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The Puck Stops Here

Pittsburgh Trying For A Cup Run

The Pittsburgh Penguins have more wins than any other team in the NHL.  With a 26-8 record they lead the East Conference.  Earlier this month I called the Penguins the single team most likely to Stanley Cup this year.  They are trying to pull out all the stops to make sure that it happens.  They are collecting some talented veteran players who are available without giving up any key roster players.

On Monday the Penguins traded with the Dallas Stars to obtain former Stars captain Brenden Morrow and a 2013 third round draft pick in exchange for Joe Morrow, who had been the Penguins first round draft pick in 2011 and is yet to play an NHL game and a fifth round draft pick in 2013.  Brenden Morrow is in the final year of his contract and waived a no trade clause to be moved.

On Tuesday they obtained defenceman Douglas Murray from San Jose.  The cost was their 2013 second round draft pick and conditionally their 2014 second round draft pick if Murray (who is in the final year of his contract re-signs or if Pittsburgh wins two or more rounds in the playoffs). 

Yesterday they picked up potentially the biggest jewel available by trade this season in Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames.  The cost was Pittsburgh's first round draft pick in 2013 and college players Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski.  Both of the college players are still young but neither is seen as top level prospects.

Pittsburgh added Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla and they didn't give up a single player on their roster.  They have a few more days to continue their shopping spree if they can fit some more players under the salary cap.  At the trade deadline, capgeek projects the Pens to have over $18 million available to spend.  As long as they acquire expiring contracts there is no issue regarding the dropping salary cap next season.

This Pittsburgh team is already a strong one.  They already have future Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby (who is likely to win the Hart Trophy this season) and Evgeni Malkin (last year's Hart Trophy winner) and both of them are in the primes of their careers.  Jarome Iginla is another future Hall of Fame player who is still a strong player but he has passed his prime years.  Defenceman Kris Letang is likely on a Hall of Fame track though he will need a few more years to confirm that.  It is quite possible that four members of the Penguins are future Hall of Famers.

However they are not an elite team based on my long-standing definition of an elite team (historically elite).  They do not have elite goaltending.  Marc-Andre Fleury has been around long enough to show us that he can win if Pittsburgh plays well enough in front of him but they don't win because he is a top goalie (he isn't one).  His back-up in Tomas Vokoun was that elite goalie earlier in his career but he spent those years in Nashville and Florida where he had little chance of winning big and little recognition for his efforts.  At  age 36 those days are done.  He has been Fleury's backup this year and not managed to post as strong numbers as Fleury has.

Elite teams don't exist in the salary capped NHL.  It is too hard to keep one together given all the constraints of the system.  As fans we never get to see these teams.  Pittsburgh may be the closest we get to an elite team in a while.  If they continue to play at their current top level with their new additions, they may not make it to the level that teams of the past in the more fan friendly systems did but they could come close.  The shame is that as fans we will have to be happy with teams that are close to elite.  It's the best we are getting in the current NHL system.

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Comments

Lindas1st's avatar

Agreed.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 03/28/13 at 10:59 PM ET

DrewBehr's avatar

So far you have claimed that both Chicago and Pittsburgh, who have been arguably the most dominant teams in the league this season, aren’t elite teams.

Your logic completely baffles me.

Posted by DrewBehr from The Mitten on 03/29/13 at 12:59 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

So far you have claimed that both Chicago and Pittsburgh, who have been arguably the most dominant teams in the league this season, aren’t elite teams.

Correct

There hasn’t been an elite NHL team in years.  The system is designed not to allow them to be formed.  Teams have to get rid of talent to stay under the salary cap before they get as good enough to be elite.  That is a loss to all of us.  We used to see elite teams battle it out in the Stanley Cup finals.  Not anymore.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 02:49 AM ET

Russian Rocket's avatar

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 02:49 AM ET

Maybe… you need to change your definition of an “elite” team to fit the standards of the new NHL. Wouldn’t that make more sense than comparing them to teams in an uncapped era? Apples to Oranges, etc.

Posted by Russian Rocket on 03/29/13 at 08:23 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Maybe… you need to change your definition of an “elite” team to fit the standards of the new NHL. Wouldn’t that make more sense than comparing them to teams in an uncapped era? Apples to Oranges, etc.

What would that prove?  I have a consistent standard that applies through all of history.  The clear conclusion that teams are not as elite today as they used to be is a disturbing one.  So your response is to decide that teams that are not elite are better than they actually are by playing word games to make a happier conclusion.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 10:23 AM ET

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If I used your definition of “historically elite,” I would be forced to conclude that the 80s Oiler teams were not elite, because I think that Grant Fuhr (even for the stand-up era in which he played) was a fairly pedestrian starting goaltender. Yes he’s in the Hall of Fame, but he never had particularly impressive individual statistics. There’s little evidence to even suggest that he was much, if any, better, than Andy Moog, the man he time-shared many regular seasons with. Their numbers in Edmonton are virtually indistinguishable.

