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Metro Teams Add Goons to Stop Tom Wilson…But Not the Penguins

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NHL trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tom Wilson

The 2021-22 Metropolitan Division and Pittsburgh Penguins rivals may look like the Adams or Norris Division of the 1980s. The teams with salary-cap space and playoff aspirations took note of Washington Capitals tough guy Tom Wilson. While fans went bonkers over Wilson essentially bullying other teams last season, it was effective. He pounded what seemed like the entire New York Rangers, who had no response and he even roughed up the Boston Bruins.

Teams are responding, but not the Penguins.

It’s all about defending against Wilson, who singlehandedly took down the Rangers last season. As much as teams deny it affects them, as much as fans say it shouldn’t, it does. We live in a world of zero-tolerance schools and helicopter parents because bullying and fighting have an effect.

It matters as much in team sports. Finger-wagging against bullying has no effect, and there are only rewards for winning.

General managers across the Metro Division are putting in anti-Wilson safeguards, and it’s not a coincidence many of the Metro Division teams have added tough players, some known for pugilistic skills and not hockey–formerly known as goons.

*The Rangers hit the NHL trade market for Ryan Reaves and signed defenseman Jarred Tinordi to a two-year deal.

*The Columbus Blue Jackets signed Sean Kuraly to a four-year deal and just inked Zac Rinaldo to a two-way deal.

*Philadelphia re-upped Samuel Morin for one more year, then traded for Rasmus Ristolainen (heavy physicality) and Cam Atkinson (tenacious, not a fighter).

*No one knows what the Islanders have done or will do, but Casey Czikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck will likely return.

And, the Carolina Hurricanes added defenseman Brendan Smith who became the resident fighter for the Rangers last season. Smith had five fights last season, including one with Wilson.

I suppose the Pittsburgh Penguins will score on the power play, one in every five times on average. Perhaps Erik Gudbranson’s fighting lessons to Brian Dumoulin in the spring of 2019 made an impression?

The NHL evolution away from fighting and towards a skating game hit hyperdrive with the Penguins 2016, and 2017 Stanley Cup wins. Teams had to keep up, and seemingly overnight, young players who could skate replaced older players who couldn’t. Most teams got quicker and a lot quicker.

But then what?

Then toughness made a comeback, especially on defense. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens had big defensemen, and they played for the Stanley Cup.

And the New York Rangers still stinging from Tom Wilson’s Rowdy Roddy Piper impersonation grabbed the biggest “sheriff” available, who is willing to deal frontier justice.

Look, I can already hear Penguins fans. But they can’t play hockey! But score on the power play, that will show them! But hockey shouldn’t be goons and fighting! But, but…but…

The Metro Division is undergoing another transformation. The Washington Capitals have the premier player in this new evolution. Wilson is an exceptional penalty killer. He has hands capable of scoring 20-plus goals and denting cheekbones. The Washington Capitals bad boy served his suspension for putting Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo in the hospital with a vicious charging or boarding pop.

Tinordi essentially ended Penguins center Evgeni Malkin’s season with a solid open-ice hit. He, too, knows how to throw mitts. Sean Kuraly will be a third or fourth-line grinder in Columbus. Before he was called up to the Boston Bruins, he had a string of AHL fights. He struggled to crack the Bruins lineup, but there is no question he’s a tough player.

The Flyers also took a step back towards the Broad Street Bullies with multiple acquisitions of bruising players.

Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason

The Penguins lost tenacious grinder Brandon Tanev and replaced him with Brock McGinn via free agency. However. McGinn had four fights in the last five years. That’s not a knock, but that’s an acknowledgment that McGinn won’t be a player to answer the bell.

The Penguins have about $1.6 million of salary-cap space if future transactions and demotions are factored. GM Ron Hextall safely has enough for one more free-agent signing or player acquisition with a bit of a salary, too. But the Penguins lineup has taken a step back in talent and toughness.

The Metro Division is taking steps to improve. And teams in the Metro are getting tougher.

You don’t think the other Metro teams will go easy on the Penguins because the Penguins have been nice guys, do you? The Penguins have about six weeks.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 month ago

I can’t understand Pens fans who do not think we need to add size and toughness. This is a great article on showing where we stand in the Metro. If we don’t get a Gudbranson we will be so bullied and beaten we will not make the playoff but we will again be one and done. Listen all you Ice Capade fans you need to check out reality!!!

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

They aren’t making the playoffs even with Guddy. This team is in a downward trend and nothing will stop it this coming season. Take the medicine, take the higher pics.

Ken Colligan
1 month ago

Too often fans correlate toughness to just fighting. Hockey is still very much a game of intimidation. The borderline hit has much more impact. A team is much more likely to deliver said hit if they realize they have a physical advantage. Teams do not want there top players targeted. They are quite confident in delivering the pain to Pens players because they realize there is no deterrent. It is no coincidence that the Pens are always near the top of the league in man games lost.

