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Dropping The Gloves- Jay Caufield

Former Penguin Jay Caufield won two Stanley Cups with Mario Lemieux and the rest of the Pens in 1991 and 1992. Caufield is still popular with fans today for his in-depth analysis, question and answer segments and telestration displays on FSN Pittsburgh’s Penguins Post-Game.

PSR contributing writer Alex Nseir caught up with Caufield to talk about all things hockey, including some of the breakout stars of the Penguins’ 2010-2011 season, Matt Cooke and the upcoming playoffs.

AN: Mario has been really passionate about hits to the head and dirty play in general. Steve Yzerman said that maybe he should be even more vocal and visible with his criticism and opinions. Do you ever see him doing this? Do you think he needs to?
I think he does it in his own way. I think that’s why someone like Yzerman mentioned it, because they just know the value that he would bring to the table. But I think in the way that (Lemieux) does it – just like the follow-up letter (to the NHL about a plan for imposing fines), he does it in his own way. He’ll take part in what he feels he needs to do to take this game to where he wants it to be. And that’s maybe coming out after the Islander game, and then following it up with the strong letter to the commissioner and the NHL. He’s never been a ‘rah-rah’ guy. Like a guy that will go to a meeting just to go to a meeting. When he makes his points, when he speaks, you’re really going to listen. He doesn’t do it all the time. He picks his spots. When he’s done it is what’s putting him into the forefront, and helping him start to take care of this problem.

AN: What can the team do about Matt Cooke?
If he doesn’t change after this, I don’t think the Penguins will continue to employ him. But it’s pretty cut and dried that he needs to change. I have no idea how it will play out. We’ll know more in the post-season if he has a chance to come back, and I feel he will. I think the team is playing well enough to continue to move on. But if he doesn’t make a change, they made it very clear that he won’t be employed by the Pittsburgh Penguins anymore.

AN: As far as hits to the head and dirty plays, what do you think of different punishments for repeat offenders and different types of players?
That Dany Heatley hit is a great example of your question. I think to give Heatley only two games for (his elbow on Steve Ott), if you’re trying to make an impact, and you know it was a flagrant elbow, (the NHL) needs to punish that harsher than what they started out. I do believe a repeat offender is certainly going to get more than what the first-time offender does. But I do believe they need to be harsher than what they were this time with Dany Heatley.

And the other thing I don’t believe they should be able to, just because Dany Heatley hits a tough guy, the punishment shouldn’t be less. They can’t (base decisions on) whether one guy’s a role player and one guy’s a star player. If a star player throws an elbow, he needs to be dealt with the same way some other role player would be. A repeat offender, (the NHL) should have to take him to a different level.

AN: The Penguins have stayed extremely positive through all of the adversity they faced this year. Where do you think that positivity comes from?
I believe it starts with their coaching staff. I believe it starts with Mario when he walks into the locker room, and it follows down to Ray Shero, and then you get into their coaching staff. They’ve prepared guys. They pay guys a lot of money to be playing the game for them, and they expect if someone goes down other players have to pick it up. Obviously this season is an extreme example, but I think their work ethic and how they play the game makes it difficult for a team that’s a little softer than they are. And they still have talent, great goaltending and a really solid defensive corps. With Brooks Orpik back they’re that much better. They got themselves on a roll. They were winning games without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and then all of a sudden you feel, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ And you want to do it. You want to prove to people that you can win games.

The coaching staff is going to not let them feel that way. If you’re not going out there and fulfilling your role, they’re going to find somebody else. They’re moving people in and out. Everyone wants to be part of what’s happening. It’s a good atmosphere to be in when you’re winning.

AN: What are your thoughts on the emergence of Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy in this last part of the season?
Certainly he’s upped his role, and it certainly helps when you have Tyler Kennedy playing the way that he has been playing. And Chris Kunitz comes back from his injuries and he picked up right where he left off. That’s such a huge part for this team. And I’m sure Jordan Staal is out there to let everybody know that he can handle being not only a defensive specialist and the best third-line center, but that he can do so much more.

