Craig Adams: Is It Time to Hang Up the Skates?


There are few players who have suited up for the Pittsburgh Penguins in recent years that have had their worth more hotly debated than forward Craig Adams.

A player who has made a career for himself seemingly by way of his intangibles alone, Adams has long been a player that fans have had a hard time getting behind. He doesn’t do much of anything that will get the crowd on their feet, yet he has put together a 15-year NHL career that has included two Stanley Cup championships. Adams may not be the most flashy player (or flashy at all, in any way whatsoever) but coaches have always said that he comes to the rink with a good attitude, works as hard as anyone there, and gets the job done.

Is that enough to secure a roster spot on one of the brightest teams in the most competitive league in the world, though?

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At age 37, Adams seems to have worn out his welcome on the Penguins’ bench, as at this point it just doesn’t seem clear what exactly the veteran brings to the team that other younger or more affordable players could not.

Adams’ greatest strength has always been his skill on the penalty kill, largely the result of his excellent fitness level and tireless work ethic.

But this alone cannot be enough of a reason to keep a player on your starting roster. Killing off a man-advantage is no easy feat, but it also isn’t too difficult to find a number of players who count the ability to do so among their skills. Moreover, a fair amount of these players can do a few other things as well.

What is it, then, that made Adams a staple of the fourth line on a team that has no trouble attracting quality players for affordable contracts?

Coaches and general managers have talked for years about Adams as a championship x-factor – a player with all the right intangibles, who will do whatever it takes to win, and will use his veteran leadership to guide the team’s young guns to success. We’ve heard time and time again that “you need players like Craig Adams to win championships”. Do you, though?

The only championship Pittsburgh won during Adams’ tenure with the team came in 2009. Adams joined the team at the end of the regular season that year, playing in only 9 games. He would go on to appear in all 24 playoff games, amassing 5 points and 16 penalty minutes.

Was Adams important to that 2009 championship run? Certainly. He added some fresh energy and a reinvigorated work ethic to a team that had been all over the place during the season, and helped solidify the bottom six of an already strong squad.

2009 was a long time ago, however. Adams has spent 5 seasons in Pittsburgh since then, and the result has been zero championships, and a number of missed opportunities. As a player who gets limited minutes and plays a very small role, it is obviously not up to Adams to take the team on his back and lead Pittsburgh to a Cup – that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Pens’ highly paid superstar centres.

Jan 15, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Craig Adams (27) skates from behind the net with the puck against the Washington Capitals during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

However, those 5 seasons have not necessarily showcased a great deal of unwavering leadership within the Penguins’ locker room either.

For a player who makes his living on this team by leading with a veteran presence and chipping in with strong, defensive play from the forward position, it’s tough to say that Adams has been very effective during the majority of his tenure in Pittsburgh, as they have certainly not been a squad that puts up a defensive wall against opposing teams, and have similarly been without strong enough leadership to make a significant impact in a fair number of their recent playoff series.

Stronger veteran leadership may have prevented the Penguins from allowing the New York Rangers to come back from a 3-0 series deficit last postseason. It also may have helped inspire the team to manage even a single win against the Boston Bruins a year earlier, when the Penguins boasted a roster stacked with a host of elite scorers.

So while it may not be up to Craig Adams alone to lead Pittsburgh to a victory, a series win, or a championship, his presence is certainly not crucial to attaining any of these things either, as it seems to have made little difference.

The most successful season of Adams’ tenure with Pittsburgh came during the season wherein he was part of the group for only a small portion of the year, whereas the team has found little success since he took up a more pivotal role with the club.

And yet Pittsburgh has not only kept Adams on the squad over the last few years, they in fact re-signed him (and gave him a raise) the season before last, despite the fact that he was already 35 years old. $700,000 is not a small sum of money, especially when it is attached to a player that would not be overly difficult to replace.

I like Craig Adams. I truly do. As a person, he seems to be one of the most classy and respectable members of the NHL community. But this sport is a business and with Pittsburgh having no shortage of reliable fourth-line players ready to come up from the AHL – players who are younger, cheaper, and perhaps a little more eager to prove themselves in this league, it seems like it is time to move on from the Adams era in Pittsburgh sooner than later.

What do you think, Pens fans? Is Craig Adams crucial to the Penguins’ success? Comment below and give us your thoughts!