Does Joe Vitale's Promotion Seal Eric Tangradi's Fate in Pittsburgh?

DENVER CO - FEBRUARY 16: Joe Vitale #46 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battles for position with Ryan Wilson #44 of the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on February 16 2011 in Denver Colorado. The Penguins defeated the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The offseason is often the best time to begin speculation about transactions and players shifting through the system, but the same can be said of that short amount of time between finalized rosters and the start of the season.

You know. Like, now.

Joe Vitale's performance in the preseason was enough to win over the hearts of Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero. And hey, kudos to the guy for earning his shot. But one has to wonder, based on previous opportunities, call-ups and player movement: does this seal Eric Tangradi's fate in Pittsburgh?

To be honest, I don't like to play the speculation game. I don't like to buy into rumors, add more fuel to the fire or whatever you want to say about unsubstantiated evidence being taken as fact. But I understand I'm doing it now, and I can't help myself for thinking out loud like this.

To make a quick comparison, there isn't much that really distinguishes Vitale's game from Tangradi's. Both player a similar grind-it-out game. Both are relying on work ethic to lead to chances, and both possess that ability. Here's a quick breakdown of how each did last season with Pittsburgh and/or Wilkes-Barre Scranton:

Stats Joe Vitale Eric Tangradi
WBS Pittsburgh WBS Pittsburgh
GP 60 9 42 15
G 9 1 18 1
A 21 1 15 2
PTS 30 2 33 3

If anything, that chart shows they are pretty much on par with one another in terms of scoring per games played. Tangradi obviously received some more playing time in Pittsburgh last season but look what differentiates Vitale from Tangradi in terms of production. Not much. The same can practically be said of each player's performance in WBS as well.

If you factor in Tangradi's unfortunate injury from last season (which you should), he probably would've posted more numbers on the AHL level or even stuck around a bit more to produce at the NHL level. Since the entire core of this post is centered on a hypothetical, it's worth considering how well he would've performed without the injury.

But as of right now - at the start of the 2011-12 season - it would appear Vitale is potentially going to be the new go-to guy for the Pittsburgh front office. While he likely won't be sticking around for long once Dustin Jeffrey and Sidney Crosby return from injury, his number may be stuck on Shero's speed dial in the event an injury requires a call up.

Again, this is mere speculation. None of this is based on fact. But if we're taking notice of trends - ie, how Pittsburgh was quick to call Tangradi's number during similar situations in years prior - then perhaps this is the last warning shot for Tangradi to kick it into high gear, lest he be used as a trade asset come February.

As always, thoughts and opinions welcome.

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