New Pens winger Steve Sullivan: “This could be my best year yet”

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It may have taken 17 years, but Steve Sullivan is in the best situation of his 890 game career. The speedy winger has racked up 266 career goals and is rapidly approaching 700 points, but he’s never been on teams that were expected to do damage in the playoffs. In fact, since he was drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 Entry Draft, the 37-year-old Sullivan has only played in a grand total of 44 career playoff games. For a little perspective, the Boston Bruins have played in 38 playoff games in the last 15 months. He and his Nashville Predators made it to the second round last season—it was only the second time he’d made it past the opening round ever. He’s had a very good career, but he’s never really been on elite teams expected to compete for the Stanley Cup.

All of that changes in September. When he starts the season next to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he’ll be on a team with the highest expectations he’s ever faced. As he spoke to Daniel Perry of The Daily Press, it’s apparent that he understands his opportunity (s/t to Kukla’s Korner):

“”I’m very excited about playing in Pittsburgh. It’s a first-class organization. Best team on paper I’ve ever played with, from top to bottom. I’m really looking forward to it.

“Whenever you get a chance to play with the best player in the world, you have to be excited. I have high expectations and my hopes are big. This could be my best year yet.”

(snip)

“I’d love to be a reliable top-nine forward for them that can play in all situations. They already have a great core of players, so I’m hoping I can be extra piece to their puzzle and help them win the Cup again.”

As usual, the Penguins will enter the season with a plethora of talent down the middle. Assuming both Crosby and Malkin are ready for the season, the pair along with Jordan Staal will be one of the most formidable center trios in the NHL. Sullivan will join the likes of James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis as guys who are expected to play alongside the talented centers and keep the pressure on the opposition. If Sullivan can stay healthy and Neal can pick up where he left off with the Dallas Stars last year, the Penguins could have two of the best wingers they’ve had in recent memory. They’ll both look to help the Penguins improve upon their 25th ranked power play—an unbelievable stat considering the talent on the ice.

The most important thing for Sullivan will be to stay healthy for 82-games next season. The 2009 Masterton Trophy winner is still an extremely productive offensive player when he’s on the ice, but that’s been easier said than done. He missed 38 games last season, 41 games in 2008-09 and the entire 2007-08 season. But before missing the 2007-08 season, he was a point-per-game player for the Predators. He may not be the same point-per-game player that he was a few years ago, but he’s still capable of keeping up with Crosby and having a career year if he can stay on the ice.

Hopefully we’ll be able to see what he’s able to do on a team with high expectations for an entire season next year.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins