Everything Else

Last week, the Penguins signed Jake Guentzel to a five-year extension starting next season, totaling $30M. Pretty simple stuff as he was coming out of his entry-level deal. He put up 22 goals last year, on pace for over 30 this year, and players that put up those kind of numbers in their first few years get paid around $6 million. Clean and easy.

Not so much. Looking a little deeper, Guentzel has been Sidney Crosby’s main running-buddy since he came up to the NHL halfway through the Penguins second Cup season of ’16-’17. And their numbers together are great. But due to injuries or line-shuffling, Guentzel has spent enough time away from Crosby that we can see what he really might be. And his numbers away from #87 are downright terrible. Take a look:

Corsi-percentage with/without Crosby: 55.9/47.8

Shot-percentage: 56.1/48.3

Scoring-chance percentage: 55.0/46.7

High-danger chance percentage: 54.6/44.9

27 of Guentzel’s career 46 even-strength goals have come with Crosby, so he has managed to score with others. But obviously, those rates of possession are noticeable.

The real question for the Penguins is how much trouble does Guentzel’s new deal affect whatever else the Penguins want to do going forward. This is not a team that’s going to be going through a rebuild anytime soon, and any year with both Crosby and Malkin still playing is a year the Pens are going to try and win. The Penguins only have about $10 million in space next year and only around 14 players signed. While Derick Brassard and Riley Sheehan haven’t done anything in black and gold that’s going to cause anyone to write any fanfic about them, their roles of #3 and #4 centers are going to have to be filled. The way Casey DeSmith has bailed out Matt Murray this season, he’s going to get a raise or the Pens are going to have to find another backup.

The prospect line isn’t gutted but isn’t gushing either, with Kasper Bjorkqvist and Nikita Pavlychev looking to join in the next year or two. But neither look to be huge difference makers. This is all going to result in more Phil Kessel trade rumors to open up even more cap space for whatever the Penguins deem they need. More centers? A second-pairing d-man who isn’t an affront to society like Jack Johnson?

Then again, there’s no reason that for most, if not all, of the five years Guentzel is signed he’s going to play with Crosby. Which means he’ll produce. And you’ll get your $6M worth. But couldn’t a lot of players? Will the Penguins be tempted to put future kids on Crosby’s line to give them a softer landing? Will Guentzel have to move aside if they do, and will he produce if he does? Maybe Hornqvist’s name comes up as well. But both Kessel and Hornqvist score wherever you put them. Guentzel can’t really make that claim.

It would have been the ballsiest of calls to cash in on Guentzel, whose value would have been highest this year or before the season. And you don’t just move a winger that Crosby clearly likes playing with. You find your savings elsewhere. Either way, Guentzel probably owes Crosby a few nice dinners out now that he’s rich.

 

 

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The Kessel Run writes for Pensburgh.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Gbehanna.

When we last saw the Penguins, they were struggling and just outside the playoff spots. They have ripped off 9 of 10 since. What’s been the difference?
I think the biggest difference to the Penguins’ change of play since the Dec. 12 game has been the goaltending, and the reemergence of Matt Murray to what looks to be his pre-injury / Stanley Cup-winning form. Since Murray’s return on Dec. 15, he’s gone 7-0, with a .959 SV% through the month of December. Casey DeSmith has also held his own, winning three out of his last four games since the Pens last met the Hawks. Winger Bryan Rust has also exploded on the score sheet since then, alleviating the pressure of the top stars, notching a hat-trick in that loss to Chicago and tallying eight goals and 13 points to close out December.
The Pens just re-upped Jake Guenztel for five years at $6 million per year. Good deal?
Jake Guentzel has been a constant alongside Sidney Crosby for a while now, and he’s even made a name for himself with his crazy goal-scoring prowess in the postseason. I think every Penguins fan knew an extension was coming. It was just a matter of when and figuring out how Guentzel’s new deal would affect the team’s salary cap with so much money already locked up to big-name guys. Luckily, the salary cap looks to be increasing next year, which was one of the reasons GM Jim Rutherford was able to get the deal done now. Given Guentzel’s consistently positive possession metrics, his knack for scoring big goals, and chemistry with Sid, $30 million over the next five years looks like a great deal for all parties.
Why hasn’t Derick Brassard worked out? It seemed a perfect fit on the third line. 
Derick Brassard becomes more polarizing with each passing game. Jim Rutherford even called Brassard out for his lack of overall production since the trade. Was this done to try and light a fire under Brassard? Who knows. However, Brassard holds a sub-50 CF% on the season, which blows given the role he has on the team. While his linemates have been shuffled around, he’s just never looked comfortable for whatever reason on the third line. Possibly due to more defensive responsibilities on more of a “checking” line. When given the off chance to move up the lineup, to play on Crosby’s left wing for example, he’s said he loves playing there with Sid. But everyone knows that’s not why we traded for him. He was supposed to be that cornerstone in the bottom-six like Nick Bonino was during the two Cup runs, but Brassard has never found his groove. Only time will tell if he’s shipped out in a package or something along those lines before the trade deadline.
What do you think the Penguins will do before the deadline and what will the spring look like for them?
Jim Rutherford’s favorite unofficial holiday may be the NHL Trade Deadline. Rutherford has never been shy of making a deal, especially while in Pittsburgh. With that said, there are a few moves I could see the veteran GM making to bolster his team for another championship run. Trading the aforementioned Brassard is a package deal may be a possibility if Rutherford feels he’s not getting anything out of him. Young defenseman Olli Maatta is another player whose name has been floated around in recent weeks and months as part of a larger package deal. Realistically, I could see Rutherford looking to bolster his defense again by swapping Maatta for a different face. The same goes for Brassard and the third-line center role. Whatever value both players have now and leading up to the deadline remains to be seen. As you may know, Rutherford has already shipped out the Penguins’ top prospect in Daniel Sprong earlier in the year, so prospect depth isn’t really a strength the team has for wheeling and dealing. The team has its 2019 1st-round pick still with them, so that may be a vital piece in whatever Rutherford decides to do.
It will be another interesting spring for sure. After the horrendously slow start the Penguins were on, they are now riding a season-defining eight-game win streak at the moment. Wins are more crucial as the season draws to a close, obviously. With goaltending looking better and better with each game, the Pens are in position to close out the 2018-19 season in pretty good shape, with their eyes on yet another Stanley Cup.

