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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dan Bylsma Named Head Coach of 2014 U.S. Men's Hockey Team. Can He Lead Them to a Gold Medal?

                (1.) Can Dan Bylsma lead Team USA's first Gold Medal in Men's Hockey since 1980?

     Team USA has officially announced Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach, Dan Bylsma, as the man to (hopefully) lead team USA's Men's Hockey to Gold. Already Bylsma is receiving plenty of doubt from many hockey fans in general, including fans of the team he coaches the Pittsbugh Penguins, and justifiably so. Ever since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, Bylsma has only lead the Penguins past the 1st round twice (advancing to conference semi-finals in 2010, and conference finals in 2013). I myself have my doubts as Bylsma has been coaching arguably the two best players in the world (Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin, whom he very well could match up against in the 2014 winter games in Sochi) and has had a hard time establishing and matching the success he has had in the regular season into the postseason.

     Despite his under performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past few years, Bylsma did have to coach quite a bit of the time without his star players and/or a healthy lineup. In 2010, Jordan Staal was injured in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens which left Bylsma without his best two way player for the the next two games. Though Staal would return, he was left hampering for the rest of the series which saw Pittsburgh fall in 7 games to the Canadiens. 2011, despite blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Tampa Lightning in the 1st round, Bylsma was still without his two star players Crosby &Malkin (both whom were most likely to miss the entire playoffs that year regardless of how far Pittsburgh advanced). 2012 & 2013 saw Pittsburgh eventually be exploited for it's poor defensive play as they were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins respectively. Yes, Bylsma is not known for his in game adjustments, but the fact remains he is still a great head coach. As evident, Bylsma led the Penguins to a tie in the Atlantic Division with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010-11 season with the same number of points. (albeit Philadelphia won division via tiebreaker.) The following season saw Bylsma lead the Penguins to only its second ever 50+ regular season wins in franchise history. Bylsma has been dealt with some bad cards, but he has been able to make the best of it in each instance and with the right players in 2014, Bylsma should have no problem in getting the best out of each of his players. Exactly which players though will be under Bylsma's tenure for the 2014 Winter Olympics, is anyone's guess.
   
     Lets take a look at the the names of players that are being thrown around to represent team USA in 2014 with Bylsma under the helm.

     Centers: Joe Pavelski, Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny, David Backes, Derek Stephan, T.J. Oshie, Brandon Dubinsky

     Left Wings: Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan, Dustin Brown, Max Pacioretty, James Van Riemsdyk

     Right Wings: Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Jason Pominville, Ryan Callahan, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Okposo

     Defenseman: Jack Johnson, Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Matt Carle, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh

     Goalies: Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider


UPDATE: 1/1/14 Official Team USA Roster per usahockey.com

    Forwards:  Zach Parise (Captain), Ryan Kesler, Patrick Kane
                     James Van Riemsdyk, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel
                     Dustin Brown (Assistant Captain), David Backes, Ryan Callahan
                     Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, T.J. Oshie
                     Derek Stephan, Blake Wheeler

    Defenseman: Ryan Suter (Assistant Captain), John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Martin, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Brooks Orpik

    Goalies: Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard


     Though nothing is set in stone yet, as anything can happen between now and next February, Bylsma will have a roster loaded with talent. One thing Bylsma will do is make constant changes to the lines during the games by switching players around from one line to the next. Bylsma will also be able to tire down an opposing team's first line with a star studded 4th line, (Bylsma has implemented this strategy in his coaching game in Pittsburgh where he puts out his 4th line against the oppositions 1st in order to wear them down, which has seen it's share of pros and cons) that not only consists of tough physical grinders, but players who are capable of producing high offensive numbers. Which is more than your typical 4th line during league play.

     Bylsma likes to play a fast paced game by using the stretch pass to cause mismatches that will create space and produce quick and effective scoring chances. Bylsma also likes dumping the puck into the opposition's own zone and put them on their heels by bringing the pressure with solid checking and toughness in hopes the other team will create a turnover in its own end. If Bylsma is able to use all of his strengths to his advantages and limit the number of mistakes to put his team in the best position to win, I can see Bylsma leading Team USA to a medal, perhaps even gold! The only questions that remain now are, who will be playing under Bylsma, and can he lead team USA to a medal?


