Thursday, June 05, 2008

A bitter pill for the Penguins

Stanley Cup final
(1) Detroit v. (2) Pittsburgh
Red Wings win series 4-2
"I haven't experienced a Stanley Cup final loss before. It's not a good feeling," an emotional Sidney Crosby said as he sat in his stall.

There would be no news conference on this night. He was too crushed to get up from his stall. His Pittsburgh Penguins lost the Stanley Cup final to the Detroit Red Wings and left Crosby with a pain like no other he's felt in his 20 years.

"Yes, definitely ... definitely," said the Penguins captain.
It's funny how things go sometimes.

A year ago, I was at a championship game and it was a different player crying his eyes out, trying to make sense of an all-too-long season that was all for naught. The conversation was similar, but so, too, was the underlying determination.

Crosby's down now, but I doubt that lasts for long.

Last May, it was the Memorial Cup, where the host Vancouver Giants took the championship against their bitter rival, the Medicine Hat Tigers.

And the best player for the losing side that afternoon just happened to be Darren Helm.

Afterwards, in sombre circumstances, I chatted with Helm a little, asking what he felt the near future held. As a 20-year-old fifth-round pick of one of the NHL's top contenders, a realistic best-case scenario was likely a tour with the Red Wings' AHL affiliate, but Helm said he had designs on playing in Detroit in 2007-08.

Twelve months later, he's a Stanley Cup champion.

The point being that, in sport, heartbreak's not all that far removed from jubilation, and predicting how that road goes is incredibly difficult. As much as Helm tried to will his Tigers to victory last year, he couldn't — but there was a lesson there, valuable experience that paid off down the line.

And I think the same can be said of Sidney Crosby. There's no doubt in my mind he'll get here again, and maybe next time, he'll get his due.

Ultimately, the better team won this year, and I think the fact the series went six games flattered Pittsburgh. Without a heroic performance from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5, this series would have wrapped up Monday in Detroit.

Still, the Penguins showed heart by not folding after being heavily outplayed in Games 1 and 2, and there are positives to glean from the fact this young team advanced to within two wins of a championship.

But there's also a cost to not winning now.

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero has some incredibly difficult decisions to make this off-season, with 10 unrestricted free agents of note and three soon-to-be RFAs expected to claim those big-dollar contracts youngsters have been getting under this CBA.

It's going to be very difficult for the Penguins to maintain a lot of continuity going forward, something that can't be said for the champions. Detroit's UFA class consists of a backup goaltender who won't be back (Dom Hasek), two depth forwards that will return for a song or retire (Dallas Drake and Darren McCarty), and three blueliners who will be glad to return or can be easily replaced (Chris Chelios, Brad Stuart and Andreas Lilja).

These Red Wings will be back, good as new, next season — especially considering how criminally under the cap they currently are heading into 2008-09. And, these days, June 4 isn't all that late for a season to go.

You hear this every year at this time, but a repeat could be in the cards.


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At 8:45 a.m., June 05, 2008, Anonymous Baroque said...

One of the images I'll remember - the look on Dan Cleary's face and the catch in his voice when, as he was looking for his family after the game, he was asked how much it meant to him to win the Cup after having come into training camp for Detroit three years ago without a job. That was when you knew the tears were coming.

At 10:18 a.m., June 05, 2008, Blogger Hallock said...

Pittsburgh put up a great fight, scared most of Detroit in the last minute. I would like to think the Penguins will be back next year, but with so many UFAs, it's difficult to see them getting this far for another year or two. That is unless, Shero makes some great off season moves and gets a few players to sign a bit cheaper.

At 10:33 a.m., June 05, 2008, Blogger Joe said...

How about that goal by Zetterberg? I've seen guys accidentally kick it, swat it, whatever into their own net, but when the puck is just sitting still, for someone to SIT on it, and inexplicably, it just squirts right out from under the goalie's butt like that... that's a wierd one.

My friend attributed it to the hockey god's wrath at Crosby not being to grow a proper playoff beard.

