Matt Murray

Poll: Who will the Penguins miss the most?

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been forced into making some changes to their roster.

It’s only normal that championship teams won’t be able to bring all their players back, especially in a salary cap world.

This offseason, the Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft and Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, and Matt Cullen in free agency. Each one of those players played an important role in at least one of the two title runs.

Fleury may not have been between the pipes when the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in each of the last two seasons, but he played a crucial part in each victory. On top of playing 38 games during the regular season, he also compiled a 9-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage during the 2017 postseason.

Without Fleury on the roster, the pressure will fall squarely on Matt Murray‘s shoulders. Murray may own two rings, but he has yet to go through the challenges of an 82-game season plus playoffs. New backup Antti Niemi probably won’t be capable of filling in as well as Fleury did.

One of the major reasons the Pens were able to go on two championship runs was because of the depth they had accumulated at center. Any team would love to have one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have both. The Penguins’ depth didn’t stop there. They also had Nick Bonino on their third line and Matt Cullen on their fourth, which is pretty impressive.

Both Bonino and Cullen will play in the Western Conference next year. Finding competent players to play on the third and fourth line isn’t as difficult as getting top line talent, but those two losses will probably hurt them pretty badly.

Bonino had 18 goals and 37 points during the 2016-17 regular season and he added a modest seven points in 21 games during the postseason before being ruled out with a lower-body injury. Last year, he put up less points in the regular season (29), but he had an impressive 18 points in 24 games during the playoffs. He was also capable of playing a solid two-way game.

Cullen, who signed with Minnesota yesterday, also found a way to contribute, despite playing a bottom-six role on such a deep team. The 40-year-old scored 32 and 31 points in his two years with the Penguins and he also added six and nine points during the playoff runs. He also won plenty of key faceoffs and played well without the puck.

Trevor Daley was unable to finish the 2016 playoffs because of an ankle injury, but he also played a vital role during Pittsburgh’s impressive accomplishment. Daley, who is now with the Red Wings, was able to hold down the fort while Kris Letang was out. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season and 19 more in the spring.

Ron Hainsey was a smart, underrated trade deadline acquisition by GM Jim Rutherford. The veteran stepped into the lineup and played 21 minutes per night for his new team. He also chipped in with eight points in 25 games. He got himself a nice contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1st.

Chris Kunitz had been a big contributor for the team, but his production fell off dramatically. After scoring 35 goals during the 2013-14 season, he added 17, 17 and nine during his last three years in Pittsburgh. It became pretty clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level he had been in previous years, so it wasn’t surprising to see him go elsewhere (Tampa Bay) when free agency opened.

It’s your turn to vote. Make sure you make a selection in the poll below and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

Matt Murray’s furry dog steals show during day with Stanley Cup

via Matt Murray's Twitter feed
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There’s been some awful news this weekend, to the point that even the NHL and Detroit Red Wings were tangentially involved.

In times like these, many of us turn to photos of dogs and birthday cakes. This post aims to provide both, along with some other lighthearted fun.

To start off, we have Matt Murray‘s day with the Stanley Cup, which includes this wonderful dog:

Apparently that’s a Newfoundland or “Newfie” dog. No word yet on the name, so for now we can go with either doggo or Furry Murray.*

That breed can weigh in anywhere from 100-150 lbs., according to this wonderfully detailed entry from “Dog Time.”

The Newfoundland is a large, strong dog breed from — wait for it — Newfoundland. He was originally used as a working dog to pull nets for fishermen and haul wood from the forest. He is a capable and hardworking dog, well suited to work on land or water. He is a strong swimmer and equally strong “pack horse.” Sweet-natured and responsive, he makes a wonderful family companion as well.

Furry Murray does, indeed, look like a wonderful family companion.

/Replaces Hockey Analysis with Dog Time in bookmarks

(Should we put Murray’s dog in the pantheon with Anze Kopitar‘s Gustl? Eh, it’s probably too early to have that conversation.)

In other fun and not particularly pressing hockey news, it’s Ales Hemsky‘s birthday, so enjoy this photo of his Nutella cake and evidence of him sporting somewhat unexpected ink:

If you need further distractions, Mikael Backlund was at a wedding, Aleksander Barkov is a breakfast master, and there’s also this huge thread of dogs that aren’t immediately hockey-related.

* – Apparently the dog’s name is Beckham. Almost as good as Furry Murray, right?

Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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Save for the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 looked a heck of a lot like the Penguins of 2015-16.

Both those teams won the Stanley Cup, of course.

But the Pens of 2017-18, while still boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, will have to attempt a three-peat without some key pieces from the 2017 run.

