PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel has nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. Some have said he’s playing the best of his hockey of his career.
“Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Kessel said Sunday. “But it is what it is. I think I’ve had a pretty good playoffs, I’ve always done pretty well for (Team USA) in all the tournaments I’ve played in for them. But we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t be disappointed.”
Two years ago, Kessel led the Americans in the Olympics with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was named the best forward in the tournament. Callahan, in comparison, had no goals and one assist in six games.
Of course, Callahan has a history with World Cup head coach John Tortorella. So does Dubinsky. And let’s face it, when you think of the kind of player that epitomizes Tortorella-coached teams, it’s not Kessel, it’s blue-collar workers like Callahan and Dubinsky.
Still, to not choose a guy who’s a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate?
“I’m surprised he was left off Team USA,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said today, before head coach Mike Sullivan praised Kessel for his competitiveness and for improving his play away from the puck and along the boards.
At any rate, Kessel didn’t sound like getting left off the World Cup squad was bothering him too much. One day from playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, he’s pretty happy with where he’s at right now.
“I’ve never really been on a team that’s felt like this,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, to be honest. I’m so excited to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and play with these guys.”
Jason Pominville couldn’t have envisioned a worse start to his season.
Pominville picked up four assists in his first three games of 2015-16, but he didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 28 (22 games). The 33-year-old finished the year with 11 goals and 36 points in 75 games. Those are clearly disappointing numbers for a player who comes with a cap hit of $5.6 million per season.
“Last year it was just the start I had,” Pominville said during a Q & A with the Star Tribune. “I’m not even too worried about the rest of it. You get off to the start I had, and name me one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year. It’s tough to get behind the 8-ball. You lose confidence, you’re trying to find your play and get back to where you’ve had success, but you get away from it because you’re trying to overdo things or overthinking. I just need to get off to a better start, and my points will be where they normally would be.”
It’ll be intersting to see if the Wild give Pominville the opportunity to have a bounce-back season. A high cap hit combined with poor production could also lead to him finding himself elsewhere in 2016-17.
Wild beat reporter Michael Russo mentioned that Pominville could be bought out this summer, but that would be expensive. If Minnesota buys out the veteran, they’d have $877,777 of dead money on the cap next year, but a significantly higher amount after that.
Here’s what the full buyout would look like (via General Fanager):
A $4.627,777 cap hit in 2017-18 is definitely steep.
The Wild could also decide to keep Pominville around and see if he can rebound from last year’s disaster. After all, he’s one year removed from an 18-goal, 54-point season and two years removed from a 30/30 season.
PITTSBURGH — The last time the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury was the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder.
Now, seven years later, the Pens are back — but Fleury’s in a greatly reduced role. He’s backing up 22-year-old Matt Murray, which has cast doubt on Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh.
It’s a situation he acknowledged at today’s Stanley Cup media availability, but one he didn’t exactly want to dive into.
“Not yet,” Fleury said, when asked if he’s thinking about what might happen next year. “It’s not time. It’s time to win it, it’s time to chase the Cup, and that’s all that matters.”
Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh has been a hot topic this postseason. Pens GM Jim Rutherford was asked about it during the Eastern Conference Final, and offered up an emphatic defense of his longtime No. 1 netminder.
From the NHL:
Q: What about the young players?
Rutherford: “They speak for themselves. Those two goalies – you can never have enough good goalies. The Penguins have three good ones now. I feel bad for Fleury. He’s such a great team guy and we’re fortunate that he is. He’s handled this situation like a pro. First class. He’s ready to go when called on.”
Q: Does this mean he’s history with the organization?
Rutherford: “Absolutely not.”
That absolute hasn’t kept pundits from pointing out that Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh is far from certain.
First, there’s the fact the No. 1 gig may not just be Murray’s now, but also moving forward — meaning Fleury, who turns 32 in November, would be a backup making $5.75 million annually through 2019. An expensive backup, sure, but also a good backup. Fleury’s had at least 30 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .920 save percentage over each of the last two seasons, and was an All-Star in 2015.
That’s the kind of goalie a few teams could use.
One of them, as has been speculated over the last few months, is the proposed Las Vegas expansion club. While the announcement has yet to be made official, all signs — including discussions of expansion draft format at the most recent GM meetings — have led to assumptions Vegas will be a go.
With that said, consider this bit from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:
An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.
Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.
As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season.
It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.
Now, keep in mind the Penguins do love Fleury, and still think he’s quality goalie. That’s partly why Fleury received the chance to reclaim his starting gig in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, when head coach Mike Sullivan parked Murray after yanking him in Game 4.
But Fleury wasn’t great — allowing four goals on 25 shots — and Murray stepped back in like he hadn’t missed a beat, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.
As such, it sees as though it would take a pretty dramatic turn of events for Fleury to regain the net. Because of that, he spent most of Sunday focusing on the “we,” not the “I.”
“To me, it’s about the team — it’s not about me or the way I play. I can’t be selfish about it,” he said. “I’ve been playing here a long time and I really love this city, and I’d really love for them to have another championship here.
“It’s a lot bigger than me, you know?”
PITTSBURGH — Here are your Penguins health updates prior to Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final:
Nick Bonino: The center of the HBK line — he’s the B between Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel — Bonino didn’t skate yesterday and didn’t practice today, but will be “fine” for the series opener, per head coach Mike Sullivan.
Bonino was shaken up during Pittsburgh’s Game 7 win over the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, with what looked to be a lower-body injury (possibly a leg ailment, due to blocking a shot).
Bonino has been terrific this postseason, with 15 points in 18 games.
Kris Letang: This one is a little more unclear. Letang didn’t practice on Sunday and, like Bonino, didn’t meet with reporters during Stanley Cup media day afterward.
Sullivan didn’t address Letang’s absence during his availability. So nobody’s quite sure what’s going on.
Letang logged his usual massive ice time in the series clincher against the Bolts — 28:13 — and there was no indication he was dealing with any injury.
Trevor Daley: Interesting development from Daley during media availability. He said his timetable for return from a broken ankle in Game 4 (May 20) of the Tampa Bay series was 4-8 weeks, and wouldn’t completely rule out a return in this Stanley Cup Final.
Now, do keep in mind Sullivan already said Daley’s season was done, and Daley acknowledged that’s probably true.
“I do feel sorry for myself,” the veteran blueliner said. “I try to control what I can control. This — I can’t control this situation. So I’m going to have to try and make the best of it.
“I’ll be around, but I don’t know about being involved. They ain’t gonna keep me away, though. I’m going to be around for this.”