Starting with a Clean Slate: ’13-14 Pittsburgh Penguins

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Over the next 8-9 months, we will all partake in several conversations/arguments/rants about lines, player usage, transactions, salaries, and strategies. An NHL franchise is in constant transition, and because of this, our views and arguments are ever-changing as well (or at least they’re supposed to be). For just the length of this post, forget all of it.

Forget your hatred of Tanner Glass, and I’ll forget my disdain for Kris Letang. Let go of your concerns about Marc-Andre Fleury and I’ll back off of my unwavering support for Robert Bortuzzo. Remember Dustin Jeffrey exists, and I will do the same.

Forget all of the frustrations and disappointments of the past few seasons. The 2013-14 season is upon us. It’s a fresh start for everyone, regardless of which players need it more than others.

Given that fresh start, this is what I would like to see from everyone on the team as of this moment in time (9/30/13, 2pm).
(Not including players in tenuous roster situations)

General Manager Ray Shero and Asst. GM Jason Botterill
Continue to be trading and salary cap magicians. It’s safe to say Shero comes out ahead on most trades. It’s also safe to say Botterill helps him manage the cap in ways most of us will never understand. With cap issues to begin the season and a weaker roster than last year, just keep doing what you guys do best. PS – Ray, please push for a slow (but real) transition towards some younger players.

Head Coach Dan Bylsma
Continue your regular season mastery but trust your unfamiliar talent and reinvent yourself for the playoffs. There is no question that Bylsma knows what to do in the regular season. He finds a way to get more output out of less talent every time an injury arises. You can’t really blame him if he’s stubborn with his decisions because it works well a majority of the time, even if he doesn’t get due credit for it. It’s time to grow as a coach though. Take some extra chances, trust some unknowns, and change preemptively in the playoffs. It’s time to keep other teams guessing while you have the talent to make it happen. Most coaches are limited by their talent, show them what you can do without such limits.

Assistant Coaches Tony Granato, Todd Reirden, Jacques Martin, and (Goalie Coach) Mike Bales
Get special teams off to a strong start and keep the goalies sane. It was only preseason, but the PK already looks questionable and it appears that opposing forwards will have their way with the goalies. Bales, you already have your hands full with Fleury, but you’re going to have to teach him how to trust his defensemen and his own abilities. Rest of the staff, how about a 20% PP and 85% PK for the first month?

#2 Matt Niskanen
Play your best amid trade rumors. You will probably be a 5th defenseman who will log 2nd pairing minutes with some 2nd PP line time. Keep boosting the transition game and putting that low shot on net. Even with your $2.3 million salary, this team just needs you to play mistake-free hockey. Your best asset will be your ability to move the puck to the forwards from the defensive zone. Use it wisely.

#4 Rob Scuderi
Forget your legend and just anchor Letang. You don’t need to be “the piece” anymore and I’m not sure you have it in you anyways at this point. Just learn Letang’s game and tendencies and let him do what he does best. Also, be a stud on the PK (especially 5 on 3s), but that part is easy for you. My biggest hope for you this season is that you learn how to predict Letang and take over Martin/Orpik for the top pairing by the end of the season.

#5 Deryk Engelland
Be the perfect 7th defenseman. On a team that lacks grit, your physical style will be necessary from time to time. However, it won’t be necessary most games. Stay in game shape, don’t get rusty, and be ready to sub in for injuries or for exceptionally physical games. When you’re playing though, don’t cross the line. Stay between forwards and the net. Make *timely* hits and clear the crease. No bad penalties for the sake of physical contact!

#7 Paul Martin
Do everything that you did last season. Your presence calmed the powerplay down, it made Orpik look like Orpik again, and it even drew a few Norris votes. Just be the exact same player. Nothing needs to change. Continue being patient at both ends of the ice because that style was perfect last year.

#9 Pascal Dupuis
Don’t try to be a scorer, just forecheck and kill penalties. You deserved the contract you signed but don’t let that change your style of play. With the team’s new adjustments, your forecheck will be a big key when Kunitz is helping in the defensive end. As usual, your PK work will be important as well. Do both well and everything will be fine. I surely don’t expect last year’s stats to continue.

