Penguins Notes: What’s Old is New Again

By John Toperzer

– I’m not sure if it’s because everybody seems young to Pens’ GM Jim Rutherford, but Pittsburgh’s coaching staff officially qualifies for AARP status after the signing of assistant coach Gary Agnew. Agnew (54 years of age) joins head coach Mike Johnston (57) and Rick Tocchet (50) as one of the NHL’s oldest coaching staffs with the least amount of NHL coaching experience. Jacques Martin (61) also remains within the organization in a yet-to-be-determined capacity. This should be fun.

– Minnesota native Paul Martin did not break his leg in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. #Sochi

– Fans I’ve spoken with have sounded pretty upbeat about the Pens’ offseason. I don’t necessarily share in that optimism, but I learned a long time ago that it’s important to respect the opinions of others (in hockey and in life). I wasn’t impressed with 32-year-old Christian Ehrhoff when he played defense for Vancouver – even before he signed with the Sabres. Steve Downie is the most interesting signing, someone who can add heart to the team. Reuniting him with Rick Tocchet could do wonders for him. Of course, he has such a long injury history that nightly health updates will become standard operating procedure for Downie fans.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen graded the Penguins’ summer with an “A,” one of only two such grades in the East (Tampa Bay also got an “A”).

Allen called the Neal trade “bold” and labeled the Ehrhoff signing as one of the best free agent signings. Click here for the entire story.

In the end, none of Pittsburgh’s offseason matters as much as Sidney Crosby’s health. Fortunately, concussions are not a part of the equation. I’d like to see Crosby go through with whatever surgeries he needs to be healthy for the long term. Rehabs have an all-too-common way of simply pushing out surgery timetables for the good of no one.

– Back to Downie, did you know he was drafted 29th overall in 2005, the same draft Crosby was selected first?

Not only that, but recently-departed Matt Niskanen was taken one pick in front of Downie by Dallas and the Stars then took James Neal four picks after Downie. There’s Pittsburgh hockey symmetry in there somewhere.

Downie has competed in only one long playoff run, when he skated for Tampa Bay in 2010-11. In 17 games, he scored two goals and added 12 assists with 40 PIM. Not bad postseason production at all.

– Twitter was all a-flutter over the weekend with Kris Letang releasing his list of 15 teams to which he would accept a trade, including the Montreal Canadiens.

First off, here’s to wishing he suffers from no lingering stroke effects. That’s 100X more important than everything else combined, IMO.

Second, the Penguins would be fools to trade him before he has a chance to rebuild his trade value with a strong regular season heading into the trading deadline. His eight-year, $58 million deal is still a huge chunk of money, but the recent unrestricted free agency frenzy has shown that Letang’s money isn’t quite as outrageous as it once appeared to be.

Finally, could Montreal be a destination for Letang? Sure. Brendan Gallagher would look nice in a Penguins sweater. Alexander Galchenyuk might be the Russian that Geno’s been looking for.

Of course, Letang’s health will go a long way toward determining his future, short-term and long-term.

For now, Pittsburgh fans can agree that a good, healthy start to 2014-15 by the defenseman is more important than anything else.

It’s been said that Kristopher Letang might benefit from the coaching staff changes more than any other Penguin.

We shall see.

– I think the pick of Kasperi Kapanen is just a cool pick. Is it the best pick the Penguins could have made, I don’t know, nobody does right now, but his father, Sami Kapanen, was a good player in his own right and showed a lot of heart.

Friend of Chipped Ham sports and writer for Hockey’s Future, Ian Altenbaugh, had a glowing report on Kapanen here.

With Sami’s link to GM Rutherford in Carolina, the selection makes a lot of sense. My only question is why didn’t the top European prospect go higher than 22th? The Pens say that they had him ranked seventh overall. Is there scouting system that disconnected from the rest of the league or is there simply that much variance? Time will tell.

Kapanen says he wants to make the team out of camp, but only history suggests that only a few youngsters thrive in the NHL at that age. The fact that he wants to play with the big boys already is nonetheless encouraging.

– I won’t be attending the prospects camp but may pop in for Saturday prospects game at 3:00 ET inside the Consol Energy Center.

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Links ‘n At

Penguins’ Sidney Crosby decides against wrist surgery, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

But if the injections he has decided to receive in lieu of an operation don’t have the desired effect, Crosby still could undergo surgery before training camp opens in September.

“If this treatment works, you avoid surgery and move on,” Pat Brisson, who is Crosby’s agent, said Tuesday. “If it doesn’t, he will have to go that [surgical] route.”

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Penguins top prospect Pouliot eyes quick recovery from surgery, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“Everything is coming along good,” said Pouliot, whose May surgery repaired a labrum torn during the Western Hockey League final. “(The shoulder) is progressing as it should, and hopefully, it’ll be a speedy recovery.

“It’s tough to (give a timetable), especially since it’s only been (eight weeks). I’m just starting to really get the rehab going, so it’s tough to say but hopefully training camp.”

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Young Penguins defensemen hope to make impact at NHL level, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“I think we’re pretty fortunate to be the first guys that the new coaches see,” said defenseman Scott Harrington, who will attempt to make the Penguins’ roster during training camp in September.

