Penguins smash reset button on team’s offseason


Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is nothing if not aggressive.

Very aggressive.

There has never been a trade he did not like. As we discovered this past week there has never been a trade that is too impossible to pull off.

Since being hired by the team following the 2013-14 season, Rutherford has already orchestrated 28 trades as the Penguins’ general manager. Along with that he has overhauled the team — both in terms of the actual roster and the style of play — significantly on more than one occasion.

He is also not afraid to undo everything he’s done just months prior if it isn’t working.

He fired Mike Johnston just 110 games after hiring him, making him one of the shortest-tenured coaches in franchise history. After trading a first-round pick for David Perron (a pick that later turned out to be used to select Mathew Barzal, the likely rookie of the year this season) he traded him less than a year later for Carl Hagelin after it was clear that Perron was not producing the way the Penguins hoped that he would.

With the 2018 NHL trade deadline now in the rear view mirror, we can also say that he spent the past few months hitting the reset button on pretty much everything he did over the offseason. Literally, everything.

[Related: Penguins trade for Derick Brassard]

After winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup the Penguins’ summer was more about who they lost than who they brought in. Free agency and the salary cap cost them a significant portion of their depth as Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey all walked out the door, while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the NHL expansion draft. Just before the season started they traded Derrick Pouliot, once a highly touted prospect in the organization for Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round draft pick.

To replace all of that depth the only moves the Penguins made were to trade Oskar Sundqvist and a first-round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for Ryan Reaves and a second-round draft pick (a move of about 20 spots in the draft), sign Matt Hunwick to a three-year contract in free agency, and then bring in Antti Niemi to serve as the veteran backup goalie for Matt Murray. They also tried to count on players like Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney to fill space at forward.

It was, to say the least, not a great offseason, and it left the Penguins with some glaring holes on their roster.

They had no third-and fourth-line centers. Reaves was brought in as a response to all of the physical play that the Penguins’ stars had been receiving and represented a wild shift in philosophy from the way the team had been built in recent seasons (and a drastic shift in the way Rutherford typically builds his teams — he has long been a critic of fighting in hockey) but was never trusted to play more than five or six minutes a night.

Balanced scoring throughout all four lines had been a huge part of the team’s success the previous two seasons and the departures of Bonino, Cullen, and Kunitz with almost no one coming from outside the organization to replace them pretty much robbed them of that strength.

Meanwhile, in the three games that Niemi played he allowed 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey. The Penguins were outscored 22-6 in those three games.

All of that was a huge contributing factor to a slow start to the season that had them, at times, looking like a bad team (a very bad team) and on the outside of the playoff picture.

As good as the top of the roster is with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel they still needed support from the other lines and on the blue line.

Then the moves started happening.

Niemi was waived after just three starts.

They traded Scott Wilson, a winger that appeared in 78 regular season games and 20 playoff games a season ago, was traded for Riley Sheahan to help address some of the issues at center. After a slow start that seemed to contribute to the team’s depth issues, he has found his game a bit and seems to have solidified that fourth-line center spot.

Jamie Oleksiak, who had very clearly fallen out of favor in Dallas, became the latest reclamation project on the blue line for Sergei Gonchar to work with on defense, following a similar path to past acquisitions Daley and Justin Schultz. He has proven to be a solid addition and entering play on Tuesday has already picked up seven points in 28 games and is a positive possession player. He is a big body that can skate and has booming slap shot. It is early in his Penguins tenure, but he seems to be putting all of the individual pieces together into something that can work in the NHL.

Then, on Friday, just a few days before the NHL trade deadline, Rutherford completed one of his biggest and most complex in-season trades when he roped the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights into a three-team trade to bring Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh. That trade brought the Penguins the third-line center they had been searching for since Bonino signed with the Nashville Predators in free agency and bumped Sheahan into the fourth-line spot that he is probably more suited for.

That trade included sending Reaves and the fourth-round draft pick they picked up from Vancouver for Pouliot.

[Related: NHL Trade Deadline Winners And Losers]

Just look at the sequence of events that led to Brassard ending up in Pittsburgh. It is insane. All of these moves happened since the start of the offseason.

On the left is the total package of players the Penguins “gave up” and the players they ended up with as a result of all of the movement. On the right is a breakdown of each individual move and how it all fits together to lead to Brassard.


Is that a lot of assets to give up for a third-line center? Probably. But he is also a player that will be around for beyond this season. They are going to get two playoff runs with him on the roster playing center behind Crosby and Malkin.

