Shame on you, @JoeyBats19

By John Toperzer

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS PROFANITY

I took a ton of Twitter criticism on Sunday and I for that I am thankful.

Let me explain.

I was one of Jose Bautista’s 543,000 Twitter followers at the beginning of the day. The man is a modern day rags-to-riches story, a late bloomer of epic proportion. By all accounts, he’s very likable.

At least that’s what I thought, until today.

“Joey Bats” sent out the following tweet, challenging what a person with less than 2000 followers had to say.

Now we all know that Twitter is filled with crazy thoughts and ramblings on a daily basis and Bautista is a competitive person. He has to be. But doesn’t he also have to be better than that? What does re-posting R-rated and possibly racist slang words to more than half of a million fans accomplish? Are we all supposed to feel sorry for him? At what cost?

With that in mind, I replied to Mr. Bautista, not knowing what he would say or do. In fact, I didn’t really care. I was disappointed by Bautista and felt that his tweet went way over the line of good taste.

At worst, I suppose I could be accused of being a bit pushy with my request. Whatever the case, Mr. Bautista ended our conversation defiantly, as if he had just out-jousted me.

Well done sir. You blocked me from reading profanity-laced material on Twitter. Winning!

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Looking back, the whole exchange was ludicrous. A quick Google search shows that Mr. Bautista holds a charity golf tourney, started a Bautista Family Education Fund and sounds like an all-around great guy — which makes his Twitter judgment on Sunday even more questionable.

This isn’t the NFL. I highly doubt major league baseball or Bud Selig would condone Mr. Bautista’s exploitation of personal criticism by using the words he posted in his tweet.

Where has common decency gone?

At last count, 226 Twitter accounts re-tweeted Mr. Bautista’s blocking of me while 932 favorited the same tweet. By comparison, 12 folks favorited my tweet. That tells you all you really need to know.

If everyone stooped to the level of his or her detractor, Twitter would crash on a daily basis.

I wish Bautista well. I even uploaded the photo I took of him at Double-A Altoona as my Twitter account avatar.

But what he posted was wrong and he needs to know that.

Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk

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Evgeni Malkin: Back to the USSR?

By John Toperzer
@JohnToperzer

There was a time when a Cold War separated North American hockey and the Eastern Block-led Soviet Union. From 1946, when the first Communist government was set up in Albania, until Alexander Mogilny defected from the Soviet Union in 1989, Russian hockey players rarely participated in the NHL.

Of course, that made for fascinating scenarios of international play. Who can forget the 1972 Summit Series between a victorious Canada against the Soviet Union or the 1980 “Miracle on Ice during which a group of American amateurs and collegians knocked off USSR’s professionals in the Olympic medal round?

Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena hosted a contest between the Penguins and the Soviet Red Army on Jan. 4, 1989. The Penguins won that game by the score of 4-2. The Soviet team featured the amazing line of Mogilny, Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov. (Here’s a link to a list of international games played by NHL teams.)

Since the early 1990s, European-trained players have become fixtures in the league. Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek and Jaromir Jagr highlighted the influx of fresh hockey talent from across the Atlantic Ocean.

But there has been a sea change of opinions and possibilities for Europeans in recent years. The Kontinental Hockey League, formerly known as the Russian Superleague, started in 2008 and has become an option for skilled Europeans — 21 of 24 teams are based in Russia.

Which leads us to the current geo-political climate. Russian-backed separatists downed a civilian aircraft in Eastern Ukraine last week, killing all 298 people on-board. President Barack Obama threatened Russia with harsh sanctions if former KGB-head Vladimir Putin doesn’t reign in the separatists.

A number of questions pop to mind.

Will President Obama really impose sanctions against Russia? Will any of these sanctions affect Russians playing in the NHL, such as Evgeni Malkin? Will Russian players feel more comfortable playing at home during a cooling off time between the super powers?

The Ukraine’s sole entry in the KHL will go on sabbatical for one season, according to the The Star.

A couple summers ago, Malkin stated that he would like to finish his career in Russia in an international article. He’s shown to be a patriot to his homeland. Few players took the Olympics’ loss harder than did Geno. Whether his pictures with Putin were more public relations in nature or heartfelt, there’s no denying he feels strongly about his homeland.

That’s not to say he doesn’t want to play against the best players in the world. Penguins fans will remember Malkin went to great lengths to come to the NHL as a rookie in a clandestine operation which involved his player agent.

