Starkey: Penguins stars on the spot
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The story isn't Ryan Kesler. Not at all.
The Penguins swung hard and missed on Kesler. So give 'em credit for stepping to the plate — general manager Ray Shero always does — and let it go. Move on. The story isn't the big fish they did not land or the shrimp they pulled in to play on the top line.
Honestly, it's not about the star they did not get.
It's about the stars they still have.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury are the Penguins' highest-paid players (along with injured defenseman Paul Martin). Isn't it about time those guys did something other than fall apart and fail to produce in the biggest games of all?
Depth is wonderful. You need depth. Shero found some Wednesday in the form of Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. The latter has the speed and quick release to potentially mesh with Crosby. Goc is a solid, versatile, veteran presence. Maybe Beau Bennett returns to bolster the third line. The Penguins have other young forwards who could fortify their depth.
It is the stars, however, who ultimately give you the chance to win championships.
Go back to 2009. Fleury (first round), Crosby (second), Malkin (third) each scribbled his signature on a series that year to vault the Penguins into the Stanley Cup Final. How many series has any one of them owned since then?
Neal arrived two years after the Cup and has been a wonderful regular-season performer. But he has failed to score a goal in 20 of his 25 playoff games here. Worse, he is prone to fits of on-ice insanity. He got suspended for a game in the Flyers series two years ago — a series he entered with an injured hand because of a stupid fight with Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference.
Playing with an injured foot, Neal put up zero points and a minus-7 rating against the Bruins last spring. This is the year he needs to earn that $5 million salary in the most important games.
Fleury has disintegrated too often over the past four postseasons. He was mercifully pulled in the first round last year. It's true that his failures were partially the result of a team-wide distaste for defense. But your $5 million goaltender simply has to play better. There's a reason you gave him that seven-year contract, and it wasn't to watch him put up sub-.900 save percentages and give up ridiculous goals every spring.
Crosby and Malkin — earning $17.4 million between them — have come unglued too often and found the net too rarely with seasons on the line.
Go back to the Montreal series in 2010, when the two combined for two goals in seven games. After missing the following year's playoffs, both underachieved against the Flyers in 2012. Claude Giroux outplayed Crosby. Sean Couturier outplayed Malkin. The most memorable play the two combined on in that series was a manic Malkin running over Crosby at the offensive blue line on a Penguins power play.
Then last year happened. After productive series against the Islanders and Senators, the Penguins' two studs let the Bruins get under their skin early. Unfathomably, they combined for no points in a humiliating sweep.
So forget about Ryan Kesler. Forget about the fact the Steelers made more interesting personnel moves than the Penguins at the NHL trade deadline. The Penguins still have enough to get through a suddenly strengthened East.
It will be a matter of building on their evolving commitment to defense and winning the coaching battles in key areas such as matchups and special teams. It will require some depth guys coming through, plus Martin and maybe Bennett returning (Kris Letang seems like way more of a long shot).
Mostly, though, the Penguins will need their stars to play like stars when the weather grows warm.
It's been awhile.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Signs of steady U.S. economy: Pay, home sales up, unemployment applications down
- Friends, family, history lure natives back to Western Pennsylvania
- Puppies’ eyes glued shut, South Huntingdon animal shelter says
- Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run
- Crosby scores twice, Malkin delivers OT goal as Penguins beat Blues
- Keystone Bakery closes Greensburg store
- ’Tis the season to put retailers in the black
- Excela, Pitt-Greensburg team on legacy videos for those in twilight of lives
- Smartphones expected to overtake desktops for holiday shopping
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Artis leads Pitt to lopsided victory over Cornell