Wild introduce Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, who know their roles: shoot and score goals

6 Comments

There are a lot of fantastic things that come from the generalized unselfishness exhibited by hockey players. They’re sports-wide leaders in “Aw shucks” quotes and tend to be generous when it comes to charitable causes (and also seem generous enough to lay their bodies in front of 100 mph slap shots). Those are all great things, but sometimes that attitude has some drawbacks.

One of the most obvious, teeth-clenching moments comes when a player seems unwilling to put a puck on net. Whether it’s a 2-on-1 that short circuits because the forwards “got too cute” with one-too-many passes or a defenseman whose point shots rarely make it to the net because they’ve telegraphed their attempts, there are times when it’s flat-out frustrating to watch this unselfishness in action. (Maybe there’s an element of players preserving their shooting percentages, too, but we’d like to think that isn’t a frequent concern.)

Soon-to-be-outgoing Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards cringed when people used the same trap-happy label for his more wide-open team last season, but the bottom line was that the Wild didn’t have the weapons to justify opening things up. The hockey blogosphere has been flush with debate regarding the true “winner” of the deal that sent Martin Havlat to San Jose in exchange for Dany Heatley, but it seems like the Wild are finally willing to dive into the deep end after a couple years of dipping their toes in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to opening things up.

It might be a loss in the grand scheme of things; Havlat is a little bit more versatile than Heatley and losing Brent Burns could really hurt a Wild blueline that lacks any apparent dynamism. That being said, the Wild obviously needed a change and those two blockbuster trades will provide that (if nothing else).

source: APShooooot!

To keep the stats talk simple yet relevant, the Wild were regularly out-shot last season. They produced a league-worst 26.2 shots per game while giving up an average of 32 shots (tied for sixth-worst in the NHL with the New York Islanders). That works out to a league-worst -5.8 shot differential, with only the lowly Edmonton Oilers’ -5 being comparable.

The Wild would be dreaming pretty big if they thought that Heatley and Setoguchi could improve their odds in the shots allowed category. Thankfully, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher expressed more realistic expectations when he introduced Heatley and Setoguchi today: the Wild want them to shoot and score goals in large portions. Setoguchi expressed his objective in an almost comically single-minded way, as you can see from Michael Russo’s quotes.

On his game: You’re going to find that I’m just going to shoot the puck. That’s all what I try to do. I get the puck, I shoot it. I don’t hold onto it, I don’t make nice, really sweet plays with it. I just shoot it. I’m going to skate and shoot and hit, and that’s my plan.

Expectations from Chuck and Mike: Nowadays in the game, you’ve got to shoot the puck. The game’s quicker. Goalies are better. Teams are better. In order to be a successful team, you’ve got to shoot the puck, you’ve got to get shots. I think I can shoot the puck more, and I know that’s what they want us to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.

(snip)

Describe your game: It’s pretty simple what you’re going to get from me. I like to play north-south. I like to use my speed, get in on the forecheck, really be tenacious and puck hungry. And I like to shoot. So you’re going to get some speed, you’re going to get a little bit of physicality and just a player that likes to play a hard game and score some goals every once in awhile.

Wait, so will Setoguchi shoot a lot or not? He keeps beating around the bush about it …

For those of you who might want to see things in black-and-white terms, Setoguchi averaged 2.67 shots per game in his career while Heatley averages about 3.1 per game. Havlat (2.57 per game) isn’t a slouch in that area either; in fact, he put more pucks on net (229) than Heatley (217) or Setoguchi (199) did in 2010-11. That being said, it might be a matter of mindset more than anything else (plus, in the simplest way, they’ll get more shots combined from Heatley and Setoguchi than they would from Havlat and Burns, even if Burns shoots pretty frequently for a blueliner).

Heatley’s hit the 300 shot mark twice in his career and Setoguchi topped out at 246 in 2008-09. Mysteriously enough, those years also ranked as the best offensive outputs of their careers. Maybe the two wingers were shackled a bit by San Jose’s shift to a more defense-minded scheme. If nothing else, the Wild could profit from letting both of them loose. Worst case scenario, the Wild are trying something different. We’ll find out next season if different will mean better.

Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

Getty
Leave a comment

John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

“I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot (again)

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

For the second straight year, Derrick Pouliot is our pick for the Pittsburgh player under the most pressure heading into the season.

Perhaps we should just focus on someone else, but the Penguins gave the 23-year-old defenseman a one-year contract extension in July. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot knows time is running short to prove Pittsburgh didn’t make a big mistake.

It should be compelling to watch how he fares.

“I’ve got to make an impact right away and show that I belong in the NHL,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “It’s been three years now. I haven’t fully established myself yet. I want to take it one step at a time and build as the year goes on.”

Pouliot felt he had a strong finish to his AHL season, and perhaps that will help his confidence heading into camp.

But it’s worth noting that he’s no longer exempt from waivers. So unless he earns a spot, that could mean a change of scenery, with the Penguins either losing him for nothing or trading him for pennies on the dollar.

Pouliot could feasibly crack the opening roster as Pittsburgh’s eighth defenseman, behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel and new addition Matt Hunwick.

He could then languish on that roster until an injury gives him a chance to play.

The first step, though, is coming into camp and building off the back half of last season.

“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it’s kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said, per the Tribune-Review. “That’s been one thing that’s always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it’s starting with that and building each game.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

Getty
2 Comments

This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”

Poll: Who will the Penguins miss the most?

6 Comments

This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been forced into making some changes to their roster.

It’s only normal that championship teams won’t be able to bring all their players back, especially in a salary cap world.

This offseason, the Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft and Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, and Matt Cullen in free agency. Each one of those players played an important role in at least one of the two title runs.

Fleury may not have been between the pipes when the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in each of the last two seasons, but he played a crucial part in each victory. On top of playing 38 games during the regular season, he also compiled a 9-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage during the 2017 postseason.

Without Fleury on the roster, the pressure will fall squarely on Matt Murray‘s shoulders. Murray may own two rings, but he has yet to go through the challenges of an 82-game season plus playoffs. New backup Antti Niemi probably won’t be capable of filling in as well as Fleury did.

One of the major reasons the Pens were able to go on two championship runs was because of the depth they had accumulated at center. Any team would love to have one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have both. The Penguins’ depth didn’t stop there. They also had Nick Bonino on their third line and Matt Cullen on their fourth, which is pretty impressive.

Both Bonino and Cullen will play in the Western Conference next year. Finding competent players to play on the third and fourth line isn’t as difficult as getting top line talent, but those two losses will probably hurt them pretty badly.

Bonino had 18 goals and 37 points during the 2016-17 regular season and he added a modest seven points in 21 games during the postseason before being ruled out with a lower-body injury. Last year, he put up less points in the regular season (29), but he had an impressive 18 points in 24 games during the playoffs. He was also capable of playing a solid two-way game.

Cullen, who signed with Minnesota yesterday, also found a way to contribute, despite playing a bottom-six role on such a deep team. The 40-year-old scored 32 and 31 points in his two years with the Penguins and he also added six and nine points during the playoff runs. He also won plenty of key faceoffs and played well without the puck.

Trevor Daley was unable to finish the 2016 playoffs because of an ankle injury, but he also played a vital role during Pittsburgh’s impressive accomplishment. Daley, who is now with the Red Wings, was able to hold down the fort while Kris Letang was out. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season and 19 more in the spring.

Ron Hainsey was a smart, underrated trade deadline acquisition by GM Jim Rutherford. The veteran stepped into the lineup and played 21 minutes per night for his new team. He also chipped in with eight points in 25 games. He got himself a nice contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1st.

Chris Kunitz had been a big contributor for the team, but his production fell off dramatically. After scoring 35 goals during the 2013-14 season, he added 17, 17 and nine during his last three years in Pittsburgh. It became pretty clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level he had been in previous years, so it wasn’t surprising to see him go elsewhere (Tampa Bay) when free agency opened.

It’s your turn to vote. Make sure you make a selection in the poll below and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.