A little more than a week and a half from now, players will be filtering in from various locales and getting their first skate on Consol Energy Center ice.
So for one of the last times this summer, let’s clean off the desk here at Chateau du Stoosh with some thoughts, dudes.
= Table for two for a “Duff”? Mr. Hilary Duff?
= OK, that brings an end to the last Hilary Duff joke you’ll hear from me, because they’re already older than Chelios.
= Raise your hand if you thought back on July 1 that we’d be going to training camp with the likes of Arron Asham and Mike Comrie in competition for roster spots. It’s a good bet that both with be regulars in the lineup, at least through the first half of the season. Kind of interesting to see your team bring guys on board that you’ve taught yourself to dislike over recent seasons. But then again, if Shero asked us, we’d still be trying to trot Gary Roberts out there for another season.
= This one is tough, too, because Comrie built up a bit of history here from his days with the Senators. He played on that 2006-07 Sens team, the one that ended our first foray back into the postseason after five years in just five games. And let’s be honest, he always had a dumb smirk on his face, like one of those guys you’d just want to see get his ass kicked. Routinely.
But he’s here now. He’s a Penguin now. And while this signing came out of nowhere kind of like the Asham signing did, it really is vintage Shero in more ways than one.
= Bill Guerin would’ve been swell from a sentimentality standpoint. Someone like Marek Svatos might have been OK because he’s still young enough to still have some semblance of upside. But a guy like Comrie is likely the better fit for this franchise going forward to this season.
For one thing, Comrie is young enough and skates well enough to keep up with the likes of Crosby and Malkin into the later months of the season – something Bill Guerin had noticeable trouble with last year, especially in the post-season. Comrie also has got a bit of an edge to his game and while he’s not Chris Kunitz, he has no qualms about getting into the corners and mixing things up physically. He’s actually a lot like Talbot when Talbot is on – a smaller player who won’t hesitate to work on the boards.
= Like Talbot, Comrie also brings added versatility. He can play both center and wing – a favorite trait of Shero - and will likely line up anywhere from third-line center to top-line winger, depending on the matchup.
= With that in mind, Comrie brings a decent track record of offensive production. If you take his career numbers – 167 goals, 192 assists, 359 points in 568 games – he produces at a pace that would be good for about 51 points (24G, 27A) over an 82-game season. OK, so Marian Hossa he is not. But he doesn’t need to be.
= As Derek mentioned to me via Twitter on the day the signing broke, this is awfully reminiscent of the Petr Sykora signing. Sykora came to the Pens back in 2007-08 almost as an afterthought. He was a third-tier free agent, a guy who had been a 30-goal scorer prior to the lockout but had begun to work up a reputation as a floater and was said to be a limited skater. Didn’t matter.
Over the course of two years, Sykora knocked in 53 regular season goals along with six goals during the Cup Finals run in 2008. He also proved to be quite the motivational speaker, given whatever he said to Marc-Andre Fleury in the runway after Fleury was pulled in Game Five of the 2009 Cup Finals and the ensuing results over that series’ final two games.
= Part of what made Sykora’s Penguins story so good were the reports that came out from Ray Shero that Sykora sought out the Penguins. Rumor had it that Sykora was calling Shero the first day of free agency during that summer of 2007. It took him some time to get the deal done, but perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come.
= In the summer of 2008, after Hossa signed with the Red Wings, Shero publicly declared the front office’s desire to make sure to get players “that want to be here.” What have we seen since?
Well, we saw Bill Guerin re-up for a year because he wanted to be here. We saw Jordan Leopold waive a no-trade clause because he wanted to be here.
We’ve seen both Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin turn down more lucrative offers elsewhere because they wanted to be here. If we use Colby Armstrong’s 3-year, $9 million deal with the Maple Leafs as a barometer, we saw Matt Cooke leave more than $1 million per year on the table because he wanted to be here. We’ve seen Arron Asham take less than what lesser-talented peers got because he wanted to be here. We’ve now seen Mike Comrie work out a deal for league minimum for a shot at the Cup here.
= This means that barring a lights-out training camp, guys like Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson, Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu start the season in Wilkes-Barre. Like Chris Rock once said, “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.” Wilkes-Barre has added impact-caliber AHLers like Brett Sterling and Andrew Hutchinson to their roster for this upcoming season, so it might help some of the younger players out to play with talent like that for a few months at that level.
= It’s worth noting that Comrie could be Ponikarovsky, Part Deux for all we know. But even moreso than a signing like Sykora, Fedotenko or Satan was, it’s a low-risk deal. it’s one-year at the league minimum for a guy who has a proven track record as a scorer and brings a multi-dimensional game to the ice. If we see 20 goals and 20 assists out of him, awesome. Anything else is a bonus.
= Shero once parlayed a few Islanders castoffs like Guerin, Fedotenko and Satan into a Stanley Cup. Comrie played for a year with the Isles before being cast off to Edmonton. Not sayin’. Just sayin’.
NHL ’11 is out today, kids. Happy Hockey Holiday.