“We get to showcase ourselves. This is an opportunity for us.”

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Penguins’ Crosby won’t have surgery on ailing wrist, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“I knew him before but never sat down extensively with him,” Pens coach Mike Johnston said of Sidney Crosby. “It was good to get to know him a little bit. We grew up a mile apart. Some of my friends coached Sid as he was growing up.

“It’s nice that we have some things in common. You don’t get a chance to spend one-on-one time once training camp starts.

“I want to connect with as many of these guys as I can.”

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Penguins notebook: First-round pick Kapanen practices, excited to join team, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

General manager Jim Rutherford believes Kapanen can contend for a roster spot in training camp.

“The coaches are really great people here,” Kapanen said. “I think we have a great coaching staff. I’m excited. I’m just trying to be a sponge right now.”

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Prospects Camp Audio, courtesy Penguins

Mike Johnston:

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Brian Dumoulin:

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Derrick Pouliot:

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Tristan Jarry:

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Scott Harrington:

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Kasperi Kapanen (1):

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Kasperi Kapanen (2):

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Sam Lafferty:

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: The clock is ticking …

By John Toperzer

My first impression of the new Penguins coach, Mike Johnston, is that he’s old – 57 to be exact.

If the Penguins hired him to work with young players, because he coached WHL Portland, then the move is understandable – though Pittsburgh’s best prospect, defender Derrick Pouliot, has already played for Johnston in Portland. That’s an interesting dynamic unto itself. It leads to the question, ‘how much more can a player grow from having the same coach at two levels?’

If the Penguins hired Johnston because of X’s & O’s, (his puck management, puck possession style), then the hire appears to me to be a reach. Surely there are other coaches that can adapt or tweak their styles to fit what Pittsburgh was looking for in a coach. To turn the team over to a 57-year-old who has never been the leader of an NHL team is a risky move.

What happens when things don’t go well?

Johnston also admitted he has no experience with advanced hockey statistics.

“I’m excited to talk to Jason Karmanos about the analytics side and what they’ve developed here,” Johnston said. “I’ve always toyed with it, but you’re limited at the junior level. When I came into the NHL, we didn’t really do that. We talked about it a little bit in LA, I presume LA probably has that right now.”

At the media conference Wednesday, the newly-hired assistant coach Rick Tocchet, gave more reassuring, tangible information about the tenants he’s looking for from his roster.

“The players we want here, not so much get the puck but hold onto it,” Tocchet said. “If the guy’s not open, don’t give somebody else your problem, hold onto it. You might have to take a check. That’s composure.”

Johnston himself said how he would lean on Tocchet, how his experience as an NHL player is important.

“For a person like myself, it’s very important to have a player on your staff,” Johnston said. “He’s going to be a great and valuable resource.”

But when Johnston walks into the dressing room, how much respect will he command? He never played in the NHL and as noted, he’s never served as an NHL coach.

From first appearances, Johnston doesn’t seem to be very demonstrative or have a strong personality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though if the team gets off to a bad start it makes a recovery more difficult.

The 57-year-old seems like a respectful person. He said his 80-year-old dad still laces them up and lives near Sidney Crosby’s hometown. Johnston is also a football fan, he’s looking forward to following the Steelers.

Dan Bylsma liked the Pirates more than the Steelers, so there’s another change about the coaching.

If the Penguins don’t get off to a hot start – they play seven of their first 10 games at home – then I could see things going south on Johnston in a hurry.

GM Jim Rutherford has no allegiance to him beyond being one of many interviewees in a public process that saw Pittsburgh miss out on Bill Peters and Willie Desjardins as its first and second apparent coaching choices.

The more I look at Rutherford, the more I could see him serving as the bad guy, the henchman. He doesn’t know anybody in Pittsburgh, he can hire and fire at will. He’s not going to be around the team in the long-term. Rutherford can do the dirty work ownership wants without taking any of the blame.

Let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

The Penguins forecast has a bigger range to it than in the last six seasons. The roster figures to see more change than it ever did under Bylsma. What will happen with James Neal? Who will replace his regular-season goals? Chris Kunitz is 34, Pascal Dupuis, 35.

Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Jussi Jokinen, these guys, among others, are likely gone. Assistants Todd Reirden and Tony Granato, gone. Washington hired Reirden as an assistant the same day Pittsburgh fired him.

Evgeni Malkin had a wildly inconsistent year. We still don’t know if Sidney Crosby played poorly in the postseason because of a slump or because of shoulder/wrist injuries.

On the bright side, Olli Maatta is another year older and wiser. What a find he was last season. Kris Letang figures to have a longer and better season. Letang might be in a better playing mood with Bylsma gone, though Jacques Martin was retained by ownership and will be re-assigned. Bylsma and Martin put the emphasis on Letang staying behind the puck more often than not.

It’s said that the only constant is change. Shero and Bylsma are gone, Rutherford and Johnston are in.

The clock is ticking …

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Excerpts from Mike Johnston and Rick Tocchet interviews

Jim Rutherford on Mike Johnston:

The style that I was looking for in a head coach was a guy of making adjustments during a game and that’s probably Mike Johnston’s strongest suit.

