Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Sykora


So I guess Petr Sykora is becoming a target for criticism? I haven't caught many Wild games lately but I heard he was a healthy scratch last game.

I thought I had mentioned the negative parts of Sykora's game in an earlier post, but looking back, I don't think I did. Fine time to do it now, I guess. I'll probably look like I'm just re-hashing what other critics have said. But I don't have any reason to criticize him now; I'll just be sharing what I observed when he was in Pittsburgh the last two seasons.

First, I know Mike Russo constantly mentions Sykora's streak of 20-goal seasons. And that's all well and good.

But if Sykora isn't scoring one of those 20 goals, he's not doing, well, anything to help his team.

I was happy Sykora was a Penguin for the last two seasons, even with how horridly his 2008-09 season ended, when he had a shoulder injury, barely scraped together any points, let alone goals, during the stretch drive when Pittsburgh battled for a playoff spot, and was a healthy scratch for the majority of the playoffs.

He scored 53 goals in two regular seasons. I thought he could've, maybe even should've, had more. Sometimes his shot would juuust miss the net. Or his hands let the puck get away from him. Or he'd simply shank a shot. Or he couldn't catch up to a puck that was out of reach.

I started to think he either wasn't the pure sniper I believed him to be or his skills were in decline despite being in just his early-30s. In the "what have you done lately?" world, I wasn't overly interested in the Penguins re-signing him. I don't know how much that shoulder injury affected him, but his situation was not a Chris Kunitz situation.

Kunitz scored a goal Wednesday. It was his second goal, period, in 41 games, counting the playoffs. The difference between Kunitz and Sykora is Kunitz does a lot away from the puck to contribute. He'll battle in the corners. He'll throw a big hit. He forechecks. He backchecks. He does a lot of little things that often go overlooked, especially by people who look only at the scoresheet.

Sykora doesn't do any of that. He's not overly fast and I think I threw more hits in a Penguin uniform than he did in his two seasons. He doesn't work the corners or camp out in front of the net and his defensive work isn't super impressive. He didn't kill penalties. He didn't really create his own shot. If set up in a quality scoring position, there was a good chance he would score.

That's eventually why Sykora became a scratch in the playoffs. He brought absolutely no positive to the team. Even Miroslav Satan, who had nine straight seasons of 20 or more goals snapped after the 2007-08 season and who is basically a carbon copy of Sykora, changed his game. Satan netted 17 goals for the Penguins before being demoted to the AHL for salary cap purposes. When he got into the lineup in the playoffs, it was on the fourth line, but he seemed to welcome the chance to play.

He threw checks. He was responsible defensively. He even dropped the gloves at the end of a playoff game and got a strong ovation from the home faithful. He showed fire and determination, which Sykora didn't do until the very end.

Sykora didn't get the message until Game 6 of the Final. Unfortunately it was a game he didn't finish. He was on the fourth line and made a diving block of a shot in the second period, breaking a bone in his foot in the process and keeping him out of Game 7. That's how his career as a Penguin ended. Sure, he lifted the Cup at the end, and his contributions in the first two-thirds of the season helped to that end. But on a personal level, things ended poorly.

I thought he might have a rebound season if paired with a good playmaker, either Martin Havlat or Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and if Sykora was fully healthy. Obviously, that hasn't happened, at least not yet. Todd Richards has made some curious decisions, with the benchings of Havlat and Sykora and the recent healthy scratch.

Those things are often done to make sure the player gets the message. But if it takes repeated messages sent, then it may come to a point where one has to question if the coach is conveying the correct message or utilizing the proper methods. I'm not saying Richards is a bad coach, but there certainly seems to be some disconnect between the coach and the team's two marquee free agent signings.

For Wild fans' sakes, here's hoping Sykora turns things around.

Worst-case scenario, the Penguins often go shopping at the trade deadline for a winger to put on one of the top two lines.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this. I've really been at a loss as to why Sykora has been making popcorn, and this at least gives some perspective. I just hope he rebounds with some determination and Richards doesn't make him give up completely.

Nick in New York said...

Great post, KiPA....definitely helped me gain perspective and settle down a bit about Sykora. Makes me wonder if/when he says "no mas" and asks to be moved to a team that "needs" his "services," though.

KiPA - Kevin in PA said...

He was a big piece of the last two Penguins seasons, and in a standalone moment, provided one of the Penguins' greatest moments - the triple-OT winner in Game 5 of the 2008 Final - but it got to the point where I said, "If he doesn't want to come back, that's fine with me."

That doesn't mean I'm correct or proper in saying that, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one willing to see him leave. The salary cap may have had some part in Ray Shero showing only lukewarm interest in re-signing him, but if he really wanted him back, he could've cleared space somehow.

But it sure seemed he'd rather have Max Talbot - the ideal mucker/grinder - playing on Malkin's wing rather than Sykora.