Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Draft Recap, Shero Reshaping the Pens

New Pittsburgh General Manager, Ray Shero, entered Saturday's NHL Entry Draft knowing that he played a big part in deciding which player the team would select with the 2nd overall pick, but his job would be all but over from that point on. He had to have faith that his scouting staff headed up by Greg Malone would get the job done, since they had been getting ready for it for weeks and Shero was an Assistant with another team just weeks ago.

Shero let the suspense build all the way up until the last minute, would the team make the much talked about trade with Carolina, and get defensive stud Jack Johnson. Would they stand pat and take their man with number 2. Well, when the dust cleared, they kept their pick and went with the pick I thought they would: 6' 4", 212 lb Peterborough Center Jordan Staal.

Here is a recap of the Penguins picks on Saturday, as well as a brief scouting report.

1st Round Selection: Jordan Staal - 6' 4" 212 lb Center
Staal has it all, size, strength and plenty of hockey sense and skill. Most think that his defensive game is ready for the NHL already, but he could brush up on his raw offensive talent a bit. He is a good face-off man. Jordan has good touch around the net, is strong on the puck and uses his large frame to protect it. He is not easily moved by defenders. He should develop into a premier power forward. If there is on knock on this young man, it is that he could improve upon his skating a bit. Jordan is expected to move to the wing. GM Ray Shero has said that he will not rule out Staal making the team this season, but he could stand to have another year with Peterborough.

2nd Round Selection: Carl Sneep - 6' 4" 210 lb Defenseman
Sneep is a giant on the blue line, but can use a bit of seasoning. He has great tools and should get better year to year. Some may have called this pick a reach in the second round, but the Penguins were thrilled to get this kid here. He has been a regular at Penguins scout Chuck Grillo's conditioning camp for the past 8 years and the Pens had their eye on him. He has an all around that could benefit from a little bit more of a mean streak. Could be a steal.

3rd Round Selection: Brian Strait - 6' 0" 200 lb Defenseman
Strait was the captain of the U-18 US National team and is a natural leader. He is a great character and locker room guy. Can be counted on to play a consistent game. Is very well rounded and has a very nice first pass out of the zone. Strait can also play a strong physical game and is known to throw out some strong body checks.

4th Round Selection: Traded to Florida for a 4th rounder in 2007

5th Round Selection: Chad Johnson - 6' 2" 175 lb Goaltender
Johnson was the 21st ranked goaltender in North America. This freshman from Alaska Fairbanks played in 18 games this past season, posting a record of: 6-7-4 with a GAA of 2.56 and a S% of .917. He catches left and will most likely stay with his college team for more seasoning. It was necessary to add some goaltending depth, especially in light of some of Shero's most recent moves.

6th Round Selection: No Pick

7th Round Selection: Timo Seppanen - 6' 1" 209 lb Defenseman
(from Hockeysfuture.com) Deep down Seppänen is a simple defenseman by nature, whereas on the surface, as evidenced by the things he at times does on the ice, he isn't. Although he may not have the most imposing frame or the flashiest puck skills, he is still often seen generating a surprising scoring opportunity or mucking near the own crease. However, Seppänen is fairly mistake-prone and not far long along in development in decision-making. That is why he isn't very solid a prospect, but relative to quality that means good potential.

As evidenced by the above picks, the team added to it's pool of not yet ready for prime time players on the blue line. All indications are that Sneep and Strait will go on to become strong draft picks, and Staal should be a stud! The rest of the 2006 draft was used to add organizational depth. All in all this seems to have been a successful draft, especially with having just hired a new General Manager less than a month before the event.

Ray Shero has been busy since draft day. He started Saturday by buying out the contracts of two players. Sebastien Caron and Shane Endicott will receive 1/3 of their contract's worth for 2006-2007.

