Penguins sign Cody Ceci so people have defense to argue about with Johnson gone

Penguins sign Cody Ceci so people have D to argue about with Johnson gone
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For some, the greatest accomplishment of the Pittsburgh Penguins buying out Jack Johnson boiled down to ending debates about his value, debates that often inspired “old-school vs. analytics” arguments.* Well, those exhausted people could only breathe a sigh of relief for so long. The Penguins brought in another lightning rod of criticism/debate by signing Cody Ceci on Saturday.

The Penguins announced that Ceci’s one-year contract carries a $1.25 million cap hit.

* – Granted, even the Penguins struggled to defend the defenseman as time and mistakes wore on.

Penguins sign Cody Ceci; expect Jack Johnson-style arguments

Frankly, it’s pretty amusing that the Penguins insist on always having at least one defenseman who works as a talking point and punchline at all times.

They acquired Erik Gudbranson, one such defenseman, and then traded him away. While that was a mistake the Penguins easily divested themselves from, they made their most egregious foray into contrarian team-building with Jack Johnson. It’s one thing to believe in Johnson, noted friend of Sidney Crosby. It was another to give him a whopping five year, $16.25 million contract. One they meekly bought out recently.

Following all of that, signing Ceci for cheap isn’t the end of the world. But it’s kind of exhausting, albeit also amusing. Maybe like the less-apocalyptic portions of 2020?

Sometimes it feels like there’s a “Circle of Life” feel to this. In Pittsburgh, you have the Penguins cycling analytics whipping boys in and out. The Rangers went from getting rid of Marc Staal to bafflingly using precious cap space for, you guessed it, Jack Johnson.

A matter of usage?

Yet, as the HB Analytics Newsletter discussed in detail, it’s possible that the Penguins might get something out of Ceci, 26. If you want even more to chew on, that post breaks down the very specific areas where Ceci could be useful, if not outright strong. But in this RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey alone, you can see that the Maple Leafs found some value in Ceci, at least defensively, in 2019-20:

Cody Ceci RAPM Penguins
via Evolving Hockey

So, could the Penguins actually get some value out of Ceci in the right role? PHT’s own Adam Gretz chimed in:

Indeed, part of the trouble with teams talking themselves into the Jack Johnsons of the world is that they seem to sink more costs into such decisions. In other words, they play the flawed/just flat-out-bad defenseman far too much. Maybe because they want to stubbornly show that they’re right. Maybe because they judge defense and player value in their own curious ways.

Yet, as much as we can talk ourselves into the Penguins signing Cody Ceci not being a total disaster, it feels like a low-cost move that could provide some risks. Might Ceci take ice time away from a more versatile defenseman? Even at $1.25M, it’s possible the Penguins limited themselves a bit from using money on more dramatic improvements.

Overall, it doesn’t seem like that bad of a move, even if it remains to be seen if it’s even an incrementally good one.

The real winners, of course, are people making jokes on the Internet. That’s probably what really matters, right?

Scroll for an updated look at the Penguins’ defense.

A look at the Penguins’ defense after this offseason

Again, as PHT colleague Gretz notes, the Penguins frequently compounded the mistake of signing Jack Johnson by playing him above his level of competency. If signing Ceci ends up being another error, the hope will be that such an issue can at least be limited to the bottom pairing.

On paper, that seems like it should be the plan.

During the Qualifying round heading into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kris Letang most often paired with Brian Dumoulin, John Marino was to Marcus Pettersson‘s right, and Johnson found Justin Schultz as his most frequent partner.

If Letang – Dumoulin and Marino – Pettersson hold as the Penguins’ top four, then we could see a pairing of Mike Matheson and Ceci. Indeed, even the maddest of mad hockey scientists would struggle to argue that Ceci represents a better option as a right-handed defenseman than Letang or Marino.

(Uh oh, did I accidentally will that into existence?)

In addition to bringing in Matheson and now Ceci, the Penguins hired former Capitals head coach Todd Reirden. Being that the Penguins hired Reirden to oversee their defense and power play, he’ll be key to integrating Ceci. Or, if you’re a critic, maybe limiting the damage.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.