Pick, and 2017 4th Round Pick. 

You may ask why about this trade. The Penguins trade Fleury to a team desperate team in search of a goalie. They will overpay for one that can take them to the finals.

In return to the Penguins, they receive a great depth player in Antoine Roussel who can play 4th Line LW in anticipation that Matt Cullen doesn’t return. In the trade, GMJR had to take back one of the goalies from Dallas to allow the deal to go through. When the Penguins though in the 3rd Round Pick, Dallas would have to retain $1,000,000 which is huge for the Penguins. Lastly, Dallas would have to throw in the two picks because they are desperate. 

2) Penguins trade Marc-Andre Fleury, Domnik Simon, and Derrick Pouliot to Buffalo for RFA Rights to Marcus Folingo , RFA rights to Zemgus Girgensons, and 2017 5th Round Pick.

This trade would be beneficial for both teams. The young guns in Buffalo a merging with the addition of Kyler Okposo are easily a wildcard team, however, the goalies in Buffalo aren’t the greatest. Fleury would be an excellent addition. Penguins would also throw in former 8th Overall Pick Derrick Pouliot and Domik Simon to make this deal work both ways. 

Penguins would multiply in speed with that addition to Zemgus and Marcus. Girgensons, the talented Latvian, could make an appearance on Malkins LW if he continues to impress the NHL. To add, Marcus Filingo, just like Roussel, would be a perfect fit on the Penguins 4th line.

3) Penguins trade Chris Kunitz, Derrick Pouliot, and 2017 4th Round Pick to Toronto for James vanRiesmdyk (1,500,000 retained).

The rebuilding Maple Leafs love to get any type of draft picks or prospects. Derrick Pouliot with Morgan Reilly could help Derrick find his game again. Playing under Mike Bobcock could help his development. Furthermore, the Maple Leafs get 3 Time Champion Chris Kunitz . His veteran experience can teach the young emerging stars a couple tricks. Lastly, the draft pick should sway the leafs to hold some of JVR cap.

On the Penguins side, a trade with Toronto in July means good, right? JVR-Malkin-Rust would be lethal. A combination of speed, size, and skill. Would love to see opposing defenses trying to stop four dangerous lines.

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