Caron, who started out hot during his rookie season, never really lived up to expectations and may revitalize his career in some new surroundings. He was part of a goaltending logjam at the NHL level with Jocelyn Thibault and heiapparentnt Marc Andre Fleury. It would not have been a fiscally sound decision to buy out Thibault who did not come close to playing up to expectations and spent most last season on the DL after having hip surgery.

Endicott was all but assured the 3rd line center position last season, until he was derailed by a severe high anklstrainng early in training camp. He never fully recovered, his conditioning was atrocious and he pretty much played himself out of favor with past and current management. It will probably serve Endicott best to make a fresh start some where else.

Restricted Free Agency
Shero started to make some bipersonnelll decisions as he began shaping his minor and major league rosters. Some of the players that Shero tendered were just asurprisingng as the ones he let walk.

Players receiving offers by the 5:00pm deadline yesterday:
Colby Armstrong
Ryan Malone
Brooks Orpik
Marc Andre Fleury
Jani Rita
Niklas Nordgren

Rita and Nordgren are thsurpriseses. Both have signed contracts to play in Europe next season and didn't figure to play heavily into the future of the team.

The shocking names that the team let go are as follows:
Konstantin Koltsov
Tomas Surovy
Andy Hilbert

Hilbert was a staple on Sidney Crosby's wing late last season, posting 18 points in 19 games. Shero obviously thought that was more a product of Crosby than anything that Hilbert did. Koltsov and Surovy were former high draft picks who never quite lived up to their hype. Koltsov always had speed to burn and could draw penalties, but could not get it right in the scoring department. Surovy was often compared to a young Pete Bondra, a young Peter Bondra who was more streaky that a greasy window in the sunlight. It will be ashame to see these players go, but it is a sign that Shero wanted some flexibility in building this team. He didn't want to be saddled with one way contract for players that didn't quite make the cut in his view of the new NHL.

The remaining players let go yesterday are as follows:
Ben Eaves
Andy Chiodo
Krys Kolanos
Peter Taticek
Cam Paddock
Drew Fata
Andre Rouleau
Andy Schnieder

These moves make the trade that won Mark Recchi another Stanley Cup with Carolina a one for one swap: Nordgren for Recchi. Not sure if I agree with all the moves, especially letting go goaltender Andy Chiodo, who had some very memorable moments for the parent squad, but was a playoff hero with Wilkes Barrie-Scranton several times. The fact that these players were not tendered does not officially mean they will not be back, as the team can still negotiate contracts with them, however it does say that Shero didn't feel it was worth taking them to arbitration and risking 1 way contracts for them all.

Breakdown of Murstein's Bid

Some very exciting news was broken on ESPN 1250 in Pittsburgh this afternoon when Tim Benz had Andy Murstein as a guest on his show. Murstein is one of the many who are interested in purchasing the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He officially made his interest in the team public and stated that he and his group are 100% committed to keeping the team in Pittsburgh. He felt that with some of the other groups there would be no better than a 50% chance of the team staying town.

Mustein, who made his money with New York's Medallion Taxi Company, said that he is a young man and has time to wait for a new arena. Stating that he would wait years to get a new building in Pittsburgh. He said that he felt Plan B which has been brought forward by Governor Ed Rendell was a fair deal, and would be willing to sign on with a bit of tweaking. He felt that the amount of rent the team would pay on their 30 year lease could be lowered a bit.

He stated that he has had interest in the team for over a year, and actually approached the Pens prior to them settling on an Investment Bank to sell the team.

Confirmed that he has indeed added Mark Cuban and Dan Marino to his group, getting confirmation from both of them last night. He stated that Cuban had been contacted by many of the groups interested in purchasing the team and he chose Murstein's.

Murstein reiterated again that the team will stay: "Mark it down-the team will stay."

He mentioned having faith in the Pittsburgh politicos, and has gained that faith through conversations with the Medallion Board of Directors of which Mario Cuomo is a member, as well as several other former politicians. He said that Pittsburgh has always been a city that stepped up when they were in danger of losing a team. He has met with city officials and has been pleased with their commitment level and what they had to say.