     Prediction: Winner in Bronze Medal Game
  

     Feel free to let me know what you think of Dan Bylsma being chosen to coach team USA's Men's Hockey in the 2014 Winter Olympics and what players you see making representing the U.S.

    
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     Sources: (1.)http://3.cdn.nhle.com/penguins/images/upload/2012/08/BylsmaUSAHockey.png

                    (2.) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1050175-projected-united-states-2014-sochi-olympics-roster
                    (3.) http://proicehockey.about.com/od/olympichockey/a/2014-usa-projected-olympic-hockey-roster.htm
                    (4.) http://www.usahockeymagazine.com/article/2013-02/our-picks-2014-candidates-2014-us-olympic-mens-team
                    (5.) http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/columnist/allen/2013/02/06/projected-us-olympic-hockey-team/1896761/
                    (6.) http://blog.chron.com/hockeystop/2013/06/projected-roster-for-team-usa-olympic-team/#13412-2
                    (7.) http://olympics.usahockey.com/page/show/1067902-roster

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Making The Case For The Pittsburgh Penguins To Re-Sign Jarome Iginla



                                                      Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

 (1.)  Jarome Iginla is set to become a free agent in the offseason. Will the Pittsburgh Penguins retain his services after acquiring him at the trade deadline?

     The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a very active off-season to say the least. (i.e. rumors swirling around of Minnesota being interested in Fleury, Letang being moved, and signing of pending free agent (FA). There is one player the Penguins need to keep from their own pending FA's. No I am not talking about Pascal Dupuis (though he is an important piece of the puzzle for Pittsburgh) I'm referring to Jarome Iginla. Iginla, who will be 36 at the start of next season, still has plenty left in the tank and can still make a huge impact with the talent he possesses for the Penguins.

     Despite his age, that does not indicate Iginla will be slowing down anytime soon. Case(s) in point, Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, who are are in their 40's, still produce numbers well beyond one would expect for a player their age. Martin St. Louis, who is 38, is still lighting up the scoreboard and shows up on the score sheet on a consistence basis. (1.) St. Louis registered 94, 99,74,60 points respectively in the past four seasons. Iginla, who is just as offensively gifted as St. Louis, is also capable of putting up the same numbers. Especially if he is used right.(Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma moved Iginla from his natural position after Pittsburgh acquired him at the trade deadline and the ramifications of that were quite obvious that even Hellen Keller could have seen that). Despite this, Iginla made the best of the situation and had a huge role in Pittsburgh's powerplay, registering 11 points on the man advantage (2.)(3.)(4.)(5.)(6.)(7.)(8.)(9.)(10.)(11.) ( 6 in regular season, 5 in postseason) in 28 total games (both regular and postseason)

     Jarome Iginla also will fill what I like to call "The Bill Guerin Role" and provide both scoring and leadership. The latter which the Penguins have lacked since Bill Guerin retired following the 2009-10 season. Not only will Iginla provide scoring and veteran leadership, but he will also provide toughness as he is not one to shy away from getting physical. Keeping Iginla would also give him the chance of reviving his career as well. Already having chemistry with Sidney Crosby, the Penguins should want to give Iginla the opportunity to play a full season in Pittsburgh on Crosby's line. I would consider this to be a "small risk, high reward" scenario, as Iginla will not be getting a $7 million dollars per year on his next contract, so the Penguins should be able to retain his services at a favorable price.

     Jarome Iginla is already assured of a place in the NHL Hall of Fame with his many accolades. The only thing missing now is a Stanley Cup from Iginla's trophy case and resume. Add in his other tangibles as mentioned above with his drive and determination to reach the top, there is no reason the Penguins should not do everything they can to retain Iginla's services.

     Just in case you are a Penguins fan still on the fence of retaining Iginla, maybe these two could change your mind! ;) (12.)



