Pens Big Movers at the Deadline

February 26, 2008

Marian Hossa

 Marian Hossa Takes the Pittsburgh Penguins from very good to hands-down favorite in the NHL’s Eastern Conference

 

Evidently Penguins GM Ray Shero thinks the Pens are ready to make a run for the Stanley Cup, trading away crowd favorites Colby Armstrong and Erik Christiansen, along side super prospect Angelo Esposito and a first round pick to the Trashers for offensive threat Marian Hossa and right winger Pascal Dupuis, according to the Post-Gazette. The Pens had already addressed their defensive needs by acquiring Hal Gill from Toronto.

There are definitely long term ramifications to the deal, which I will get to shortly, but first I’d like to congratulate my fellow Yinzers on officially boasting the best paper team in hockey. It’s a good feeling to be a favorite to win the cup.

Not that the Pens offense had been sputtering by any means, but the addition of Hossa, who’s vision and abilities will be welcome along side either Sid the Kid or Evgeni Malkin, officially make the Pens the most explosive team in the NHL, if not one of the most explosive ever.Think about it: Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Sergei Gonchar and Petr Sykora on the same power play unit?!?! That’s three 100 point scorers, the league’s leading power play assist man, and a guy who’s tied for 8th in the NHL in power play goals. That’ll even have Martin Brodeur shaking in his pads.

From what I gather, Dupuis should be capable of filling into Colby Armstrong’s role as far as talent goes, though he’s a bit weaker offensively and doesn’t have the upside or Armstrong — Dupuis will turn 30 near season’s end. The significant downgrade here is in the oft-discussed chemistry department. Armstrong and Crosby were best friends on and off the ice, and though I doubt it will really be that big of a deal, chemistry can be a very big deal in hockey.

As unbelievable as the Hossa deal is, the acquisition of Gill from Toronto is possibly equally as important. The Pens glaring weakness all year besides some inconsistency early on from the offense and goaltending has been the failure of the defensemen to really impact the game. Gill is a shut-down defender, and plays as physical as any defensemen in the NHL. He comes with a reputation of being able to stifle any team’s premiere scorer, and offers the Pens another physical presence in their own zone beyond Brooks Orpik.

The Pens are a much better team right now because of this deal, but two glaring questions have to be answered: Does this deal make the Pens better 3 years from now? And was it worth it to send away 3 quality players, plus 3 draft picks to get back what we did?

The answer to the first question really depends on what the Pens intend to do with Hossa. The 29 year-old winger is in the last year of his contract, and will be an unrestricted free-agent at season’s end. I highly doubt that the Pens will be able to keep Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, and Marc-Andre Fluery all under the cap long-term.

Crosby’s making $8.7 million a year until 2013, and Malkin will be due for a raise into the $7-9 million range sometime between this summer and next. Fluery is making $1.6 million right now, and will get a new deal after this off-season, probably in the $3-4 million range. Either way, when the Pens decide that Marc-Andre is or isn’t the future of the franchise, they will need to dish out $5-7M at least on a solid goal-tender to be competitive long-term.

My guess is Hossa would be due somewhere between $6-7M per year to sign long-term, which I think would be affordable, though I really don’t know enough about the NHL salary system to say for sure that the Pens could make that work.

If the Pens make a good run at the Cup this year, as they should with this squad, and they can resign Hossa long-term, which is a solid maybe, then this deal could go down as a genius move by Shero. I was a huge Erik Christiansen fan, and the fact that Sid and Colby were best buds on and off the ice definitely counts for something. But in the more I look at it, and the more encouraged I feel that the Pens could resign Hossa — as false as the encouragement may be — I really, really like this deal.

If nothing else, it means Lord Stanley could be returning to the ‘Burgh, where it rightfully belongs.

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Ramblings From an Un-happy Small-Market Baseball Fan

December 5, 2007

Jaromir JagrJaromir Jagr and his infamous mullet, once fan favorites in the ‘Burgh, are public enemy #1 after unsuccessful contract negotiations led to his exile in 2001

Stick with me on this one…

Alright so I was watching my Steelers wallow through the swamp that is Heinz Field against the Cincinnati Bungals – yes the Bungals (Myron Cope where are you in my life) when suddenly, I was inspired by the infamous babblings of NBC broadcaster John Madden.

