We just had the NHL Draft, and right about now Penguins fans are tucking themselves in for a long summer’s nap, with visions of the 46th pick dancing in their heads. Why the 46th? Once again, they traded away their first round pick without much to show for it (though at least this prevents them from drafting another puck-moving defenseman). I’m going to grade the players on their performance in the season that just ended and give my cherished thoughts on the exciting days ahead, all full of salary dumps and buyouts, and maybe even an exciting trade. Note: I was going to do this right after they were eliminated from the playoffs, but in order to feel closer to the team, I decided to take April, May, and most of June off.
Craig Adams: N
The N is for Next.
Beau Bennett: C-
Bennett actually managed to play in 49 games this year, nearly double his previous career high of 26 in the lockout-shortened season of 2012-2013. That’s by far his most impressive stat, as he put up a scintillating 12 points. Oh, he also had a career high 7 hits in a game at Arizona on March 21st, besting his previous high of 6 one night on the South Side when he hit a parked car, a pinball machine, a cigarette machine, a bartender, a parking meter, and his hospital bed. He managed to go 17 straight games without a point, the second-most impressive California-related drought so far this year. I’d give him a lower grade but the Penguins keep forcing him to play the wrong wing on the wrong line, an honor previously only bestowed upon future Hall of Famers.
Blake Comeau: B-
Comeau started off the season looking like a diamond in the rough, clicking with Evgeni Malkin and putting up 30 points in his first 32 games. He then hurt his wrist, rushed back before it healed after missing all of January, and suddenly looked like the Blake Comeau Penguins fans knew as the scrub from the Islanders and Blue Jackets. His ineffectiveness led to Malkin going off on him on the bench at several points, the kind of frustration not seen since Malkin ended the love/hate relationship he shared with ex-wife James Neal (but without the kiss goodnight Neal always got after Malkin cheered up). I personally think that if he’s fully healthy he can click with Malkin again, but he might never get the chance since he’s a free agent and Jim Rutherford is rumored to be more infatuated with Russians than Mirror Universe Ronald Reagan. He actually scored a goal in the playoffs, so he was probably shunned by the rest of the team when they cleaned out their lockers.
Sidney Crosby: C+
The most interesting parts of Crosby’s season, in order: throwing a tantrum while losing to the Flyers on October 22nd; losing his grip on the scoring title in the final weeks of the season and ultimately finishing third (though he finished highest in points per game); and actually showing signs of life during the playoffs, scoring twice in Game Two and ultimately finishing with four points in five games. If you take out those three things, it was a pretty boring year for Crosby. He had some slumps, but I think that’s just because he was still expecting Brooks Orpik to pop up out of a dark alley and slam a slap shot right into his face. Barring a major roster overhaul, Crosby will continue to be a brilliant player against average competition, an average player against brilliant competition, and an expensive player whether facing competition or a Detective Nordberg-esque string of bad luck when it comes to injury (if you don’t know who Detective Nordberg was, pretend I said “OJ Simpson-esque string of bad luck when it comes to the legal system”).
Steve Downie: C
Downie, a hated cretin in his time as a Flyer and Lightning…player…, suddenly looked like a beloved hero upon his signing with the Penguins, vowing that nobody would touch Crosby or Malkin now that he was on board, but ultimately only following through on the promise that Steve Downie wouldn’t touch Crosby or Malkin. After he led the league in penalty minutes, they probably went out of their way not to even touch him accidentally in the locker room. Downie got a raw deal, first from the coaching staff that didn’t give him a chance playing with Crosby or Malkin, then from the refs that gave him several penalties just for being Steve Downie. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back with the Penguins, but since he probably won’t be, I hope he ends up playing hockey somewhere on the ice that’s been discovered on Mars.
Pascal Dupuis: Incomplete
I don’t have much to say about Dupuis other than the fact that I wish he would retire for the sake of his family, and for the sake of Crosby, who will still be refusing to play with anyone but Dupuis and Chris Kunitz when he’s in a nursing home.
Patric Hornqvist: B
Hornqvist raised his points-per-game up to .80 with the Penguins, up from .60 in his career with Nashville. He never played with as much talent in Nashville, but the number is still impressive since he bounced between playing with Crosby and Malkin for much of the season. He’s also a hard-nosed Swede that’s tough in the corners and goes hard to the net, no doubt mystifying Don Cherry.
