Ray Shero

Pittsburgh’s youth movement will be vital


Ray Shero has identified the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and locked it up for a long time.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi are signed through the 2016-17 season. Combined, they’ll earn $41 million annually and, what’s more, all seven of them have some form of no-movement clause.

So, barring something major, those are your Pittsburgh Penguins for the next four years.

That’s the easy part.

Where Shero’s job gets difficult is in finding people to play with that core. The reigning NHL GM of the Year has always been an active in the trade and free agent market, but now it seems his best course of action might be an old fashioned one:

Draft and groom.

There’s a blueprint for success out there, and it involves getting production from guys on entry-level and second contracts. Last season, Chicago surrounded its pricey core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) with key contributors on cheap deals: playoff hero Andrew Shaw, Calder nominee Brandon Saad, defenseman Nick Leddy and power forward Bryan Bickell.

None of those players made more than $900,000 last season; Bickell (who to be fair, was on his third contract with the club) made a mere $541,667 while finishing second in the team in playoff goals, with nine.

In Pittsburgh, a similar development may unfold.

Beau Bennett, who scored 14 points in 26 games last year as a rookie, has two more years left on his deal at $900,000. Big things are expected from the 2010 first-rounder this season, especially with the departures of forwards Jarome Iginla, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow.

“He played 26 games for us, and showed what he could do power-play-wise, what he could do making plays with the puck,” Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said of Bennett. “I think there is an opportunity for Beau, and I think he’s capable of adding in that regard on our top six with our skilled players.

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people by the end of the year with how he can help our team.”

On defense, the Pens will have a number of young options to choose from. Simon Despres, the club’s first-rounder from 2009, seems ready for full-time action, and has one year left on his ELC at $840k.

There are also 2012 first-rounders Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta, still a year or two away from contributing but ready to potentially replace the likes of Brooks Orpik (who’s deal is up after this season) and Paul Martin (done after the 2014-15 campaign).

Shero acknowledged the importance of having young guys at the ready.

“When it is time to turn some of your club over,” he told NHL.com, “it is really helpful to have guys like that ready to step in.”

With Kucherov day-to-day, Lightning recall Conacher

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Nikita Kucherov is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury after Thursday’s unfortunate spill.

(You can see that crash in the video above.)

That’s a bummer, no doubt, especially if there are a lot of “days” missed. On the bright side, the Lightning have some reasonable depth to help stem the tide; in this case, that means recalling familiar face Cory Conacher.

The 26-year-old has been bouncing around hockey a bit lately, playing in the Swiss league last season. He’s something of an AHL/NHL ‘tweener at this point, but Bolts fans can look back fondly at him scoring 24 points in 35 games with the Bolts back in 2012-13, a span that inspired enough interest in Conacher that he was the main piece Ottawa received in the Ben Bishop trade.

So, hey, if you’re a Bolts fan feeling sad about Kucherov … just take a look at Conacher. It will probably remind you that you have, you know, one of the best GMs in hockey.

Get this: Bruins aren’t happy with Pastrnak’s suspension


You’re not going to believe this, but the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers don’t see eye-to-eye on David Pastrnak‘s two-game suspension for a hit on Dan Girardi.

In discussing the decision, the NHL provided the following explanation:

“Rather than staying low and hitting through his opponent’s body, Pastrnak unnecessarily extends up and into this hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Claude Julien provided the Bruins’ side of the argument, as CSNNE.com reports.

“To me I see a guy [in David Pastrnak] whose feet are still on the ice,” Julien said. “I just think that was an attempt to finish his check, but certainly not to injure.”

Julien insists that Pastrnak didn’t go “full-tilt.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, believe that it is the sort of check that needs to be eliminated.

“Initially when watching it, we didn’t feel it was the type of hit that the game wants, and the league took a stand,” Alain Vigneault said, according to Newsday’s Steve Zipay.

Now, if the roles were reversed, would we see Vigneault griping about a suspension and Julien backing it up? Perhaps.

Ultimately, what we know for sure is that the top-heavy Bruins will be without a red-hot performer in Pastrnak for two games.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

“That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

“If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

“The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

“I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”