Jake Guentzel

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Penguins camp begins with a lot of news, including Kessel sticking with Malkin

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Pittsburgh Penguins training camp is just now swinging back into action, and there was a lot to digest on Friday. Let’s take a look at everything in lightning-round fashion.

Phil Kessel + Evgeni Malkin … + basketball?

A lot – way too much, probably – was made of Kessel barking on the bench, with many perceiving it to be at Malkin, before scoring a huge goal against the Senators during the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.

Kessel told media members including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the yapping wasn’t directed at Malkin, and that they get along great. (He also had great things to say about Geno Malkin, basketball player. Picture Malkin’s sweet jumper for a moment or two if you’re bored.)

As a reminder, here’s Kessel yapping away.

Good times.

One thing Kessel wasn’t interested in talking about? Apparently he grew his hair out a bit this summer.

Never change, Phil.

Patric Hornqvist update

The bad news is that Patric Hornqvist’s hand issue required “a procedure” during the summer. The good news is that the Penguins expect him to be back toward the end of training camp. Even if that’s a bit optimistic, it seems like it’s a positive update overall for the guy who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.

The search to replace Nick Bonino

Is it too bold to wonder if the Penguins might just turn Matt Duchene‘s frown upside down?

OK, imagining Duchene as a third-line center seems like a stretch, but you have to admit that it’s quite the intriguing teaser for GM Jim Rutherford to leave things so enticingly vague.

The Penguins’ website goes deeper on the subject, including on easier-to-manage, in-house fixes, including possibly trying Jake Guentzel as their 3C.

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Those are the biggest considerations coming out of Penguins camp, but there’s more, such as Letang initially lining up with Olli Maatta. Scroll Mackey’s feed and the Penguins’ official feed for more nuggets, among other sources, as there’s a lot out there regarding the back-to-back defending champs trying to make it three in a row.

Stanley Cup odds: Penguins open training camp as favorites to win again

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With NHL training camps opening this week the folks at Bovada released their latest Stanley Cup odds for the 2017-18 season, and the Pittsburgh Penguins open up as the odds on favorites (7/1) to win the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive year.

No team has won three Stanley Cups in a row since the early 1980s New York Islanders.

The Penguins underwent a lot of changes this offseason, losing Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey off of their roster while, to this point, only adding Matt Hunwick, Ryan Reaves and Antti Niemi. They still have pretty big openings at their third-and fourth-line center spots. But they are still returning a great team overall and will be getting a healthy Kris Letang back after he missed the second half of the 2016-17 season and all of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup playoff run, as well as a full season from playoff standout Jake Guentzel.

Just behind the Penguins are the Edmonton Oilers who open as 9/1 favorites to win, the Chicago Blackhawks at 12/1, the Dallas Stars at 12/1 and the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals all at 14/1.

It’s a little surprising to see the Blackhawks so high given their questionable depth and the fact they haven’t been out of the first round of the playoffs in back-to-back years. The Dallas Stars are once again hyped up following a busy offseason full of blockbuster moves but it remains to be seen if this will be the year their performance on the ice matches the preseason hype.

The Detroit Red Wings, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Golden Knights, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks all open up with the worst odds at 100/1.

Here are the complete odds, via Bovada.

Pittsburgh Penguins —  7/1
Edmonton Oilers — 9/1
Chicago Blackhawks — 12/1
Dallas Stars — 12/1
Anaheim Ducks — 14/1
Nashville Predators — 14/1
Tampa Bay Lightning — 14/1
Toronto Maple Leafs — 14/1
Washington Capitals — 14/1
Minnesota Wild — 18/1
New York Rangers — 18/1
Columbus Blue Jackets — 20/1
Montreal Canadiens — 20/1
Los Angeles Kings — 22/1
Boston Bruins — 25/1
Calgary Flames — 25/1
San Jose Sharks — 25/1
St. Louis Blues — 28/1
Florida Panthers — 40/1
Ottawa Senators — 40/1
New York Islanders — 50/1
Philadelphia Flyers — 50/1
Winnipeg Jets — 50/1
Buffalo Sabres — 66/1
Carolina Hurricanes — 66/1
Detroit Red Wings — 100/1
Arizona Coyotes — 100/1
Colorado Avalanche — 100/1
Las Vegas Golden Knights — 100/1
New Jersey Devils — 100/1
Vancouver Canucks — 100/1

With Sheary signed Penguins can focus on finding center

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The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Conor Sheary on Sunday afternoon, successfully avoiding salary arbitration with their two biggest restricted free agents (him and Brian Dumoulin) while also giving themselves more than $3 million in cushion under the salary cap.

Overall it has been a mostly quiet offseason for the Penguins, adding only Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick and Antti Niemi to the roster while allowing Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey to leave via free agency, while also losing goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Even with those losses the Penguins don’t have many holes on a roster that just completed its second consecutive championship season.