Sources: (1.) http://img.fannation.com/upload/truth_rumor/photo_upload/379/900/full/Jarome-Iginla.jpg
               (2.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/players/playerpage/20528/martin-st-louis
               (3)http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130402_BUF@PIT
               (4.)http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130411_PIT@TB
               (5.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130417_MON@PIT
               (6.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130420_PIT@BOS
               (7.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130423_BUF@PIT
               (8.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130501_NYI@PIT
               (9.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130503_NYI@PIT
               (10.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130505_PIT@NYI
               (11.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130514_OTT@PIT
               (11.) http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/gametracker/recap/NHL_20130522_PIT@OTT
               (12.) http://www.calgaryherald.com/sports/hockey/calgary-flames/cms/binary/8167442.jpg?size=620x400s
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Monday, June 10, 2013

What Does The Future Hold In Store For The Pittsburgh Penguins?

                              (1.)

     The Pittsburgh Penguins had high expectations heading into the playoffs this year and were Stanley Cup favorites. Pittsburgh made big moves at the trade deadline to avoid another early outing in the postseason when they acquired Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, and Jussi Jokinen. In essence, the Penguins were "All In".  Despite this, Pittsburgh's gamble did not pay off with a high reward. In return, it cost them prospects and draft picks.

     Now with the off-season approaching, General Manager(GM) Ray Shero has quite a bit of thinking to do in regards to what players will be a part of the Penguins future and whom they will part ways with.

(Disclaimer: Some of this piece will be purely written out of speculation based on sources that I have read  http://www.thefourthperiod.com/news/pit130608.html)

Unrestricted Free Agents

     Jarome Iginla- Iginla was brought in at the trade deadline to provide leadership, additional scoring, and not to forget, he has great chemistry with Sidney Crosby. Though primarily used on Malkin line and as Left Wing (LW) instead of his traditional Right Wing(RW) position, Pittsburgh is very much interested in re-signing him. The feeling is mutual for Iginla and may sign somewhere in the ballpark of a 3 year deal with $16.5 million. If used properly, Iginla can still be very much capable of being effective offensively. (Case in point, Martin St. Louis still putting up huge numbers in Tampa Bay at the age of 38. Iginla is turning 36 in July.)

     Pascal Dupuis- Since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2008, Dupuis has produced some of his best offensive stats  to date. He registered his first back to back 20+ goal seasons (2011-12, 2012-13) of his career and was part of the highest scoring line in all of the NHL alongside Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. Dupuis also had a +/- of 31, best in the entire league(with linemate Kunitz right behind him with a +/- of 30). Dupuis has stated he wants to remain in Pittsburgh and would be willing to take a pay cut to do so. As long as the price is right, Dupuis will most likely end up re-signing and staying in Pittsburgh.

     Brenden Morrow- Morrow, like Iginla, was brought in at the trade deadline to provide veteran leadership in the locker room, and was noted for having playoff success. Unlike Iginla, Morrow is not as offensively productive as him and despite being a year younger than him, Morrow is pretty banged up. Morrow does not appear to be apart of the Penguins future and out of all the pending UFA's for Pittsburgh, Morrow is the one least likely to re-sign.

     Matt Cooke-   He is known as one of the more dirtier players in the game. Cooke has many tangibles he brings to his game (secondary scoring, good on the Penalty Kill(PK), grit and toughness). Despite cleaning up his game though significantly, Cooke's past reputation seems to continue to follow him. For instance in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals(ECF) against the Boston Bruins, Cooke was given a 5 minute major and ejected from the game on a questionable call. This was arguably one of the moments to set the tone for the series, as Boston went on to sweep the Penguins in 4 and showing that Cooke's track record seems to still impact the Penguins negatively. Since Cooke will be 35 at the start of next season. Look for the Penguins to possibly let him walk so they can bring up younger players in the system.

     Craig Adams-  Like Cooke, Craig Adams also brings grit, toughness, effectiveness on the PK, and does a lot of small things that make a big difference in games. Adams is 36 though, and the Penguins could easily replace him with the likes of Joe Vitale, or another young prospect in the system. I feel the Penguins may be on the fence about this. If the price is right, Adams may remain a Penguin, but I think his age may be a factor when it comes down to it.

