Belief spreads faster than fact. Negativity travels faster than positivity. And fear is more infectious than plain old reality.
Pittsburgh is a large small town which allows the Penguins fan base to be unusually close-knit. Once a popular opinion emerges, it spreads like wildfire and becomes an unshakeable belief.
There are a few oft-repeated responses which have more basis in sentiment than cold reality. It’s time to be a Penguins mythbuster.
Myth #1: ‘Players like Patric Hornqvist wear down faster.’
Will Patric Hornqvist be unable to go to the net at age 35? Does one suppose that Hornqvist will be so beaten that he won’t be able to fight for space near the crease — and laugh as he does it — after he turns 36 years old?
For the handwringing and worry about the future, Hornqvist’s five-year contract extension was a safe bet. Hornqvist doesn’t help the Penguins with speed or by guarding the opposing team’s best players. He helps the team by scoring goals within five feet of the net and forcing opposing teams to defend him there, which creates additional space for the Penguins skilled players.
Skills like that don’t often go away when a player is in his early 30s.
Think of fellow Swede and Detroit Red Wings tripod Johan Franzen. Franzen played until he was 36 years old, and scored 22 points (7g, 15a) in 33 games in 2014-15, his final full season. Concussions ended Franzen’s career in 2015-16. He is still under contract through 2020, but the Red Wings recouped the cap hit by placing him on LTIR.
Credit Twitter user Tobias Eiken of Norway for adding another durable Swede, Tomas Holmstrom, to the mix. Holmstrom played until he was 39, and was productive until the end. At 37 years old, Holmstrom scored 45 points (25g, 20a) in 68 games.
Even if Hornqvist loses a step, it won’t substantially affect his contributions. Great skating isn’t required to earn a black eye in front of the net.
Myth #2: ‘Matt Hunwick sucks! Pens are in trouble without Ian Cole!’
Matt Hunwick is an 11-year NHL veteran. After Tuesday night, Hunwick has played 516 NHL games and amassed 116 points.
He is a bottom pairing defenseman who has earned his keep. When former Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy banished him to the dog house, the New York Rangers and coach Alain Vigneault put him to work. The Toronto Maple Leafs and coach Mike Babcock followed.
This season, Hunwick has struggled with the Penguins. There is little doubt. Hunwick allowed far more shots than his team took.
However, that is changing. Recent strong games should offer more evidence that he progresses to the mean than a bad game, like Saturday in Florida, should provide pessimism.
Monday night, Hunwick and his new defensive partner, Jamie Oleksiak were the most productive pair. Hunwick scored a goal on a stealth pinch-in and had three shots on goal. Oleksiak had two shots on goal, three attempts and several more good looks at the net.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s postgame analysis graded the pair well. Yet, Hunwick was on the ice for two goals because rookie goalie Casey DeSmith was fooled by Kyle Palmieri‘s long-range wrist shot and the Penguins’ penalty killers failed to cover the point.
Neither was on Hunwick, a fact Mike Sullivan was clear to stress in his postgame comments.
Hunwick isn’t a reliable top-four defenseman, but he is an NHL defenseman worthy of a sweater. Based on history, skills, and trajectory, the “Matt Hunwick sucks” narrative is a myth.
If Ian Cole was truly a Stanley Cup lynchpin, wouldn’t his value have been higher than a third-round pick?
Myth #3: ‘Relax, Jim Rutherford will do something.’
Beginning last summer, throughout the season, and leading up to the trade deadline, fans had full confidence that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford would act when the time was right. Fans shrugged off criticism and negative analysis of Rutherford’s inaction, in favor of faith and hope.
In the end, Rutherford was the recipient of good luck and returned good will, which was created when the Penguins sent a 2020 second-round choice to the Vegas Golden Knights to ensure VGK would select Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft. Imagine, paying an expansion team to want Fleury.
VGK GM George McPhee accepted Ryan Reaves in exchange for eating 40 percent of Derrick Brassard‘s salary, to keep the Winnipeg Jets from acquiring Brassard.
Rutherford waited. And waited. He tested Riley Sheahan in the third-line center role and wasn’t swayed by Sheahan’s recent uptick in performance. Long past the moment when most GMs would have acted, Rutherford held his cards.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now was not wrong to criticize Rutherford’s inaction and lack of movement for a third-line center, beginning in June. In the end, Rutherford drew a royal flush on the river card — Derick Brassard. Keeping poker terms, it could just as quickly been a bad beat, and the Penguins could have lost out.
But, they won. Rutherford won.
Myth upheld. “Relax, Jim Rutherford will do something,” stands.