Chris Kunitz: D
Kunitz looked pretty bad in the first half of the season then slightly better in the second half, a phenomenon explained by the team as an “iron deficiency”, which seemed strange because I thought the only iron deficiency plaguing him was his sudden inability to put the puck anywhere near the posts. He must’ve lost three steps, because the NHL is back to allowing a ten-second window for interference…I mean, “gritty defensive play”, and he still looks two steps behind. There isn’t much else to say aside from “PLEASE TRADE HIM, PENGUINS” but nobody could be dumb enough to think he’s still worth his contract, with the possible exception of new Devils GM Ray Shero.
Maxim Lapierre: B-
Lapierre didn’t do much upon being acquired for Marcel Goc, aside from breaking up the Penguins’ Berlin Wall stable of Goc, Christian Ehrhoff, and Thomas Greiss, but Rob Klinkhammer being traded had already weakened it significantly. He continued to do nothing until the playoffs started, when he turned into a master troll and top-notch penalty killer, evoking shades of the last weird French guy named Max that the Penguins had as a fourth-line center, just without those two completely unimportant goals in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Lapierre won’t be back, sadly.
Evgeni Malkin: C+
After blowing off training camp, Malkin got done pouting and wasn’t held scoreless until the twelfth game of the season. He had a good season until some mysterious injuries towards the end that continued into the playoffs, but seemed to be magically cured on his way to the World Championships. The team swears he was doing all that he could for them, and they’ve never lied about injuries to star players before, so it must be true.
David Perron: C
Perron started off hot, scoring seven points in his first six games, then faded badly. Maybe he was hurt, or the joy of being traded away from the Oilers dissipated. Either way, he looked like he was doing his best to make Klinkhammer look like the most important piece involved in the trade that brought him to Pittsburgh (that’s also where the first round pick went, but considering the fact that the Oilers now own it, whoever they select will probably spend less time affiliated with the NHL than Spike Lee did when FOX featured him in hockey-related promos in the late-‘90s). Hopefully he’ll follow a path similar to the one James Neal blazed, as Neal looked like a total bust in his first partial season with the Penguins before turning into an offensive force.
Nick Spaling: C-
Spaling would be a valuable player, since he can play all three forward positions, if not for the fact that he makes $2.2 million, and doesn’t excel at any of those positions. His versatility will continue to be less than his actual value unless he starts driving the zamboni between periods, making Jim Rutherford’s bed in time for him to go to sleep every day at 5 PM, and working on a drug that makes Malkin perceive Penguin jerseys as Red Army flags.
Brandon Sutter: C+
Sutter has played in the enormous shadow of Jordan Staal (I don’t mean Staal is an extraordinary player, I just mean his shadow is really enormous) since being acquired for him, and the similarities between them run deep: they’re both good penalty killers that have more name value than talent, they’ve put up numbers that are in the same ballpark since the trade (Staal has more points, Sutter more goals), they both have a knack for scoring clutch goals, and said names are constantly misspelled by bandwagon fans. Sutter had a decent season for a third-line center on pretty much any other team, but not this one, and he’s likely about to be traded again by Rutherford, who will once again talk about how he wished he could’ve kept Sutter while quietly increasing security around his home.
Scott Wilson: W
The W isn’t for Wilson, it’s for Who Cares? Wilson the Volleyball and Wilson the Wise Neighbor from Home Improvement put up as many points as Wilson the Ineffective Center did this year. I’d mention that he only had a cup of coffee with the team…but a cup of coffee probably would’ve managed to score a point
Daniel Winnik: W
This W is for Waste of Draft Picks. Rutherford gave up this year’s fourth rounder and next year’s second rounder (I’d be really upset about this if not for the fact that the Penguins always blow their second round picks) for Winnik, who displayed the speed of a broken wheelbarrow with the hands to match. This trade would’ve been a total blunder if not for the fact that Zach Sill was also involved, because any move that got him off of the Penguins’ roster had at least one positive.
Taylor Chorney: D
Chorney is a perfectly mediocre defenseman, but the Penguins shouldn’t have to settle for mediocre defensemen after the years of Shero’s dedication to drafting anybody that could skate backwards and show a pulse.
Ian Cole: Incomplete
Cole looked good when he was acquired, then more like he did in St. Louis after a few weeks. It’s impossible to grade him because of the quagmire the defense was in after Kris Letang’s injury destroyed the depth and put the team too close to the salary cap to fix it.