Gone are Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey, the latter of whom proved a savvy pickup by GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline.

It’s also possible that Matt Cullen opts for retirement.

True, the Penguins added Matt Hunwick in free agency, and they don’t expect to be without Kris Letang again next spring.

But for goalie Matt Murray, winning it all in 2018 seems a larger challenge.

“Obviously it’s not easy to win at all in this league, especially with the salary cap and the turnover that teams go through. Last year we were lucky that we didn’t lose too many guys and we had a lot of the same guys come back,” Murray told SooToday.com.

“This year it’s a little bit different. We lost some key pieces and we’re going to have a new look going into this season. But I think we’ve added some key pieces as well and I think we’re in really good shape. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but I think if there’s a team that can do it, we can do it.”

For any team that loses important players, the key to success is usually found in the organization’s youth. Enter forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. If those two can become contributors by the playoffs, it would sure help.

Rutherford will also have to come through by finding a new third-line center. That’s no easy task given the importance of the position. Bonino was a tremendous bargain for the Pens, but he’s in Nashville now.

Related: Pens can’t ‘panic’ to replace Bonino

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.

Yzerman kept the gang together; Now Lightning must deliver

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Over and over again, it seemed like there would be a salary-cap challenge that would derail the Tampa Bay Lightning. Each time, GM Steve Yzerman seemed to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

Splendid summer of 2016

Instead of heading to, say, Toronto, Steven Stamkos signed with the Lightning. Not long after, Victor Hedman stayed around for about a half million less than Stamkos.

Nikita Kucherov seemed like he’d present a hurdle the Lightning couldn’t clear during that same, complicated summer of 2016. Instead, Yzerman pulled wizardry in signing him for a little less than $4.8 million. Not bad for a forward who only added volume to the murmurs that he might actually be the best Lightning forward on that roster.

Keeping the gang together

After a brutal season, one wondered if the Lightning would finally feel the same sting as other salary-cap-challenged-contenders (or hopeful contenders).

Now, sure, management might not have parted ways with Ben Bishop if there was no cap ceiling. And while Jonathan Drouin never felt like a part of the core, money likely inspired his trade as much as anything else.

MORE: Drouin traded to Montreal for package including Mikhail Sergachev

Still … it’s resounding how often Yzerman’s come out on top in these discussions. This summer’s been another example of that, as he managed to sign Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat to similar, possibly team-friendly deals. Many teams would envy “The Triplets” of Johnson, Palat, and Kucherov coming in at less than $15M combined.

After years of looking at the Lightning’s place in the standings with one eye and their looming cap worries with the other, now everything’s just about locked up.

So, the question is – especially after last season’s nightmare – can this hyped group regain its place among the contenders? Can they back up that promise by actually winning a Stanley Cup?

Pivotal players

Palat seems to be a pretty steady guy, one who might have a “high floor but low ceiling.”

There are more interesting fork-in-the-road moments for the Lightning, instead.

1. What to expect from Stamkos?

Injuries keep wrecking Stamkos’ seasons, almost to an absurd degree. He was limited to 17 games in 2016-17 and 37 in 2013-14.

Stamkos gets lost in the shuffle of elite discussions in large part because of injuries. At first, $8.5 million seemed like a steal for the Lightning, and he’s still slated for great things at 27. Still, the situation is cloudier than it was when he signed that mega-deal.

2. Is Andrei Vasilevskiy the real deal?

The Lightning went with the younger – and cheaper – goalie in essentially choosing Vasilevskiy over Ben Bishop. His contract mimics Matt Murray‘s in price, and if he’s legitimately a difference maker, could be a similar steal. Even so, Vasilevskiy matches this Lightning team in actually needing to deliver on such promise.

3. How good is Tyler Johnson, really?

Take a look at Tyler Johnson’s past four seasons:

2013-14 – 24 goals, 50 points
2014-15 – 29 goals, 72 points
2015-16 – 14 goals, 38 points
2016-17 – 19 goals, 45 points

Now, Johnson has also shown promise in the postseason including in 2015-16. So there are multiple flashes of a true “game-breaker” type, which could be especially noteworthy with the loss of Drouin.

Johnson stands as a mystery, especially if you’re the type who attributes much of Johnson’s and Palat’s best moments to being on a line with Kucherov.

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Overall, the Lightning are in a great spot, and Yzerman’s hard work explains why. Maybe we can quibble with Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi signings, and some might argue that the wrong calls were made with Ben Bishop and/or Jonathan Drouin.

Still, with heaps of tough contract challenges in front of him, Stevie Y mostly hit homers rather than striking out.

At least, he did so on paper. The Lightning need to make it happen on the ice, or his brilliance will mainly seem theoretical.