Monday, January 4, 2021

Pens Preview: Maxime Talbot Autographed Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have done an amazing job of rebuilding on the fly, particularly after the departure of GM Ray Shero; sure, Jim Rutherford inherited Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-André Fleury and Kris Letang in their prime, but Shero had failed to complement them with pieces that would help them remain contenders while strapped by the salary cap, whereas Rutherford was able to add value on the wings in his first two weeks, by trading James Neal for Patric Hornqvist, for instance. And whenever a signing or trade didn't work out, you could count on Rutherford to move the player within a year, usually to everyone's satisfaction. On the surface, this hasn't changed; however, this season is going to be unique, and the Pens are in the same division as Stanley Cup contenders Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, plus Barry Trotz' New York Islanders, all of whom would normally be locks for the playoffs - and that's not counting the up-and-coming New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres. A very good team is going to miss the cut this year, and I have a feeling it might be Pittsburgh.

What makes their odds look good:
Crosby, Malkin and Letang are still there, while Fleury made way for Matt Murray, who was pushed out himself by Tristan Jarry by the end of the 2019-20 season. Bryan Rust can score 30 goals even in a shortened season, Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker can score 20 - which, pro-rated to an 82-game schedule, would be 30 - and John Marino is ready for prime time on defense.

Question marks:
The thing with goalies is how unpredictable the position has shown to be in the last 10-15 years; even the best in the world have off years, and they usually take a little longer than before (mid-to-late 20s instead of 23-25 years old) to be ready, so Jarry holding up is a toss-up; I also question the team's depth, but head coach Mike Sullivan has shown to be better than I anticipated at making the most of what he has.

I do not fear for Pittsburgh; whenever Crosby, Malkin and Letang inch out of their primes, there will be someone ready to take their place; one might say Marino is already there to cover for Letang. It's just that this particular season might be a write-off.

Fifth in the Metro/East Division.

Even in the Shero era, the Penguins made great use of depth player, none more so than Maxime Talbot, an 8th-round pick (234th overall) in 2002. Needless to say, if there was a re-do, he would probably be selected between 22nd and 45th overall, as he ranks 24th in point production and 17th in games played, and there were a few notable goalies available that year, such as Cam Ward (25th overall), Kari Lehtonen (2nd), Curtis McElhinney (176th), Josh Harding (38th), Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (31st) and Hannu Toivonen (29th).

Talbot started turning heads right after being drafted, as he was named the LHJMQ's Hull/Gatineau Olympiques's captain thereafter, and led the team to consecutive league chamionships, winning the playoff MVP title both times; it was a sign of things to come, as he would wear the alternate captain's "A" in Pittsburgh, partly on the strength of terrific playoff performaces, including scoring both goals as they won Game 7 of the 2009 Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Talbot was such a clutch playoff performer that he would routinely finish in the minuses in the regular season and yet, in much fewer games, be in the pluses in the playoffs:
He was also known for scoring shorthanded goals, as 8 of his first 30 in the NHL were scored down a man; he even scored four goals against Pittsburgh in the 2012 playoffs while playing with the Philadelphia Flyers, two of which came shorthanded. All told, 16 of his career 91 regular-season goals came down at least a man, and he had 14 game-winners as well; in the playoffs, 4 of his 18 goals were game-winners.

Here is is wearing the Penguins' black (home) uniform from 2002-16, on card #233 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Power Play boxed set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during his time with the Bruins (2014-16). He then moved on to the KHL, where he played under Bob Hartley for the Avangard Omsk in his final season in 2018-19.

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