When is enough, enough with Ryan Whitney?
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Question: When is enough, enough with Ryan Whitney? What does he have that Kris Letang does not have, other than what seems like total carelessness with the puck? It is not that Whitney is not talented, he is just careless and continues to be so. His frequent poor judgement trying to make a fancy or great play forces his team to cover up for him. Do you think any team would take him with the huge contract he carries? I am tired of hearing how Whitney will mature into a great defenseman; it has been four years already, and I haven't seen much improvement.
Clint Rauscher, Cambridge Springs, Pa.
MOLINARI: The Letang and Whitney situations are not necessarily connected. Letang lost his place in the lineup for the past three games because the coaching staff was unhappy with his defensive work and practice habits. Had the Penguins not won each of the first two games, Letang's exile probably would have been over by now. His absence definitely should not be construed as any sort of major displeasure with him, or evidence that he has lost his place in the Penguins' long-term plans. Fact is, he probably will be closer to "untouchable": status in trade talks than anyone on the Penguins' defense (although it's hard to imagine a scenario under which they would part with Sergei Gonchar now, either).
Whitney has struggled as much as any talented player could in the two months since he returned from foot surgery. He has been utterly ineffective in his own end, and has not been the offensive force that the Penguins count on him to be. Watching him, it's obvious that his confidence has been severely shaken, if not destroyed, and that only compounds the problems he's been experiencing. Getting hit in the face by a Mike Green shot with 6 ?? minutes to go during the Penguins' loss in Washington yesterday was a pretty fair microcosm of how things have been going for him.
As has been noted in this space several times, it's understandable that the Penguins would want to have Whitney play his way back into form because he's the kind of guy who can make a positive difference during the stretch drive and playoffs. However, he has been a liability all too often -- witness the cross-ice pass that Philadelphia center Mike Richards turned into a shorthanded goal Saturday -- to maintain his place in the lineup at a time when every point is so critical for the Penguins. Letting him watch a game or two might not cure what's been ailing him, but it couldn't hurt.
Do not underestimate Whitney's trade value. Despite his difficulties this season -- and because every team employs a pro scouting staff, they're hardly a secret -- he has shown that he has big-time puck skills and carries the cost-certainty that comes from being under contract for another four seasons. The Penguins haven't gotten a fair return on their $4 million investment in him in 2008-09, but that's a perfectly reasonable salary for such a player in today's NHL. If anything, Whitney's contract would make him more, not less, attractive to other clubs.
Question: Do you think Michel Therrien will coach somewhere in the NHL next year or in the near future?
Brian Glaister, Seattle
MOLINARI: Precisely when Therrien will be back behind an NHL bench depends on a lot of variables, like what kind of coach a particular team is seeking and whether Therrien is interested in getting involved in a specific situation. He can, after all, afford to be pretty picky, since he'll be cashing checks from the Penguins for another two years.
There is no question, though, that his work with the Penguins has earned him the opportunity to coach at this level again. While Therrien's approach to interpersonal relationships invites criticism and some aspects of his coaching philosophy, like his incessant reconfiguring of forward combinations, invite criticism, he laid a foundation of structure and discipline on which whatever successes the Penguins will have in the future can be built.
Whether the Penguins could have turned their season around with him behind the bench will never be known, although he probably would have gotten the chance to answer that question if not for the 6-2 debacle in Toronto nine days ago. General manager Ray Shero had steadfastly defended Therrien to that point, although there are indications he had told him some weeks earlier that his job could be in jeopardy if the Penguins didn't start to accumulate some victories, but the nature of that defeat was so troubling that management concluded an immediate coaching change was in order.
First Published February 23, 2009 12:00 am