Most likely, Malkin and other Russians such as Pittsburgh prospect Anton Zlobin will play in North America in the fall.

But the international situation is fluid and continues to develop and change on a daily basis. Many folks don’t want to believe that there is a new cold war between the East and the West, but there’s little denying the chasm is growing.

Treasure Life!
JT

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Links ‘n At

An NHL.com look at Russian play in the NHL.

New Penguins coach to meet Malkin, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

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Penguins Notes: What’s Old is New Again

By John Toperzer

– I’m not sure if it’s because everybody seems young to Pens’ GM Jim Rutherford, but Pittsburgh’s coaching staff officially qualifies for AARP status after the signing of assistant coach Gary Agnew. Agnew (54 years of age) joins head coach Mike Johnston (57) and Rick Tocchet (50) as one of the NHL’s oldest coaching staffs with the least amount of NHL coaching experience. Jacques Martin (61) also remains within the organization in a yet-to-be-determined capacity. This should be fun.

– Minnesota native Paul Martin did not break his leg in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. #Sochi

– Fans I’ve spoken with have sounded pretty upbeat about the Pens’ offseason. I don’t necessarily share in that optimism, but I learned a long time ago that it’s important to respect the opinions of others (in hockey and in life). I wasn’t impressed with 32-year-old Christian Ehrhoff when he played defense for Vancouver – even before he signed with the Sabres. Steve Downie is the most interesting signing, someone who can add heart to the team. Reuniting him with Rick Tocchet could do wonders for him. Of course, he has such a long injury history that nightly health updates will become standard operating procedure for Downie fans.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen graded the Penguins’ summer with an “A,” one of only two such grades in the East (Tampa Bay also got an “A”).

Allen called the Neal trade “bold” and labeled the Ehrhoff signing as one of the best free agent signings. Click here for the entire story.

In the end, none of Pittsburgh’s offseason matters as much as Sidney Crosby’s health. Fortunately, concussions are not a part of the equation. I’d like to see Crosby go through with whatever surgeries he needs to be healthy for the long term. Rehabs have an all-too-common way of simply pushing out surgery timetables for the good of no one.

– Back to Downie, did you know he was drafted 29th overall in 2005, the same draft Crosby was selected first?

Not only that, but recently-departed Matt Niskanen was taken one pick in front of Downie by Dallas and the Stars then took James Neal four picks after Downie. There’s Pittsburgh hockey symmetry in there somewhere.

Downie has competed in only one long playoff run, when he skated for Tampa Bay in 2010-11. In 17 games, he scored two goals and added 12 assists with 40 PIM. Not bad postseason production at all.

– Twitter was all a-flutter over the weekend with Kris Letang releasing his list of 15 teams to which he would accept a trade, including the Montreal Canadiens.

First off, here’s to wishing he suffers from no lingering stroke effects. That’s 100X more important than everything else combined, IMO.

Second, the Penguins would be fools to trade him before he has a chance to rebuild his trade value with a strong regular season heading into the trading deadline. His eight-year, $58 million deal is still a huge chunk of money, but the recent unrestricted free agency frenzy has shown that Letang’s money isn’t quite as outrageous as it once appeared to be.

Finally, could Montreal be a destination for Letang? Sure. Brendan Gallagher would look nice in a Penguins sweater. Alexander Galchenyuk might be the Russian that Geno’s been looking for.

Of course, Letang’s health will go a long way toward determining his future, short-term and long-term.

For now, Pittsburgh fans can agree that a good, healthy start to 2014-15 by the defenseman is more important than anything else.

It’s been said that Kristopher Letang might benefit from the coaching staff changes more than any other Penguin.

We shall see.

– I think the pick of Kasperi Kapanen is just a cool pick. Is it the best pick the Penguins could have made, I don’t know, nobody does right now, but his father, Sami Kapanen, was a good player in his own right and showed a lot of heart.

Friend of Chipped Ham sports and writer for Hockey’s Future, Ian Altenbaugh, had a glowing report on Kapanen here.

With Sami’s link to GM Rutherford in Carolina, the selection makes a lot of sense. My only question is why didn’t the top European prospect go higher than 22th? The Pens say that they had him ranked seventh overall. Is there scouting system that disconnected from the rest of the league or is there simply that much variance? Time will tell.

Kapanen says he wants to make the team out of camp, but only history suggests that only a few youngsters thrive in the NHL at that age. The fact that he wants to play with the big boys already is nonetheless encouraging.