You also have to consider those first-round picks were a 31st overall pick and what could potentially be another late first-round pick this year. Draft history suggests that there is a significant drop in your chances of landing a regular NHL player once the draft reaches the second half of the first-round. Maybe one of those two picks will turn into a player. Maybe.

Sundqvist and Pouliot have not exactly panned out. Gustavsson is a fine (and maybe outstanding) prospect while Cole was a valuable player on two Stanley Cup winning teams. But adding Brassard to the third-line center spot should do more to improve the team than losing Ian Cole off the third defense pairing will do to hurt it. The Penguins already have two young goalies in the organization in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry.

Earlier this season I looked at the Penguins’ depth problems and how little production they were getting from their bottom-six forwards and how much of a drop it was from the previous two seasons.

After 32 games this season the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards (in terms of ice-time per game) were averaging, as a group, just .179 points per game. The top-six was carrying the entire weight of the offense (.832 points per game as a group).

After 63 games the bottom-six is now up to .357 points per game (the top-six is still cruising along at an almost unimaginable .897).

That is before the addition of Brassard (38 points in 58 games) and the departure of Reaves (only eight points in 59 games). That is the sort of depth the Penguins are going to need if they are going to compete for a Stanley Cup again. That is the sort of depth they had the past two years that made them so dangerous. Keep in mind, when they won the Stanley Cup in 2015-16 their bottom-six averaged .344 points per game. In 2016-17 it was .444.

They are getting closer to that level.

Plus, there’s the other elephant in the room here that makes all of this roster movement necessary: The Penguins are chasing history.

They have a chance to do something no team has done in more than 30 years by going for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

They still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel playing at an exceptionally high level. Those three players are not getting any younger. You only get those players for so long, and you only get this level of production out of them for such a short period of time, that you owe it to yourself as a team to do everything possible to maximize their time with the team.

When Crosby, Malkin, Kessel get old, lose production, or just simply retire the Penguins are going to need to rebuild anyway, and there was not a draft pick or prospect in the organization prior to Monday that was going to change that. When you have a chance to do something only a handful of teams have done, when you have generational talents that are still among the best players in the world, you can not let what might happen five years down the road stand in the way.

Your window is now. You have to go for it.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

#MelnykOut billboards go up in Ottawa as Senators fans urge change

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The billboards in Brooklyn want the general manager out. The billboards in Ottawa, which went up Monday morning, are calling for the owner to sell.

As the dissatisfaction with the state of the franchise continues to intensify, Ottawa Senators fans have come together to purchase four billboards calling for Eugene Melnyk to get “out.”

The campaign was started by Spencer Callaghan, who raised $5,000 in the first 24 hours after the GoFundMe page was opened.

“What I want to accomplish mainly is for people to just start asking questions, like why is this organization in such turmoil,” Callaghan told CTV News in February. “It’s at the point where if we need a change of ownership to get this organization back on track then that’s what we need to push for.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the four billboards will be up for two weeks and a fifth will go up for one week on April 2.

It’s been a strange year in Senators land. They went from being within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final to having their owner threaten to move the team to then having him walk that back a few months later to now looking at the NHL draft lottery and coming to the realization that captain Erik Karlsson may be dealt in the off-season.

So you can see why they might be ready for some change.

Meanwhile, it will be a very interesting off-season for the New York Islanders. They are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight season and have to worry about whether John Tavares will decide to re-sign with the organization. Fans upset with GM Garth Snow’s lack of progress with the franchise put up their own billboards in February calling for his removal. Head coach Doug Weight doesn’t seem to have any answers, so will ownership decide to clean house and start fresh as the franchise begins to split games between Barclays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum next season as they wait for their new home to be built near Belmont Park?

If the campaigns in Ottawa and New York succeed by reaching their ultimate goals, how much of an inspiration will they be for other fanbases who are sick and tired of the lack of direction with their teams?


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

If there’s one thing the Kings need right now with 10 games left in the regular season, it’s some consistency. John Stevens’ charges have alternated wins and losses in their eight games in March, leaving them in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 84 points.

LA is tied with the Dallas Stars in points, but have the ROW advantage (37-34) while also owning a game in-hand. The Kings are battling on two fronts. Not only are they in the mix for a wild card, but they are on the heels of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division’s third seed.

