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Morning Skate: The System Is Down

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.


From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Oct. 9
Subject: Leafland

"If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it ... Oh oh oh." First, let me congratulate you on your recent nuptials. I still can't believe she said yes ... LOL.

On to hockey - can you explain to me how your precious Devils can be sitting in the middle of the worst-named division in sports with ZERO wins? Parity or pathetic? And how do the Flames have double the points as your boys? Is it Groundhog Day? (Ed. Note: The Devils are one of two winless teams in the league along with Buffalo heading into Tuesday night's games.)

So ... did you have Tomas Hertl on your preseason Calder list? Wow, eh! Does he suffer the same fate as Vladimir Tarasenko did last season? He and Patrick Marleau were the talk of the first couple weeks last year and then came the wall, the cliff and the abyss. Is Hertl still in the Calder hunt at the end of the season?

Where do you stand on the Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly debate? I know where my money sits. Rielly is smooth, slick and thinks the game like a seasoned pro. Gardiner plays rover like he's at midnight shinny ... and then his brain just burps. There have always been murmurs that Anaheim moved him because he just doesn't think the game well. I'm beginning to wonder the same thing. On the ice and in fantasy -- it's Morgan all the way.

And how about Philadelphia? Do they turn it around? Is the Steve Mason - Ray Emery tandem enough to get them to the postseason? When did the Caps actually regret trading Filip Forsberg for now fourth liner, Martin Erat? And will Dallas Eakins get the time he needs to make the Oilers a winning team? Or will the specter of a possible Mark Messier takeover be too tasty a morsel for the Oil to resist?

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Oct. 10:
Subject: Flaming Avs

The ring is on it - two of them actually. She was well-compensated for the upcoming hours of watching hockey and listening to me talk about hockey. She's amazing and I lucked out. Thank you again for your well wishes.

Now to your questions:

Thomas Hertl - wow, the kid looks good. Nice having Jumbo Joe as your center with the mountain man on the other side. We know the kid has a great set of hands, but I'd expect there to be some kind of fall off as accompanies most rookies, i.e. Tarasenko last season. I'd look to trade Hertl right now if I owned him in any of my 33 leagues (seriously, I'm feeling a bit overextended.).

I don't see Hertl in the Calder hunt, mostly because of what Sean Monahan is doing for the surging Calgary Flames. The kid is getting a ton of ice time and the opportunity to produce. He was on the ice late in the game the other night when they pulled the goalie and eventually tied the game against Vancouver. A bit further south, Nathan MacKinnon is putting up solid numbers for the Avs, as one would expect from the first-overall pick. Seth Jones, despite what he might do, will not be in the hunt simply because the offensive numbers won't be on a par with the other two I mentioned. If they are, that'd be one hell of a rookie season for a blue liner. (Ed. Note: Jones did score his first NHL goal last Saturday, beating Evgeni Nabokov and the Islanders.)

Speaking of Calgary and Colorado, I have to say Calgary's early-season success surprises me more. This is a team which lost a franchise goaltender and has more of a hodgepodge of forwards than the Devils (which is saying something). The Avs already seemed to have a few pieces in place with Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Pierre Parenteau. Neither team's defense is imposing, but Semyon Varlamov is proving to be the sleeper most had him pegged as. Working with the new goalie coach seems to be working quite nicely so far.

When is the Leafs' parade? Will Gardiner get to be a part of it? Rielly looks good after seeing him rush the puck up the ice Monday against the Avs. Kid has some serious skill. Someone on that blue line will be dealt and I think the Buds might have to take pennies on the dollar for Gardiner. Rielly seriously looks like everything we'd heard about coming out of junior. What's your take been on the Bernier-Reimer situation?

I'm not sold on the Flyers, and not just because I'm biased against them. The team seems to have an issue with its system that needs to be changed, possibly at the managerial level. I can't see either goalie carrying them to the playoffs especially with Columbus and Carolina being a bit more competitive than in the past. The Caps are going to regret the Forsberg trade for a long time. Good on David Poile for pulling that one off, getting a talented offensive prospect to come to a franchise where defensemen with 45 points are your team's highest scorers.

As for the Eakins-Messier debate, I think Eakins is going to build something and Messier will end up getting the success. The Oil still need to shore up their defense, as Ladislav Smid and Justin Schultz are seeing way too many minutes. Yakupov needs to get going for me justifying keeping him in Jan Levine's league. It's nice seeing RNH back in northern Alberta. Besides, isn't Eakins supposed to be bringing the Cup to Toronto in a few years?

Who are the Devils? Is that a hockey team? Seriously, it's been frustrating watching them. Basically it's looking like a replay of April of last season. The Vancouver game and Edmonton game were highly frustrating since they blew 2-0 and 3-0 leads respectively. The game against the Oil, they had a 3-0 lead going into the third period before it went Keyser Sozay. Edmonton's go-ahead goal was comedic, the Devils had three players close to the puck like they were TimBits players chasing the biscuit. There have been some questionable lineup decisions regarding their AHL second-pairing collection of defenders. The aging forwards have been producing; Brunner, Jagr and Ryder have been doing more than Henrique and Zajac.

What's jumped out at you early in the season? Teams, coaches, players?

What goalie are you targeting as a breakout candidate after the season's first week?

Also, I mentioned it earlier, how do you balance being in multiple leagues?

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: October 10
Subject: Juggling Act

Calgary is impressive. They're seeing success because they're working harder than any Calgary team has worked in a long, long time. They'll frustrate fans, but they'll stay in games because they just won't give up. Fans will appreciate that.