– I won’t be attending the prospects camp but may pop in for Saturday prospects game at 3:00 ET inside the Consol Energy Center.

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Links ‘n At

Penguins’ Sidney Crosby decides against wrist surgery, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

But if the injections he has decided to receive in lieu of an operation don’t have the desired effect, Crosby still could undergo surgery before training camp opens in September.

“If this treatment works, you avoid surgery and move on,” Pat Brisson, who is Crosby’s agent, said Tuesday. “If it doesn’t, he will have to go that [surgical] route.”

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Penguins top prospect Pouliot eyes quick recovery from surgery, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“Everything is coming along good,” said Pouliot, whose May surgery repaired a labrum torn during the Western Hockey League final. “(The shoulder) is progressing as it should, and hopefully, it’ll be a speedy recovery.

“It’s tough to (give a timetable), especially since it’s only been (eight weeks). I’m just starting to really get the rehab going, so it’s tough to say but hopefully training camp.”

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Young Penguins defensemen hope to make impact at NHL level, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“I think we’re pretty fortunate to be the first guys that the new coaches see,” said defenseman Scott Harrington, who will attempt to make the Penguins’ roster during training camp in September.

“We get to showcase ourselves. This is an opportunity for us.”

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Penguins’ Crosby won’t have surgery on ailing wrist, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“I knew him before but never sat down extensively with him,” Pens coach Mike Johnston said of Sidney Crosby. “It was good to get to know him a little bit. We grew up a mile apart. Some of my friends coached Sid as he was growing up.

“It’s nice that we have some things in common. You don’t get a chance to spend one-on-one time once training camp starts.

“I want to connect with as many of these guys as I can.”

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Penguins notebook: First-round pick Kapanen practices, excited to join team, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

General manager Jim Rutherford believes Kapanen can contend for a roster spot in training camp.

“The coaches are really great people here,” Kapanen said. “I think we have a great coaching staff. I’m excited. I’m just trying to be a sponge right now.”

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Prospects Camp Audio, courtesy Penguins

Mike Johnston:

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Brian Dumoulin:

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Derrick Pouliot:

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Tristan Jarry:

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Scott Harrington:

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Kasperi Kapanen (1):

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Kasperi Kapanen (2):

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Sam Lafferty:

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: The clock is ticking …

By John Toperzer

My first impression of the new Penguins coach, Mike Johnston, is that he’s old – 57 to be exact.

If the Penguins hired him to work with young players, because he coached WHL Portland, then the move is understandable – though Pittsburgh’s best prospect, defender Derrick Pouliot, has already played for Johnston in Portland. That’s an interesting dynamic unto itself. It leads to the question, ‘how much more can a player grow from having the same coach at two levels?’

If the Penguins hired Johnston because of X’s & O’s, (his puck management, puck possession style), then the hire appears to me to be a reach. Surely there are other coaches that can adapt or tweak their styles to fit what Pittsburgh was looking for in a coach. To turn the team over to a 57-year-old who has never been the leader of an NHL team is a risky move.

What happens when things don’t go well?

Johnston also admitted he has no experience with advanced hockey statistics.

“I’m excited to talk to Jason Karmanos about the analytics side and what they’ve developed here,” Johnston said. “I’ve always toyed with it, but you’re limited at the junior level. When I came into the NHL, we didn’t really do that. We talked about it a little bit in LA, I presume LA probably has that right now.”

At the media conference Wednesday, the newly-hired assistant coach Rick Tocchet, gave more reassuring, tangible information about the tenants he’s looking for from his roster.

“The players we want here, not so much get the puck but hold onto it,” Tocchet said. “If the guy’s not open, don’t give somebody else your problem, hold onto it. You might have to take a check. That’s composure.”

Johnston himself said how he would lean on Tocchet, how his experience as an NHL player is important.

“For a person like myself, it’s very important to have a player on your staff,” Johnston said. “He’s going to be a great and valuable resource.”

But when Johnston walks into the dressing room, how much respect will he command? He never played in the NHL and as noted, he’s never served as an NHL coach.

From first appearances, Johnston doesn’t seem to be very demonstrative or have a strong personality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though if the team gets off to a bad start it makes a recovery more difficult.

The 57-year-old seems like a respectful person. He said his 80-year-old dad still laces them up and lives near Sidney Crosby’s hometown. Johnston is also a football fan, he’s looking forward to following the Steelers.

Dan Bylsma liked the Pirates more than the Steelers, so there’s another change about the coaching.