     Mark Eaton-  Eaton's presence in the defensive game really showed. Though Eaton did not register a point in the regular season, Eaton was always making something happen as evident of his +/- of 9. Eaton's second tenure in Pittsburgh will most likely be short lived though, as the Penguins are deep in talented defensive prospects and will most likely have one of them called up to play the role.

     Douglas Murray-  Murray with his 6 ft 3 245lb. frame, was brought in to add toughness to the Penguins blueline. Murray would surprisingly also find offensive success as he scored his first regular season goal since the 2010-11 season after being traded to the Penguins. As I mentioned in this previous article I wrote, http://noodleofnam.blogspot.com/2013/05/what-we-have-learned- from-pittsburgh.html Murray had only scored twice in 57 playoff games. In the first round alone against the Islanders, Murray matched that by scoring twice. Despite all of that, Murray may not be a part of the Penguins future as well, as again, they may look to bring up some of their younger talented prospects to fill the role on the blueline.

Restricted Free Agents

     Tyler Kennedy-  Kennedy's regular season performance this year was not one of his better offensive wise. Kennedy did however redeem himself in the playoffs as he provided spark and energy alongside Joe Vitale. Kennedy scored the first (and eventual game winning goal) in Game 5 of the Quarterfinals against the Islanders after being scratched in the first four games. The Penguins may think long and hard as to what to do with Kennedy. Will they re-sign him? Trade his rights? Or will they simply let him walk?

     Dustin Jeffrey- Jeffrey has not been really used much during his time in Pittsburgh. Though he has shown he is capable of being a 3rd and/or 4th line center, Jeffrey's best bet may be to look for a change of scenery to have a productive career if Pittsburgh can not find a spot for him.

     Robert Bortuzzo- Even though he is not one of Pittsburgh's more highly touted prospects or younger talents, Bortuzzo could still provide depth for the Penguins blueline. It may be beneficial to keep Bortuzzo around just in case some of the younger defensive prospects need a little more time developing their game(s).

Possible Players Penguins Buyout or Trade

     No matter what anyone says, there is indeed goalie controversy in Pittsburgh. Marc Andre Fleury still has two years remaining on his contract, but with a $5 million cap hit, the Penguins could possibly look to move him in order to shed some cap space in order to retain the services of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. The Penguins may shop Fleury around for prospects and draft picks.

     Paul Martin, even though he has done a complete 180, is possibly talked about being bought out with his $5 million cap hit. Jussi Jokinen who still has a year remaining on his current contract may be used a trade bait in order to free up additional cap space and acquire young prospects and draft picks in return.

     The Penguins will have roughly $8 million in cap space to begin with. Pittsburgh will indeed use that cap space the best way they can to re-sign the players they wish to retain. Some trades and buyouts as mentioned, are not out of the question. Especially if the Penguins want to improve and do what is best for the team. Look for young talent in the system, such as; Simon Despres, Anton Zlolin, Beau Bennett,  Scott Harrington, to start cracking the Pittsburgh Penguins future lineups.

     Image Sources: (1.) http://sinhlredlight.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/bylsma-penguins.jpg?w=610&h=382


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Thursday, June 6, 2013

What We Have Learned From The Pittsburgh Penguins From Their Series Against Boston Bruins and 2013 Season

                                     (1.)

     The Pittsburgh Penguins headed into the 2013 Season as Stanley Cup favorites just as they have for the past few years.  Also like the last few seasons, Pittsburgh was out coached, outplayed, and did not live up to their full expectations. Pittsburgh had a few bumps along the way to the Eastern Conference Finals but ultimately prevailed over coming adversity and looked to be the favorites heading into their match up with the Boston Bruins.

                                     (2.)

     Prior to the playoffs, at the trade deadline, Pittsburgh loaded up by making a big splash by trading for star players Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow to provide leadership and additional scoring. Penguins also acquired Douglas Murray to add toughness to their blueline, and Jussi Jokinen as a late acquisition for additional scoring and a faceoff specialist.