Another thing was the puck possession team. As Mike puts it, puck management, puck possession, high-tempo team, but a high tempo team that starts in your own end. It’s not that he just overlooking the defensive part of the game.

Mike Johnston on Rick Tocchet:

For a person like myself, it’s very important to have a player on your staff, but it’s more important to have a player as a coach (with experience).

We’ll start to piece our staff together over the next several days.

Rick Tocchet:

I’m excited to get back in the fire, had some great conversations with Mike Johnston. He thinks outside the box and that’s what I like. It’s the 15 percent of teams that do things differently. We’re going to get some motivated players here to get that fire back and get the Cup again.

Being outside, I know a lot of people think they have a lot of problems. The way Mike’s going to coach this team is high tempo. They welcome the pressure. You’re going to get highly motivated guys coming back.

Mike Johnston:

My basic framework is puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace. You want your players to have options in every part: breakout, getting out of our zone to offensive zone entries.

Our defensive habits, details to defensive habits will be engrained for sure. I’m more inclined to really play a pace game. You own the puck, you play defensively a lot less. I like the core of players here to play that style of game. That’s the type of team I want to coach.

On coming from Junior hockey:

I came in and we were given the NHL players for the ‘98 Olympics. We then had some great teams in Vancouver then moved into LA. Recognizing how NHL players are, demands of the schedule, that’s what I’ve learned as an assistant.

Build a template, it is a process. Development camp, rookie camp then training camp.

On Penguins being soft:

The core is exactly where I want it. As far as pieces, Jim and his staff will address it going forward. As Rick had mentioned, a lot of teams in the league would like to have our core group.

Bringing in our plan and template, we’re going to sell the team on this is how we want to play. They want to have the right template and now how they fit into the equation. We’ll be very clear what’s expected of them.

On coaching under Marc Crawford and others in Alberta:

I had some phenomenal mentors. You take bits and pieces from all of them and then you have your own personality and style.

On the top quartile not being good enough for the Penguins:

The bottom line expectation for me, from training camp to the first part of the season, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs. The score is relevant, but not as relevant as the habits we will have to make us successful in the playoffs. Right from Day 1 in training camp, as a coaching staff, we want to have those habits so you can say that team is becoming a playoff-ready team. Jim will take a look at the personnel. We’re not going to compromise to have that playoff-ready team.

We will add one more coach to the group.

On coaching in the NHL despite not playing in NHL:

I’m a firm believer a coaching staff has to have balance, that’s why we have Rick – he’s going to be a valuable addition.

On puck possession:

A lot of its driven through the center of the ice, escaping the zone quick and getting it going in transition. The defense is important in escaping the zone, getting the right type of attack going, but our centers are critical. To move the puck through the middle of the ice and distribute it is critical. This group of centers is tailor-made for that type of set-up. Puck possession teams manage the puck well.

For example, there are five options for the winger to get the puck out of his own zone, which one will he take depends on the team we’re playing.

On puck possession (from shorter Johnston audio clip):

I like to come out as a pack because there are more options for the puck carrier. Once you stretch the zone really quick, the puck carrier is isolated and often he has to chip the puck in and there’s no support. I like the first play to be inside to the middle and then distribute it wide as you enter the zone.

On advanced statistics:

You’re trying to evaluate your team on more than the score. That’s what analytics does. Gives you an objective measurement more than a subjective one.

I’m excited to talk to Jason Karmanos about the analytics side and what they’ve developed here. I’ve always toyed with it, but you’re limited at the junior level. When I came into the NHL, we didn’t really do that. We talked about it a little bit in LA, I presume LA probably has that right now.

Johnston, Tocchet media scrums

Mike Johnston and Rick Tocchet:

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Mike Johnston Media Scrum:

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Rick Tocchet Media Scrum:

(Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins)

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The hiring of Mike Johnston marks the first time the Pens haven’t taken a Portland Winterhawk in the first round since they picked Andrew Ference in the eighth round of the 1997 draft.

Pittsburgh selected Joe Morrow in the first round of the 2011 draft and took Derrick Pouliot eighth overall in 2012.

There’s something in the Portland water Pittsburgh likes.

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Links ‘n At

Kovacevic: Penguins, Johnston could grow together, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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New Penguins coach Johnston understands pressures of NHL job, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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Penguins reach far to fill head coaching position job, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Gene Collier: Mike Johnston’s ideas well-suited to his task, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Penguins new coach Mike Johnston’s to-do list is a long one, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Mike Johnston will embrace skill and Penguins should thrive, Ryan Wilson of Hockey Buzz reports.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: Niskanen, Crosby, Malkin, Rutherford

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Can you name the two Penguins players who finished in the top 100 for the advanced hockey statistic, Fenwick For?

(Fenwick For is the number of unblocked shot attempts by a team or player. It’s the same as Corsi, but excludes shots that are blocked. It’s used because over many games it’s a slightly better proxy for possession than Corsi. It’s not used exclusively instead of Corsi mainly because over smaller sample sizes, the larger Corsi number is more accurate in reflecting puck possession.)Courtesy ExtraSkater.com

Jussi Jokinen – 53rd (54.7%), Sidney Crosby – 79th (53.6%), Matt Niskanen – 90th (53.3%). Click here.

