Should the Penguins bring back Petr Sykora?


sykora.jpgThe most exciting moments of hockey off-seasons come when a team lands a big, expensive free agent. Yet, nine times out of ten in sports, splashy deals fail miserably (see: the Dan Snyder era with the Washington Redskins). Just look at last summer; while Jay Bouwmeester made headlines when he signed with the Calgary Flames, it turned out his former Florida Panthers teammate and backup goalie Craig Anderson ended up being the coup.

Now, sure, we’ll still be more fixated on the Ilya Kovalchuks and Evgeni Nabokovs of the world, but that doesn’t mean PHT will forget the smaller names entirely.

One of those guys you won’t hear a whole lot about in most circles is Czech winger Petr Sykora.

There’s a good reason why Sykora’s name will only come up in the most obscure free agent conversations. His one year with the Minnesota Wild was a borderline disaster, scoring three points in only 14 games played before he was waived in late January. He suffered from concussion problems and never made much of an impact. The fact that no one claimed him is obviously a bad sign, too.

While it’s quite possible that the wayward winger might retreat to the KHL, I wonder if the Pittsburgh Penguins should consider giving him a chance at retribution on the cheap. My guess is that Sykora would garner even less than the $1.6 million he received from the Minnesota Wild (although, again, the KHL could potentially overpay him). The forward and goalie ranks are filled, but the team needs to bolster its defense with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski being the only experienced blueliners under contract.

Aside from that whole “career free-fall” thing, there might also be some residual bitterness festering from the Penguins scratching Sykora during the 2009 Stanley Cup run.

It might not be the most realistic option, then, but the salary cap (and Sykora’s lack of other choices) could make compromise at least feasible. There’s two simple reasons to make it work: Sykora is a natural goal scorer and he developed genuine chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. It’s too simplistic to say that Sykora was the difference between Malkin being an Art Ross winner and just a point-per-game guy, but he certainly benefited from having a 25-goal guy on his line.

He’s not a crash-and-bang hitter. He rarely leads his team in hustle points or defensive acumen. If Sykora isn’t scoring goals, he’s nearly useless.

Yet, despite all of those flaws, Sykora being back in black and gold could be a solid if unspectacular move. As long as he’s cheap and can accept the fact that he might be a healthy scratch every now and then.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”