When you write between 60 and 100 stories per month, and many are opinions or analyses, as much as I hate to admit that I’m human, getting a few things wrong is inevitable. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a team in flux since former president David Morehouse hired former GM Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke, and Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle sold the team to the Fenway Sports Group,
There have been plenty of decisions, Penguins trades made and not made, and things on which to opine.
That previous regime got a few things wrong, too. But after tossing them under the bus before myself, it’s time to admit what I should have critiqued harder, criticized louder, and otherwise just got wrong over the last 12 months.
Starting with the line that I’m still surprised more trolls don’t hold against me, here we go.
1. “Ron Hextall is undefeated.”
Yeah, I wrote that last summer regarding Hextall’s Penguins trades. For the first 16 months, Hextall’s trades were pretty darned good. Jeff Carter was “Big Jeff Carter,” Rickard Rakell worked out well, and all signs pointed to Jeff Petry being an upgrade on the Penguins’ blue line.
A year later, the biggest benefit of the Petry trade appears to be creating space for P.O Joseph on the left side. Otherwise, the kid would have been stuck behind Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Mike Matheson.
Petry played only 61 games and scored only 31 points, just six more points than Brian Dumoulin (in 20 fewer games).
The Penguins need Petry to have a bounce-back year, adding at least 10 more in each category. The Montreal Canadiens are putting Matheson in a leadership role and ready to capitalize on that elite speed, while the Penguins don’t have enough to show for the deal after letting Ryan Poehling bolt via free agency.
However, Hextall made far too few trades by that point, too. I should have been calling that out before the season. How can a team succeed with a barren minor league system and crumbling bottom six? As Jeff Carter and Kasperi Kapanen cratered, the dominos fell. Brock McGinn and Teddy Blueger went dry, and the bottom lines did not hold up their end of the bargain.
Nor did the WBS Penguins have the extraneous talent to develop the few prospects there.
By the end of last season, Sidney Crosby looked like he was out of gas from carrying the team all season.
And I thought Hextall was undefeated? Yikes.
2. Nathan Legare is a better prospect than Sam Poulin.
Yep. I had some company among colleagues and those inside the organization. Poulin pulled it together last fall and got himself to the NHL before taking a leave from hockey, while Legare struggled again at the AHL level.
3. Mark Friedman should be in the Penguins’ lineup.
OK, I still don’t understand what I (and some others) see, but NHL GMs and coaches don’t. I’m terminally surprised no team claims Friedman on waivers and that he played behind Chad Ruhwedel.
Yet 31 other NHL GMs reinforce the Penguins’ evaluations, and none confirm mine.
4. Marcus Pettersson.
I joined the chorus who thought Pettersson hit his ceiling and his contract with a slightly more than $4 million AAV was an albatross that needed to be traded by any means necessary.
A year later, Pettersson had a very good season, drew legitimate praise from coach Mike Sullivan and while things went sideways for the team and many players, Pettersson didn’t wilt in the second half. Sullivan often called Pettersson his most consistent defender.
The lanky Swede served up some humble pie.
He even fought Nic Deslauries. That was pure guts and something the team sorely lacked last season.
I’m glad Pettersson made us eat crow. He’s a good dude, too.
4A: Jason Zucker. But we all got that one wrong, didn’t we? With 27 goals, he, too, proved many naysayers wrong.
5. The blue line should be the strength of the team.
Before last season, I thought Hextall assembled a very good blue line that would be the team’s strength. I’ve already admitted my Friedman error, including putting him over P.O Joseph, but overall I thought the Penguins’ defensemen would provide far more offense and titled ice. I didn’t heed the warning signs of Brian Dumoulin’s mobility and expected Petry to be close to a 50-point defenseman.
Instead, the Penguins got 30 goals combined from their blue line, including 12 from Kris Letang. Joseph and Petry tied for second with five goals.
In perhaps the most startling statistic, Joseph led the blue line at plus-8.
Yep, another whoops.