If the Penguins don’t get off to a hot start – they play seven of their first 10 games at home – then I could see things going south on Johnston in a hurry.

GM Jim Rutherford has no allegiance to him beyond being one of many interviewees in a public process that saw Pittsburgh miss out on Bill Peters and Willie Desjardins as its first and second apparent coaching choices.

The more I look at Rutherford, the more I could see him serving as the bad guy, the henchman. He doesn’t know anybody in Pittsburgh, he can hire and fire at will. He’s not going to be around the team in the long-term. Rutherford can do the dirty work ownership wants without taking any of the blame.

Let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

The Penguins forecast has a bigger range to it than in the last six seasons. The roster figures to see more change than it ever did under Bylsma. What will happen with James Neal? Who will replace his regular-season goals? Chris Kunitz is 34, Pascal Dupuis, 35.

Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Jussi Jokinen, these guys, among others, are likely gone. Assistants Todd Reirden and Tony Granato, gone. Washington hired Reirden as an assistant the same day Pittsburgh fired him.

Evgeni Malkin had a wildly inconsistent year. We still don’t know if Sidney Crosby played poorly in the postseason because of a slump or because of shoulder/wrist injuries.

On the bright side, Olli Maatta is another year older and wiser. What a find he was last season. Kris Letang figures to have a longer and better season. Letang might be in a better playing mood with Bylsma gone, though Jacques Martin was retained by ownership and will be re-assigned. Bylsma and Martin put the emphasis on Letang staying behind the puck more often than not.

It’s said that the only constant is change. Shero and Bylsma are gone, Rutherford and Johnston are in.

The clock is ticking …

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Excerpts from Mike Johnston and Rick Tocchet interviews

Jim Rutherford on Mike Johnston:

The style that I was looking for in a head coach was a guy of making adjustments during a game and that’s probably Mike Johnston’s strongest suit.

Another thing was the puck possession team. As Mike puts it, puck management, puck possession, high-tempo team, but a high tempo team that starts in your own end. It’s not that he just overlooking the defensive part of the game.

Mike Johnston on Rick Tocchet:

For a person like myself, it’s very important to have a player on your staff, but it’s more important to have a player as a coach (with experience).

We’ll start to piece our staff together over the next several days.

Rick Tocchet:

I’m excited to get back in the fire, had some great conversations with Mike Johnston. He thinks outside the box and that’s what I like. It’s the 15 percent of teams that do things differently. We’re going to get some motivated players here to get that fire back and get the Cup again.

Being outside, I know a lot of people think they have a lot of problems. The way Mike’s going to coach this team is high tempo. They welcome the pressure. You’re going to get highly motivated guys coming back.

Mike Johnston:

My basic framework is puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace. You want your players to have options in every part: breakout, getting out of our zone to offensive zone entries.

Our defensive habits, details to defensive habits will be engrained for sure. I’m more inclined to really play a pace game. You own the puck, you play defensively a lot less. I like the core of players here to play that style of game. That’s the type of team I want to coach.

On coming from Junior hockey:

I came in and we were given the NHL players for the ‘98 Olympics. We then had some great teams in Vancouver then moved into LA. Recognizing how NHL players are, demands of the schedule, that’s what I’ve learned as an assistant.

Build a template, it is a process. Development camp, rookie camp then training camp.

On Penguins being soft:

The core is exactly where I want it. As far as pieces, Jim and his staff will address it going forward. As Rick had mentioned, a lot of teams in the league would like to have our core group.

Bringing in our plan and template, we’re going to sell the team on this is how we want to play. They want to have the right template and now how they fit into the equation. We’ll be very clear what’s expected of them.

On coaching under Marc Crawford and others in Alberta:

I had some phenomenal mentors. You take bits and pieces from all of them and then you have your own personality and style.

On the top quartile not being good enough for the Penguins:

The bottom line expectation for me, from training camp to the first part of the season, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs. The score is relevant, but not as relevant as the habits we will have to make us successful in the playoffs. Right from Day 1 in training camp, as a coaching staff, we want to have those habits so you can say that team is becoming a playoff-ready team. Jim will take a look at the personnel. We’re not going to compromise to have that playoff-ready team.

We will add one more coach to the group.

On coaching in the NHL despite not playing in NHL:

I’m a firm believer a coaching staff has to have balance, that’s why we have Rick – he’s going to be a valuable addition.

