Pittsburgh sports see flurry of activity, show signs of improvement
This week was an interesting one for Pittsburgh sports fans. The Penguins are succeeding even with some injury issues, the Pirates are starting spring training, and the Steelers are setting themselves up for what will likely be a very busy off-season.
While this may be a slow time in terms of Pittsburgh sports, things are about to heat up with the NHL Playoffs, the start of the MLB regular season, and the NFL draft all on the horizon. Hopefully each team makes the right moves now to put themselves in a position to win when it counts.
It seems like déjà vu for Penguins fans. As we near the halfway point of this shortened season, yet another of the Pittsburgh superstars has gone down with a concussion.
The only difference is that this time it is Evgeni Malkin, not Sidney Crosby, who is out for an indeterminate time period.
Malkin was injured last Friday against the Florida Panthers, after taking a brutal hit from Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
Malkin was skating in Florida territory with the puck, hoping to break a 1–1 tie in the third period, when Gudbranson checked Malkin to the ground causing him to slide on the ice and slam his head against the boards.
He was immediately removed from the game due to severe headaches, mild disorientation, and other early concussion symptoms.
The play itself was a clean hit, but the real damage was done when Malkin’s head and neck whiplashed when he hit the boards.
The glimmer of hope for Pens fans was the speed with which Malkin has returned to the ice.
Wednesday, Malkin skated around for 30 minutes during practice, but he still has a ways to go before he can play again.
It is also important to remember the varied progress Crosby had in the nearly two years he spent trying to recover from his own concussion.
Thankfully, the Penguins are still in an easy position to make the playoffs with Crosby finally returning to his dominating form after two years off due to concussions.
Goalie Marc-André Fleury and the Pens’ defense is also doing its part, ranking in the middle of the league in points allowed.
When coupled with their second-rank offensive, their defense’s performance has led the team to second place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
For the Pirates, this may finally be the year that’s different. On the back of all-star Andrew McCutchen, third baseman slugger Pedro Alvarez, major free-agent acquisition Russell Martin, and a rotation that includes A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodríguez, and James McDonald, the Pirates look to finally end this season with a winning record for the first time in 21 years.
The Pirates are still a year or two away from really making some noise in the National League Central Division, but at least they are headed in the right direction.
The front office has shown a commitment to winning by negotiating a big-money contract extension for McCutchen and out-paying the New York Yankees for Martin’s catching services.
Starling Marte is a name to keep an eye on this year.
He got called up from the minor leagues in July last year, and appears to be in position to win the starting left field job out of spring training.
At just 24 years old, he has plenty of room to grow but has some good power and great spee
After last season’s crazy off-season with the team firing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went on to win coach-of-the-year honors with the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers missed the playoffs and barely had a winning record.
This off-season is setting up to be just as hectic, with the Steelers trying to get younger players on defense while also trying to get under the salary cap.
So far the Steelers have renegotiated quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, but have pretty much given up all hope of signing free agent receiver Mike Wallace again.
The Steelers have better draft picks than in recent years — the 17th pick in the first round — due to their poor regular season performance. This could be used either to continue fixing their aging and porous offensive line or to rejuvenate the slowing defense.