#14 Chris Kunitz
Be a scorer, help the defense, and ruin opposing goalies. It’s clear you belong on the top line with Crosby. It’s also clear your hands are somehow improving as you age. Keep using them in front of the net and distract goalies (ideally with fewer goalie interference calls). Also, help the defense clear the puck in this new scheme. You’re going to have a lot of ice to cover, so I hope you’re well-conditioned for this.

#15 Tanner Glass
Be a true 4th line energy guy. On paper, you fit this team and system well. Let’s see it in reality. Throw hits in the offensive zone, not worthless neutral zone hits after a guy moves the puck. Hitting for hitting’s sake doesn’t add much value. Force turnovers and bad passes with timely hits. Forecheck aggressively, keep the puck in the opposing end, and help out on the boards in the defensive zone. Your entire goal is to successfully kill 40 seconds at a time so the top lines can take a breather. Any production is a bonus as far as I’m concerned.

#16 Brandon Sutter
Keep playing defense while no one notices. You’ll forever be underappreciated because you’re not Jordan Staal. You don’t need to be Jordan Staal. A clutch goal here and there is nice, but your defensive prowess is a necessity. You’ll need to pitch in on offense, especially with talented wingers instead of grinders, but keep the defensive hockey at the level that it was at last year.

#17 Dustin Jeffrey
Find your niche. It has been several seasons and we still don’t know what you are exactly, DJ. Whether that’s because of coaching, injuries, or your own inconsistency, it would be nice to find out this season. Are you an injury replacement for the top 6? Are you capable of a 4th line role? Do you require talent around you to succeed? Can you bring the best out of other players? None of these questions have been answered definitively yet. There are very few roles available on this team, and it’s time to figure out if you fit one of those roles. You’re talented, but it doesn’t mean you’re a fit. Please decide and show management either way.

#18 James Neal
Score 40 and mind your temper. I have no doubt the first half of that task will be easy. The second part will take some work. It seems that you have acquired Geno’s proclivity for getting irritated and slashing or hitting someone behind the play. In your case, it’s usually in the offensive zone. Stop it. No more Stupid Neal Penalties. Just score goals and at least take penalties within the play.

#19 Beau Bennett
Earn your stripes. It’s likely you’ll split time between the 2nd and 3rd line. You have the offensive abilities for the 2nd line and all of a sudden have the physicality to be very useful on the 3rd line. Your defense was surprisingly strong last season as well. You’re turning into a complete player ahead of schedule and you will get your top 6 time soon enough. You have a whole career ahead of you. Give Sutter some help on the 3rd line and you’ll be rewarded in the long run.

#22 Matt D’Agostini
Score 10-15 goals. You have almost no expectations and no one is talking about you. No one is really even sure where you fit in quite yet. 3rd line? 4th line? healthy scratch? Regardless, you will get playing time eventually whether it’s due to injuries or your own talent. Score a goal here and there. Just get shots on net and most people will be happy. You’re not Tyler Kennedy, so you already won most people over.

#27 Craig Adams
Get the puck out of the defensive zone. Whether it’s on the PK or at even strength, your job is simple – block shots and clear the puck. It would be nice if you could keep the puck out of the zone at even strength and add an offensive zone forecheck, but that will probably be a job for your linemates more than you. Just be a PK specialist and I’ll be content with you in the lineup.

#29 Marc-Andre Fleury
Trust yourself. You’ve never had great stats, and I’ll never expect great stats from you. You have always had the athletic ability and the talent to keep this team in games though. Get out of your head, stay in position, and trust your defensemen. Trust your reflexes. Your natural reactions are good enough, but you have to be in position to let them do the job. “Go have fun out there.” After all, you can’t have FUNdamentals without FUN. Okay, sorry, I’m done.

#36 Jussi Jokinen
Redefine versatility. You stepped up into the first line smoothly last season but disappeared in the bottom 6. You’re great on faceoffs, and capable of playing both PP and PK time. You’re going to have to be the most versatile player on the team. More faceoffs, more PP, more PK, top 6 time, bottom 6 time, maybe even healthy scratch time. Find a way to excel at all of it. You have most of it down, but you can’t disappear if you’re in the bottom 6. Find a way to adjust your game.