On puck possession:

A lot of its driven through the center of the ice, escaping the zone quick and getting it going in transition. The defense is important in escaping the zone, getting the right type of attack going, but our centers are critical. To move the puck through the middle of the ice and distribute it is critical. This group of centers is tailor-made for that type of set-up. Puck possession teams manage the puck well.

For example, there are five options for the winger to get the puck out of his own zone, which one will he take depends on the team we’re playing.

On puck possession (from shorter Johnston audio clip):

I like to come out as a pack because there are more options for the puck carrier. Once you stretch the zone really quick, the puck carrier is isolated and often he has to chip the puck in and there’s no support. I like the first play to be inside to the middle and then distribute it wide as you enter the zone.

On advanced statistics:

You’re trying to evaluate your team on more than the score. That’s what analytics does. Gives you an objective measurement more than a subjective one.

I’m excited to talk to Jason Karmanos about the analytics side and what they’ve developed here. I’ve always toyed with it, but you’re limited at the junior level. When I came into the NHL, we didn’t really do that. We talked about it a little bit in LA, I presume LA probably has that right now.

Johnston, Tocchet media scrums

Mike Johnston and Rick Tocchet:

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Mike Johnston Media Scrum:

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Rick Tocchet Media Scrum:

(Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins)

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The hiring of Mike Johnston marks the first time the Pens haven’t taken a Portland Winterhawk in the first round since they picked Andrew Ference in the eighth round of the 1997 draft.

Pittsburgh selected Joe Morrow in the first round of the 2011 draft and took Derrick Pouliot eighth overall in 2012.

There’s something in the Portland water Pittsburgh likes.

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Links ‘n At

Kovacevic: Penguins, Johnston could grow together, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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New Penguins coach Johnston understands pressures of NHL job, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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Penguins reach far to fill head coaching position job, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Gene Collier: Mike Johnston’s ideas well-suited to his task, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Penguins new coach Mike Johnston’s to-do list is a long one, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Mike Johnston will embrace skill and Penguins should thrive, Ryan Wilson of Hockey Buzz reports.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: Niskanen, Crosby, Malkin, Rutherford

IMG_0864-1

Can you name the two Penguins players who finished in the top 100 for the advanced hockey statistic, Fenwick For?

(Fenwick For is the number of unblocked shot attempts by a team or player. It’s the same as Corsi, but excludes shots that are blocked. It’s used because over many games it’s a slightly better proxy for possession than Corsi. It’s not used exclusively instead of Corsi mainly because over smaller sample sizes, the larger Corsi number is more accurate in reflecting puck possession.)Courtesy ExtraSkater.com

Jussi Jokinen – 53rd (54.7%), Sidney Crosby – 79th (53.6%), Matt Niskanen – 90th (53.3%). Click here.

In other words, the Pens weren’t very good at possessing the puck in 2013-14.

Incidentally, here’s a statistic Crosby would like to see added to the advanced metrics. From an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic during the 2012 work stoppage.

Kovacevic: What new hockey advanced statistic would you create for hockey?

Crosby: Touches. The more you have the puck you’re doing something right. It can be fluky but over the course of the year, means you’re doing something right…When guys are successful they’re touching the puck a lot.

Can you imagine a “touches” statistic? Interesting, yet pretty simple and straight forward.

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A couple big questions regarding Niskanen, who is expected to shortly become an unrestricted free agent, is ‘how much is he a product of being promoted or pushed as a lead dog on the Pens’ blue line’ and ‘how much did he do in his own right, where he could be a strong offensive defenseman on any team, in any system’?

Right-handed shooting defensemen are hot commodities. Niskanen set personal career highs in virtually every statistical category last season, leading his team with 46 points (10G, 36A) in 81 contests.

How much do you believe in his ability to repeat similar production going forward? You look at his other six NHL campaigns and see that he scored more than 26 points one time.

This is what Crosby said about Niskanen in the same interview in 2012.

Kovacevic: Breakout Penguins player on current team?:

Crosby: “Um, trying to think. I think Nisky, toward the end of last season he was getting confident with the puck. He was shooting it. His defensive game has just gotten better and better since coming to us. He’s got some skills. He played great for us, can remember him being on the power play with some great shots, great looks.”

For years, Niskanen has been viewed as a fringe fourth defenseman. He’s a nice fit in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins have to consider the how a potentially healthy Kris Letang figures into the mix. Paul Martin is coming to the end of his five-year, $25 million deal and don’t forget that one or more of Ray Shero’s defensive draft pick babies look to see NHL time in 2014-15 (and that doesn’t even account for restricted free agent, Simon Despres).