The Flames have jumped out at me, primarily because of that work ethic. How can a team of no-names and babies work harder than a team led by Jarome Iginla. I love Iggy, but that's damning, don't you think?

The Leafs have also impressed me -- imagine their success if they didn't give the puck away so dang much. And Colorado has too -- Nathan MacKinnon might actually develop properly because of the long and crazy shadow of Patrick Roy. Both have caught a lot of eyes -- more than just mine.

As for juggling leagues -- it's a real challenge. I play in different styles and formats of leagues, and I find that the busier my life gets, the harder it is to keep them all straight. I'm currently in four major leagues and I often confuse which guy I have where. It's tempting to own the same guys in all leagues, but that wouldn't make sense given the variance in the scoring systems. I will say I own Sidney Crosby in one league and that's the first time that's ever happened. How do you do it?

Now for a question that's been eating at me: Is Pekka Rinne overrated? I own him in two leagues. He wasn't great last season and this year isn't much better. Did the Preds make a mistake with that contract? Have we seen the last of the truly dominant goalies?

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: October 11
Subject: System Check

Rinne's hip surgery this offseason was enough to scare me away from him in most of my major leagues, as I opted to take Antii Niemi over Rinne in my money league and patted myself on the back when I saw Rinne yanked after 10 minutes in the season opener against St. Louis last Thursday; another one tonight after seeing what the Buds did to him. Overrated or just the Nashville system helping him? Rinne was an elite talent for years and a guaranteed return on a first-round investment, but look at him and Henrik Lundqvist this season. The King has been lit up something fierce the last two games.

Whether Nashville made a mistake remains to be seen. It seemed en vogue to sign talented netminders to long-term deals and Rinne had done well enough to make the Preds relevant during the season and through the first two rounds of playoffs most years. I don't know David Poile personally, but you'd have to think they were looking at the nucleus of that team being blown up in a few seasons with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter also potentially leaving. The Flyers forced Poile's hand on the Weber deal and we know what happened with Suter. We've said it before: a good goalie covers up quite a few holes. It might be time to sell on Rinne, I'm just not sold on the hip injury.

What goalies can we consider dominant? Are we talking Martin Brodeur from the mid-2000's? Jonathan Quick a few years ago? Or do we look more at the team around the goalie when determining a goalie's value? It's developing into the latter in my opinion. Your top goalies are going to be players like Tuukka Rask, Niemi, Crawford, Jimmy Howard; guys on teams with good defensive systems that won't hurt your averages too much. Gone are the Roberto Luongo Florida Panthers days where he'd stop 51 shots and lose 2-1. I don't think you can rely on goalies to do that anymore outside of a system which insulates them.

Speaking of goalies, Ben Bishop is off to a solid start for the Bolts. Has he staked enough of a claim to the crease yet at Channelside or will the other tower, Anders Lindback, see regular playing time?

The Avs have been something else, especially after shutting out Boston tonight. Varlamov looked outstanding and the speed Colorado has is going to make them a difficult team to handle. Playoffs, maybe not, but it will be exciting. Bruins' announcer Jack Edwards was rather complimentary of the Avs. If there was ever a player in the NHL to infuse utterly ridiculous confidence in his teammates, it was Patrick Roy. Imagine that impact and passion from your coach. I like his brash attitude and swagger. There's a lot to work with in Denver and the Avs.

As for multiple leagues, it's a task juggling it, but I'm a capitalist and my attention is usually drawn more to my money league and after that, it's the competitive ones with other RotoWire and industry writers such as our THL Daily league and the Yahoo! Friends and Family contest. I do sometimes forget which players I own in which leagues and try to devote a little time every few days to playing around with rosters and seeing who's available on the waiver wire, maybe inquiring about a trade or two. I'm not opposed to making trades early in the season if I see a trend developing or a potential weakness on my team, but it has to be an offer that will benefit me soon or have a nice payoff in a keeper league in a few years time.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: October 11
Subject: Bishop Takes Tampa

System-related success doesn't just reflect on goalies. Cody Franson is a perfect example. Sure, he's good, but he suffered under Ron Wilson's wide-open ways after being insulated in Nashville's system. His strengths are optimized in Randy Carlyle's system in Toronto; he can be a top-pairing guy when protected inside the system. 

Ben Bishop is the man in Tampa, but that's as much about Anders Lindback's faltering as it is about Bishop's excellence. I do think Bishop will keep it and eventually show off top skills. But there will forever be that seed in the back of my head ... the one that said two teams had already given up on him and traded his giraffe-like butt before he landed in the Sunshine State. 

So if you happen to be right, then we've entered the era of robotic twinetenders. But can goalies truly be selected with an eeny-meenie-miney-moe approach? I'm not ready to do that just yet. Are you? 

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Oct. 14
Subject: Crashing the Crease

No, I'm not ready to entirely advocate pick'em goaltending, but I think we're to a point now where the team might matter more than the talent of the goalie. A player like Craig Anderson in Ottawa is one of the exceptions as the Sens are a fan of what the advanced stat crowd calls "high event hockey," as they give up a lot of shots and generate many as well. When on, Anderson is outstanding, as are a handful of goalies in the league. Some goalies are just in a great situation and that has to be considered when selecting someone to be your top netminder. When it gets to your second-tier goalies, talent of the individual could play a further role in selecting one over the other, but the system they're in is still a factor.

Is it too much to hope that the Devils and Sabres remain winless until their first meeting on November 30?