In other words, the Pens weren’t very good at possessing the puck in 2013-14.

Incidentally, here’s a statistic Crosby would like to see added to the advanced metrics. From an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic during the 2012 work stoppage.

Kovacevic: What new hockey advanced statistic would you create for hockey?

Crosby: Touches. The more you have the puck you’re doing something right. It can be fluky but over the course of the year, means you’re doing something right…When guys are successful they’re touching the puck a lot.

Can you imagine a “touches” statistic? Interesting, yet pretty simple and straight forward.

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A couple big questions regarding Niskanen, who is expected to shortly become an unrestricted free agent, is ‘how much is he a product of being promoted or pushed as a lead dog on the Pens’ blue line’ and ‘how much did he do in his own right, where he could be a strong offensive defenseman on any team, in any system’?

Right-handed shooting defensemen are hot commodities. Niskanen set personal career highs in virtually every statistical category last season, leading his team with 46 points (10G, 36A) in 81 contests.

How much do you believe in his ability to repeat similar production going forward? You look at his other six NHL campaigns and see that he scored more than 26 points one time.

This is what Crosby said about Niskanen in the same interview in 2012.

Kovacevic: Breakout Penguins player on current team?:

Crosby: “Um, trying to think. I think Nisky, toward the end of last season he was getting confident with the puck. He was shooting it. His defensive game has just gotten better and better since coming to us. He’s got some skills. He played great for us, can remember him being on the power play with some great shots, great looks.”

For years, Niskanen has been viewed as a fringe fourth defenseman. He’s a nice fit in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins have to consider the how a potentially healthy Kris Letang figures into the mix. Paul Martin is coming to the end of his five-year, $25 million deal and don’t forget that one or more of Ray Shero’s defensive draft pick babies look to see NHL time in 2014-15 (and that doesn’t even account for restricted free agent, Simon Despres).

Hopefully, whoever is in charge of making roster decisions for the Penguins – and I’m not even sure who that is anymore – knows what he’s doing.

All Penguins fans really know right now is that this guy isn’t in control of the Penguins – despite his claim that “as of now, I am in control now.”

#AlexanderHaig #USHistory #PresidentReagan

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The 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced Monday.
All made the cut for good reason, so I’ll just add my two cents.

Dominik Hasek: I remember when he came up as a backup to Ed Belfour. The Penguins pretty much had his number for a good while. Mike Lange and Paul Steigerwald seemed enamored with Hasek’s penchant for making saves off of his goalie mask, heading pucks away like in futbol.

Peter Forsberg: This guy was awesome. We didn’t get to see him much in the East, but when we did he dominated the Penguins. His postseason exploits are well known. Don’t forget he was a part of the Eric Lindros trade way back when. Great all-around game.

Mike Modano: I never liked this guy. Maybe it’s because I rooted against him in the 1990-91 Stanley Cup Final or maybe it’s because he was part of the 1998 USA Olympic team which trashed Japan. He seemed like a punk to me. A great skater, a 500-goal getter, but a punk. Sorry.

Rob Blake: Yet another guy from the West. His offensive game grew in his later years. I think of him as an LA Kings guy, but I’m pretty sure he was another guy who spent a year in Colorado a la Ray Bourque where he won his Cup.

Pat Burns: He was a former cop who became an NHL coach, died way too young.

Bill McCreary: Served as a referee from 1984 to 2011. That’s a lot of skating. Came into the league as a rookie when Mario did.

Kevin Allen: USA Today writer who gave us hockey info when there were few other outlets available in Pittsburgh. The guy is a great source, knows his stuff and from all appearances, just a humble human. A well-deserved honor.

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Eventually, the Penguins will find a head coach. Most likely, everyone will say that he was the right choice all along, if not the first choice. I really don’t care who gets the nod as Pittsburgh’s coach.

What’s telling is the process of finding that coach. So far, GM caretaker, Jim Rutherford, has done little to impress. I don’t see what the Penguins saw in him, other than he was available for a year or two. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him gone after 2014-15. Pittsburgh doesn’t need to become Carolina north. Even if he was set up to fail, he hasn’t handled the media end of things well. Let’s hope he handles hockey operations better, because after all, that’s what matters most.

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Sidney Crosby is expected to take his first Hart Trophy on Tuesday since becoming the youngest player in NHL history (or MLB, the NFL or the NBA) to win the honor way back in 2006-07 as a 19-year-old teenager.

We’ve never really found out why his performance was down so dramatically in the postseason, when he netted just one goal in 13 playoff games. Did he have a bad shoulder and/or a bad wrist? Would he even tell his teammates if he was hurt? Hopefully if something was wrong with Crosby in the postseason then he’ll be better by the time the fall rolls around.

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The Pens’ top-six forwards situation isn’t what it used to be. Age is gaining on the group. It might sound like sacrilege, If not for Evgeni Malkin’s no-movement clause, I’d see what a trade might bring. I really think he needs a change of scenery for the sake of his own career. Factor in the constant threat of him returning to the KHL, his inconsistent play and his huge long-term salary, and there are reasons to move him. He’s two Novembers away from turning 30. He’s lost his ability to score one-on-one on a regular basis, something that happens to the best of players with age.