 

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The two teams that were supposed to win won, in mostly convincing fashion. Let’s do a quick clean up.

Penguins 8 – Flyera 5 (Penguins win series 4–2)

Only in Philadelphia can a game that had two hat tricks—one being the four-goal variety and the other coming from a guy with a frayed MLC—be overshadowed by, well, anything. But to no one’s surprise, the Flyera faithful became the old sports cliché of leaving a piece of yourself on the ice, pelting players with trash, and half-full cans of Yuengling and whatever other canal runoff they drink. Hilariously, the complete toddler meltdown that is fandom in Philly led to Pittsburgh’s final empty netter, as a rogue towel in front of Provorov led him to turn the puck over to Brandon Rust for the final dagger.

Guentzal’s four consecutive goals and Couturier’s hat trick despite his torn MCL were the undercard on the night. Pittsburgh will probably get extended time to wash the garbage out of their hair, because you know the Caps/BJs series is going to seven.

Predators 5 – Avalanche 0 (Predators win series 4–2)

Not the way you want to go out at home, but there probably wasn’t a bigger mismatch in all of the playoffs than this series. But when it really mattered, Nashville got up and Dammit Doll’d the Avs. There may have been whispers about Nashville not having “it” against the Avs in this series, but last night’s drubbing ought to put that to rest.

There really isn’t much to say about a 5–0 shutout. Shit Hip continues to defy his age, and the Bonino–Sissons–Watson line continues to impress in the playoffs. Whether we like it or not, Nashville can be an overpowering team when it needs to be, which will make the matchup with Winnipeg probably some of the best hockey we’ll see in the playoffs.

With the way things have gone in the NHL this year, the Preds and Jets will mash each other to a pulp, then the winner will have to play a well-rested Knights, fresh off a sweep against the Sharks, because fuck you. Then the Knights will find themselves as an expansion team in the Stanley Cup while the rest of us drink hemlock and/or eat Arby’s.

Everything Else

The cynical way to approach it would be to joke that if Conor Sheary had come up through the Hawks’ system, they would have already traded him to make room for Artem Anisimov’s or Brent Seabrook’s extension. That’s how the Penguins ended up with two straight banners seven years after their first one with Sidney Crosby. But Sheary represents more than that.

Sheary was never a big time scorer as he came up. He spent three years at UMass, never amassing (see what I did there?) more than 12 goals in an NCAA season. After that he spent one full season in the AHL, scoring 20 goals in 58 games with Wilkes-Barre. The motivation to play well there is huge of course, because no one wants to spend one more minute in Wilkes-Barre than they have to. The following season saw Sheary bounce between the AHL and NHL team, with 14 goals in 74 games between the two.

Last year, Sheary was up full-time, and on Sidney Crosby’s wing full-time. The result was 23 goals in just 61 games. His 21 ES goals was in the top-20 in the league. The pace hasn’t dropped this year, with eight goals in 20 games.

All of it makes that theory of a few years ago that “Not everyone can play with Sid” seem downright laughable now. That theory got Chris Kunitz an Olympic spot and gold medal, and Chris Kunitz is basically a dude. The theory basically stemmed from Dan Bylsma just forcing Pascal Dupuis onto Sid’s line for years, and Pascal Dupuis was borderline The Suck. Patric Hornqvist spent one year as a winger for Sid, and he had the best goals-per-game rate of his career. Sheary comes up at 23 and is a 20+ goal scorer. It’s just that simple.

Sheary is also an example of how you remain a contender with high-priced starts being paid like it, and one the Hawks might be too late to get to. Sheary, Wilson, Rust, and Maatta and Kuhnackl on the blue line all came up and provided the floor for the Penguins roster for their two Cups. And none of them are expensive. Of course, Sheary got paid after last year and is now $3 million player. But that’s how it has to be done when you’re paying Fleury, Letang, Crosby and Malkin.

Meanwhile on the other side of the coin, the Hawks have traded all their young, cheap talent for a couple years and are trying to get on the right side with Schmaltz, ADB, Hartman. It might be too late.

The reckoning might not be coming for the Penguins like you would guess. Patric Hornqvist comes off the books after the season when Rust and Kunahckl need new paper, but neither are going to break the bank. They’ll lose Ian Cole’s contract of $2 million as well. Two years from now Carl  Hagelin’s $4 million comes off the books, with only Jake Guenztel coming up for a new deal. They could do this for a few years more yet if they maintain health.

It seems pretty simple, no? Wish more could do it.

Game #20 Preview

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Once you get past the Predators’, or more to the point their fans’, constant bed-wetting over the refs (and really a lot of people’s), or the heavier amounts of bullshit we saw last night when the game got out of reach, there is something of a fascinating clash of styles going on here. And also an excellent example of how in hockey there really is only so much you can control, and it’s rarely enough to ensure things swing your way.

I guess you could call it that… except it’s probably not the Penguins plan to get throttled for huge swaths of the game and then pray that Matt Murray can bail them out of it. If it is… well bully for them.