(Bear with me, this isn’t a cheap set-up for a Brett Favre joke, I swear)

So good ole John was talking about Steelers’ offensive lineman Alan Faneca, who is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and has already stated that he will not be coming back to the Steelers, who simply can’t find room for him in the payroll.

Faneca, a perennial all-pro, is a Steeltown favorite who has played with the team since being drafted in 1999. In training camp this August, some dumb reporter asked Faneca about maybe giving the Steelers a hometown discount on his contract.

Faneca almost let loose in his pants, he was laughing so hard.

But this hometown discount stuff is a very, very intriguing idea to us small-market baseball fans. What if players had some financial incentive to stick around with the franchises that brought them up? What if fan favorites like Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter and Jason Bay weren’t un-signable by small-market teams who struck it big when they raised these guys in their own systems?

So here is my inspired idea:

Create a system that gives small-market franchises a little financial help in holding onto guys once they become free-agency eligible.

You know that luxury tax set in place to end the Yankee dynasty? Yes, the one George Steinbrenner and sons are capable of completely disregarding. Why not use it to help pay for new, long-term contracts of players who have been with one team their entire career and have earned a big-time contract.

Say you set a cap of $100 million – five major league teams had payrolls over the $100 million mark, with only the Yanks and Sox over by significant amounts – and you tax these teams a certain amount (I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know the exact percentage teams are taxed, if somebody would be so kind as to help me out there). Either way, I would probably up the tax enough to make the Steinbrenner’s and Henry’s of the world sweat a little bit.

You offer this tax to teams, with the mandate that they have to put the money towards locking up homegrown favorites to long-term deals, weighting the system to help small-market teams such as the Marlins, Pirates, and (the no longer Devil-ish) Rays first.

So say for some unforeseen reason the Pirates decide not to trade Jason Bay at some point in the next year, and leave themselves the option of resigning him long-term after next season. (I realize this probably won’t happen, and actually would probably be a bad idea for the Bucco’s, but I’m just creating an example here).

For arguments sake, lets put Bay’s projected market value at $10 million per year (I don’t know what it really would be at this point, I’m just using a nice, round number since I am but a simple journalism student). If this tax can generate just $3 or $4 million for the lowly Buccos, bringing the Pirates contribution to Bay’s salary down to $6 or $7 million a year, they just might have a shot at resigning him, whereas a $10 million per year salary is just too much for the Pirates modest payroll.

Maybe I’m just an overzealous, small market fan, but wouldn’t it be better for the game to have more Cal Ripken Jr.’s, Tony Gwynn’s and Craig Biggio’s to help put fans in the seats.

The goal of every professional franchise is to keep the interest of the casual fan. Casual fans want two things: a winning franchise (obviously), and a franchise face. One of the easiest ways to do put a face on your franchise is to keep around the guys who have grown through the system, and who have taken their bumps and bruises right in front of the hometown fans. When those guys succeed, it does wonders for a team’s fan base, because the fans begin to identify with the player.

Personal example: Jaromir Jagr was a fan favorite for the Penguins in the 1990’s, and following the retirement of Mario Lemieux, Jagr became the face (and the hair) of the Penguins franchise. He was the team captain and was arguably the best offensive player in the NHL. Following bitter, unsuccessful contract disputes with Penguins personnel, Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals, and has been a villain in Pittsburgh ever since, getting booed every time he touches the puck at the Igloo.

It is completely undeniable that fans feel a stronger bond with players who stick around for their entire careers. Think fans want to see their hometown favorites disappear? Ask Red Sox fans how they felt about fan-favorite Johnny Damon’s departure to the Evil Empire a couple years back.

So maybe my little system is a slightly extreme/improbable, and maybe there is no way to generate the funding to help implement it, but I think it’s a decent idea. If nothing else, it was a creative way for me to vent my hatred of the Steinbrenner family.

*By the way, I defy Al Michaels to come up with 900+ words based on anything that John Madden says.