October 27, 2010

Wingin' it with the Pittsburgh Penguins

There have been two storylines over the past few years regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins that have become a never-ending discussion. Both, oddly enough, are tied to one-another.

The first is the ongoing search for a consistent winger to play alongside Sidney Crosby. In his five-plus years in the NHL, the only player that meshed perfectly with Crosby was Marian Hossa. Of course, he was only a Pittsburgh Penguin for a little over three months. Sandwiched around Hossa's brief time in Pittsburgh, Crosby has played with guys like Colby Armstrong, Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin (who wasn't such a bad choice), Ryan Malone, Petr Sykora, Mark Recchi, Chris Kunitz, Miroslav Satan, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, Ruslan Fedotenko, and so on. And those just some of the names since the Penguins started winning. I don't even want to look back at the 2005-06 and '06-07 seasons just because Michel Ouellett, Jani Rita and Nils Ekman give me nightmares.

More after the jump ...

The Crosby Conundrum will continue seeing as the team is locked into some serious cash down the middle with Staal and Malkin. There's only so much scratch to go around and you know what you're going to get from those guys. The hope is that Eric Tangradi can develop into that guy, but he's still young and finding his game to worry about co-piloting with Crosby on the top line.

A second wing-related topic du Jour is Pittsburgh's lack of depth in that position. Kunitz, Dupuis, Arron Asham, and Tyler Kennedy among others aren't going to put a whole lot of fright into opposing teams as they're trying to focus on shutting Crosby and Malkin down, but they have been integral secondary scorers on winning teams. The 2009 Stanley Cup winning Penguins (damn I love typing that) featured such elite level wingers like Satan, Fedotenko, Kunitz, Dupuis, and Craig Adams. 

See where I'm going here? 

What's been proven every single spring when a Stanley Cup champion is named is that it's not the quality of wingers that wins you titles. It's their production and the depth of your lineup (and a hot goalie helps, but that's another post for another day). During the 2009 playoffs, the Penguins got production and quality minutes from Guerin (15 points from a 38-year old); Fedotenko (14 points); and Kunitz (14 points). All that supported the playoff tears that Crosby (31 points) and Malkin (36 points) went on.

So what does this all mean? Basically, "In Ray Shero I Trust". The Penguins have some money to play with near the deadline as he typically does. Shero brought in Asham and Comrie very cheaply in hopes that they will be "low risk, high reward"-type players. So far Comrie's been a smaller, Canadian-version of Alexei Ponikarovsky, while Asham will finally make his debut with the team tonight.

Shero understands the salary cap. He knows he has $20+ million locked up down the middle of his lineup. He knows that giving Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, and Marc-Andre Fleury big contracts with limit his ability to surround his top lines with "name" players, but that's okay. He has a plan that he's sticking to and has so far meant success. His job is to make the team competitive year in and year out and so far Shero has set up the Penguins to be just that for years to come. NHL GMs have to look toward the future when they make deals in this salary cap era, but in Shero's case, with what's now on the ice at CONSOL Energy Center these days, he has to be concerned more so with giving the franchise the best opportunity to win another Stanley Cup.

Main photo c/o Ottawa Citizen
Ray Shero photo c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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