Kukla's Korner Hockey
from James A. Conley of Shnarped,
While there is still the matter of the rest of the roster to be figured out — the team has six pending RFAs and most aren’t ineligible to be demoted without hitting the waiver wire — the picture is coming into focus in Pittsburgh. That picture could conceivably include one more big trade and another free agent or two before training camp hits in September.
Again, on paper, the Penguins have had a brilliant last few days.
It remains to be seen how that plays out on the ice.
from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
A troublesome question remains:
Who is going to skate with Evgeni Malkin after the Neal trade and the Jokinen defection?
We’re talking about a star without linemates.
Rutherford had said finding a winger for Malkin was a priority heading into free agency, but he failed to deliver one. It had been widely speculated that the Penguins would take a run at former Toronto forward Nikolai Kulemin — a friend of Malkin’s and a fellow Russian — but Rutherford said no deal with Kulemin is going to happen because of cap concerns. That’s probably just as well; Kulemin has been an underachiever in the NHL and had just nine goals in 70 games last season.
It’s possible Hornqvist, the key player in the Neal trade, could end up on Malkin’s line instead of skating with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Rutherford also mentioned Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett and Spaling as potential top-six forwards. Dupuis will be coming back from a major knee injury. Bennett missed most of last season with a wrist injury. Spaling is better suited for the third line.
“I’m not sure we have to get a top-six forward at this time,” Rutherford said. “I’m not going to get anxious about it at this point.”
from John Mehno at the Times Online,
Tocchet's inclusion on the staff was apparently mandated by ownership, part of the organization's stated goal to increase its level of grit after five years of playoff disappointment. Tocchet's hiring appeared to be non-negotiable, and it reportedly became a deal breaker for at least one potential coaching candidate.///
But it's an awkward fit, especially with a rookie head coach who doesn't have the name or NHL history that Tocchet does. Tocchet is close to Mario Lemieux. He watched playoff games from the owner's box this spring. Isn't it disconcerting to know your assistant plays golf with your boss?
What if the players take Tocchet's message more than Johnston's? Pascal Dupuis did an interview on 93.7 The Fan and said his reaction to the hiring was to do a Google search on Johnston. He'd obviously never heard of him. There isn't a player in the locker room who doesn't know who Tocchet is.
What happens if the players look past Johnston to hear what Tocchet has to say? If Tocchet becomes their go-to guy, doesn't Johnston then become an empty suit, a head coach in name only? The situation has the potential to be uncomfortable.
from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
It's easy to say good riddance to James Neal. He badly underachieved for the Penguins in the postseason. He is a hot head who often took retaliatory penalties that put his teammates in bad spots. He is a dirty player who occasionally tried to hurt people and was suspended three times, including last season for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand in the head and in the 2012 playoffs for charging Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. He wasn't especially popular in the team room because of his arrogance and surly personality....
It's a shame Neal didn't do more here in the postseason. It would have made it a lot easier to overlook his character flaws. But he hardly was alone among the Penguins in wilting under the bright lights. He had two goals in 13 playoff games this spring, one more than Crosby. He didn't get a point in the four-game sweep by Boston in the 2013 Eastern Conference final, same as Crosby. He had 11 goals and 11 assists in 38 postseason games for the Penguins, meager production for a player with his skills. There aren't five players in the NHL with a quicker release or better shot. Neal scored 40 goals in 2011-12, playing with Malkin, and had 27 last season despite missing 23 games because of injury or suspension. He should get 40 goals again -- perhaps a few times -- before his career is done.
By trading Neal, Penguins new general manager Jim Rutherford believes he successfully took the first step toward changing the culture of the team room. He talked repeatedly of the character and grit that Hornqvist and Spaling bring and said they will make the club tougher and better prepared for the playoffs.
from Set Rorobaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
At the conclusion of the NHL draft today, Botterill (assistant GM) held court with the media and addressed the team's salary cap, how they'll proceed with free agency and the team's depth on the blue line:
On the team's salary cap space:
"I think the good situation that we’re in right now is that it’s not that have to move players. We want to bring young players into our organization especially on defense here. It’s going to be a situation where we have to make some decisions on free agency. You want to go after your top players but there’s also going to be cap restraints there. But it’s not as if we have to move players out because of our salary cap situation now."
Can you be aggressive in free agency with limited cap space?
"I think you can always be aggressive [with] different roles. Are you going to be going for top-end forwards and defenseman? No. But if you’re being aggressive going for specific needs, I think that’s what we’ll be doing for sure on July 1."
from Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal,
Neal can score but people say he isn’t a life of the party kind of guy. The feeling in some quarters is he thinks he’s better than he is, too, also he’s been suspended for some foolish stuff. Everybody gets traded in this game but Neal–a scorer in a league where teams crave scorers– has been dealt twice and he’s only 26. From Dallas to Pittsburgh, and now from the Penguins to the Predators, where they’re also trying to get more offence, although they still need a centre for Neal. Hello Paul Stastny, if they can afford the unrestricted Colorado Avs’ playmaker and he might have a hankering to play with Shea Weber on defence, as well.
Neal’s a one-shot scorer. “Exactly,” said Preds’ GM David Poile.
Hornqvist is a better skating Tomas Holmstrom. “Exactly,” said Poile.
Scores his goals 10 to 15 feet from the net. “Closer than that,” laughed Poile.
“He can get 30 goals if he plays with Malkin. This might be one of those trades that turn out for both teams.”
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