Pittsburgh Penguins' 5 Biggest Worries During the Lockout
The 2012 NHL lockout is affecting everybody—that includes the NHL’s best offensive hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even the Pittsburgh powerhouse will have its worries as some of their players flock to Europe, others to the AHL and the rest sit at home hoping for an early resolution.
The players flying to Europe to play hockey are the biggest worries for the Penguins. Much like worried parents of a teenager, the Penguins' general manager Ray Shero has to keep a watchful eye out on his players in Europe and hope that they come home safe.
Arguably, the Penguins have the most to lose from the lockout. With the exception of the playoffs, the Penguins had a lot of good things going in 2012—several of Pittsburgh’s players put up their best seasons.
If the lockout is extensive and tensions grow higher, it could put a wedge in the Penguins’ upward-trending 2012 season.
Here are five of Pittsburgh’s biggest worries during the 2012 NHL lockout.
Sidney Crosby Unlikely to Find Place to Play
It is just Sidney Crosby’s luck that when he is finally at 100 percent, after two injury-riddled seasons, there is an NHL lockout. Even worse for hockey’s young star, his contract might be too big a burden for European teams to carry.
According to AOL Sporting News, Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, told Fan 590 radio in Toronto that it would cost up to $400,000 per month to insure only part of his client’s contract. While every European team would love to have the Canadian star on their team, most of them, if any, cannot afford such accommodations.
Whether it be a result of that fact or because he really believes the lockout will have a quick resolution, Crosby is not ready to jump ship to Europe just yet.
"I just want to get a feel for how things move along here and hopefully there are some positive talks and some movement, and a sign that things are going to get done here. But I’ll just wait and see how things go,” said Crosby (via AOL sporting news). “We have enough guys to get some good workouts in here. And if it seems like it’s taking a little bit more time, then I’ll have to think pretty hard about maybe going to play somewhere until they figure it out.”
Crosby has been inconsistently on the ice for nearly two seasons and this lockout could make it his third.
A Target on Evgeni Malkin’s Back
Not surprising that the reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin would have a target painted on his back, but this poses a danger to him and to his team back in Pittsburgh. With Malkin dominating the NHL the way he does, one can only imagine how he must fare in the less-competitive KHL.
Players in the KHL know they cannot match the play of Malkin and will contend in the only way they can—physically. The hit in the video above is evidence that KHL players are gunning for Geno.
Malkin has stayed true to form in the KHL. In three games with Metallurg MG, Malkin has four assists for four points, notching 22 shots in the process.
Malkin has already surpassed a point-per-game basis—a stat that KHL players will surely take note of. Geno can expect more hits like the one above—Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero can only sit back and pray for Malkin safety.
Lockout a Huge Wedge After Best Seasons from Neal, Kunitz, Dupuis
With so many players—in Pittsburgh’s first, second and third lines—trending upward, the last thing Penguins general manager Ray Shero wanted was a lockout. Without proper practice and usage of team facilities, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis will have a harder time improving upon their best seasons yet.
Most notably of Pittsburgh’s most improved is Neal, who put up elite numbers last season (40 G, 41 A, 81 PTS) playing alongside Evgeni Malkin. The lack of proper practice and the possibility of a Malkin injury in the KHL could have a severe impact on Neal’s ability to repeat those numbers.
Dupuis was just shy of the 60-point mark with 59 points (25 G, 34 A) while Kunitz just managed to breach it with 61 points (26 G, 35 A). The lockout and an abnormally shortened season could have a negative impact on their numbers as well.
The lockout is the sort of uncomfortable stoppage that could shake the nerves of these three guys just as their gameplay was beginning to improve.
An Injury-Prone Kris Letang
Nothing is official for defenseman Kris Letang in terms of playing in Europe, but many suspect that is where he will end up.
Many rumors of Letang heading to Europe have been circulating around small Pittsburgh-based sports blogs, including insidepittsburghsports.com, which states that Letang’s agent, Kent Hughes, “confirms that Letang has received two offers and will make a decision very soon.” These offers allegedly include Mettalurg, a KHL team that currently has fellow Penguin Evgeni Malkin on its roster.
Letang was kept to 51 games last season; he returned in the latter-half of the season after suffering concussion-like symptoms. Letang also suffered and later recovered from a hip injury, which bothered him in the 2012 playoffs, according to CBS Sports.
Letang is clearly in a fragile state in his career and has been very injury prone as of late. Under ideal circumstances, Letang would be under the constant watch of athletic trainers and medical personnel: Unfortunately, with the lockout, that is not the case.
Marc-Andre Fleury's Confidence in Jeopardy
Poor Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has to sit on his uncharacteristically horrible first-round performance during the 2012 playoffs. The 2003 first-overall draft pick let the Broad Street Bullies—the Philadelphia Flyers—get the best of him.
In his six 2012 playoff games against Philly, Fleury allowed 26 goals and amassed a catastrophic 4.63 goals-against average, as well as a .834 save percentage.
This sort of performance is unheard of for Fleury, who has been stellar since his 2006 season with Pittsburgh, in which the Penguins had transformed Fleury into an NHL-ready goalie destined to become elite.
Sadly, redemption will not be attainable for Fleury anytime soon. There have not been any official talks of Fleury playing in Europe just yet, though there are some rumors of Fleury becoming part of a series of scrimmages for charity in Canada.
Fleury does not seem to be getting the practice and attention he needs to move past the 2012 playoffs. This, plus the recent signing of Tomas Vokoun as back-up goalie, could really hurt Fleury’s confidence.
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