TGIF: Should the Caps make a play for Kesler?

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Saturday: Washington at Boston (1 p.m. ET)

The first two teams that came to mind after it was reported that Ryan Kesler had requested a trade out of Vancouver were Detroit and Columbus, mostly because he’s from Michigan and went to Ohio State. But if I had to pick one team that really needs a player like Kesler, Washington would be right up there. Possibly at the top of the list. For the most part, the Capitals’ postseason failures have been put on the shoulders of their captain, Alex Ovechkin. And while I don’t believe Ovechkin’s beyond criticism — sometimes his commitment to defense is abysmal, bordering on unfathomable — the Caps’ lack of playoff success is more about the players they don’t have than the ones they do. And right now they don’t have an elite two-way center like Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, or Pavel Datsyuk, all of whom have put their names on Stanley Cups in recent seasons. Kesler nearly did in 2011, the year he won the Selke Trophy. I’m not sure the Caps have the pieces to get Kesler, and I’m not sure he’d agree to go to DC. But if I’m George McPhee, I’m at least giving Mike Gillis a call.

Saturday: Pittsburgh at Chicago (8 p.m. ET, NBC)

I’m curious to see how the Blackhawks do down the stretch and into the playoffs, particularly from a motivational standpoint. They’re already the defending Stanley Cup champs, and three of their key players — Duncan Keith, Toews, and Patrick Sharp — just won Olympic gold. I still remember Keith saying during the 2011 playoffs, not long after he’d helped Canada win Olympic gold in Vancouver and the ‘Hawks their first Cup since 1961, that he’d struggled with keeping focus and “just was not really … interested for whatever reason” during the 2010-11 season. Chicago lost in the first round to the Canucks soon after he said it. To me, teams like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Jose have so much more to prove than the ‘Hawks. It’s tough to say how much of a factor that could be, if any. But there’s no denying it takes a massive physical and emotional commitment to win the Cup.

Sunday: Philadelphia at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Thursday’s 7-3 loss to San Jose was the Flyers’ 13th of the season by three goals or more. Only four teams — Edmonton, Florida, Buffalo, and Ottawa — have lost big more often than Philly. And that’s bad. But on the flip side, the Flyers have also won a good number of games (11) by three goals or more. In the entire NHL, Dallas (14W, 10L) is the only other team to hit double digits in both categories. All of which helps explain the feeling a lot of people have about the Flyers should they make the playoffs. Defensively, there are issues. But if they get decent goaltending from Steve Mason, with all the scoring ability they have, they could make a run.

Or, they could get swept in the first round.

Sunday: Ottawa at Vancouver (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

After shutting out the Blues on Wednesday, Eddie Lack will make his second straight start in goal for the Canucks Friday against Minnesota. Roberto Luongo will probably get the nod Sunday at BC Place, but the decision by coach John Tortorella to go with Lack against the Wild already has at least one Vancouver media member smelling another goalie controversy. I’m not sure I’d go that far — yet — but Lack does have better numbers (.924 save percentage) than Luongo (.917) this season. Hey, here’s a question: is a Luongo compliance buyout a complete non-starter for Canucks ownership this summer? To do it would cost just over $22 million, spread over 16 years, and that’s a lot of money. But if I were Gillis and I got the green light, I’d do it.

Sunday: Boston at NY Rangers (7 p..m. ET)

I definitely feel like Glen Sather is using the media to put a scare into Ryan Callahan. The Rangers’ general manager knows his captain wants to stay with the club, so it makes sense to threaten a trade to bring down his asking price. While I don’t believe Sather’s threat is an entirely empty one, it’s interesting that the two sides have been talking this week. Callahan has scored 20-plus goals three times, and we all know the way he sacrifices his body to block shots and get in on the forecheck. Which, in a bit of a Catch 22, is why he’s a risk to give a long-term deal. But, ultimately, you want to keep guys like that. I know it’s been reported there’s a “99 percent chance” he’ll be traded, but I’m more optimistic they’ll come to an agreement.

Penguins shouldn’t rush to replace Bonino

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Nick Bonino was an important player for Pittsburgh the past two years. So when he signed with Nashville on July 1, it was natural for Penguins fans to want an immediate replacement.

But for GM Jim Rutherford, finding a new third-line center may take some time. The Penguins might even start the season without knowing who it will be.

What Rutherford wants to avoid is panicking and being forced into a mistake. All the other general managers are well-aware of what he needs. He’s probably been thrown a few anvils already.

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

If nothing is done by the start of the season, the Penguins could give someone like Jake Guentzel a chance to take over Bonino’s role. Or, if they’d prefer to keep Guentzel in the top six, maybe a youngster like Daniel Sprong or Zach Aston-Reese would be game to try, at least on a temporary basis.

It should be noted that Rutherford has proven a savvy mid-season trader. In 2015-16, he brought in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, a couple of veterans who played big roles on the way to a Stanley Cup title. And then, last season, he acquired Ron Hainsey, who likewise played a key part in a championship.

Perhaps owing to that experience, Rutherford says he’s more comfortable waiting to unearth a solution than “trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not.”

In fairness, it’s not easy to just replace a productive third-line center whose salary was a bargain. The Penguins had Bonino for a cap hit of just $1.9 million, and he turned his time in Pittsburgh into a four-year, $16.4 million deal with the Predators.

One potential target that’s come up in speculation is the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak, who just so happens to be Phil Kessel‘s good friend and former center.

Bozak, 31, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, a status that naturally lends itself to trade speculation.

But with a $4.1 million cap hit, making room for Bozak could be a challenge for the Penguins. And on top of that, the Leafs are bound to ask a fair bit for a guy who had 55 points (18G, 37A) last season.

That’s why it’s so hard to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in today’s NHL. The Penguins were lucky to bring back mostly the same roster last season.

Things will be different in 2017-18.

Related: Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

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John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

“I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot (again)

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For the second straight year, Derrick Pouliot is our pick for the Pittsburgh player under the most pressure heading into the season.

Perhaps we should just focus on someone else, but the Penguins gave the 23-year-old defenseman a one-year contract extension in July. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot knows time is running short to prove Pittsburgh didn’t make a big mistake.

It should be compelling to watch how he fares.

“I’ve got to make an impact right away and show that I belong in the NHL,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “It’s been three years now. I haven’t fully established myself yet. I want to take it one step at a time and build as the year goes on.”

Pouliot felt he had a strong finish to his AHL season, and perhaps that will help his confidence heading into camp.

But it’s worth noting that he’s no longer exempt from waivers. So unless he earns a spot, that could mean a change of scenery, with the Penguins either losing him for nothing or trading him for pennies on the dollar.

Pouliot could feasibly crack the opening roster as Pittsburgh’s eighth defenseman, behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel and new addition Matt Hunwick.

He could then languish on that roster until an injury gives him a chance to play.

The first step, though, is coming into camp and building off the back half of last season.

“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it’s kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said, per the Tribune-Review. “That’s been one thing that’s always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it’s starting with that and building each game.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”