So as the Kings begin a four-game road trip Monday night with three games against playoff teams (Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado), the road doesn’t get any easier. After a disappointing 3-0 loss at Staples Center on Saturday, they need to rebound quickly.

“You lose a game, you move on and get ready for the next one,” said Stevens via the Orange County Register. “We’ve got an important week coming up this week, so we’re in playoff mode. We’re thinking about Minnesota now, and we’ll get ready for the game after that when that comes.”


The Wild have a little bit of a cushion in the Central Division’s third spot and are looking at four days off following their meeting with the Kings before they host the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Minnesota grabbed four huge points with back-to-back road wins over the weekend against Vegas and Arizona. In their favor is a very strong record at Xcel Energy Center (24-6-6) and the fact that they’ve taken points from 24 of their last 26 home games.

A victory would give Bruce Boudreau his 500th as an NHL head coach and make him the 26th bench boss to reach that milestone. In his 10 seasons as a bench boss, he’s won eight division titles and one Jack Adams Awards.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL GMs to meet; Lamoriello’s future with Leafs

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

Joe Thornton’s long-lost brother was apparently at the game Saturday night. [Instagram]

• Goalie interference will be a big topic at this week’s NHL general managers meetings. [The Star]

• Lou Lamoriello’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs remains up in the air. “Any decisions about the organization won’t be made until after the season is over,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told Elliotte Friedman. [Sportsnet]

• The NCAA men’s bracket is set with St. Cloud State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Cornell grabbing top seeds. [College Hockey News]

• For the third time in five years, Clarkson’s women’s team won the NCAA title. The overtime goal, which was scored by Elizabeth Giguere (No relation to J.S.), was a terrific one. [NY Times]

• Daryl Watts, freshman forward at Boston College, took home the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s top women’s collegiate player. [USCHO]

• With Ilya Kovalchuk interested in an NHL return this summer — and his rights no longer being owned by the New Jersey Devils — the New York Rangers should be all-in on the forward. [NY Post]

• A good look at how these Winnipeg Jets have been built into a contender. [ESPN]

• This season’s Hart Trophy race is quite the crowded field. [Tampa Bay Times]

• The New York Islanders have really wasted what could be John Tavares‘ last season with the franchise. [Sporting News]

• We’re coming up on a full NHL season without any head coaches being fired. [TSN]

• General managers around the NHL muse about the Detroit Red Wings and rebuilds. [Freep]

• Should the Carolina Hurricanes continue the changes and move on from Bill Peters? [Section 328]

William Karlsson doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down as he continues this surprising season. [Toronto Sun]

• How a minority hockey program helped one man become an officer in the Marines. [Color of Hockey]

• Finally, Declan Farmer was the hero for the U.S. Paralympic hockey team, who won their third straight gold with a 2-1 win over Canada. [NBC Olympics]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: William Karlsson’s wild night; Hart Trophy race intensifies

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Players of the Night: 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s MVP campaign got a serious boost on Sunday, as he picked up two goals and an assist in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs forward is now riding a 12-game point streak. He better start making room on a shelf for a Hart Trophy.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Karlsson continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His natural hat trick against the Flames puts him at 39 goals on the season. Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about him as a 40-goal scorer?

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even though MacKinnon is rolling right now, Kucherov won’t go away quietly in the race for the MVP crown. The Lightning forward picked up two goals in Sunday’s win over the Oilers. Kucherov has 36 goals and 93 points in 70 games this season.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: DeBrincat scored his third hat trick of the season in a losing effort. The rookie has 25 goals and 45 points in 73 games this season. He has a chance to score 30 this year.

Alex Pietrangelo and Vincent Dunn, St. Louis Blues: The Blues came away with a huge comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrik Berglund scored the game-winner in overtime, but Pietrangelo and Dunn each had four points in the victory.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: Laine has been a scoring machine of late. He found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Stars. He’s now scored 43 goals in 72 games this season. Laine’s picked up at least one point in 15 consecutive games.

Highlights of the Night: 

A wicked one-timer from Wild Bill:

That’s an incredible backhander from MacKinnon:

Here’s an unorthodox save from Fleury

Factoids of the Night: 

Dunn Deal


Oh and Laine is a teen sensation

DeBrincat’s having an impressive rookie season:


Avalanche 5, Red Wings 1
Golden Knights 4, Flames 0
Lightning 3, Oilers 1
Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
Flyers 6, Capitals 3
Blues 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Jets 4, Stars 2
Ducks 4, Devils 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.