Christian Ehrhoff: Incomplete
Ehrhoff was either used wrong or injured for the entire season. Whatever German is for Bon Voyage, Christian.
Kris Letang: C+
Letang continues to be the most frustrating player for the Penguins, constantly making dumb plays defensively then usually making up for them with his incredible skating ability. He isn’t worth his contract and he never will be unless he quits pretending he’s four inches taller, putting himself into dangerous situations and rarely escaping them unscathed.
Ben Lovejoy: Incomplete
Lovejoy was unfairly targeted by the fanbase after being acquired for Simon Despres. I was a big Despres fan and felt he was mismanaged, but that remains to be seen. Lovejoy was another victim of the numbers game that crushed the defense at the end of the season and into the playoffs. He was playing too many minutes and given more responsibility than he’s capable of handling. I think he’s going to make some self-proclaimed hockey experts in Pittsburgh eat their words next year.
Olli Maatta: Incomplete
Maatta showed incredible poise and determination, seemingly shrugging off his cancerous tumor diagnosis so hard that he popped his shoulder back out of place. Get well soon, Olli.
Paul Martin: B-
Martin is a very soft, very smart defenseman that will be missed by the Penguins but he’s going to be too expensive to keep and will free up space for the vaunted defensive prospects to get a chance to finally show what they’re capable…
Breaking News: Pens meet with Martin at NHL Draft
OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO…
Derrick Pouliot: Incomplete
Pouliot has good offensive instincts, bad defensive ones, and looks just like West Memphis Three member Damien Echols did before he went to jail. That’s all there is to it at the moment.
Rob Scuderi: D
Scuderi makes Kunitz look like Nancy Kerrigan. Actually, I’m pretty sure Kerrigan could’ve beaten Scuderi in a speed-skating competition. Seconds after she was lying on the floor clutching her knee. While wearing a pair of skis. He could be an asset to the young defensemen if his salary wasn’t so ridiculous. This stint with the Penguins is a 180 from his first one, where he went from worthless castoff to Stanley Cup champion. Elton John would be proud of this perfect example of the Circle of Life.
Marc-Andre Fleury: B+
Fleury played his heart out and didn’t have a mental breakdown in the playoffs. That’s pretty much all you can ask for from the second most frustrating Penguin on the roster. If not for the fact that he’s so likable off the ice I’d really hate him for having so much physical skill and no brain, but he is so I don’t.
Thomas Greiss: A in the first two periods of a game, F in the third.
Greiss was a valuable backup in the games that he started, assuming that the Penguins built up at least a 10 goal lead before the third period. He was also a valuable source of punchlines for me, so I’ll be a little sad to see him go.
Jim Rutherford: C+
Rutherford made some good moves and some questionable moves, but since he’s working with a committee of three other GM candidates, it’s hard to praise or fault him. I’ll give him a C+ for some of his ideas and his hilarious feud with Rob Rossi. Nobody knows why this feud began but my theory is that Rutherford’s relationship with the media began to sour when the “insiders” all predicted that Rutherford’s health was the reason that press conferences were being called “because he looks sick”, and they were all incorrect (they were about the status of Maatta and Dupuis).
Mike Johnston: Incomplete
Johnston didn’t seem to make much of a mark in his first season, but if I were him I would’ve been pretty exhausted after the surreal search that ultimately led to his hiring, so I’ll give him a pass. I’d tip my cap to him for a decent first season, but he might try to return the favor to me and knock his toupee off, so out of respect for him I won’t.
So that’s it for the grades. The offseason has already threatened to be more entertaining than the thoroughly mediocre season itself with the news that Mario Lemieux is looking to sell his stake in the team. This would be jarring considering his involvement with the team since 1984, but maybe…just maybe…he’s selling the team so he can come back, fix the power play, and show Crosby how a real captain does it?
Speaking of, there are rumors that Sergei Gonchar is interested in returning to the team. As long as he’s only allowed to play on the power play, this sounds like a great idea to me. Alexei Kovalev is also thinking about an NHL return. I know he looked bad in his last return to the Penguins, but his center was Mark Letestu! I also saw him play at Lemieux’s fantasy camp games in January, and he cut through the hapless defensemen there with ease. Food for thought if you’re reading, Mr. Rutherford.