At 10:58 a.m., June 05, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Yeah, I don't get why Crosby is trying to grow the playoff beard. Gretzky, Mario, Yzerman, Sakic, and Messier never did. Leave that to the guys who actually can grow beards... you're a star, Sid, you have to look good!

Anyways, Mike Babcock becomes the first ever Saskatchewan raised head coach to win the Cup, and it couldn't have been a better one to do it. I don't think there's been a player on one of his NHL teams that didn't know what his role was. He's an excellent communicator, and with that a strong motivator. He's also a great X's and O's guy, and really... there's no excuse not to mention his name amongst the top 3 candidates for Team Canada in 2010 anymore. He's won the World Championships at both the junior and senior levels, and now the Stanley Cup. No one has ever done that before.

At 11:06 a.m., June 05, 2008, Anonymous dvc said...

So let me see if I got this straight, James: Fleury needs a new contract--and a raise--as an RFA and the Pens have 10 UFAs on their current NHL roster: Hossa, Roberts, Eaton, Malone, Laraque, Ruutu, Orpik, Dupuis, Hall and Conklin and only $9.7m in cap space? I'm looking at this site...

At 11:34 a.m., June 05, 2008, Blogger Hooks Orpik said...

dvc, the Penguins were about $9.5 million under the cap this season. They get to use the salary for the contracts coming off the books to try to re-sign everyone.

See this site which I think shows how much space has already been allocated for future seasons

The Pens will have about $30 million to spend but about 14 roster players to re-sign. The problem is not going to be 2008-09 but rather 2009-10 when Malkin and Staal's new contracts kick in. That's why they likely can't afford to sign all their UFAs.

The challenge now is reloading. Hossa's probably a goner for sure but if Malone and or Orpik move on the Pens need (and can afford) to sign some quality players to replace those gaps.

At 11:46 a.m., June 05, 2008, Anonymous dvc said...

Thanks, Hooks. Yeah, that was my next point: it looks like they're in even worse shape for the following year. Malkin and Staal, plus Talbot--a very underrated played IMO--and Kennedy needing new contracts and raises, Sykora, Gill, Scuderi and Sydor as UFAs. I can appreciate Shero's win-it-now approach for this past season.

BTW, what's your take on your blog's namesake? I've read in some quarters that he's one of the odd men out for next year to get under the cap.

At 12:40 p.m., June 05, 2008, Blogger Hooks Orpik said...

Unless they sign Orpik before July 1 (and it's hard to imagine him not wanting to see his value on the open markeT) Orpik's likely gone. He's 27 years old, is a big body, hits like the devil, blocks shots and is pretty under-rated in terms of his skating and first pass.

If Andy Sutton can fetch $3 million and Scott Hannan can pull $4.5 I'd expect some team will give Orpik something in that range long-term. I don't think the Pens can or will match it.

Of Pittsburgh's notable free agents I'd say Ryan Malone is the most likely to return. Even then, it's by no means a slam dunk.

At 12:57 p.m., June 05, 2008, Blogger poploser said...

If Im any of Hossa, Malkin, Fleury, and Staal, Id be talking to each other trying to suggest they all accept slightly less than the market might offer to stay in Pittburgh. Its hard to imagine another team out there that is as well placed for a Detroit-like dominance. Hossa might get the cap max by going to Vancouver, but is he more likely to win a Cup there or on Crosby's wing?

And if I'm Pittsburgh, and I believe I can't retain Orpik, I'm getting a package ready for Brad Stuart. He could be a cheaper, short-term, replacement.

[BTW, if I'm Stuart, I am willing to take a huge discount to return to Detroit]

At 1:38 p.m., June 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Cap.
Mike Ilitch apparently chartered two jets to fly the player's families to the game in Pittsburgh. Earlier this year the NHL wouldn't allow Montreal to bring their families to Florida during the road trip over the Christmas break, saying that they had already scheduled their one CBA mandated family trip in March. So, does the expense of the two jets etc. count against the cap for the Red Wings or is it only Canadian teams that are subjected to Bettman's petty little rules?

At 3:38 p.m., June 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably some of the rules don't apply during the playoffs, as the player contracts run for the regular season only.

Otherwise soemone from the league offices would have jumped all over it.


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