Pens likely to stay with 3-center model
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, April 29, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Updated: Sunday, April 28, 2013
As Penguins general manager Ray Shero and his hockey operations staff take these next several weeks to evaluate what happened in a third straight Stanley Cup playoff series loss, they are tasked with overcoming a harsh reality:
The biggest free-agent moves in Shero's six years on the job — signing now-embattled defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to five-year deals in July 2010 worth, in all, $45 million — are less of a problem than a prospect pipeline that, if not dry, lacks plentiful waters.
Shero probably cannot commit to abandoning the once-playoff successful “Big Three” formula of centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal because there are barely prospects worthy of playing with them, let alone replacing one of them, on the horizon.
Staal is the only player of 16 drafted by the Penguins from 2006-08 to establish himself as an NHL regular with the club. He is one of just five players drafted over that span to have played in more than five games with the Penguins.
Seven prospects selected during that three-year period are no longer within the organization, though once-touted Angelo Esposito and Luca Caputi were traded to upgrade the NHL roster.
The Detroit Red Wings, who picked in the bottom five from 2006-08, also have produced only five players from those drafts who have played in more than five games with the team, along with just one regular.
The Penguins, though, lack considerably in drafting and developing compared to three other Atlantic Division teams that reached the playoffs this season. From the 2006-08 drafts, the Philadelphia Flyers have placed eight players in at least five games and three as regulars; the New York Rangers are at seven and four; the New Jersey Devils seven and two.
The Penguins were without picks in Rounds 1-3 of the 2008 draft because of trades for veterans who helped them advance to the 2008 Cup Final against Detroit and win the Cup a year later against the Red Wings. Still, their limited success in identifying and developing prospects from the 2006-08 drafts has proven costly, and they can't use picking late in rounds as an excuse.
The Penguins picked high in 2006 and near the middle in 2007. Of 13 prospects selected in those years, only Staal and defenseman Brian Strait played in this postseason against the Flyers. Defenseman Nick D'Agostino is the only Penguins player selected in 2008 — he was their last pick that year — who is considered a top-10 prospect in the organization.
Of the Penguins' top-10 prospects, only three are forwards — none drafted before 2010 and all three at least a year from reaching the NHL, and that presumes quick AHL development from wingers Beau Bennett and Tom Kuhnhackl, Bennett rating the most plum prospect up front.
D'Agostino joins Strait (2006) and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (2007) as the only top-10 prospects not chosen in drafts before 2010. Strait and Bortuzzo are each waiver eligible starting next season.
Also, five of the top six prospects are defensemen, a position at which the Penguins have committed $16.25 million to four players (Martin, Michalek, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang) over the next two seasons. All but Letang will be at least 30 by then. At 27 and given his projected progression, pending health, he could command double his $3.5 million cap hit to retain.
With Staal, Crosby, Letang and two-time scoring champion Malkin due new contracts and raises in the next two years, the Penguins are left with almost no choice but to stick with the model of paying for premium talent and hoping that talent can carry them in the playoffs.
Of course, a shrewd move of Martin's contract, or trading top defensive prospects such as Joe Morrow, Simon Despres or Scott Harrington, could change the Penguins' landscape.
Still, a move away from the “Big Three” center formant probably isn't in the offing because of the limited impact made by players picked in Shero's first three drafts.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5635.
- Penguins Insider: Time is right for Jokinen’s return
- Kovacevic: Pens improve under microscope
- Neal’s solid play soon could pay off on scoresheet for Penguins
- Senators get vote of confidence
- Penguins notebook: Morrow leaves practice with injury
- Senators notebook: Pens' Crosby has defensive shadows
- Penguins’ depth allows for fine-tuned, strategic lineups in playoffs
- Senators notebook: Karlsson not using injury as crutch
- Kovacevic: It doesn’t have to be this hard
- Penguins Insider: Players’ focus in right place
- Penguins’ breakdown on Alfredsson goal changes series
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.
