Fitzgerald on Rutherford, analytics and Johnston - 09-16-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald appeared on TSN 1050 in Toronto today. He discussed the state of the franchise after a pretty busy offseason.

Here is a partial transcript.

On the team's ability to draft and develop prospects:

There is a mandate for us. It's to compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out. That's our culture. That trickles down to all of our prospects. When we draft them, we draft them for a reason, because of the criteria that are given to our scouts of what we want in players. With that being said, we are a cap team. You do need young talent to come up. You need short money to be inserted into your lineup. It's a must. Developing, it doesn't change for us. The grassroots for our organization is the draft and developing these kids and having them understand what it's like being a Pittsburgh Penguin. And fight for spots. We tell our kids, we want you to come into camp believing you can fight. If you can take Craig Adams' job, then we'll give it to you.

On Jim Rutherford taking over as general manager:

Well, Jim Rutherford is the general manager now for a reason. We fell short on our expecations that we set out for every year. Jim has come in and put his stamp on our team. He's put his stamp on our group. At the end of the day, he knows we have good players. Stars have to align. You have to stay healthy. You have to get good goaltending, good team defense and you have to have offense at certain times. You can't go dry in the playoffs. You can't do that and think you're going to have success. Jim has come in and has just allowed everybody to do their job. But I'm guessing on Thursday when we have our opening meeting, his message would be that we want to win.

On trading James Neal this offseason:

When you give up a 40-goal scorer or come to a decision that we need to build depth and moving a high-contract guy, you add a couple of pieces that could help us with our depth. That was one of things we felt we had to address from our previous playoff performances was our depth just wasn't there. We get straddled with a couple of injuries and we didn't have the guys to come up and fill. Our guys who did come up played well but we put too much expecation on them to be the saving grace of our franchise. James Neal is a character kid. Got along well in the room. We had to shed some money. He's a valuable piece. He'll be real tough to replace. Forty goals. But we like to think we can do in in groups and manufacture goals in different ways.

On the team's used of advanced statistics:

We use it as a tool for sure. We're all hockey guys. Our eyes aren't painted on. We watch players play. But then there's another side of it that can give you value of what that player has done. What that player has made. Why is he a player that we should go after because of shot attempts, gets to scoring areas... Whatever those analytics say, we use. But our eye also tells us.... There are other avenues the analytics that I've come to know this past summer that you could use it for salaries. Is a guy overvalued, undervalued. Things like that. We use it as a tool. At the end of the day, you still need to know players by watching players.

Again on advanced statistics:

That's, quite honestly, what Jim Rutherford brought to our organization with [vice president of hockey operations] Jason Karmanos. These guys want to do something different. If you ignore it, then shame on you. We can use it. I'm learning from it. I'm not going to sit here and tell you guys I have all the answers or think I know all the answers. I have no idea. I'm still learning all that stuff. But I think the most important thing is we're all willing to learn because if it can benefit on the ice, we're all going to benefit from it.

Was the decision to allow former defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik motivated by the team's depth at the position or the salary cap:

I would say the latter first. We have some good young defensemen in our organization and they need a chance to play. And financially, you knew what those two guys were going to get if they hit the open market. So [we were] out of it. But we felt very strong, and still do, that we have good young prospects that can come up push. Like I said, being a cap team, you need the lesser salaries. You need these kids to come up and contribute. The one thing they do bring is a lot of energy. A lot of freshness. A lot of newness. And that trickles through a locker room. That's what these guys are going to get an opportunity for.

On Marc-Andre Fleury:

We value him as an elite goaltender in the National Hockey League. He had a great year last year. He had a disappointing 2012 playoffs. But he wanted to improve. He did some things back home. He had a great year. And you know what? He had a real good playoffs for us. He really did. He played strong in the playoffs. We trust him. I'll just leave it at that. He's a [darn] good goalie.  We consider him an elite goalie in this league.

On new head coach Mike Johnston:

Mike might be a rookie head coach in this league but he's been in this league for a while. He got a chance to run his own organization [with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks]. See the business side of it making decisions, managing, coaching. We feel very fortunate that Mike was available or was interested in our job opening. Mike's a puck possession guy. He's going to let guys carry the puck through the neutral zone. I think there's some similiar attributes Mike has as a coach compared to Dan [Bylsma]. He wants our [defensemen] very active. I think our guys will enjoy how Mike wants to play. Does it translate from junior to the NHL? Coaching's coacing. And if you can coach junior kids a certain way then you should be able to coach NHL kids the same way.

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Where are they now? McKeesport players make impact ....... WPIAL notes

Written by Mike White on .

An edition of Where Are They Now

A handful of former McKeesport High School football players are starting on Division I-A teams from the states of Michigan, Illinois, Texas and California.

Delvon Simmons, a junior, starts at defensive tackle for Southern California and had six tackles, including three solo, Delvon Simmonsin the loss to Boston College Saturday. He recovered a fumble in USC’s victory against Stanford the week before.

