** Prior to the game, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma gave his players tips on where to shoot against goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere Monday night. Kind of explains how the former winger scored 19 goals in 429 career NHL games. Then again, Giguere really did play outstanding hockey against the Pens.
** The Penguins lucked out when the NHL suspended New York Islander, Michael Grabner, for two games. Grabner will sit out Friday’s tilt against Pittsburgh as part of his penalty. That’s one speed/short-handed threat the Pens won’t miss. Grabner has five goals and eight points in 17 career contests against Pittsburgh, but it seems like more, doesn’t it?
** The Olli Maatta dilemma figures to be resolved by Friday. Last weekend, Pittsburgh papers reported that he’s likely to stay with the Penguins going forward. Coach Bylsma refuted that assessment Monday at his media scrum, saying no decision has been made. Listening to Trib-Live radio Tuesday morning, hosts Ken Laird and Guy Junker wondered whether Bylsma and the Pens had yet to make a decision or were just mad that the Trib’s Rob Rossi broke the news before the organization wanted the information released.
My take? The Pens have decided to keep Maatta but didn’t want the news out because it takes bullets out of their gun in trade talks. It only hurts trade talks if other teams know Pittsburgh is looking to move a blueliner. Why make big offers when the Pens are forced to make a move? If I was GM Ray Shero, I would look to move Matt Niskanen while he’s playing well.
** Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Francisco Liriano for winning the NL comeback player of the year award. I wonder if Liriano is the first player to win comeback honors in both leagues? He won the AL award in 2010. It might not have the luster of Frank Robinson winning MVPs in both the NL and AL, but it’s a nice feather in the cap, regardless.
** AJ Burnett surprised a lot of folks by putting up some of the strongest numbers of his career in 2013. It’s funny that some people think he had a bad year. I can’t think of a righthander who’s put up similar numbers for the Pirates in back-to-back seasons. What makes me hesitant about re-signing Burnett is his age — he turns 37 in January — and the fact that power pitchers don’t age well. Throw in the fact that retirement’s been on his mind for a year and it makes for a tough management decision.
** Marlon Byrd is another tough case. Looking at his career statistics, the 36-year-old outfielder has a lifetime OPS of .761 and has hit more than 12 homers twice. He’s adequate defensively and he’s got a tremendous attitude. In 2013 with the Pirates, he reminded me of the quintessential 1970s right-handed hitting outfielder, a mix between Bill Robinson and Lee Lacy. Not surprisingly, the Bucs’ chances of re-signing him likely come down to how much money he wants. For someone who has played mostly in the majors since 2002 and totaled about $22 million (according to Baseball Reference), this is his one and only chance to cash in his chips. Anything over $8 million or two years at maybe $15 million and I’d thank him for his services and let him walk.
** Lots of interesting things happened when I ushered in the Pirates’ family section at PNC Park years ago. I won’t forget the time a gentleman sat down in an open area a few rows from the main concourse. The game wasn’t well attended and he came in while I was busy doing something else. So I sat down in the row behind him and was preparing to ask to see his ticket. Fortunately, right before I tapped on his shoulder, I happened to notice a World Series ring on his finger. I pulled back and let him go. It was Jim Leyland. Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. Leyland! Hope to see you at PNC Park sometime soon.