I've never consider myself one a master of the art of patience. I will bypass a movie if the line is too long no matter how badly I want to see it, I will drive on the shoulder (no more than an exit) if it means I can get to my exit quick and I can will devour a sandwich in less than two minutes, even though I have an hour to spare on my lunch break. This trait unfortunately carries over to my (lack of) patience with the younger guys on a team who have yet to find their way. Deep down I know the future is bright, but I just have zero patience. Today the emphasis is on the blue line, mainly the likes of newly re-signed (or is it extended?) defenseman Kris Letang and his cohort Alex Goligoski.
Kris Krossin make ya...
When the news broke of Letang's signing the other day, part of me was happy. Seriously. I may not be one to tout his play this past season, but I think many of us have already discussed some of the upsides. For one thing, his defensive edge has improved dramatically. It's almost like his lack of offense has triggered him off to take out frustration by playing a more physical game. I'll take it. His shots may still sail 90 miles over/wide of the net, but I think with time he's going to really improve into a great two-way defensive guy. Plus, and this may be something that is often overlooked with a lot of players, but his positioning on the blue line has been pretty solid. On the downside, the same cannot be said of his defense from time to time, but I think when he looks at some tape during this offseason he'll notice that as well. The real work comes in trying to improve on that.
As harsh a reality as it may be, Sergei Gonchar is not immortal. Hooks touched upon that earlier this week. It's sad but true. With the recent signing of Letang, all indications would suggest Gonch is gone after this season. You may make a formidable case by presenting the relation to other veteran defensemen like Nik Lidstrom (but not Chris Chelios, God forbid), but I think I'd rather my team bank more on the future in guys like Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski instead of hanging on to something that just might not be there anymore in a guy like Gonchar. The risk is too great, especially for a team that is looking to make continuous runs for the Cup. That doesn't mean I'd bash re-signing him, but a lot has to do with ponying up the dough that could possibly be spent elsewhere. Amount pending of course.
Speaking of GoGo, I think there is a lot of room for improvement on his end. I speak specifically on his defensive side, whereby the mere expense of $5 could replace his presence on the ice with an orange cone and be just as effective. But if we're using Letang as a model for development (which in this case, I am), then his defensive game will come with time. Again, it's that whole patience thing. It's safe to say that expectations were a bit high for GoGo in his first full season with the club. Next season may very well be the first real test for him in what will likely be a Gonchar-less Pens team.
Now when it comes to offense, well, there's some -- hesitation. How many times have you seen Goligoski with the puck on his blade in the offensive zone, a clear shot at the net and then...he passes. Either that, or he takes a page from the Book of Letang and shoots it wide. It may have something to do with confidence, but I can almost guarantee skill is not a concern. He has the ability to make things happen. He just has to build up that faith in his shot.
And so we look toward the future of the blue line - one that will sport the likes of two young defensemen trying to find their way in an offensive system that relies on...well, their offense. It won't come easy, but there may very well be a high reward at the end (again). We just need a little patience.