Simmons (pictured) played his first two seasons at Texas Tech before transferring to Southern California last year. He is a junior in terms of eligibility.

Branden Jackson is a senior at Texas Tech who starts at defensive end. In three games, Jackson has 12 tackles and one sack.TJ Neal

Sophomore T.J. Neal (pictured) starts at middle linebacker for Illionis and is fourth on the team in tackles with 24 in three games.

Kevin Johnson is a senior defensive back at Eastern Michigan who had seven tackles in a loss against Florida earlier this season. Johnson is the team’s third-leading tackler with 19 in three games.

WPIAL matters

Western Beaver and Lincoln Park wanted to enter a cooperative sponsorship in four different sports. The WPIAL approved the sponsorship in two sports, but denied it in two others. The WPIAL made the decision Monday.

A cooperative sponsorship is where two neighboring schools go together to form one team. For example, Cornell no longer has a football team, but Cornell students are permitted to play football at Quaker Valley.

The WPIAL approved cooperative sponsorships for Western Beaver and Lincoln Park in boys golf, starting next year, and boys track, starting this spring. The boys golf team will go under the name of Lincoln Park and the boys track team under Western Beaver.

But the WPIAL denied cooperative sponsorship for baseball and girls basketball. Baseball would have gone under the name of Western Beaver and girls basketball under Lincoln Park.

The WPIAL had reason for their decisions. Under cooperative sponsorships, student enrollment from both schools must be counted to determine classifications. In boys golf and boys track, a cooperative sponsorship between Western Beaver and Lincoln Park would not change the classifications of the current teams.

However, a cooperative sponsorship in baseball and girls basketball would change a team's classification. The Western Beaver baseball team would go from Class A to Class AA. Western Beaver played last season in WPIAL Class A girls basketball, but would be in Class AAA with a cooperative sponsorship with Lincoln Park. The Western Beaver girls basketball team was 0-22 last season..

The PIAA and WPIAL realign classifications based on enrollment every two years. This is the first year of a two-year cycle.

"It is in the PIAA by-laws, that if a cooperative sponsorship alters classifications, it can't be approved until the next two-year cycle," said WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley. "That's why we denied two of the requests. With the other two sports, classifications won't be altered."


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Letang: 'I want to make sure nobody is going to doubt me' - 09-16-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The most obvious change in Kris Letang this summer was cosmetic. He chopped off much his signature hair which flowed out the back of his helmet.

The most important change is his well being. After a difficult 2013-14 campaign which saw him suffer a stroke as well as knee and elbow injuries, Letang will enter the Penguins' training camp with a clean bill health when it begins Thursday.

Earlier today, prior to the team's charity golf tournament at Allegheny Country Club, Letang held court with the media and discussed his health and the changes to the team:

Are you healthy and were you able to sustain a normal offseason training regimen?

"Yeah. I think I did even better than the previous summer. Everything was under control. If I had any questions, I doctors. I was good all summer."

Did you do anything differently with your regimen?

"Same routine, same workout. I think I pushed a little harder just to see how my body was going to react. It went really well."

What do you anticipate this season being like after dealing with so many medical issues last season?

"I think it's going to be a new start for me. I want to make sure nobody is going to doubt me, the job I'm going to be doing on the ice. I think basically I just want to prove myself to everyone that is part of the past and we're looking ahead."

Do you need to take on a bigger role with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen gone?

"I'm not going to change the way I am or the way I play. I'm just going to do what I do best. I'm not going to try to replace [Orpik] with the hits that he can give. I'm just going to try to do my job and take a bigger role in the room."

What was it like seeing the team make so many changes this offseason?

"It's fun. Anytime you have something new in life, you're pretty excited. You want to get going. You want to see what it's like to have some change. I think it's going to be a fresh start. Everybody is excited."

You met new coach Mike Johnston during the offseason.

"It went great. We had dinner for maybe four or five hours. I don't remember. It was great. It was just talking hockey. He was getting to know me and what kind of person I am and what kind of role I want to be in the [dressing] room. It wen really well."

Will Johnston's system be a better fit for your skills?

"I don't even know. I just know from what I've heard that we're going to be a puck possession team so obviously it can suit my game better right away."

(Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

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The good, bad and ugly about the untended garden

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog sad begoniaThis 'Bonfire' begonia as going strong when I left 10 days ago, but without water it's looking pretty tired. A good drink and some fertilizer should bring it back to form. Photos by Doug Oster

blog dead toreniaI doubt there's any saving this torenia. Smaller hanging baskets too the hardest hit without a gardener to tend them.After a whirlwind 10 day trip exploring the gardens of Northern Italy, it was great to get back to my garden.

Looks like we didn't get much rain and the containers took a beating. My grown son was staying at the house while I was gone, he took care of the dogs, chickens and made sure the house was still here when I returned. I didn't expect him to water the containers, and thought the way this year was going, I'd luck out with Mother Nature taking over.

