And then there were 7: Penguins eliminated

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For all the regular season successes and stories of resiliency, the Pittsburgh Penguins have seen their postseasons end in very sour ways the last few years. You can now add “the bitterness of coughing up a 3-1 series lead” to that list of recent disappointments as the New York Rangers bounced them in Game 7 by a score of 2-1.

Let’s look at the complete picture, even if there might be some panic in Pittsburgh:

  • Sidney Crosby blew everyone else away in regular season scoring. His 104 points topped everyone by a large margin; no one else even crossed the 90-point barrier (Ryan Getzlaf came in at second place with 87).
  • Of course, things didn’t work out quite so well for Crosby during the postseason. Evgeni Malkin actually enjoyed a fantastic playoff run after “only” scoring 72 regular season points. Expect a mind-numbing array of stories pondering what’s wrong with Crosby … including maybe even a tangible update or two (maybe an actual injury update if applicable?).
  • Marc-Andre Fleury seemed to settle himself down after Mario Lemieux gave him a locker room visit following a tough first-round loss. Still, the questions about “The Flower” will probably persist amid his ups and downs. The interesting thing with Fleury is that unlike Crosby, Malkin and other key cogs, he isn’t locked up long-term … with a contract to expire after 2014-15, he’s approaching a real fork in the road.
  • The questions about head coach Dan Bylsma’s job security will probably be quite a bit louder, however. The amicable coach navigated the challenging waters of another regular season and helped Pittsburgh shake off the typical run of injuries to win their division, but work before mid-April is taken for granted now with the Penguins. He’ll be questioned for a perceived lack of adjustments and a variety of other failings that may or may not be his fault. Many believe this is finally the time that his second chances will run out.
  • While the big names are locked in, the supporting cast could change drastically in Pittsburgh. Matt Niskanen is the biggest free agent name to consider after a breakout season, but Jussi Jokinen joins the likes of Brandon Sutter and Brooks Orpik as the Penguins don’t have many players lacked up outside of the core. That could be intimidating or promising depending upon your opinion of GM Ray Shero (assuming he’s still the general manager).
  • The Penguins were patient after being swept from the 2013 Eastern Conference finals by the Boston Bruins, but will the franchise weather the storm this time? It’s difficult to imagine this team without some significant changes … the question is: how drastic will those alterations end up being?

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

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For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

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Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

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Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.

 

 

Kassian gets three-year, $5.85 million commitment from Oilers

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Zack Kassian, after some terrific performances for the Oilers in the playoffs, has signed a three-year contract extension in Edmonton.

The deal is worth $5.85 million, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. That’s a cap hit just below $2 million.

Kassian, 26, seems to have salvaged his NHL career after missteps in Vancouver and Montreal. The big winger had seven goals and 17 games in 79 games for the Oilers during the regular season. But it was in the postseason where he really made an impact — especially in the first round against San Jose.

Twice Kassian scored game-winning goals against the Sharks. He was also a physical force:

Granted, Kassian was less noticeable in the second round, but the fact he received a three-year commitment from the Oilers speaks to the organization’s belief that he’s truly turned his life around.

Related: Kassian opens up about struggles with alcoholism