I agree broadly with your observation that the salary cap has made it difficult, if not impossible, to assemble historically elite teams for maybe more than a season or two at a time. I agree that the 2013 Penguins are not elite on a historical timescale, even with Iginla in tow.

But your standard definition of “historically elite” has always rubbed me the wrong way because it seems like it’s more about checking a handful of arbitrary boxes than it is about evaluating the overall effectiveness of team within its context, particularly your insistence that the team goalie must be one of the league’s best starters.

For example, in the past you’ve argued that the 2007 Ducks were elite (because, in addition to their HOF players, J.S. Giguere was then one of the best goalies in the NHL) but the 2008 Red Wings were not (due mostly to Osgood). But the 2008 Wings won more games, were better defensively (despite an inferior goalie) and finished with a better goal differential than the 2007 Ducks. I’m willing to bet that, in a head to head matchup, the 2008 Wings would beat the 2007 Ducks slightly more than 50% of the time.

So there’s a disconnect there for me. (For the record, I don’t consider either of those teams to be historically elite.)

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/13 at 11:26 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Not trolling or baiting or what have you, PSH, but what, by your definition, was the last elite team to play a season in the NHL?

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 03/29/13 at 11:32 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

2007 Anaheim Ducks are the last team I call elite.  Because they did not have a long run since Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne took sabbaticals the next season thus ending the run many people tend to downgrade them.  I can accept that Anaheim is a weaker team among the elite group and perhaps you could raise the bar even higher and exclude them.

I think it is very easy to disagree with Sven’s assessment when you have to argue that somebody (Fuhr) was not an elite goalie despite his being in the Hall of Fame (and being the go to goalie for Canada internationally in the period) you have a humungous disconnect with reality.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 02:14 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Pittsburgh Trying For A Cup Run

Ya think?

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 03/29/13 at 02:23 PM ET

Avatar

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 02:14 PM ET

I would call it a disconnect from conventional wisdom to say that Fuhr was not a great goalie, sure, but in this case I think the conventional wisdom is wrong. I think Fuhr was an average goalie who played behind great teams and got too much credit for his team’s successes, not unlike how Osgood (the very definition of a league average goalie) is considered hall of fame material in some circles due to his team successes. The fact that Fuhr’s in the Hall of Fame means he was believed to be great, but that does not mean he actually was great. If Osgood gets into the Hall (which he very well might) that would not make him great either.

I realize most people are not going to agree with me but I think the evidence supports my position. Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog split time together for five years in Edmonton, each playing almost the same number of games and posting nearly identical numbers. You would think if Fuhr really was that great a goalie he would have shown some separation from a guy like Moog after five seasons of work:

1982-83 through 1986-87 (save percentage figures omit the first year due to lack of data):

Fuhr: 120-51-19, .885, 3.87
Moog: 137-45-21, .887, 3.57

Neither had particularly outstanding numbers even for a goalie of the time.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/13 at 03:06 PM ET

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Also, I don’t downgrade the 2007 Ducks because they didn’t continue the same level of success over the next several years, I downgrade them because, even that season, their numbers were very good but not particularly special. Even in 2007, they did not win the President’s Trophy or even win 50 games (48 with 4 shootout wins) and they had only the fourth best goal differential in their conference.

I think if you’re going to call a team historically elite they probably had better at least be clearly the best team in the league or clearly playing at a historically great level, as opposed to finishing with 10 other teams (a third of the league!) either ahead of them or within 6 points of them in the standings.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/13 at 03:21 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Historically its not uncommon for a dynasty team that won several Stanley Cups to not be the top team in the league in the regular season.  It is common for a team to do well enough in the regular season to have a high berth in the playoffs and then go on to win the cup while another team is the dominant regular season team with a handful of more regular season wins and then does not make a Stanley Cup run.

So expecting regular season dominance for an elite team is historically self-defeating.  Many dynasties fail.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 03:30 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I would argue that for a portion of the 80’s Andy Moog was a good enough goalie that he could have been a starter on an elite team.  He was never truly the starter because Fuhr got the playing time in the playoffs, but he was one of the best goalies in the game for a few years.

