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Deadline day strategy, top seeds pick opponent, and Jaromir Jagr

February 14, 2020, 11:04 AM ET [165 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Penguins are preparing to play Ilya Kovlachuk, Marco Scandella, and the rest of the Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins are always in the market for tinkering on the outskirts of their depth and these are two players I have discussed as options. I think Scandella remains likelier, although I think neither is the favorite in Vegas odds. When will we see a trade? According to an interview between Jim Rutherford and Pierre Lebrun it looks like we will be waiting until near the end of the window

I am making sure not to make the mistake of thinking just because you made this big trade, that you are done ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline. Are there other areas, potentially, where you would still add depth perhaps?

Well, that will be dictated probably about 48 hours prior to the trade deadline when we have an update on where our injured players are. You know we’ve got some very good players out of our lineup, (Brian) Dumoulin, Marino; that will dictate if we need to add a defenseman? (Nick) Bjugstad and (Dominik) Kahun up front are out of the lineup, where are they going to be, when are they going to be back? So we’ll follow that really closely. Obviously, all of our hockey staff and scouting staff, Derek Clancey our Director of Player Personnel, they’re out there every day looking at players that may be able to help us. But as we speak today, I really don’t know if we’ll make another move.

You can tell the team just isn’t sure about some of the time tables here and the idea of defensive insurance is clearly something they are considering. Brian Dumoulin should have been skating by now and he hasn’t been. The team cannot afford to go into the playoffs with Marcus Pettersson being their lone top four defenseman available. You are asking for trouble playing Jack Johnson way above his ability. You are crushing the value of your best defenseman in Kris Letang. Something has to give if Dumoulin can’t get back on the ice and at his normal level of play.

If Nick Bjugstad cannot return or they have questions the team shouldn’t head into the playoffs with a fourth line looking the way it does. The “third line” of Aston Reese-Blueger-Tanev has been very good defensively, but they don’t do much offensively in the grand scheme of things. The current fourth line is even more limited offensively than them. You need depth scoring to survive the playoffs. The Penguins may have to still consider someone like Toffoli or even Kovalchuk to provide a little more pop. This is assuming all the other players stay healthy and we know how this season has gone already.

Rutherford also commented on the top seeds pick opponents playoff idea.

You see Major League Baseball is toying with the idea of a new playoff format that would see the division winner with the second-best record (the No. 1 team would have a bye) pick the wild-card team it wanted to play (as first reported by the New York Post). Can you imagine a top seed in the NHL picking its opponent? I can’t. I highly doubt we’d ever see that in hockey because the underdog team would take that so personally. What’s your thought on that?

I don’t like it. I wouldn’t want to pick our opponent. There’s going to be teams that miss the playoffs this year that are very good teams. Even if you finish first and play the 16th-place team, that’s going to be a tough matchup. I don’t like the (proposed baseball) idea. I think it’s better you just let it fall into place like we’ve been doing it. But I also recognize that that first round is just as hard as any other round that you have to go through in the playoffs

He's of course wrong about this as are most people who are against it. He doesn’t give legitimate reasons against it other than insinuating doesn’t want to be publicly on the hook for making a choice. The first round is not as hard as the other rounds. It is ludicrous to suggest so. The teams who would do their homework would have a distinct advantage in picking their opponent (what if a team lost their star player at end of the year). It would be a reward for a quality regular season. Hockey culture is still too entrenched to consider these kinds of things because they are too worried about hurting the feelings of another general manager and are scared if their team lost the fallback would be big at first. Get over it.

Teams like the Penguins have lost in the first round a number of times over the years in the Crosby and Malkin era with Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, and last year with the New York Islanders as examples. In fact, last year is a great example because the Islanders would have been one of the prime candidates for a top team to select in round one and the Penguins lost anyways because they didn’t manage their own player deployment appropriately. It happens and because it sometimes does isn’t a reason to ignore rewarding regular season success with choices of opponent. The league would benefit from being bold instead of this rubbish bracket they are married to at the moment. NHL hockey is too random as it is. Allow some control.

Yesterday I read a terrific article from Rob Rossi of The Athletic about Phil Bourque and reconnecting with Jaromir Jagr

I don’t want to spoil the story because it is really good, but I did want to bring it up because the overall feel is that the Penguins want Jaromir Jagr to come back for a jersey retirement, Mario Lemieux wants him to come back for a jersey retirement, and the fans want him to come back for a jersey retirement. Phil Bourque traveled to Kladno with his girlfriend to reconnect with Jagr and explicitly communicated this. I’m pretty sure the message was received and that will be a special night.

There was a nugget about Jagr signing with Philadelphia which I think drives the point home that the Penguins offer just wasn’t good enough. Jagr wanted a certain role and the Penguins would have landed him if they gave it to him.

Bourque said Jagr’s reasoning for signing with the Flyers instead of the Penguins had not changed since his decision first sent shockwaves through the commonwealth almost nine years ago. Ray Shero, then the Penguins general manager, could not promise him a role in the top six or on the first power-play unit. The Flyers could. The Flyers could also offer almost $1.5 million more because the Penguins had precious salary-cap space to spare.

The Penguins used the cap space on Tyler Kennedy and missed out on Jagr’s skillset which was definitely a top six winger and worthy of playing on the top power play. Sid down low, Malkin on the point, and Jagr on the half wall? I’m pretty sure that would have worked out just fine.

Thanks for reading!
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