Hopefully, whoever is in charge of making roster decisions for the Penguins – and I’m not even sure who that is anymore – knows what he’s doing.

All Penguins fans really know right now is that this guy isn’t in control of the Penguins – despite his claim that “as of now, I am in control now.”

#AlexanderHaig #USHistory #PresidentReagan

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The 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced Monday.
All made the cut for good reason, so I’ll just add my two cents.

Dominik Hasek: I remember when he came up as a backup to Ed Belfour. The Penguins pretty much had his number for a good while. Mike Lange and Paul Steigerwald seemed enamored with Hasek’s penchant for making saves off of his goalie mask, heading pucks away like in futbol.

Peter Forsberg: This guy was awesome. We didn’t get to see him much in the East, but when we did he dominated the Penguins. His postseason exploits are well known. Don’t forget he was a part of the Eric Lindros trade way back when. Great all-around game.

Mike Modano: I never liked this guy. Maybe it’s because I rooted against him in the 1990-91 Stanley Cup Final or maybe it’s because he was part of the 1998 USA Olympic team which trashed Japan. He seemed like a punk to me. A great skater, a 500-goal getter, but a punk. Sorry.

Rob Blake: Yet another guy from the West. His offensive game grew in his later years. I think of him as an LA Kings guy, but I’m pretty sure he was another guy who spent a year in Colorado a la Ray Bourque where he won his Cup.

Pat Burns: He was a former cop who became an NHL coach, died way too young.

Bill McCreary: Served as a referee from 1984 to 2011. That’s a lot of skating. Came into the league as a rookie when Mario did.

Kevin Allen: USA Today writer who gave us hockey info when there were few other outlets available in Pittsburgh. The guy is a great source, knows his stuff and from all appearances, just a humble human. A well-deserved honor.

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Eventually, the Penguins will find a head coach. Most likely, everyone will say that he was the right choice all along, if not the first choice. I really don’t care who gets the nod as Pittsburgh’s coach.

What’s telling is the process of finding that coach. So far, GM caretaker, Jim Rutherford, has done little to impress. I don’t see what the Penguins saw in him, other than he was available for a year or two. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him gone after 2014-15. Pittsburgh doesn’t need to become Carolina north. Even if he was set up to fail, he hasn’t handled the media end of things well. Let’s hope he handles hockey operations better, because after all, that’s what matters most.

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Sidney Crosby is expected to take his first Hart Trophy on Tuesday since becoming the youngest player in NHL history (or MLB, the NFL or the NBA) to win the honor way back in 2006-07 as a 19-year-old teenager.

We’ve never really found out why his performance was down so dramatically in the postseason, when he netted just one goal in 13 playoff games. Did he have a bad shoulder and/or a bad wrist? Would he even tell his teammates if he was hurt? Hopefully if something was wrong with Crosby in the postseason then he’ll be better by the time the fall rolls around.

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The Pens’ top-six forwards situation isn’t what it used to be. Age is gaining on the group. It might sound like sacrilege, If not for Evgeni Malkin’s no-movement clause, I’d see what a trade might bring. I really think he needs a change of scenery for the sake of his own career. Factor in the constant threat of him returning to the KHL, his inconsistent play and his huge long-term salary, and there are reasons to move him. He’s two Novembers away from turning 30. He’s lost his ability to score one-on-one on a regular basis, something that happens to the best of players with age.

Of course, there’s little reason to trust GM caretaker Rutherford, given his shabby trade history. I highly doubt there will ever be a hash tag #InRutherfordWeTrust

Who knows if Malkin would rather return to the KHL or accept a trade to another NHL organization. If the Pens every needed a short-term GM to play the bad guy and not handle Malkin with kid glove care, then they now have him in Rutherford.

Detroit has been a favored landing spot for Russian stars. The Wings certainly have the young players to get a deal done. I’d prefer somewhere far, far away from the Eastern Conference, like Calgary. The Flames have a cache of young talent such as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and others, but the point is probably moot.

Malkin would probably go back to Russia before he went to another NHL organization and the Penguins would get nothing in return.

Now that is the scariest of scary thoughts.

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Links ‘n At

The Silent Treatment, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari.

So far, however, bringing back fourth-line left winger Tanner Glass and frequent linemate Joe Vitale doesn’t appear to be high on his to-do list, if it’s there at all.