He stated that he had interest in purchasing the Blues, but passed when he heard that the Penguins were available. He felt it was a better fit, situation and team in the long run....Especially with all the talent.

He feels that the process will go about 30 more days with the investment bank taking additional bids. At which point they will narrow it down and make a decision.

He would wait years for a new arena if need be.

This is all very exciting news and can only help the cause. Dan Marino is rumored to only be making a minor investment, but will sort of be on board as a face for the process. Hopefully this is paving the way for many more Hockey Nights in Pittsburgh!!

The Pittsburgh Penguins also have released a statement minutes ago stating that they have not yet received a formal bid from Murstein.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Morozov Agrees to Stay in Russia

If there was a player in the Russian Super League this past season who generated similar buzz to Evgeni Malkin, it was Alexei Morozov. Morozov, who won the scoring title along with 6 other regular season and playoff awards, was rumored to want to come back to the NHL. As recently as last week there were news stories circulating in the Pittsburgh area that Alexei would be interested in a return to the Pittsburgh Penguins and GM Ray Shero was interested in having him.....at the right price. Well that has all become a moot point, Morozov has agreed to a 3 year contract with Ak Bars Kazan, the team he just won the league championship with. The contract does not have an escape clause that would allow Morozov to pursue lucrative offers in free agency. The Pittsburgh Penguins will retain his NHL rights until July 1st.

Morozov's representative in the United States, Jay Grossman has told Russian Hockey Digest that he was not aware of any contract for his client. Morozov was recently interviewed by the same source, and answered when asked about a possible return to the NHL: "Yes. Indeed, up until a certain moment I badly wanted to return to the NHL. But recently, I realized that I didn't want to move anywhere. I don't want to suffer from nostalgia (laughing)! And Kazan', to be honest, is where my soul lies. Here I have an excellent coach and great teammates. The management of Ak Bars - true professionals. During my whole tenure at Ak Bars, I was not faced with a single problem. There lies the answer to your question."

So, the Grey Hound will be tearing up the Super League for the next three years. Alexei was an enigma for many years in Pittsburgh, and it is nice to see he has found his niche.

Report of Malkin Signing Premature

The signing of Evgeni Malkin has not officially taken place. It still should not be a difficult one to complete, as Malkin will command the maximum salary for his draft class. There are apparently a couple of last minute details to work out with the actual transfer agreement and he cannot sign until they are completed. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that it could be done and the team is waiting until Saturday to announce it at the entry draft in Vancouver, but it is just that, a conspiracy!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rumor: Malkin Possibly Signed

It is being reported by a Russian website: Metellurg.ru that Evgeni Malkin has inked a three year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. This has not been confirmed by any mainstream media source in the United States, but they are reporting that he will begin training with Magnitagorsk, his Super League Team and will report to Pittsburgh in August. This would be a great first move by new General Manager Ray Shero.

Malkin's deal is reportedly for the maximum allowed for his draft class. I would imagine that his deal would be almost identical to the one Alexander Ovechkin signed prior to his fabulous rookie season. More as I hear it....

Check back later this week for my First Annual Mock Draft.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Breaking News! Russia to Sign Transfer Agreement!

Per Russian Hockey Digest, it is being reported that Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretiak has convinced the management of the Russian Superleague Clubs to sign the Transfer agreement with the NHL. As most Pittsburgh Penguin fans know, this should knock the door wide open for Evgeni Malkin to arrive in the NHL next season.

This will allow the Pittsburgh Penguins to have one of the most formidable 1-2 punches at the center position. Both Malkin and Sidney Crosby are poised to be superstars in the NHL for many years to come! This is a very exciting day for hockey in Pittsburgh.

This move will probably help the draft stock of a couple of Russians hoping to be selected in the June 25 entry draft such as: Vladimir Zharkov and Alexander Vasyunov. Look for both players to go a bit higher than they may have a few days ago.