#37 Jeff Zatkoff
Survive the first half of the season. Many aren’t sure what to expect out of you but they are certainly worried about Fleury. If Fleury goes crazy, you’re going to have to step in for a game or maybe even a few. Just give the team a chance to win. They won’t need highlight reel and hockey card worthy saves. They’ll just need enough saves to keep them in a game. Just let in 3 or less.

#41 Robert Bortuzzo
Make Engelland obsolete. You can play defense, hit, and fight. You can do all of this at a younger age and with more upside than your competition though. It’s time to take the leap as you have in the preseason and force the coaches to play you over Engelland. That will require consistency and *smart* physicality. You won’t have to be great, just don’t be awful enough to force a lineup change.

#44 Brooks Orpik
Decline slowly. We know you’re aging and your physical style of play can only last for so long. However, it benefitted greatly from the play of Paul Martin last season and there’s no reason to think that your pairing can’t succeed again this year. You’re going to have to focus more on positioning and more on clearing the crease this year. I will gladly take a broken up pass over a big hit this year.

#46 Joe Vitale
Be annoying. As you rotate in and out of the lineup, you’re going to have to provide something different than everyone else. One thing that is lacking on this roster is a pest. Welcome to your new possible role. Be quick, forecheck hard, and be a pest. Get under everyone’s skin. Annoy the hell out of all opponents over the course of a game and draw some penalties. That will be your best bet for staying in this lineup.

#47 Simon Despres
Don’t regress. NHL or WBS, top 4 defenseman or healthy scratch, no one really understands what the plan is for you. Everyone says you’re good enough to be in the top 4 but you’re going to have a hard time getting a chance in the lineup without injuries. No matter when and where you play this season, just don’t regress. Keep working hard, stay in game shape, and dazzle everyone when you get the chance. This season may theoretically stunt your development with how things are playing out. Don’t let it. Show the franchise you can overcome the adversity they are throwing at you.

#58 Kris Letang
Communicate with Scuderi and protect yourself. You have Norris potential and the talent to play great in both ends. Shero has even made your life easier by bringing back Scuderi so you don’t have to focus on the defensive end *as much*. Help him learn your ways. With your new contract, protect the investment the Penguins have made and prove you’re worth it. That means fewer unnecessary physical confrontations, increased on-ice awareness for oncoming hits, and knowing when to back off of a play. Your exceptional skating and talent puts you at risk for some ugly hits if you aren’t paying attention, so always pay attention. It’s time to grow out of the mental lapses for your own sake.

#71 Evgeni Malkin
Protect the puck and focus your rage. At this point in your career, there is little left to improve on. However, there are still things to improve on. Number one in that category would be cutting down on turnovers and bad passes. Sometimes, the safe play is the right play, especially when no looking is involved. Next up, join Neal in cutting down on the stupid penalties. You already have to a greater degree than most will give you credit for, but you’re at your best when focusing that rage into a slapshot instead of a slash. Keep it simple and just angrily get the puck to the net.

#87 Sidney Crosby
Stay healthy. Somehow you have improved in some facet every year even while missing tons of games every season. Statistically, it’s hard to ask for much more. Just like with Malkin, you also need to cut down on the turnovers and bad passes. Get back to using your shot more often. Exploit bigger 5 holes instead of making the risky cross-ice pass. Finally, stop trying to prove yourself physically to everyone everywhere. Your toughness doesn’t matter, but your health and statistics do. Let the scoreboard and the stat sheet do the trash talking.

#92 Tomas Vokoun
Feel better. Hopefully you return soon and if you do, all we want is exactly what you did last year. Until then though, here’s hoping you recover fully and happily, whether that includes hockey or not.


Okay, you can all get back to complaining about who is on which line, who won’t get enough playing time, and who shouldn’t be on the roster.  Is there anything you would add and/or change?   Thanks for reading!