It was great to get a little rain last night and first thing this morning I soaked every pot. Now only time will tell how they respond. Looks like I lost a few for sure. I always say bigger is better when if comes to containers. That's certainly true in this case as the larger pots looked great, smaller hanging baskets took the hardest hit. Everything will get a drink of organic liquid fertilizer tonight too.

In the vegetable garden, the bamboo trellis supporting cucumbers and squash finally collapsed under the weight of the tall vines. I spent a few minutes picking through the carnage to pick another basket of fruit. My radio partner Jessica Walliser keeps offering to teach me how to make pickles, maybe I'll finally have to learn.

blog pretty cbig containerThis big container filled with caladium, sweet potato vine, creeping Jenny and a 'Gryphon' begonia did great without any help from a gardener.One thing my son did do was pick tomatoes, but the plants were still loaded. Not even the food in Italy can compare to a tomato picked fresh from the garden.

Red Malabar spinach has completely covered the garden windmill and will continue to grow until frost. I'm going to have to figure out other ways to use spinach in the kitchen. I love that plant. It's a tropical vine which isn't spinach at all, but tastes pretty close.

The coreopsis is blooming like crazy along with eight foot tall Mexican sunflowers and the purple blooms of anemone 'Queen Charlotte' are simply stunning.

No garden can go too long without a gardener, eventually reverting to what once was there. It's always interesting to see how things can change in only 10 days.

I'm looking forward to fall planting season. I've got a lot of ideas from my trip.

blog pretty charlotteAnemone 'Queen Charlotte' is filled with blooms.

blog collapes trellisNext year the plan calls for a more substantial trellis for cucumbers and squash.

blog invisible windmillRed Malabar spinach has hidden the windmill and huge Mexican sunflowers bloom in the background.


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Dana Holgorsen presser: No update on Worley's status for Oklahoma game

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen joined the media corps at noon today for a look back at the Mountaineers’ 40-37 win against Maryland and a look ahead to a Saturday night date with No. 4 Oklahoma.

• OPENING STATEMENT | This weekend is "one of probably the most exciting events and one of the reasons we're so excited to be in the Big 12." To start the third year vs. Oklahoma "is awesome. ... We're anxious for the opportunity, fired up about the opportunity." Expecting a sellout for this second night game of the year. "It's gonna be awesome." Team is in a good spot. "Being able to host the No. 4 team in the country, I don't know if it gets any better than that." Energy and effort have been great.

• OKLAHOMA DEFENSE | "When I think of Oklahoma and Bob Stoops — ton of respect for him — ... they're good on all three sides of the ball, and their program is obviously in a good place." Ton of continuity on the coaching staff, scheme has been the same forever. It's always been about the Sooners' offense, but they're every bit as good on defense as they were a year ago. Much different look and scheme from 2012, when WVU scored 50 points. "Their D-line is relentless. Seems like every dang D-line we've played here in September is relentless." WVU is "clearly better than we were a year ago when we went to Norman." ... Very comparable to Alabama's defense last year, but Oklahoma has more guys coming back.

• OKLAHOMA OFFENSE | QB Trevor Knight "is playing great. Completely different guy from what we saw in Week 2 a year ago." Has the ability to throw and run. Even with RB Keith Ford out, "it always looks the same." WR Sterling Shepard "is as dynamic, as good of a slot guy as we'll see all year." Offensive line has a couple NFLers. 

• WORLEY SUSPENSION | Depth in defensive backfield is so good that the suspension is no different from an injury — next man up. Ishmael Banks is back and can provide depth. He and Nana Kyeremeh started against Oklahoma two years ago ... they've been here before and have more bodies ready. WVU played 61 guys against Maryland. Banks has been on scout team defense the past three weeks, "done everything he's supposed to have done." 

• INJURIES | CB Brandon Napoleon is out for the year, had knee surgery this morning. ... Kyeremeh was banged up recently but played a few snaps Saturday. ... Wes Tonkery was a game-time decision Saturday, didn't play, is ready to go now.

• MARYLAND'S BIG PLAYS | "Didn't come out of halftime as ready to play as we needed to, and C.J. Brown got loose." Needed to do a better job in the first half on getting off the field on third downs, but it was near-perfect in the second half. Don't like big plays, but it's going to happen from time to time in the Big 12. Never any panic on the sideline, which is a positive, and Maryland scored 3 points off four turnovers. 

• PASSING GAME | "Nothing surprises me. I've seen it for a long, long time." Pass protection is "night and day" better than 2013, as is the rapport between Clint Trickett and the receivers. Was excited to see Mario Alford, Daikiel Shorts and Kevin White make plays downfield. ... With two outside threats in Alford and White, "you can stretch the field better. There was a good cat and mouse game going" between Holgorsen and Maryland defense.

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