Penguin Notes: Niskanen, Crosby, Malkin, Rutherford


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

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Treasure Life!


2 thoughts on “Penguin Notes: Niskanen, Crosby, Malkin, Rutherford

  1. SD says:

    Just FYI – I saw a tweet before the playoffs that Sid had gotten an MRI done on his wrist (he then missed a couple of games at the end of the season). There was also a tweet after the playoffs that he was seen getting an MRI. I don’t always believe what I read on Twitter, but it sure would explain why he treated the puck like a hot potato and didn’t seem to want to shoot.

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