Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bottom Six Bottom Line

The Penguins top six is, when healthy, one of the better top six in the league.  Having Malkin and Crosby alone make this the case.  Add in healthy Perron, Kunitz, Hornqvist and Bennett (please stop laughing) and you have the makings of one of the best top six in the NHL.  The bottom six?  Well... there in lies the rub.

Plenty has been said about the issues with the bottom six of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The biggest, most pressing issue is... they're not very good.  For more in depth reads about this you can check out this solid article by Ryan Wilson at HockeyBuzz and this by our friends at PensNation.  When it comes to this, Ryan is right.  The Penguins have taken something simple and complicated by bringing in, continuously, bottom barrel options for the bottom six.

Craig Adams: Do we have to?
Players like Craig Adams and Zach Sill shouldn't have a spot in the NHL.  Craig Adams is a sticky wicket.  Even if he were to be sent to the minors his contract would stick (due to his signing over the age of 35).  By a few accounts he's had issues in the locker room and in practice.  Perhaps he isn't in their best interest but they may not have a choice.

Zach Sill is another case all together.  He's able to clear waives, is cheap, and continues to play over someone like Bennett, someone with talent that could make the top nine better.  It's a problem that has plagued the Penguins for several years now.  Players like Tanner Glass would get time when they had no business touching the ice.

The Penguins miss the consistency of Kennedy-Staal-Cooke
It was the favoring of grit over some semblance of playing hockey.  "Grinding bitches down" was the mantra of the old regime, and seems to continue to be with the new regime.  Wear them down and they'll eventually concede ground!  It's an idea that seemed to work in the playoffs, at first, but only wore down the Penguins as the season ground on.

Another issue facing the Penguins bottom six: there is no identity.  The bottom six is a mishmash of players without any idea of how they'll fit together.  Thinking back to the days of Kennedy-Staal-Cooke (and to a lesser extent Kennedy-Sutter-Cooke) there seemed to be a plan in place with each player.  Kennedy was the water bug puck retriever.  Cooke was the dig deep and dirty agitator.  Staal (and poor man's Staal Sutter) was the trigger man/distributor.  They worked.  They meshed.  There was formation.

Brandon Sutter is key for a better bottom six
Since those lines were broken up, the bottom six has seen little such planning.  Even now, Sutter the lone layover from that line, sees rotating line mates that don't match any seeming ideal.  Sutter can be good, though the jury is still out on that one, but it's hard to be good when your line mates are people who don't compliment you.

Chemistry is real.  Chemistry exists in hockey.  It's something we've immediately seen with Sidney Crosby and David Perron.  It's what we saw when Blake Comeau was healthy and paired with Evgeni Malkin.  Chemistry is hard to find when your wingers are barely above replacement level.  Having someone like Steve Downie is a start.  There is plenty of work to be done.

Fixing the broken bottom six is the big key to making the Penguins better.  No more Sill, no more Adams.  More skill to go with agitation.  It will take more than waiver claims and minor trades like the departed Mark Arcobello and Rob Klinkhammer.  They were more of the same: a possibility that won't work when things are already broken.

It'll take an overhaul to get the bottom six ship running again.  A healthy roster will help.  Smart moves by a GM who has made some bright ones are essential.  The Penguins don't need Kennedy-Staal-Cooke again.  They do, however, need much more than they have.
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