Of course, there’s little reason to trust GM caretaker Rutherford, given his shabby trade history. I highly doubt there will ever be a hash tag #InRutherfordWeTrust

Who knows if Malkin would rather return to the KHL or accept a trade to another NHL organization. If the Pens every needed a short-term GM to play the bad guy and not handle Malkin with kid glove care, then they now have him in Rutherford.

Detroit has been a favored landing spot for Russian stars. The Wings certainly have the young players to get a deal done. I’d prefer somewhere far, far away from the Eastern Conference, like Calgary. The Flames have a cache of young talent such as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and others, but the point is probably moot.

Malkin would probably go back to Russia before he went to another NHL organization and the Penguins would get nothing in return.

Now that is the scariest of scary thoughts.

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Links ‘n At

The Silent Treatment, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari.

So far, however, bringing back fourth-line left winger Tanner Glass and frequent linemate Joe Vitale doesn’t appear to be high on his to-do list, if it’s there at all.

Ross Gurney, who represents Glass, said via email today that he had “some preliminary discussions with Jason [Botterill, now the associate GM] a few months ago” but that he has “not spoken with Jim or Jason since [the Penguins’] management/coaching changes.”

Allain Roy, agent for Vitale and defenseman Deryk Engelland, said he has not had contract talks with the Penguins about either of his clients.

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Penguins’ new general manager keeping busy, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

As for the Penguins’ long list of players eligible for unrestricted free agency, Rutherford seems skeptical he will be able to re-sign some of them, although he noted, “We haven’t told anybody we’re moving on from them.”

Pending free agents Matt Niskanen, a defenseman, and winger Jussi Jokinen might have priced themselves out of reach with strong seasons, and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik’s status remains unclear.

“I have talked to the agents of our UFAs to see how much they’re looking for,” Rutherford said. “The prices are high.”

One thing that Mario Lemieux mentioned about Ray Shero during a post-firing interview is that the organization was not meant to spend right up to the salary cap every season, as Shero did. That doesn’t bode well for the team’s spending to win going forward.

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30 Thoughts: NHL free agents reluctant to commit early, Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports reports.

24. So, what happened in Pittsburgh? There is zero doubt the Penguins were going to hire Peters or Willie Desjardins. They were the top two on the list. When Carolina snapped up Peters, Desjardins was the guy. Desjardins can answer this better than anyone else, but in the end I think his heart was in Vancouver.

28. Penguins fans are looking at this and saying, “What the heck? Does no one want to coach Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?” It’s a great question and one we are all asking. The number one answer: It hasn’t been a lot of fun there. Ownership and the team’s CEO, David Morehouse, are taking most of the heat, but that’s not a true picture, because it extended onto the bench and in the dressing room. The demands, the pressure and the disappointment took its toll on a lot of people. No one likes to lose, but things used to be joyous there. That must be re-discovered. It also reveals what a great job Ray Shero did preventing all of this from going public while he was in charge.

29. One other Pittsburgh note: hearing Kris Letang will not be traded, barring a ridiculous offer.

30. OK, one more. Assistant coach Todd Reirden, responsible for defence and given permission to look for other work, may end up in Washington alongside Barry Trotz.

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Penguins schedule features home-heavy start, more Saturday night games, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: What’s going on in Pittsburgh?

So the Los Angeles Kings’ John Stevens accepts a promotion from assistant coach to associate coach. He was thought to be a serious candidate for the Pens’ head coaching job. Stevens served as the Philadelphia Flyers’ coach and knows Pittsburgh pretty well. It’s telling that he accepted the promotion with the Kings over a possible spot with the Pens.

Detroit Red Wings assistant, Bill Peters, took the job of Carolina Hurricanes head coach Thursday. He, too, was thought to be a candidate for the Pens’ job.

Isn’t Pittsburgh supposed to be a prime destination in the NHL? I think it would be fair to say that the organization’s stock has taken a hit.

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I’m not sure I’ve recovered from the odd media conference announcing GM Ray Shero’s dismissal. President and Penguins CEO David Morehouse was so uncomfortable it made me uncomfortable watching. Click here for the 15-minute video. Morehouse speaks for a couple minutes and opens the conference up for questions. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi begins to ask a question but before he can talk, Morehouse interrupts him to wish him a happy birthday and rambles on about Twitter. Rossi says thanks and quickly moves on with his questioning.

Morehouse was chugging bottled water like he had just run a marathon.

The conference didn’t calm any fan base nerves and opened up a ton of questions. For whatever reason, coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t fired for three weeks after the organization named 65-year-old Jim Rutherford as the new general manager.

Rutherford appears to be a place holder or caretaker with Pittsburgh. It’s almost like the team is pushing back important decisions for two or three years with him at the helm. I would’ve loved to have heard someone ask him a specific Fenwick analytics question at his media conference. I’m not convinced he understands anything more than a very rudimentary perspective on hockey analytics, based upon his skirting answers.

Carolina kicked him to the curb for Ron Francis, which isn’t necessarily a scar, but the fact the ‘Canes haven’t even made the playoffs in five years tells you something. The biggest fear is that Rutherford goes with players and coaches he’s comfortable with in Carolina. Already, Peter Karmanos’ son, Jason, has been hired by Rutherford as a vice president of hockey operations – and this after his own dad had fired him. You can’t make this stuff up.

