NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his goal with teammates Matt Niskanen #2, Evgeni Malkin #71 and Sidney Crosby #87 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 29, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Trade rumors are in full force, creating an interesting dynamic for Pens fans. Many are taking stances concerning who should remain in the ranks and who should be shipped, specifically concerning the Pens' offensive juggernauts Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Jordan Staal. Twitter was drowning in trade arguments which included Trade Crosby, Malkin and Neal can take care of the scoring department or We can't get rid of Crosby or Malkin, they're the faces of the franchise so Staal has to be the odd man out or Crosby is the star of the Pens, regardless of health concerns, so he stays no matter what.
I was intrigued by the frustrated, emotion-driven pleas for improvement, but just how valid were they? More specifically, with the necessity of trades looming, do certain stars do better with others, thus inevitably making the "who to trade" decision easier? And does that affect the Pens' success?
In the last 164 regular-season games, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Neal have been on the Pens' roster as a foursome only 20 times. For the remainder of those games, only two or three of the bunch claimed roster spots. I investigated to see if there was a pattern between certain star players appearing on the roster, their respective production, and how the Pens did. Essentially, it shows "When players xyz (from the group of the four previously mentioned) were on the roster, they put up x goals and y assists and the Pens had a record of x-y-z." I split up each group by 1a, 1b, etc. for easy referencing and I only included a win percentage for groups that played 20 or more games together.
Here are the findings:
So what does the chart tell us?:
- The win percentages were a lot closer than I would have guessed. Clearly the highest went to 2b, 33 games last season when the Pens were without Crosby. The numbers Malkin, Neal, and Staal put up in that stretch probably made Dan Bylsma feel like a proud poppa.
- I was shocked to see the Pens have the second lowest win percentage in 1a, when Crosby was playing hockey like a seasoned video gamer in beginner mode with the help of Malkin.
- At the same time, when Crosby was on his own, the Pens were undefeated. Of course, because of the low number of games, there's an arsenal of other reasons for that.
- The Pens' records in both 2a and 2c bear a close resemblance despite one of the groups having two additional players. To take it a step further, the players in 2c scored only six more goals than the players in 2a. This further heralds the chemistry Malkin and Neal have found as linemates. If I could have my way, they would never spend a shift a part.
- While we're discussing 2c, check out the number of assists Crosby notched in comparison to the number of goals. Disregarding the difficulty to return to the NHL after a long layoff, a reason for the discrepancy could be Crosby slipping back into playmaker mode with the presence of offensive talent around him. There was more evidence of this against the Flyers. This could be a summer of soul searching for Crosby.
In the end, we have to keep in mind the chart only tells a part of the story. There are times when the Pens were playing bad stretches of hockey as a team, times when Fleury wasn't at the top of his game, among many other variables. I think you could draw a fair conclusion based on the chart that getting rid of Crosby is the least painful option. But think about that for a second longer, keeping in mind the kind of player Crosby is, the fact that he averaged 1.68 points per game this season, and the fact that it's Sidney Crosby. None of this can be seen in the chart.
What the chart does show is that these four players can produce at ridiculous numbers and any fan who wants to readily lose one of them in free agency might want to rethink their stance. However, we all know that keeping the core together long term isn't very realistic and there's a good chance someone will go this summer. The CBA will have the loudest voice in that matter.
This will not be an easy summer because the Pens could very well lose more than gain. But as always, in Shero we trust. We have no other choice.