Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
Carolina owner Peter Karmanos offered a blistering critique of the way the Penguins do business during a meeting with Raleigh-area media Wednesday.
He took numerous shots – some subtle, some not – at the franchise, with general manager Jim Rutherford the primary target. Rutherford was the Hurricanes’ GM for two decades until he was replaced by former Penguins center Ron Francis in 2014, shortly before Rutherford was hired here.
Among Karmanos’ observations:
On the large contract Rutherford gave to winger Alex Semin, who was bought out this week – “Ultimately, I take responsibility for everything. I do not have to take responsibility for Pittsburgh signing [Phil] Kessel, however. [The Penguins actually traded for Kessel, who has seven years left on his contract.]”
from Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
Does the newest Penguin and the centerpiece of the convulsive nine-player trade Wednesday with the Maple Leafs come with the kind of carrier-approved baggage that fits easily in the overhead bin or safely under the seat in front of you, metaphorically speaking, or is it of the oversized, overstuffed variety that has been out of his possession and possibly augmented by materials from persons not known to him?
“I don’t have any concerns,” said Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford in a Fifth Avenue bunker hours after he’d acquired the one goal-scorer in the trade market he coveted above all others. “Everybody gets a fresh start in a new place. You always hear stories about different people in different situations, but I feel very comfortable with getting Phil.
“I’ve done a lot of homework on this and I’ve talked to a lot of people. I do believe that getting a fresh start, getting out of Toronto, where he went under the microscope from day one, he was always the guy, the guy that got blamed when things weren’t going well, and he doesn’t have to be the guy here. We have a bunch of them.”
So that’s the working premise for the trade that likely will define Rutherford’s tenure, that the marvelously talented Kessel, a classical NHL blend of speed and snipery, quickly will observe that there’s no smoking on the Penguins bench, and no yawning either, and perhaps discover that a recommitment to conditioning could make his future so much brighter than his recent past.
from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun,
The hot dog vendor who parks daily at Front and John Sts. just lost his most reliable customer.
Almost every afternoon at 2:30 p.m., often wearing a toque, Phil Kessel would wander from his neighbourhood condominium to consume his daily snack.
And now he’s gone. Just like that. The Maple Leafs could no longer stomach having Kessel around, the first player to be both punished and rewarded for the saddest Leafs season in history. The Leafs held their breath, plugged their noses, and ostensibly gave Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins because they couldn’t stand having him around anymore.
Really, this was as much about illness and insomnia as anything else: The Leafs were sick and tired of Kessel.
Sick of his act. Tired of his lack of responsibility. Unwilling to begin any reset or rebuild with their highest-paid, most talented, least-dedicated player. He didn’t eat right, train right, play right. This had to happen for Brendan Shanahan to begin his rebuilding of the Leafs. Separation between the Leafs and Kessel became necessary when it grew more and more apparent with time that everything Shanahan values was upended by Kessel’s singular, laissez-faire, flippant, mostly uncoachable ways.
from Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
There remains no indication the Penguins have shifted their focus from top-tier scorers in Toronto's Phil Kessel, Chicago's Patrick Sharp, Carolina's Jeff Skinner and St. Louis' T.J. Oshie.
The group of unrestricted free agents is considerably less exciting, with top-of-the-heap names like Washington's Joel Ward (with whom the Penguins have met), Anaheim's Matt Beleskey, the New York Rangers' Martin St. Louis or Winnipeg's Drew Stafford, just to name a few.
But Rutherford, without tipping his hand, insisted going to free agency would not be a big concern.
“There are some guys we like in free agency that can help most teams,” Rutherford said, “but we haven't made a decision yet.”
They didn't make much of anything in Florida, save for four picks.
It's an approach that might have looked odd to outsiders — especially afterward, when Penguins nearly closed down the arena — but it's one Rutherford said he envisioned all along.
“I told you before I got here I was going to be patient,” he said. “I wasn't overly aggressive. If somebody was aggressive with us, maybe something would have happened, but this is what I expected.”
from Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
Nobody from the Penguins was in their hotel lobby when Sergei Gonchar showed up to greet members of his inner circle Friday afternoon.
Hardly a missed opportunity, however. General manager Jim Rutherford already had heard from agent J.P. Barry that Gonchar prefers to play a final NHL season with the Penguins.
What Rutherford needs to hear — Bill Guerin could tell him — is what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can't do despite all their other otherworldly talents.
The franchise centers can't do everything.
And Gonchar could help ease their burden of leadership, which might free Crosby and Malkin to dominate together like they haven't since their “Sarge” helped run the Penguins' room.
As a calming presence, Gonchar would prove priceless even at a $1 million hit. But for the Penguins, the best part about a potential reunion with Gonchar would be the cost.
He might not cost anything. His affinity for the franchise is so strong that he would walk away from any deal if his performance slipped below standard.
Gonchar has accepted his limitations as a 41-year-old with 1,442 games of wear on his wheels. He knows he is no longer a top-four defenseman, and that the Penguins are best served to finally provide ice time to some of their top prospects on the back end.
from Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
Rutherford is shopping for a top-six winger and, because the Penguins own just one choice in the first four rounds of this draft, at least one more early-round selection.