Rutherford on Bylsma:

“He’s a good man and a good coach. I really don’t know him very well and I only talked to him just briefly this morning.”

I suppose this is the kind of talk Penguins fans better get used to hearing.

Nevertheless, sometimes the best GM/coaching duos happen by accident and aren’t the first, second or third choices – as in the Penguins’ summer path.

So far, about the only positive to come out of the past couple weeks is that nobody’s mentioned Pierre McGuire’s name as a possible general manager.

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What I would’ve done.

I would have hired Jason Botterill as the general manager. I don’t get that he’s not quite ready. The Boston Red Sox have won three World Series Championships since hiring a 28-year-old general manager, Theo Epstein. Different sport, but if Botterill is your guy, he’s your guy today and tomorrow. Take the kid gloves off and get to work. If Botterill’s the best guy — and there’s reason to believe he is — then give him the reigns right now.

I think the Penguins are taking a dangerous step, pushing out their eventual management team by a couple years. Evgeni Malkin will be 30 years old two years from November. Sidney Crosby’s health is always an issue.

It’s almost like ownership is waiting for a coach who’s currently under contract to become avaiable in a year, someone like Mike Babcock. If that’s the case, with Babcock or someone else, that’s a slippery slope to take. It’s hard enough for the Pens to look out a couple weeks in advance, let alone a couple years.

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Links ‘n At

Pens’ GM Rutherford “real close” to choosing the team’s next coach, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“The process is coming to an end,” said Rutherford, who has made a decision on one of eight candidates to interview for the opening.

“I’m still checking a few points with the lead candidate, but a decision is coming real soon.”

Rutherford declined to provide specifics regarding candidates or his choice. An announcement could be made within days, provided details of a contract can be worked out.

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AHL’s Desjardins latest Penguins candidate; interviews near end, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Rutherford said Wednesday that a big factor in choosing the next coach is “how our top players are handled” — referring specifically to franchise centerpieces Sidney Crosby, the team captain, and Evgeni Malkin, the top alternate.

“Whoever our head coach is has to have the right relationship, the right communication, and be able to get the most out of all our players, especially those top ones,” Rutherford said.

However, Rutherford said Crosby and Malkin do not need to “like” their coach. Neither will have input in the decision, Rutherford said.

“The coach doesn’t have to be the players’ friend,” he said. “He has a job to do. They have a job to do. The coach and players only have to respect each other.

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The summer of Geno has begun, according to TSN’s Bar Down.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Let’s dance! Pittsburgh’s Polka with Gregory Polanco

Photos by John Toperzer Sr. and Jr.

IMG_4199Yes, the first shot I took of Gregory Polanco back in 2010 spring training. Let it rain! That saliva will be selling for $100 an ounce on eBay.

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IMG_4202Polanco was a rail when he first signed

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P1000890No. 82, head & shoulders above everybody else

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P1120555I don’t think the Pirates will bat Polanco eighth in the bigs

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P1220491
This is one tall dude

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IMG_1999Take a bow, Gregory

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Doff the cap!

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IMG_0493-001The white sunglasses are a thing with Polanco and others like Alen Hanson

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IMG_0504Should I take $25 million?

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IMG_0512Polanco’s like ‘Did you see that?’

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IMG_0522-001The frame is filling out

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P1440235-002Fan friendly

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IMG_15651st spring training knock ever in 2013 (Sarasota)

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IMG_1575And his first lead off of first base

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IMG_1599Got in a little CF action in his 1st spring game

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IMG_1145-001Polanco connecting in ’14

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IMG_9689The guy’s ready to run as soon as he hits the ball

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IMG_9691That’s why he beats out so many infield grounders

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P1530095Polanco would be seven-foot tall if his torso matched the long legs

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IMG_0064Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera chirped something to Polanco after a ground out

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P1530282Pack your bags, Gregory, you’re coming to PNC Park

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P1530728Super scout, Latin confidant, Rene Gayo. Thank you sir!

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IMG_9178Time to join the big boys, Gregory

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Links ‘n At

Pirates call up prized prospect Polanco”, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Prized rookie Polanco called up, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

The five tools of Gregory Polanco, by John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.

Pirates to promote Gregory Polanco, Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout reports.

Gregory Polanco’s statistics via Fan Graphs.

Gregory Polanco’s statistics via Baseball Reference.

Gregory Polanco baseball cards for sale on eBay. Got an extra $2299.00 for a Polanco card? Put your money where your mouth is! Click here.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: The who, what, when, where and why of trading Kris Letang

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By John Toperzer

Starting on July 1, Kris Letang’s eight-year, $58 million contract extension kicks in with an average annual value of $7.25 million, according to Cap Geek.

Combine that number with Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Paul Martin ($5 million) and Marc-Andre Fleury ($5 million), and the Penguins have $35.45 million tied up for 2014-15 in five players. The salary cap is expected to be $70 million, give or take a million (up or down).

The $34.45 million total doesn’t even include James Neal’s $5 million AAV.