Ross Gurney, who represents Glass, said via email today that he had “some preliminary discussions with Jason [Botterill, now the associate GM] a few months ago” but that he has “not spoken with Jim or Jason since [the Penguins’] management/coaching changes.”

Allain Roy, agent for Vitale and defenseman Deryk Engelland, said he has not had contract talks with the Penguins about either of his clients.

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Penguins’ new general manager keeping busy, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

As for the Penguins’ long list of players eligible for unrestricted free agency, Rutherford seems skeptical he will be able to re-sign some of them, although he noted, “We haven’t told anybody we’re moving on from them.”

Pending free agents Matt Niskanen, a defenseman, and winger Jussi Jokinen might have priced themselves out of reach with strong seasons, and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik’s status remains unclear.

“I have talked to the agents of our UFAs to see how much they’re looking for,” Rutherford said. “The prices are high.”

One thing that Mario Lemieux mentioned about Ray Shero during a post-firing interview is that the organization was not meant to spend right up to the salary cap every season, as Shero did. That doesn’t bode well for the team’s spending to win going forward.

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30 Thoughts: NHL free agents reluctant to commit early, Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports reports.

24. So, what happened in Pittsburgh? There is zero doubt the Penguins were going to hire Peters or Willie Desjardins. They were the top two on the list. When Carolina snapped up Peters, Desjardins was the guy. Desjardins can answer this better than anyone else, but in the end I think his heart was in Vancouver.

28. Penguins fans are looking at this and saying, “What the heck? Does no one want to coach Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?” It’s a great question and one we are all asking. The number one answer: It hasn’t been a lot of fun there. Ownership and the team’s CEO, David Morehouse, are taking most of the heat, but that’s not a true picture, because it extended onto the bench and in the dressing room. The demands, the pressure and the disappointment took its toll on a lot of people. No one likes to lose, but things used to be joyous there. That must be re-discovered. It also reveals what a great job Ray Shero did preventing all of this from going public while he was in charge.

29. One other Pittsburgh note: hearing Kris Letang will not be traded, barring a ridiculous offer.

30. OK, one more. Assistant coach Todd Reirden, responsible for defence and given permission to look for other work, may end up in Washington alongside Barry Trotz.

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Penguins schedule features home-heavy start, more Saturday night games, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: What’s going on in Pittsburgh?

So the Los Angeles Kings’ John Stevens accepts a promotion from assistant coach to associate coach. He was thought to be a serious candidate for the Pens’ head coaching job. Stevens served as the Philadelphia Flyers’ coach and knows Pittsburgh pretty well. It’s telling that he accepted the promotion with the Kings over a possible spot with the Pens.

Detroit Red Wings assistant, Bill Peters, took the job of Carolina Hurricanes head coach Thursday. He, too, was thought to be a candidate for the Pens’ job.

Isn’t Pittsburgh supposed to be a prime destination in the NHL? I think it would be fair to say that the organization’s stock has taken a hit.

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I’m not sure I’ve recovered from the odd media conference announcing GM Ray Shero’s dismissal. President and Penguins CEO David Morehouse was so uncomfortable it made me uncomfortable watching. Click here for the 15-minute video. Morehouse speaks for a couple minutes and opens the conference up for questions. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi begins to ask a question but before he can talk, Morehouse interrupts him to wish him a happy birthday and rambles on about Twitter. Rossi says thanks and quickly moves on with his questioning.

Morehouse was chugging bottled water like he had just run a marathon.

The conference didn’t calm any fan base nerves and opened up a ton of questions. For whatever reason, coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t fired for three weeks after the organization named 65-year-old Jim Rutherford as the new general manager.

Rutherford appears to be a place holder or caretaker with Pittsburgh. It’s almost like the team is pushing back important decisions for two or three years with him at the helm. I would’ve loved to have heard someone ask him a specific Fenwick analytics question at his media conference. I’m not convinced he understands anything more than a very rudimentary perspective on hockey analytics, based upon his skirting answers.

Carolina kicked him to the curb for Ron Francis, which isn’t necessarily a scar, but the fact the ‘Canes haven’t even made the playoffs in five years tells you something. The biggest fear is that Rutherford goes with players and coaches he’s comfortable with in Carolina. Already, Peter Karmanos’ son, Jason, has been hired by Rutherford as a vice president of hockey operations – and this after his own dad had fired him. You can’t make this stuff up.