     Pittsburgh headed into the match up with Boston as the hottest offensive team of the playoffs with 47 goals in just 11 games (4.27 goals per game) and had given up just 28 goals in that time span (2.55 goals allowed per game). Since starting Game 5 of the Quarterfinals, Tomas Vokoun alone only allowed 2 goals per game (14 in 7 games)

Penguins Need To Limit The Stretch Pass

     Stretch passes are great in creating opportunities for breakaways and going for the "homerun" and creating a great scoring chance. The problem is though that you run the risk of causing an icing call. Doing so does not allow for line changes and the same unit has to stay on while the other team is free to change theirs up. This will in turn cause players to fatigue much quicker while the opposition has fresh legs on the ice more often. The Penguins do not need to eliminate the stretch pass completely, but they need to limit them and use an rush attack by skating up ice through the neutral and opposing zone and put the defense on its heels.

 Power(less) Power Play
(3.)
     Despite having one of the strongest Penalty Kill(PK) units, Pittsburgh's Power Play (PP) for the past few seasons has many times been nonexistent. There is no excuse to go 0-15 in four games when you have players like; Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, Chris Kunitz, etc. The PP is an issue the Penguins need to address in the off season and improve upon next year to have any further success than they did this year.

Lack of Defense

The Penguins system is designed for high scoring. Which is really great when you have players as mentioned up above. That being said, it still rings true that "defense wins championships".  That is what happened when the Penguins ran into the Bruins. Boston shutdown Pittsburgh highly potent offense with its tough defense and outstanding goaltending, minimizing the Penguins scoring chances with terrific shot blocking and not allowing any pressure in their own zone. Pittsburgh had difficulty clearing the puck out of their end against Boston and as a result, the Bruins would make the Penguins pay for the mistakes by scoring goals.


Marc Andre Fleury's Career In Pittsburgh Likely Over                                                             
                            (4.)
  
     Tomas Vokoun has played great as the starting goaltender during the playoffs. Other than Game 2 when he was pulled (though a lot of that had to do with the defense hanging out to dry) He has done his part to keep the Penguins in each game to win. After Vokoun was pulled in Game 2, Fleury was called on for relief, marking his first appearance in the playoffs since the Penguins Game 4 loss to the New York Islanders in the Quarterfinals. Fleury actually started strong, even igniting what would be the only goal of the game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury went behind the net and made a nice pass which set up Brandon Sutter scoring a goal. Though the spark was short lived as Fleury let in the first shot he face when Brad Marchand fired the puck over his shoulder and into the net. Fleury would go on to let two more goals get by him, and made good(bad) on his part of letting in his normal 3 goals in a game. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, Marc Andre Fleury has struggled in the playoffs and has not regained his form he had during the Penguins run to the Stanley Cup in 2008 and 2009. Tomas Vokoun is more than likely not part of the Penguins future, but is definitely going to be a component for them in the present. Meanwhile the Penguins may look to part ways with Fleury by trading him or letting him go after his contract is up and look to build around one of the younger goaltending prospects in the system for the future.

Dan Bylsma Remains Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins...For Now
                                            
                                               (5.)
     While many wonder if Bylsma will be behind the bench to coach much longer, it was not to long ago that Bylsma helped turn around a struggling Penguins team in 2009 and lead them into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league en-route to the franchise's 3rd Stanley Cup title. Since then, Bylsma has struggled to get his team to play up to its ability in the playoffs, twice being eliminated in the first round. For those that are calling for Bylsma to be given the axe (even I am beginning to think the Penguins should part ways with him) I have it on good authority Dan is not going anywhere, anytime soon. I was told personally that Mario Lemieux is good friends with Bylsma and plans to keep him around. With that said however, there may come a time when Mario realizes he has to cut the cord and do what is best for the team and its franchise if Bylsma continues to be bounced early in the playoffs by not fixing or addressing any of the team's weaknesses.

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Image Sources (1.) http://wallpapers.androlib.com/wallicons/wallpaper.big-wqE.cs.png
                         (2.) http://theintelligencer.net/photos/news/md/585101_1.jpg
                         (3.) http://1.cdn.nhle.com/penguins/images/upload/2013/05/167863263-thumb.jpg
                         (4.) http://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_root/slides/photos/000/799/258/110490454_crop_650x440.jpg?1301466635
                          (5.) http://www4.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/Stanley+Cup+Finals+Pittsburgh+Penguins+v+Detroit+H0Djx0_lldal.jpg