AN: Who had the best breakout season?
You have to say Letang. Sergei Gonchar moved on and the big responsibility and the spotlight was going to fall on him and the whole defensive corps. But mainly him. Part of the equation that went out the door was your power play guy. Obviously the power play is still not where they want it to be, but he’s certainly taken (his game) to a different level. Enough to be mentioned with Niklas Lidstrom for the defenseman of the year.

I don’t think you can say enough about Marc-Andre Fleury just because of the pressure he was under in the very beginning of the season. I would say Letang first then Marc-Andre Fleury, then followed up now with Tyler Kennedy down the stretch. I believe that’s what he expects of himself. And the team expects that from him as well.

AN: Certain parts of the Penguins’ game evolved this season, such as their penalty kill and defensive play. What element of their game this season sticks out the most to you?
Certainly you have to look at the penalty kill right away because of where they’re ranked. But that’s just determination and hard work. Tony Granato is overseeing that. The coaching staff just works well with those guys. And when they go out on the ice there’s a pride thing that goes with it and they know what their job is. Involved in that is the great goaltending you’ve had with Fleury and Johnson. I’m not surprised (that the penalty kill is at the top of the league). I think as a whole unit, to be as good as they are defensively throughout the league, that’s the key. But as players, there’s so much built off of how they work and how they play the game. They don’t make it easy for anybody to play against them. That’s the thing I like the most. All of the things develop off of that. Your great defensive numbers are based off of how hard they work, then they translate that into offensive opportunities.

AN: Do you have any playoff predictions?
Even with Crosby and Malkin out, although everyone is seeing the way that Crosby is skating and he looks pretty good, I think the Penguins can do well. Iif you have this team as it is, without Crosby and Malkin, nobody will want to face them. Teams are really going to have to come and play their best game and be ready to outwork somebody. Pittsburgh, in my opinion, outworks everybody they play against. Whoever plays (the Penguins) first, they won’t want that. I think the East is completely up for grabs. You look at Philadelphia, they’re not playing well. You don’t know what you’re going to get with Washington. Boston is a team that you have to watch out for. Then there’s also Montreal and these teams that get in that you have to be careful about. But Pittsburgh, if there’s ever a question mark about whether they come to work, then you don’t know what’s happening. They come to work every night. That’s why I like them a lot.

AN: If Alexander Ovechkin is healthy, and Washington still isn’t playing hockey into late May or June, what is their next step?
Everybody keeps talking about how Washington has made this defensive change. They’re winning games, but I just look at the Pittsburgh games they’ve played against them. Even on NBC they’re saying what a great defensive effort it was. I thought ‘Really?’ Pittsburgh had 40 shots on the net or something like that.

I think you’re going to look at the coaching (if they don’t go far in the playoffs again this year). You can’t fire 20 players – that’s a fact. They’re going to look at the coach and say ‘Are there one or two more pieces that we need?’ Well, I think they felt that they brought them in. If they don’t win with this group and Ovechkin is healthy and able to play, then I think they’re going to look at the coaching staff first. Right or wrong that’s the way it goes.

But if Ovechkin’s unhealthy, then you have an out. But I don’t know how this team is going to perform. Their goaltending and everything, that’s been pretty good, but they just seem to give up key opportunities. We’ll see how they play. Obviously it’s been an off year for Ovechkin, but you have to watch out for him. You don’t know how he’s going to turn it on. I think he’s hoping he can turn the season, in his own personal way, around in the playoffs.

AN: Who do you think will win some of the regular season awards, like the Hart, Selke, Jack Adams, Norris Trophy, etc.?
If you could have coach of the year (the Jack Adams Award), I don’t think anyone but Dan Bylsma has done a better job to have the Penguins where they are now. Jacques Lemaire (turning around) the New Jersey Devils, that would have been one of the best stories for the NHL because it was a great comeback story if they make the playoffs. I don’t think they’re going to be able to do that. But I think Dan Bylsma would be coach of the year. For MVP there are plenty of goaltenders you could have. That’s still a tough one. I think defenseman of the year still kind of falls towards Nicklas Lidstrom. He’s unbelievable. He’s just that good all the time. If Kris Letang stayed on the same pace (as the first half of the year) I think he would have had it. He needed to stay on a great pace points wise to get there. But I think Nicklas Lidstrom is going to come away with that again.

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