Rutherford on Bylsma:

“He’s a good man and a good coach. I really don’t know him very well and I only talked to him just briefly this morning.”

I suppose this is the kind of talk Penguins fans better get used to hearing.

Nevertheless, sometimes the best GM/coaching duos happen by accident and aren’t the first, second or third choices – as in the Penguins’ summer path.

So far, about the only positive to come out of the past couple weeks is that nobody’s mentioned Pierre McGuire’s name as a possible general manager.

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What I would’ve done.

I would have hired Jason Botterill as the general manager. I don’t get that he’s not quite ready. The Boston Red Sox have won three World Series Championships since hiring a 28-year-old general manager, Theo Epstein. Different sport, but if Botterill is your guy, he’s your guy today and tomorrow. Take the kid gloves off and get to work. If Botterill’s the best guy — and there’s reason to believe he is — then give him the reigns right now.

I think the Penguins are taking a dangerous step, pushing out their eventual management team by a couple years. Evgeni Malkin will be 30 years old two years from November. Sidney Crosby’s health is always an issue.

It’s almost like ownership is waiting for a coach who’s currently under contract to become avaiable in a year, someone like Mike Babcock. If that’s the case, with Babcock or someone else, that’s a slippery slope to take. It’s hard enough for the Pens to look out a couple weeks in advance, let alone a couple years.

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Links ‘n At

Pens’ GM Rutherford “real close” to choosing the team’s next coach, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“The process is coming to an end,” said Rutherford, who has made a decision on one of eight candidates to interview for the opening.

“I’m still checking a few points with the lead candidate, but a decision is coming real soon.”

Rutherford declined to provide specifics regarding candidates or his choice. An announcement could be made within days, provided details of a contract can be worked out.

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AHL’s Desjardins latest Penguins candidate; interviews near end, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Rutherford said Wednesday that a big factor in choosing the next coach is “how our top players are handled” — referring specifically to franchise centerpieces Sidney Crosby, the team captain, and Evgeni Malkin, the top alternate.

“Whoever our head coach is has to have the right relationship, the right communication, and be able to get the most out of all our players, especially those top ones,” Rutherford said.

However, Rutherford said Crosby and Malkin do not need to “like” their coach. Neither will have input in the decision, Rutherford said.

“The coach doesn’t have to be the players’ friend,” he said. “He has a job to do. They have a job to do. The coach and players only have to respect each other.

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The summer of Geno has begun, according to TSN’s Bar Down.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Let’s dance! Pittsburgh’s Polka with Gregory Polanco

Photos by John Toperzer Sr. and Jr.

IMG_4199Yes, the first shot I took of Gregory Polanco back in 2010 spring training. Let it rain! That saliva will be selling for $100 an ounce on eBay.

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IMG_4202Polanco was a rail when he first signed

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P1000890No. 82, head & shoulders above everybody else

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P1120555I don’t think the Pirates will bat Polanco eighth in the bigs

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P1220491
This is one tall dude

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IMG_1999Take a bow, Gregory

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IMG_2001
Doff the cap!

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IMG_0493-001The white sunglasses are a thing with Polanco and others like Alen Hanson

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IMG_0504Should I take $25 million?

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IMG_0512Polanco’s like ‘Did you see that?’

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IMG_0522-001The frame is filling out

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P1440235-002Fan friendly

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IMG_15651st spring training knock ever in 2013 (Sarasota)

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IMG_1575And his first lead off of first base

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IMG_1599Got in a little CF action in his 1st spring game

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IMG_1145-001Polanco connecting in ’14

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IMG_9689The guy’s ready to run as soon as he hits the ball

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IMG_9691That’s why he beats out so many infield grounders

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P1530095Polanco would be seven-foot tall if his torso matched the long legs

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IMG_0064Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera chirped something to Polanco after a ground out

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P1530282Pack your bags, Gregory, you’re coming to PNC Park

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P1530728Super scout, Latin confidant, Rene Gayo. Thank you sir!

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IMG_9178Time to join the big boys, Gregory

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Links ‘n At

Pirates call up prized prospect Polanco”, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Prized rookie Polanco called up, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

The five tools of Gregory Polanco, by John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.

Pirates to promote Gregory Polanco, Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout reports.

Gregory Polanco’s statistics via Fan Graphs.

Gregory Polanco’s statistics via Baseball Reference.

Gregory Polanco baseball cards for sale on eBay. Got an extra $2299.00 for a Polanco card? Put your money where your mouth is! Click here.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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