Inaugural Pittsburgh Penguins Mailbag

Away we go.

Welcome to the first of (hopefully) many editions of the Pittsburgh Penguins-The Hockey Writers Mailbag. This is where you, the fan, can email or tweet any questions you have about the current Pittsburgh Penguins, and I’ll give you my best opinion/answer. So without further adieu…

Roland – Parts Unknown

Robert Bortuzzo
Robert Bortuzzo {Tom Turk/THW)

Q: Still not a Bortuzzo Guy?

P.S. Paul Martin is the one who should be traded for cap and roster purposes.

A: On your question, Roland: I’m warming up to him. He had a tremendous preseason. So good in fact that I believe he may have pushed Simon Despres back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. If he can continue to progress the way he did this offseason, he’ll make a very valuable trade chip for Ray Shero (fact is, the Pens are loaded with blue line depth, and I still feel that his days in Pittsburgh are numbered).

As for Paul Martin, I’ll answer your question with one of my own: why on earth would you trade your most consistent defenseman from a season ago? Martin was arguably their best d-man last season during his renaissance. This preseason, he saw time on the top power play unit as the “quarterback,” which will allow Kris Letang to be more of a rover and a shooter. In short, trading away Paul Martin, in my opinion, is an awful idea.

Kevin – Basel, Switzerland

Pittsburgh Penguins 2012 Neal Kunitz Crosby
The Pittsburgh Penguins top power play unit from a season ago. (Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE)

Q: Why doesn’t (head coach Dan) Bylsma run an experiment? He could have two A-level power play units: one run by Sid and the other run by Geno. The fresher line gets the call when the Penguins go on the PP. The two lines would be in healthy competition. The opponents’ second shorthanded unit would be way out-matched. Sid could then have some ice time to kill penalties, too. I love the idea. Is it impractical in some way?  Thanks.

A: Well, Kevin, first of all thanks for being a reader all the way over in Switzerland. As to your inquiry, this is something that I have been screaming about for a few seasons now. You have to figure that the majority of the penalties drawn by the Pens, are done so by one of the top two lines. From that standpoint, it only makes sense to then throw out the other line to begin the man-advantage while the unit that drew the penalty rests. I agree, any team’s second PK unit would be at a HUGE disadvantage against either the Malkin or Crosby unit, considering most teams’ penalty killers are third or fourth liners.

The reason why Bylsma and company are hesitant to do this, well, your guess is as good as mine. It has been noted that Bylsma feels that having the best two players in the world, on the ice at the same time, creates a gigantic mismatch for any team. I disagree. If the Pens’ top power play unit were scoring goals with the man advantage at a 50% clip, then I’d say of course you play them together. But their numbers aren’t staggering by any means, and honestly, they’ve never seemed to mesh well together on the ice. That’s called chemistry. Something that Crosby has with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Likewise with Malkin and James Neal.

In short, some believe that it’s ego with Crosby and Malkin. Others, like myself, feel that it’s poor coaching by Dan Bylsma. Perhaps some time this season he will experiment with it.

Cash – Pittsburgh, Pa.

Q: Do you think that Chuck Kobasew is deserving of a contract with the Pens this season? And if so, where do you see him fitting in on this team?

A: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Chuck Kobasew this preseason. And from what I’ve seen of him in game action, I think he’d be a great addition on this team, potentially on the third line with Brandon Sutter and perhaps Jussi Jokinen. He’s gritty, a solid two-way player with a decent scoring touch, and isn’t afraid to muck it up in the dirty areas. The 2013-2014 version of the Pittsburgh Penguins could use some more grit, and Kobasew is a perfect balance of grit, toughness, and offensive ability.


Morpheus – Paradise, NV.

Q: Being a Bruins’ fan and relishing the crushing defeat they handed the Penguins last year, do you think that Dan Bylsma will make changes to the system that the Bruins so easily shut down?Dan Bylsma - Ray Shero

A: Thanks for rubbing salt in the wound, Morpheus. I wrote about Bylsma and his system’s ineffectiveness right after the loss to the Bruins. It’s my guess that he and GM Ray Shero had a discussion before the contract extension (and extensions of assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden) that most likely covered Bylsma adapting his system when it seems to be failing. Every team needs a backup plan. It’s incredibly arrogant to think that your system, when played correctly, is the end-all/be-all of offensive hockey.

As evidenced in the preseason, Bylsma stuck to his guns for the most part, but there were adaptations to the system, and a totally different system of getting the puck up the ice at times. Quite frankly, I’d like to see guys like Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and even Beau Bennett lugging the mail up ice, and using short, quick, accurate passes to get the puck deep. The long stretch-pass out of the D-zone, with a deflection by a winger at the opposing blue line to get the puck deep mosre often than not has led to the opponent breaking out of their own end, and the Penguins being on their heels defensively.

That’s all for the first installment of the mailbag, folks. Keep those questions coming all season long. For now I’ll run the mailbag every other week, until responses/questions warrant posting a new edition every seven days. To be a part of it, simply email your question along with your name and location to:

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