So there’s obviously a financial benefit in reducing the costs of a small group of players to reconfigure a group that hasn’t been able to win the Stanley Cup since 2008-09 going forward.

But should Pittsburgh trade Letang? Perhaps a better question should be ‘When should the team trade Kris Letang?’

The Pens are going to need defensemen at the beginning of the year. They could lose Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland, all of whom are unrestricted free agents. Rob Scuderi isn’t the same player he once was and there are question marks surrounding restricted free agent, Simon Despres. That leaves Olli Maatta, Paul Martin, Robert Bortuzzo and Scuderi on the blue line with Letang as defensemen with NHL experience.

Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson and Derrick Pouliot (shoulder surgery) are also possibilities at different points in 2014-15, but fielding a healthy Letang is paramount to the Pens getting off on the right foot for a new general manager (and likely, new head coach).

Given that Letang stroked in late January, it’s reasonable to expect trading partners to see how he plays in November and December. A patented 10-game point streak in November would go a long way toward reassuring other teams that he’s the same player he was prior to 2013-14. Provided he shows that he’s back and healthy, the defender’s trade value then figures to be much higher at the trade deadline deal than it is right now.

Trading Letang in the next couple months would be tantamount to selling a stock low rather than selling high.

Letang’s limited trade clause still allows the Penguins to trade him to 13 teams without his approval. That’s not bad. It takes away some destinations, but gives the new general manager nearly 50 percent of the NHL to work with. The trade clause shouldn’t light the new GM’s pants on fire or force him to make a trade he’ll later regret.

There are reasons to eventually move Letang. The Pens have selected more than their fair share of defenders high in the draft, including Harrington and Pouliot. Pouliot profiles as a player capable of lessening the loss of Letang, offensively, though his play in his own end is still a work in progress. Harrington and Dumoulin might initially fit in better, as both are two-way players (especially Harrington), putting defense atop the list of priorities.

Prospects are never sure things, however. A new GM might come in and trade some of the young talent and keep Letang. That’s certainly possible, though it’s more likely Letang’s $7.25 million AAV gets dealt for help at the forward position.

Presumably, Pascal Dupuis will be back to give the Pens top-six forward depth. Between his advancing age – he’s 35 – and Chris Kunitz’s (34), the team needs an injection of young, top-end offensive talent. Beau Bennett adds to the mix, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since coming to the organization in 2010.

So the issue isn’t so much about trading Letang, it’s about when to do it.

Trading Letang prior to July 1 doesn’t give Pittsburgh the opportunity to recap the value we’ve all seen in him. There’s a reason he received a large extension, but if the organization wants to realize that value in a trade, showcasing Letang’s skills in the regular season will bring back a better haul at the deadline.

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Links ‘n At

Pouliot, Jarry among Pittsburgh Penguins prospects who enjoyed long postseasons, by Hockey Future’s Ian Altenbaugh.

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GM search chatter from Stanley Cup Final, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

>> All GM finalists were challenged by Penguins ownership to identify candidates for a new coach in the likely event that current head coach Dan Bylsma was fired as the new GM’s first act.

>> Bylsma could end up quickly being tabbed by Florida to fill its head coach vacancy.

>> Teams were already letting James Neal’s representatives know they would be interested in working out a trade with the Penguins’ new general manager.

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Ranking the GM contenders, by Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Spoiler Alert: Molinari ranks Pierre McGuire fourth on the GM list.

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Sid the Kid’s sibling commits to Huskies, according to the Boston Herald.

A native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Taylor Crosby is not the first relative of a Penguins legend to attend a local college as Stephanie Lemieux played 14 games for Boston College before concussion issues brought an early halt to her season last winter.

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Trading for Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang would be bold, but would it work for the Edmonton Oilers?, the Edmonton Journal asks.

Enjoy the speculation from an Edmonton point of view!

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Seven Thoughts On Shero, plus “Lick The Ice Cream Lid, Mario Lemieux”

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By John Toperzer

Shero was fearless. If he thought the Penguins had a shot then he’d orchestrate whatever trade he thought necessary to put them over the top. Pittsburgh pretty much shocked the hockey world by pulling off a trade for Marian Hossa (and Pascal Dupuis). The move would set the pace for Shero’s willingness to go for the Stanley Cup – draft picks be damned.

How could hockey fans not love someone like this? Shero was making trades even arm-chair quarterbacks never dreamed of. The phrase “In Shero We Trust” originated shortly thereafter.

Shero was loyal.
The Penguins GM believed in coach Dan Bylsma. He had to go to bat for Bylsma at least once. How else can anyone explain management keeping Bylsma after yet another postseason run during which the team scored two goals in a four-game sweep at the hands of Boston in 2012-13?

Even though the organization didn’t have the type of players necessary for the ideal Bylsma system – young with boundless energy, pressing play at every opportunity – Shero decided to add assistant Jacques Martin to help with a lacking defense rather than can Bylsma.

Shero was shrewd. If he wasn’t the smartest man in the room, then he was close to it. You’d think fellow GMs might take a step back and think about things after the Hossa trade, but Shero found another victim in Dallas GM, Joe Nieuwendyk. The Penguins traded Alex Goligoski for both James Neal and Matt Niskanen. Neal was thought to be the best player of the three shortly after the time of the deal and now Niskanen might be the most valuable.

