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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.

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars – Game 1

St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester (19) checks Dallas Stars' Valeri Nichushkin (43), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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They were the top teams in the Western Conference during the regular season, with 109 and 107 points, respectively. And now, the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues clash with a second-round series in the playoffs. You can catch Game 1 between these Central Division foes on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Stars expect Seguin to miss at least first two games of Blues series

Here are PHT’s second-round playoff predictions

 

Canucks sign free agent goalie and Mike Richter Award nominee Garteig

Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig (34) eyes a save on a shot by North Dakota during the first period of an NCAA Frozen Four championship college hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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Nine days after getting prized prospect goalie Thatcher Demko under contract, the Vancouver Canucks have inked another college puck stopper.

The Canucks have signed college free agent goalie Michael Garteig to a one-year entry-level contract, the team announced Friday. Garteig recently completed his senior year with Quinnipiac University, which won the ECAC championship but lost the NCAA championship game to North Dakota earlier this month.

Garteig, 24, posted a 32-4-7 record with a .924 save percentage and a career best eight shutouts this season. He was also once again nominated for the 2016 Mike Richter Award.

Sabres extend Larsson: one year, $950,000

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Johan Larsson #22 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up before the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed forward Johan Larsson to a one-year contract.

Larsson was eligible to become a restricted free agent once his contract expired this summer. The Swedish-born player is coming off a season in which he set career bests with 10 goals, 17 points and 74 games. He also finished tied with rookie center Jack Eichel in scoring five game-winning goals.

Overall, he has 16 goals and 21 assists in 142 games for the Sabres.

Buffalo acquired Larsson in a trade that sent former Sabres captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota in April 2013. The Wild selected Larsson in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Contractual details, per the Buffalo News:

Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)

Calgary Flames' President of Hockey Operations & acting GM, Brian Burke speaks to the media as team members show up for NHL hockey season-end activities in Calgary, Alberta, on Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
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Brian Burke isn’t trying to pick on the Edmonton Oilers — no really, he isn’t — but Calgary’s president of hockey ops doesn’t believe any team should get to draft first overall as much as his northern rivals have done the past few years.

“If you’re a team that picks first overall, you shouldn’t be allowed to pick first overall for some specified period … three years or five years, whatever … or even the top two teams, pick in the top two,” Burke told the Flames’ website.

“You could still pick four or five, still get a good player, but you can’t get rewarded for continued failure, or continued luck.”

The Oilers, of course, picked first overall in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. And after yet another dismal season in 2015-16, they have a 13.5 percent of winning’s tomorrow’s lottery and getting the same privilege again

“Everyone thinks when you talk about the draft having flaws, that you’re picking on Edmonton,” said Burke.

“There are a lot of teams that have followed this path and have repeated high, high picks for a number of years. Chicago did it. Florida’s done it. Buffalo’s done it. You can argue we did it in Toronto, certainly by not any effort of ours. We were just not successful in the lottery. This is not an indictment of any one team and it’s not an indictment of the system.

“This is saying, ‘Okay, if 30 reasonable people got into a room and said, how do we best award amateur talent in the draft without having abuses,’ I’m not sure this is the system we’d come up with. That’s all I’m saying.”

And many would agree with Burke.

In fact, many would go a lot further, suggesting the entire system should be rethought.

But the question will remain, what’s a better system? The current one incentivizes losing, and so some teams tank. They may not use the word “tanking,” but they’re sure not trying to win. Not in the short term.

Now, is it a good look for the NHL when teams are built to be bad and we see fans openly rooting for losses? No, it’s not a good look.

But would it be preferable for each team to have the same odds of drafting first overall. Even the Stanley Cup champion?

Imagine for a moment a system that didn’t take the standings into account. You just know there’d be some poor franchise that was chronically unlucky, year after year after year. And you just know there’d be some ultra-lucky franchise, too.

The fact is, as long as the NHL wants to maintain its competitive balance — and remember, there’s nothing the NHL is prouder of than its precious parity — losing teams will be rewarded in the draft.

Burke is fine with that.

All he’s saying is the current system could use a few tweaks.

And if the Oilers win the lottery tomorrow, you can bet there’ll be some.