Eric Bouchard
Eric Bouchard
1 month ago

its been like this for this team for the last 4-6 years. They DONt have TEAM toughness They are SOFT on D….SOFT in front Star players gets pounded, beat up, abuse EACH and EVERY game. And with all of this abuse they supported for the last 10 years…you can almost substract 1 good year and they get closer to end their career. You dont win cups with a team of Mr Nice GUY. Add Deslauriers and Gudbransson and at LEAST you get a little tougher and may keep opponents …honest on our star players. Geno had his best years playing… Read more »

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric Bouchard

You completely invalidated your comments. “You don’t win cups with team of Mr. Nice Guy and we have been this way for the past 6 years.” So was 16 and 17 just a dream?

Ken Colligan
1 month ago

Ancient History. League has moved on.

PenPal
PenPal
1 month ago
Reply to  Ken Colligan

Kris’s point isn’t whether ’16 & ’17 apply to today, but rather that they were exactly 5 & 6 seasons ago. Saying the Penguin strategy hasn’t worked for “5-6 years” is extreme given the literal success. (And if winning the cup doesn’t count as success, then I don’t know what does. It’s weird to rewrite our own history to make us out to be bigger losers than we are.) The Penguin strategy failed to produce result in the last 3 playoffs, but even 4 seasons ago it was workable. (Unless the Cup is the only measure, which reasonably it is,… Read more »

Eric
Eric
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric Bouchard

Hooks Orpik will have a stroke if that happens! Mr advanced stat!

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

Great article Dan. Many Penguin fans agree for the need to get tougher. It doesn’t make sense to me why they wouldn’t want a tougher element on the team.

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago

When your core this this old you can’t function on a nightly basis with 11 forwards. And since Coach Sullivan won’t use the “goon” guy, that’s essentially what will happen. So we will win some fights with a goon, but be too tired and worn out from double shifting the 3 30+ year old centers we have. Lose, Lose proposition…….Unless you change the coach.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

The point is Reaves was there if they needed him not so with us.When we take the ice they should play the jingle from MR SOFTEE

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Reaves had as many as 11 or 12 minutes a game last year and only 27 minutes in the box! His teammates weren’t mugged when he suited up. Reaves would have been more valuable than any 4th liner the Pens used in the last 4 or 5 years. Who do the Pens have now to protect their aging stars? No one!

kingpuck
kingpuck
1 month ago

Great article and Gudbranson is definitely the answer for a tough D. He and Peterson actually played very well together when he was here and if thats your 3rd pair or Guds with Joseph we are good. Up front you can get Brendan Lemieux from LA. He can hit and will stand up when he has too with Wilson no problem.

jack burton
jack burton
1 month ago

Do not conflate Enforcer with Goon they are vastly different categories. We had Ryan for a cup of coffee and I think at least one time he had the Gordie Howe hat trick. Wilson is a sociopath goon who can skate and score. Wilson will try to injure much smaller players, will headhunt and do all kinds of dangerous crap on the ice. I can’t speak for all the players listed but Tinordi and Reaves are not goons. Ryan for example will fight anyone that wants to drop the gloves but rarely displays an intent to decapitate a smaller foe.

DaGama
DaGama
1 month ago
Reply to  jack burton

Perhaps, but Reaves acted more like a sociopathic goon when he attacked Ryan Graves during last season’s playoffs. While Reaves may have thought he was giving Graves payback he went way over the line and deserved more than the 2 games he was suspended.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

No doubt . . . this is a soft team. It is a small team both at the forward spots and equally so on defense. I hope they do something that brings some edge but . . . This fascination with Tom Wilson is spinning out of control First and foremost he is a very good player. Most likely he is a top six forward on ANY team in the NHL. The fact that he is very physical with a frequent lack of discipline is a rare ingredient that somehow has a half dozen teams preparing for him. So he… Read more »

William Maloni
William Maloni
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Let’s face it, our new management talks a bigger/tougher game than they act, which might be the only answer we get–with our limited resources and cap space–for the next two years.

Ken Colligan
1 month ago
Reply to  William Maloni

Burke must be getting paid very well. Have no idea why else he would have taken the job. His role has been embarrassing so far.

DaGama
DaGama
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Mostly agree. In the moment, though, with Wilson on the ice one never knows if it’s the 40% or the 60%. When he broke ZAR’s jaw during the 2018 playoffs it was some serious intimidation.

On the other hand, when Wilson knocked Carlo out of the game this past season the game’s momentum actually swung in the Bruins favor and Boston ended up coming from behind to win the game.

In any case the Pens need a push back strategy more than just trying to score on what may or may not be a subsequent power play.

JustMyThought
JustMyThought
1 month ago
Reply to  DaGama

Knocking Zack Aston Reese out when he was leaving the ice when he was not looking was not intimidation. It was an act of cowardice and that’s exactly what Wilson is. Hockey is a sport. What’s going on abroad takes a real man and in this day and age a woman to face.

Dave Davies
Dave Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Great post. You seem to be one of the only people here with any sense. I’m sick of hearing about the Penguins not being tough. Lack of toughness isn’t the reason for any of their recent playoff losses. You can argue that the Pens would have made the Eastern Conference finals this season with better goaltending since the Islanders ended up there after getting largely outplayed in their series with the Pens. I believe that the fans just hate seeing the Pens losing the checking battle, whether they win or lose is irrelevant it seems. As beloved as tough players… Read more »

German Pens Fan
German Pens Fan
1 month ago

Thanks Dan, another good article. Metro will be extremely tight next season and the Pens will get bullied like always these last years. At least one physical D-man and one physical forward is a must. Hextal should go after Gudbranson, he’s ideal to play on a pair with Petterson.

Honestly I get nostalgic when I remember tough players like Asham, Ruutu, Laraque, Gary Roberts, even Downie was fun to watch. Kasparaitis, Barnaby, Tocchet and many more.

Tony C
Tony C
1 month ago

If Tom Wilson is such a difference maker, “and he even roughed up the Boston Bruins…” then why did the Caps lose to Boston in the first round, in fewer games then the Pens lost to the Isles?

And if it’s all about the regular season, and Tom Wilson is the difference maker… then why did the Pens win the division… and not the Caps?

JustMyThought
JustMyThought
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony C

Tony C the Caps are aging like the Pens. Playing at a high skill level every night gets tougher. Ovechkin is looking to break records. What is his priority break records or hoist a Cup? Hitting is part of the game. So they have Wilson who is undisciplined. He gets suspended once or twice for a total of 20 games, that’s 1/4 of the regular season. What good is that for a team? I really don’t care enforcer or not on the Pens. A good check hit, or drop of the gloves by anyone will make any player on the… Read more »

moe
moe
1 month ago
Reply to  Tony C

Sheer talent and will to win by the Pens

Chris R
Chris R
1 month ago

Tom Wilson is a psychopath who shouldn’t even be allowed on the ice. “No really, I didn’t mean to break his neck. The hit was legal. I’m just playing the game.” But don’t blame him, since it’s the League’s responsibility to curtail reckless behavior, which obviously isn’t happening anytime soon.

JustMyThought
JustMyThought
1 month ago

The fact of the matter is with an aging nucleus , one who will not be ready for camp, and a couple of support players, the Pens will have moments of greatness and mediocrity. Unless the Pens younger players can step up and contribute at a higher lever, the Pens may make the Post season as a wild card and surprise some fans and analyst. I don’t remember seeing the Pens looking intimidated by Wilson who like all actual bullies seems like he can be intimidated when checked hard by a smaller player. Watch a few games before you call… Read more »

Scott Maloni
Scott Maloni
1 month ago

Can’t believe you forgot ZAR.

Eric
Eric
1 month ago

Dan, tonordi do absolutely nothing to Malkin! Geno glided right into tonordi. Did not protect himself, did not lower his shoulder. Taking and giving hits is an type of skill that has to be practiced. Perfect example is Tanev. Team leader of hitting. No issues or injuries. His injury this year was a result of a shot puck to the wrist.

JustMyThought
JustMyThought
1 month ago

Here’s a question. Apply this from your days on the playground to the hockey rink. How did you take care of the bully at recess? Taking away one factor the fight. Is that the key for the Pens success this year?

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Tom Wilson is gonna Tom Wilson. It doesn’t matter who is on the roster. Having someone to just have on the bench as a deterrent and play 2 -5 minutes a night is a waste of a roster spot.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

They need team toughness, not one or 2 tough guys that can’t play the game. Just my humble opinion.

Last edited 1 month ago by Robert Shoemaker
Katz
Katz
1 month ago

The Penguins added Dominik Simon. “Just Play”.

Mark Connelly
Mark Connelly
1 month ago

The NHL always has and will continue to celebrate physical intimidation of even its superstars, particularly in the playoffs when whistles disappear. The Isles blatantly targeted Guentzel (without the puck and after the whistle) because they knew that a penalty would not be called. Proponents of analytics too often live in a vacuum far removed from the reality of playoff hockey. If the Rangers and Flyers make the playoffs and experience any kind of success, those in the analytics community who chastised these moves will lose considerable credibility.

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago

Cool. So all the other teams in the division got worse, and the Pens didn’t? I like it!

Katz
Katz
1 month ago
Reply to  Ujn Hunter

Pittsburgh just may be the worst in the Division.?Talk to me next April

trackback

[…] still need a tough guy?” all we want, but take a look around the league right now to see what many teams have done over the summer. Teams are adding more tough guys to their rosters. The Avs are one of […]

Brian
Brian
1 month ago

The Penguins were supposed to become more physic this off-season? When did that happen?

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