Your comparison of Moog and Fuhr essentially says that one elite goalie was not much better than another elite goalie in the year in question and therefore you conclude neither was elite.  I question that conclusion and argue both were elite.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 03:40 PM ET

Avatar

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 03:40 PM ET

Within a league wide context neither goalie had stellar numbers; statistically they were upper-mid pack rather than near the top. I find that to be strong evidence that neither was really that great. Your conclusion is also possible and arguments can be made (score effects, a bored OIlers team slacking defensively late in seasons, the fact that both Fuhr and Moog managed to stick around in the NHL many years after most of their fellow stand-ups had been pushed out, though admittedly they had very mediocre numbers) to suggest that both were really much better than their numbers suggest, but until I see more data to support any of these theories I find my interpretation more likely.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/13 at 04:08 PM ET

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On a somewhat related note (consider this an aside to the main argument), you argue that Moog was elite for a “portion of the 80s” (and if he ever was elite certainly that would be the only portion of time for which you could make that claim), but it’s worth noting that their numbers even after the dynasty years and throughout the 90s (Moog retired in 98, Fuhr in 00) remained very similar. In fact, while Moog played somewhat fewer career games, he had nearly as many wins and had generally stronger numbers throughout.

I know anyone can make the “Yeah, but how many Cups was he the starter for?” argument, but the fact that over many hundreds of games for both men over virtually the same portion of time Moog has consistently stronger numbers seems to be good evidence that he was consistently as good or better than Fuhr throughout both men’s careers. Would you agree or disagree with that claim? Does Moog deserve to be in the Hall of Fame too?

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/13 at 04:09 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

You thought the Canucks had what it took to be an Elite team. What has changed in retrospect other than the bad luck associated with having lost that series in seven games?

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 03/29/13 at 04:15 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I understated things when I said Moog was an elite goalie for a portion of the 80s if you understand that to mean that by 1990 I no longer thought he was elite.  That isn’t true.

Scoring leaguewide dropped in the 90’s.  That is a main reason why raw numbers for Moog and Fuhr didn’t drop in the 90s when they were aging.  Their numbers relative to league averages did.  However, I would argue that claiming that their numbers remained good into the 90’s (which is an interpretation of what you are saying) is not an argument they were not elite goalies

As for JJ.  It is hard to put things into historical perspective as they are occurring and sometimes mistakes get made that become obvious in hindsight.  You are pointing out one of those mistakes and acting as though it invalidates everything.  My tests for elite teams show necessary but not sufficient conditions for being elite.  Vancouver made the necessary condition and I jumped the gun a bit on my declarations about them.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 03/29/13 at 04:52 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

You are pointing out one of those mistakes and acting as though it invalidates everything.

Slow down there, Tiger.  I was asking a question because I thought I remembered you calling Vancouver an elite team and then I got confused when you said the last one was the Ducks.

Don’t read into it that I was acting as though it invalidated everything. I just wanted clarification.

What specifically disqualifies that Vancouver team?  Lack of HoF-track defensemen? The fact that they didn’t win a cup? The goaltending? 

I’m not trying to play outside of your definition; I’m trying to clarify your definition as to how it fits a team you previously said could have fit and now are not saying that.

So sensitive…

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 03/29/13 at 05:20 PM ET

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I think we got our signals crossed, maybe.

When I said “their numbers remained similar” what I really meant was their numbers remained similar to one another. I did not mean to say that their numbers remained equally good into the 90s, because obviously league average save percentage improved tremendously while Fuhr’s and Moog’s did not. Better goaltenders with better technique left Fuhr and Moog in the dust. Fairly few goalies who were established by 1985—when Roy arrived—were still in the league by the early 90s, and of those who did stick around really only Roy and maybe Vanbiesbrouck were much good compared to league average by that time.

My point that, regardless of what was happening with the rest of the league, throughout their careers Moog consistently performed as good or better than Fuhr statistically, right through the late 90s. Fuhr, you argue, is a Hall of Fame quality goaltender.

So my question to you is, does that mean Moog should be considered Hall of Fame quality as well, if Fuhr is a Hall of Famer and Moog was able to consistently equal or better Fuhr statistically throughout the duration of both men’s careers? Do you think there are other factors that make Moog’s numbers look better than they are?

I’ve sort of given up on the main, “were they or were they not elite in the context of 1980s stand-up style goaltending” debate because I think we’re at an impasse there. I’m willing to concede that you could be right that they both were, but again the case just doesn’t look that compelling to me.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/13 at 06:17 PM ET

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Grant Fuhr had several Vezina nominations and one win. Unlike, say, the Hart trophy (which was awarded by journalists to the obviously wrong player three times in the last decade: Sedin, Perry and Theodore), the Vezina is voted on by hockey people with a practiced eye for evaluating players in his position. Even if his numbers weren’t tremendous, many disinterested people who know what they’re talking about, came to the conclusion that he was the best goaltender there was on multiple occasions.

Osgood had one third place finish in Vezina voting once in a very long career. The same types of practiced eyes that concluded Fuhr was the best guy concluded that Osgood was the worst goaltender ever to win a Stanley Cup. These aren’t comparable players.  If Chris Osgood gets into the Hall of Fame, he’ll be the worst player in it by a wide margin and I’ve yet to hear any hockey person without a personal tie to Osgood or Detroit suggest he should. It would be like inducting Turco to the Hall.

Posted by larry on 03/30/13 at 06:33 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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