Penguins Roll the Dice for Depth

The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up veteran forward Mike Comrie today at the bargain basement price of just $500K in a bit of a roll of the dice for depth.  Consider it at the least a short term insurance policy on Jordan Staal’s lingering foot injury.  If lucky, however, it could ring in the renaissance of Mike Comrie’s NHL career and add some more diversity to the Penguins’ offensive makeup.  The good news with the Comrie signing is that $500K isn’t much of a gamble for the Penguins to bring in a more experienced player with some offensive upside…but as the old adage goes, you usually get what you pay for.

The obvious issue with Mike Comrie is his durability and health.  He has only played a full 82 game season once in his 9 year career and that was with the 2001/02 Edmonton Oilers when he netted 60 points (33G, 27A).  He came close to a full season in 2005/06 with the Phoenix Coyotes when he endured for 80 games and also scored 60 points (30G, 30A).  His third most complete season came in 2007/08 with the New York Islanders when he played 76 games and put up 49 points (21G, 28A).  To his credit, in each of these three seasons he put up decent numbers while playing on lackluster teams that finished in the bottom half of their conference.  The rest of his career, however, has been hampered by health issues that have prevented him from becoming an enduring force.  Last season he missed 39 games for the Edmonton Oilers due to chronic bouts of the flu and mononucleosis.  But his durability troubles have spanned much of his career causing him to miss significant portions of other seasons as well with hip, foot, and thumb injuries.  Over his 9 seasons in the NHL, Mike Comrie has played in 568 of 738 available regular season games.  If the Pens are able to go deep in the playoffs, one has to wonder if you can expect Comrie to go the distance.  Aside from durability concerns, he is not known for his size or his two-way play either; something the coaching staff will have to be cognizant of as they figure out how to utilize him.

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 13: Mike Comrie #91 of the Edmonton Oilers waits for a faceoff in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 13, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Leafs defeated the Oilers 6-4. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

In terms of his offensive upside, he does bring a number of positives to the rink.  Comrie has averaged about 0.61 points per game over his career;  a stat which would translate to 51 points over an 82 game season.  If he can stay healthy and contribute with those kind of numbers, the Penguins will have definitely hit a homerun with this signing.  It would also be a homerun for Comrie’s career, as he took a wallop of a pay cut from last season’s $1.25M salary to play in Pittsburgh.  Another plus for the Penguins is Comrie’s versatility as a forward, as he is able to play at center or on either wing.  This underscores his value as a depth player as he can be plugged in as a backfill to any forward position.  He has been called deceptively quick, and is a smart player with a finishing touch that is able to make heads up passes.  These talents could help him land a supporting role on one of the top two lines.  If he flourishes there, it could well could well lead to the rebirth of his career.

For now, however, the Mike Comrie deal should best be characterized as a good, cost effective depth signing by the Penguins.  His durability and offensive production will have to be evaluated as the season progresses before we can declare this a great signing.

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