Sounds like a lot of people are under valuing Staal. Throw any Leafs rumors out the window, I dont see any players or prospects (other than Jake Gardiner) there that have any value. Kadri cant even break Toronto's lineup, and Schenn is somewhat of a pilon. He certainly isnt a fit for the Pens system. Staal has proven to be a clutch performer and needs to get 2nd line center ice time. I love Malkin, he is clearly one of the premier players in the league, but I just dont think it will be possible to keep both him and Sid. The dream deal for me would be Malkin, Martin and Morrow for Nash, Umberger and Jack Johnson (might be a reach). Would be close to a wash cap wise and would allow the Pens to really stack up their top two lines while still having a 3rd that can deliver. Neal-Crosby-Dupuis Orpik-Letang Kunitz-Staal-Nash Michalek-Johnson Sullivan-Umberger-Kennedy Depres-Engelland Cooke-Adams-Tangradi
Submitted by: Stephen on Thursday, May 3, 2012
Honestly I would not want to deviate from the 3 center model either. Crosby, Malkin, and Staal are all great talents. However, with the CBA up and future contract considerations, I would explore a couple of ideas. First off I would re-sign Sullie, he was productive during the season and a decent winger. I would explore trading Martin for some prospects, either wingers or centers. I was impressed enough with Streit and Depres that I think they could come up and play full-time, or at least on the third defensive pairing. I know Martin has a limited NTC, but I would speak to him. He might not be against a move, especially if it makes sense for his talents, clearly the Penguins system does him no favors. Second I would trade Malkin before Staal. Basically because Staal is such a key part of the team. He's a leader first, but he's also a defensive gem, as well as an able bodied penalty killer. Malkin is a good defensive player (most of the time), but he doesn't play on the PPK. Also Staal is younger and he's starting to stretch his legs offensively.
Submitted by: steve on Sunday, April 29, 2012
I see the pens trying to do three things this summer 1. Restock the farm team drafting true power fowards 2. Trade Stall (Package Deal)and get a kings ransom 3. Become more defensifly responible My Trade Idea (Mind you I am not a leafs fan) To Leafs: 1st(Pitt)Stall Martin To Pens: 1st(Tor) Ashton Kadri Schenn Armtrong Swap 1st rounds Gives Leafs Great Center they have been searching for along with a defensemen Pgh just dont want (Could return to form in a new venue) Pens Get True third line center (Kadri) and two wingers in Armstrong (With a questionable contract) ans Ashton Perfect compliment for the third line (maybe 2nd line potential) Finally another true shut down defensemen (Schenn) that pittsburgh is lacking (Orpick is getting older) Allows Pens to stay under the cap and makes both teams a lot better. Leafs Finally have Kessel a true center with offensive upside and strong two way play. Martin dosent fit into Pens style of play and should return to form for a team that could use a puck moving defensemen.
Submitted by: Jared on Sunday, April 29, 2012
Wait a sec, everyone. Paul Martin didn't simply forget how to play hockey when he came to Pittsburgh. There will be GMs out there who believe - as I do - that his play here is mostly the result of system, personnel/pairings, and usage, and that in the right environment, he'd be fine. And I don't think that the Pens are tied to the three center model irrevocably. Obviously, players other than the defense prospects have trade value...Jordan Staal springs to mind, in fact. If, say, Vancouver was to approach the Pens and say "hey...we both need to shake things up a bit...how about Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, and Keith Ballard for Staal and Martin?", Shero would be out of his mind to not at least seriously consider that. Ditto that for Toronto saying "how do you feel about Nikolai Kulemin, Colby Armstrong and a defense prospect for Staal and Martin?" There are teams that need a #1 or #2 center badly enough (and for whom Staal would be a very desirable target) to take a bit of a risk on Martin out there, and that have assets that would help immeasurably in moving the Pens away from the three center model. But my gut - and the last few years of history - say that Shero wouldn't even consider those offers (or any others), because he's dead set on keeping Staal. That's his right as the GM, obviously, but the three center model has failed miserably a lot more often than it's succeeded for the Pens under Shero. I'm not screaming "trade Staal," by any means...the kid has come a long way, and I absolutely love his effort, dedication, attitude, and results. But let's also be honest...you have to give to get, and the reason that the Pens will stick with the three center model has a lot less to do with Shero's hands being tied by past drafts, and a lot more to do with his own preference for not giving it up.