The one hole they do have is finding some center depth down the middle of their lineup following the loss of Bonino and the uncertain future of veteran Matt Cullen. They still have two of the best centers in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at the top of the lineup, but the depth behind them has taken quite a hit this summer. Bonino and Cullen represented their third-and fourth-line centers the past two seasons (and were mostly excellent in those roles), and with Oscar Sundqvist traded to St. Louis as part of the Reaves deal they still need to do something to address those spots.

With the free agency options almost non-existent (minus Cullen, of course) General manager Jim Rutherford is almost certainly going to have to explore the trade market when it comes to rounding out his roster. He has taken a patient approach to it and doesn’t seem to be in a rush to force a trade. It’s important to keep in mind that he didn’t actually acquire Bonino two years ago until around this point in the summer.

Carter Rowney played well for the Penguins in the postseason when called upon and can play center, but he is probably not what they are looking for on their third line.

Moving Jake Guentzel over to center could also be an option if needed, but it is probably not the ideal move given how successful he was on the wing, especially when playing next to Crosby and Sheary.

Penguins sign Conor Sheary for three years, $9 million

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to avoid salary arbitration with restricted free agent forward Conor Sheary on Sunday by agreeing to terms on a three-year contract that will pay him a total of $9 million, the team announced.

Sheary is the last of the Penguins’ restricted free agents while his signing comes a week after the team locked up its other key RFA, defenseman Brian Dumoulin.

He is coming off of a breakout season with the Penguins that saw him score 23 goals and add 30 assists in 61 games.

He spent much of the season playing alongside Sidney Crosby (after doing the same in the playoffs a year ago) and seemed to form an instant chemistry with him and later in the season rookie forward Jake Guentzel.

Sheary did most of his production during even-strength play where he was one of the most productive players in the league on a per-minute basis.

Signed as an undrafted free agent and overcoming the “undersized” label that has followed him around he has developed into a core player for a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

If he can come close to duplicating his performance from this past season that $3 million salary cap hit is going to be a great value for the Penguins.

With him and Dumoulin now signed the Penguins still have a little more than $3.2 million in salary cap space remaining. Their next order of business will continue to be searching for a third-line center to replace Nick Bonino after he signed with the Nashville Predators as a free agent.

Predators are one Johansen deal away from a salary cap work of art

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If you need to kill some time, play this game: which Nashville Predators contract is the biggest steal?

If Viktor Arvidsson is as much of a difference-maker as his limited NHL reps indicate, his $4.25 million cap hit over seven years is certainly in the running. Still, there are plenty of choices.

  • The defense alone is bargain-filled, making P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit easy to stomach.

Ryan Ellis‘ $2.5 million cap hit doesn’t run out until after 2018-19. Mattias Ekholm‘s less of a “well-kept secret” following Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, yet his $3.75M steal runs through 2021-22. Roman Josi can be a bit polarizing but at $4M for three more seasons, it’s not controversial to say that he’s probably at least worth the money.

  • The offensive bargains begin with the top line.

Arvidsson has the makings of a legit first-line winger, and that deal is highly likely to be regrettable … for his agent and accountant.

Filip Forsberg‘s $6M isn’t as audacious as some of those defensive steals, but it’s still pretty nice. That total also makes it easier for the Predators to try to control costs for their one remaining big consideration: Ryan Johansen, who still needs a deal as an RFA.

  • Calle Jarnkrok is a pretty nifty get at $2M per season, especially if he grows with a contract that runs through 2021-22.
  • Scott Hartnell took quite the homecoming discount at $1M for 2017-18.
  • As you go deeper, the Predators enjoy some nice deals on players who are under ELC’s or second contracts: Kevin Fiala ($863K), Frederick Gaudreau ($667K), Pontus Aberg ($650K) and Colton Sissons ($625K) could all be helpful contributors at low costs.

This tweet really sells the point, in case this post hasn’t: GM David Poile hasn’t been slowing down much since being named GM of the Year. And he might just be the best executive in the NHL right now.

  • It’s all pretty immaculate; even if you’re not a fan of Pekka Rinne, his $7 million cap hit expires in two seasons. By then, the Predators could very well transition to Juuse Saros, possibly echoing the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray along the way.

Overall, it’s an enviable situation, as Nashville’s clean cap ranks with Pittsburgh and few others as the best-looking in the NHL. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the Lightning are allocating $8.8 million to the shaky duo of former Rangers in Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.

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Still, the Predators aren’t done for the summer, as Johansen stands as a tricky situation. They don’t have the helpful deadline of arbitration looming, so the two sides are just going to have to figure something out … eventually.

Even so, Cap Friendly pegs them at $13.43 million in cap space, so they have room to work with their first-line center.

While teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks stocked up on high draft picks, the Predators’ greatest moves have largely come through shrewd drafting, savvy trades, and forward-thinking contract extensions. One can debate which setup is the best, but Poile’s work places Nashville in the upper crust, and their built to stay there for years to come.

Related: Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel could help Penguins compete for years.