So far, he has had numerous conversations with other GMs, but nothing to show for it except a lot of used minutes on his cell-phone plan.
Indeed, Rutherford hinted Sunday that serious pursuit of a draft choice now might be deferred until the second day of the draft, which will be Saturday at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
“It’ll probably depend more on how the draft [unfolds],” he said. “If we get to a certain point in the draft and there’s a player who’s still sitting there who we’re surprised is still there, we could possibly look at a move at that point.”
The Penguins aren’t the only team seeking a winger who can produce on the top two lines, and few such players are available at the moment. The resulting seller’s market could complicate any attempt to fill that hole in their lineup at a reasonable price.
“It’s a pretty competitive market right now,” Rutherford said.
from Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
Whether it's unhappiness or frustration from a season that fell short of lofty expectations, the Penguins are committed to ensuring neither is applicable to Evgeni Malkin in 2015-16.
The NHL Draft is in seven days. Few expect general manager Jim Rutherford to stand pat. Instead, look for at least one significant move while the Penguins consider this question: How can they get the most out of Malkin?
Rutherford has acknowledged he will prioritize finding Malkin a regular winger. He's also open to the idea that it could be a Russian player, a luxury not afforded to Malkin in the past.
Meanwhile, the Penguins must decide what to do about Malkin's former landlord, Sergei Gonchar, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The Penguins are not unhappy with Malkin, nor should they be viewed as catering to him. It's Business 101. They want to maximize production from an incredibly valuable asset.
How they can accomplish this has several layers:
• For the sake of argument, let's say Malkin was unhappy at the end of the season. The problem here would be?
Failing to win or score at the most crucial point of an injury-marred season would anger most hockey players. The same goes for sharing shifts with Andrew Ebbett, Mark Arcobello and Rob Klinkhammer because you don't have an adequate, or regular, running mate.
from Sam Kasan of PittsburghPenguins.com,
The Pens will have a new “eye in the sky” for the 2015-16 season.
Jacques Martin, 62, will join head coach Mike Johnston’s staff under the new title of special assistant to the head coach. His primary role will be to analyze games from the media level and provide instant observations to Johnston and his staff.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Martin said. “I have a good relationship with the coaching staff and management. Being closer to the team and provide feedback, use my experience from over the years, just giving them another opinion.”
Martin was already a key asset to the coaching staff from a scouting and advisory perspective this past season. Martin pre-scouted opponents for the Penguins during the regular and postseasons to note tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. He provided these reports to the Pens’ coaches based on two facets.
from Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea,
Sharks owner Hasso Plattner was adamant that when he mentioned Penguins star Evgeni Malkin’s name during a recent press conference, he was only using the Russian forward as an example and wasn’t tampering.
“We cannot buy the Stanley Cup,” said the billionaire founder of SAP on May 8, before casually mentioning that Malkin wasn’t a player the Sharks could just go out and spend to acquire.
Still, some ears in San Jose may have perked up a bit late last week when Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet (Canada) mentioned that Malkin might not be happy in Pittsburgh. The Penguins were recently eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and may be looking to shake things up this offseason now that it’s been six years since their last Stanley Cup and they fritter away the prime of Sidney Crosby’s career. Malkin is their highest paid player, carrying a $9.5 million salary cap hit through 2021-22.
Malkin’s agent predictably denied that his client was looking to be traded shortly after the report surfaced.
If both Malkin and the Penguins are ready for a change, though, there aren’t too many other teams that could take on Malkin’s salary.
from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
In virtually every sense, it’s impossible to feel sorry for Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux. One is a billionaire, the other a millionaire many times over. They will become even more filthy rich if/when they sell their controlling interests of the Penguins.
But it is easy to feel sorry for Burkle and Lemieux because their team hasn’t given them what they deserve in championships. They, along with the Rooneys of the Steelers, have been among the best, most stable and most supportive owners in sports, freely spending to produce a winner. But the Penguins have underachieved despite having two of the world’s best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They play exciting hockey most of the time, have won a lot of regular-season games and have made a lot of money for Burkle and Lemieux with a consecutive games home sellout streak of 377 and the highest local television ratings for a U.S.-based NHL team six years in a row. But they often have come up small in the playoffs. The failure was so bad, at least in management’s eyes, that the front office and coaching staff were overhauled after the 2013-14 season. Nothing changed this spring; the team was eliminated by the New York Rangers in five games in the first round, leading to a sizable financial wallop for the owners because of only two home playoff games.
It seems like a lifetime ago that the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Since then, the Los Angeles Kings have won it twice. The Chicago Blackhawks appear set to win for the third time in six years. That should be the Penguins. It’s too bad their stars haven’t performed under the brightest lights the way the Blackhawks stars have.
That has to be one of the reasons Burkle and Lemieux are looking to sell. The value of the franchise — estimated at $565 million last fall by Forbes Magazine — appears ready to dip.
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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