Shero was not a draft savant. We should have planned for things to come when the Penguins selected Jordan Staal over Jonathan Toews. Staal won a Cup with Pittsburgh, so that move can’t be described as all bad. Still, Shero’s decision to take defensemen after defensemen left the organization so strapped for forwards that summer rookie camps seemed to feature more blueliners than centers and wingers.

In 2012, the Pens took Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta – both defensemen, both in the first round. If defenders were few and far between, the strategy would make loads of sense. However, 15 of the 30 picks in Round 1 where blueliners and the Pens already had their fair share in the system.

Shero was better at acquiring talent than implementing and executing it. He traded for the most popular commodity on the market a season ago in Jarome Iginla, sending a pair of middling prospects and a No. 1 pick to Calgary. Iginla had said he’d like to play with Sidney Crosby and even vetoed a prior deal to the Bruins so that he could suit up with Sid. That’s where the feel-good portion of the Iginla Era mostly came to an end.

Perhaps as part of his hands off approach, Shero allowed his coach to continue playing Iginla at left wing, even though he looked like a fish out of water. The future HOFer scored 30 goals and 61 points in 78 games as a right winger for Boston in 2013-14.

Shero was in a double-edged sword position when he took over for GM Craig Patrick. On one hand, he had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin dropped in his lap. It would be hard to mess up an organization with a 19-year-old Sid and a 20-year-old Geno at the disposal. At the same time, losing one or both players puts a strain on a team, given the upper-end salaries colliding with the salary cap. There’s not much swaggle room to play around with when four of your contracts (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury) represent almost half of the payroll.

Crosby and Malkin both got hurt and missed considerable time after the 2008-09 Stanley Cup team. That’s production teams can’t just go out and easily replace.

Shero will land on his feet. He could take over for Gary Bettman as the NHL commissioner and no one would bat an eye. Heck, he could probably do the same for MLB’s departing commish, Bud Selig.

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Penguins announcer, Mike Lange, recently appeared on 93.7 the Fan in Pittsburgh, asking for new goal sayings.

In case you forgot, Lange is noted for coining catchy phrases such as “Michael, Michael, motorcycle” and “Lookout, Loretta” among many examples.

Here’s mine. Drumroll …

“Lick the ice cream lid!” or “Lick the ice cream lid, Mario Lemieux!”

Tweet me yours @JohnToperzer

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Links ‘n At

How’s This For A Front Office Team?, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari.

Whether Fenton could capably execute the contract-signings facet of a GM’s job isn’t clear, but if the Penguins would hire him, there would be an easy solution: Give Botterill a decent raise and an upgraded title – make him, say, associate GM, rather than assistant – to convince him to stay with the organization, even though he would have lost out to Fenton for the GM job.

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30 Thoughts: Cap Increase Won’t Ease Penguins’ Dilemma, by Elliotte Friedman.

The current 2014-15 cap hit rankings for Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million US), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) and Kris Letang ($7.25 million). While attending Game 2 of the Montreal/Boston playoff series, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the “rough estimate” of next year’s ceiling is between $69-70 million.

Letang and Malkin’s extensions — which kick in next season — will eat slightly more than $4 million of whatever jump there is from this year’s $64.3 million limit. Those three players could combine for 35 per cent of Pittsburgh’s space.

Even as the cap rose from its initial $39 million in 2005-06 to almost double that now (with some teams predicting even higher numbers), you don’t see many situations with Pittsburgh’s upcoming structure.

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Mr. Friedman also added the following notes in his most recent 30 Thoughts.

20. I’m not sure if the Penguins have asked for permission to speak to the Rangers’ Jeff Gorton, but the answer could reveal a few things. Whenever Glen Sather decides it is time, the belief is his replacement as Rangers GM will come from within (though Sather has denied on at least two occasions that he’s stepping down after the season). The three possibilities are Gorton, Doug Risebrough and Jim Schoenfeld.

21. There’s doubt that Risebrough would want to do the job, as he is happy with his current role. That leaves Gorton and Schoenfeld. If it is Gorton, would the Rangers clarify his future to prevent his potential loss?

22. One team president’s theory on Pittsburgh and head coach Dan Bylsma: “In the real world, an owner hires someone at the top who makes decisions on everyone else. I’d bet that’s what [Penguins owner] Ron Burkle is doing.” I’ll say the same thing I say about all of these openings: ‘Make it quick. Don’t let people hang.’

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Who Is Going To Overpay For Matt Niskanen?”, by Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson.

Sixty-one percent of poll respondents (at the end of the article) say Niskanen’s cap hit will be $5 million or less. I’ll take the over on that bet.

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Yohe: A Look At The Blue Line, Goaltenders”, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Perhaps a new GM won’t think highly of Fleury and will want to trade him? Could it happen? I suppose a lot of things could happen this summer. But Fleury proved a lot of people wrong last season. My hunch is that he stays for quite some time.

I think it’s time to move on from the Flower. He overcame his playoff demons this spring, but sometimes its just better for all parties to start fresh. Some of the best goalies have come from unlikely places, and after Fleury’s contract ends next season, the team is well positioned to look elsewhere.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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