“But but but- we need a winger! Sid needs a winger!!!!”
This is about the extent of what you are hearing from half of the Pittsburgh fan base these days. The other half is hoping that the Pens acquire a big defenseman before the start of the season to add some size and dominance to the blue line. I am in the latter half of the Penguins fan camp who would like to see the second coming of Hal Gill (who down the line, might be Pens prospect Andrej Sustr at a whopping 6’7″ off of his skates).
I’m not sure where the mindset originated from that Sidney Crosby is too good to play with any of our current players (save for maybe Evgeni Malkin and James Neal- but separating them as linemates would be scoring suicide). The type of player that Crosby is pretty much dictates that whomever he is on the ice with with be productive. If Crosby requires an elite player who frankly within the next few years will be more expensive than he is in order to score goals, well that is more a problem with Sidney Crosby and less a problem with the other players on the team.
Take a look at Crosby’s scoring trends from the last few seasons:
The past two seasons, Sid saw a HUGE spike in his production. The season that he sustained the concussion, he played exactly half of the season and was pacing to score a career high 132 points. He managed a 25 game point streak, 16 of which were multi-point games. This was accomplished along side of wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
That same season, the Pens acquired James Neal in a trade that sent Alex Goligoski to Dallas (Goose had earned 8 of his own 31 points that season with Crosby). When Neal came to Pittsburgh after a few seasons of winging for center Brad Richards, the immediate reaction was, “Thank, God! Sid has a winger!”
Hmmm…Crosby had just scored 66 points in 41 games and was on pace to more than double that and gut reaction was “Oh man. Now he doesn’t have to play with some riff-raff”? James Neal began the 2011-2012 season with Malkin and Steve Sullivan (which would later move to be Geno and Kunitz). As soon as Crosby returned on November 21, 2011, people were crying out that the Pens needed to place James Neal on Crosby’s wing. Whatever for?!?! The Neal and Geno on line together was GOLD. Why would you mess with what is working?
Somewhere along the line, people got caught up in Sidney Crosby being “Sidney Crosby” and lost sight of the fact that hockey lines should not be dictated by who the best players are. Lines need to be assembled based on who will be the most productive together. The best players together does not equal production. For as little time as Crosby and Jordan Staal spent on the ice together, in the past 4 seasons (regular season play), Sid and Staalsy only produced 7 points together.
Look at Crosby’s stats from the past few years:
Crosby has ZERO problems scoring with whomever he is on the ice with. These are the stats of an elite player. Was I salivating at the thought of the Pens acquiring Zach Parise? Hell yes I was! But because he is Zach Parise and he is one of my favorite players and I would love to see him in a Pens sweater, not because he would be the illustrious Sidney Crosby Winger.
Now, let me show you some stats on who Crosby has been scoring with the most based on who is CURRENTLY with the Pens. (Bill Guerin was arguably the best winger that Sid has ever had, taking into account that the majority of Geno and Sid’s combined scoring capacity comes from the power play).
At this point, you must be wondering what I just showed you. The charts above reflect how many goals and assists that Crosby achieved while on the ice with these players. Crosby scores goals and assists no matter who is on the ice. It is what he does. Kunitz and Dupuis just ended career high seasons (mostly without Crosby on the ice). There is no reason to believe that their production would not continue to increase on Sid’s wing, as we have seen that the more they are on the ice with him, the more their goal production increases.
I am actually not opposed at this point to putting Tyler Kennedy on his wing. Why? Because Sid makes players better and we saw this past season that Sid did help TK. (You can read more about Kennedy and Matt Cooke playing with Crosby and how they scored here.) Crosby as captain should be helping the players around him improve. TK has two problems: accuracy and patience. Being on line with Crosby, Crosby will set the pace and be able to help TK fine tune his game. We have seen TK’s potential, now he needs to make it happen again and with the Pens having holes in their wings as well as the D, GM Ray Shero and HC Dan Bylsma are already looking at TK to take on a larger role with the team. He is a grinder and has grit, he just needs to utilize his better attributes in a way that would be beneficial to Sid (and he CAN be valuable on a Crosby line if he wants to be).
If this season Sid plays with TK and has a 100 point season, but only 10 of his points are goals, I don’t care. That is still 100 times the team lit the lamp and it doesn’t matter who touched the puck last. What matters is that it found the back of the net.
For all of my TK rage, I at least am starting to have some faith that maybe we will see him work for that paycheck if his confidence is built up a bit more in the face of a larger role with the team.
There are still good free agents available. Shero isn’t being brash about free agency. We do not need a top dog to improve the Pens. Here is a list of who is still available. There are a lot of options. (Semin went to the Hurricanes today for a 1-year $7 million contract.)
It is still July. Shero has time. Don’t panic yet. The best is still to come.