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Steigerwald: Still Too Early to Panic Over Penguins’ Slow Start

Sidney Crosby By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Back in June, when the Vegas Golden Knights made Marc-Andre Fleury the number one pick in the NHL expansion draft, I had planned to predict that, when he played against the Penguins in December, his team would be in second place and the Penguins would be in fifth, but I forgot.

The Vegas Golden Knights are in second place in the Pacific Division, three points out of first with two games in hand. The Penguins are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, four points out of first.

If the season ended today, the Penguins wouldn’t be in the playoffs. They would lose a tie-breaker with the Rangers for the last wild-card spot.

So, what’s going on here?

Did an expansion franchise put together a better team than the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions? Probably not, although it might turn out to be one of the best expansion teams in North American major sports history.

A better explanation might be that it’s early.

It didn’t require a lot of research to come to that conclusion but you’ll have to wait until later to prove it wrong.

Crosby 18th

The Penguins have played 32 games. Sidney Crosby is tied for 18th in scoring with 32 points. Evgeni Malkin is in a five-way tie for 29th with 28 points. There’s a really good chance that they will both finish in the top 10 if they stay healthy.

A hat-trick from Crosby could put him in a tie for sixth. That’s how much the scoring is spread out. But Crosby and Malkin aren’t supposed to be struggling to get to the top of the scoring race. Lesser players are supposed to be chasing them. Both need to pick it up and history says they will. And, as I pointed out here in an earlier column, history says that a superstar hockey player turning 30 is no reason to expect his production to decrease.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a turnover of power in the NHL. Here’s a list of teams that, if the season ended today, wouldn’t make the playoffs:

Canadiens
Red Wings
Blackhawks
Rangers
Ducks
Senators
Flyers
Ducks
Canucks
Oilers
Penguins

Those last two were picked by a lot of experts to be in the Stanley Cup Final. And there are a lot of teams with a lot of Stanley Cup wins and long playoff runs on that list. If the Red Wings weren’t so old, you might make a case for history being on their side, seeing as how last year was the first time they had missed the playoffs since 1990.

But they’re old and history isn’t going to get them into the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup in 50 years and the guy who used to coach the Red Wings has them looking like a team that could make a long playoff run.

Maple Leafs fans would tell you that it’s early. They’ve come to expect the worst and rightly so.

Bottom line- there’s a long way to go and, while it’s obvious that there is some kind of changing of the guard going on, the Penguins have 50 games to turn things around and it’s way too early to panic.

NHL Plans Seattle Expansion

-The NHL appears to be ready to expand, again. This time it’ll be about as far west as it can get – Seattle. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold to a guy who, unfortunately, wants to keep the team in Raleigh, so that means no relocation to a real hockey town – Quebec City.

According to Sportsnet.ca, Seattle is a lock to get a team and Sportsnet points out that there is plenty of hockey history there and Seattle is the only Top 25 TV market without either an NBA or NHL franchise. Unfortunately, Sportsnet also points out that Houston is a good possibility for a relocation spot for the stupid franchises in Miami and Phoenix.

I’ve been saying for years that the NHL should ignore warm-weather markets, accept hockey for what it is and only put teams where there is a legitimate chance for some snow in January.

Good thing nobody listened.

According to Sportsnet, Gary Bettman, the Commissioner who everybody likes to boo, took over the NHL when revenues were at $400 million. Now they’re at $4 BILLION. You won’t find any owners booing Gary.

So get used to the idea of the Penguins taking road trips to Seattle and Houston.

Hey, it could be worse. They could be looking at future road trips to Oklahoma City.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Del Scott

    December 13, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Good stuff, as usual, John. Spot on about Quebec. Should have had a franchise a long time ago.

  2. Rick Gardner

    December 14, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    What’s wrong with OKC?

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