James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Video: Bryan Rust is having a run to remember for Penguins

The great thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that, as much as it’s all about big names, we often see under-the-radar guys play the role of stars.

It almost feels like it happens every year, and sometimes with more than one team.

In the case of this postseason, you won’t find a much better example of an out-of-nowhere star than Pittsburgh Penguins forward Bryan Rust. That’s been especially true during the last handful of games, as Rust is scoring big goal after big goal.

You can be forgiven for not seeing it coming. Rust likely didn’t even envision catching fire like this.

It’s possible that Rust might be a little less than 100 percent after that controversial hit by Patrick Marleau, yet he’s really starting to develop a legacy for beating the odds. Betting against him might not be a good move, at least with the postseason he’s enjoying.

Click here for more videos in this series.

No, Stars aren’t buying out Kari Lehtonen

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The Dallas Stars can spin their goaltending however they’d like – and they definitely do so – but the bottom line was that Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi didn’t prove to be $10.4 million well-spent.

Things were bad enough at times during 2015-16 (highlighted by a Game 7 meltdown against the St. Louis Blues) that some wonder if the Stars might just cut their losses and buy out Lehtonen.

GM Jim Nill shot down that idea, as Elliotte Friedman reports in the latest edition of his indispensable “30 Thoughts.”

“No, we’re not buying him out,” Nill said. “That last game is not a full reflection of the season. Nobody remembers the game before where he stood on his head. He’s disappointed, and the team is disappointed. We finished second overall, and everybody is focused on the playoffs. Something went right too, you’ve got to be careful.”

In case you’re wondering, Cap Friendly breaks down what a Lehtonen buyout would look like:

The total buyout will cost $7.33 million, spread out over four years with an annual cost of $1.83 million. This is versus Lehtonen’s $5.9 million cap hit, which is slated to last through 2017-18.

This chart from Cap Friendly might make it a little easier:

buyoutchart

On one side, you consider the perks of those big savings in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Jamie Benn is headed for a big raise after 2016-17, so that extra money could come in handy. Beyond that, moving on from Lehtonen means the Stars would look elsewhere to get a different goalie.

Of course, the alternative is that the Stars would incur more costs with no guarantee of improved netminding. Who knows … that $1.83 million cap hit could hurt in 2018-19 and 2019-20, too.

It’s not an easy situation either way, but it sounds like the Stars are ultimately settling for the status quo. For better or worse.

Related

Lindy Ruff thought things worked out well

He got tired of explaining the whole thing, too

Blues GM says Backes is a ‘priority,’ but does he mean it?

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By keeping Ken Hitchcock around for another season, there’s a feeling that the St. Louis Blues are taking a pit stop at this fork in the road. They can’t push the “pause” button with every decision, however.

It doesn’t get much bigger than deciding whether to let your 32-year-old captain David Backes walk or ante up to keep him around.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong spoke to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a variety of off-season topics, including some comments that instantly seem like wishful thinking about Kirk Muller (Muller’s out, despite Armstrong’s hopes).

The veteran executive says that Backes is a “priority,” yet that’s also how he described re-signing Jaden Schwartz … and his full thoughts on Backes really keep us in the dark rather than shining a light on his thinking.

Armstrong on bringing back David Backes: “Yeah, he’s our captain. I’ve met with some players already and told them their importance and David is at the top of that list as far as unrestricted free agents. He’s been here 10 years, he’s got a vested interest in the leadership group. But he’s 32 years old and the market will bear what the market will bear, but ultimately our salary cap will bear what our salary cap will bear. There’s things I can potentially do with roster players here to open up some space. But I think what you’ve seen around the league, too, is if you get too aggressive, those contracts are sometimes difficult to maneuver around … I thought this year for sure, the NHL got faster. It just seemed like I came to the rink one day and it was fast, and it seemed to get quicker and quicker. So I think it’s trending into a younger-leg game. I think David’s got a lot of good years left in him, I’d love to keep him here, but it has to work out for David and his family first and foremost and then it has to work into our math equation. But he’s a priority.” 

Interesting stuff, and the full article is worth reading.

Let’s break those thoughts down briefly:

  • Armstrong says he values Backes’ leadership and thinks that “David’s got a lot of good years left in him.”
  • At the same time, he seemed to hint at mixed feelings by mentioning how the NHL’s become a league “trending into a younger-leg game.” (Ah, sports phrasing is the best, isn’t it?)
  • He also mentioned that “those contracts are sometimes difficult to maneuver around.”

So … that kind of sounds like he’s saying he wouldn’t mind bringing Backes back, yet he’s also sort of hedging his bets?

Long story short, the Backes issue remains a mystery. At least as far as we know.

Related

“No question” Backes wants to return

Blues face tough questions this off-season

Predators re-sign Bass, Hutton wonders if he’s on his way out

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The Nashville Predators signed fighter Cody Bass to a two-year, two-way contract on Wednesday.

There’s no mistaking Bass’ role with the Predators. He fought three times in the NHL and 14 times in the AHL in 2015-16 (according to Hockey Fights). With a two-way contract, Nashville could theoretically call up Bass when they expect a more “physical” game.

Here’s the breakdown of what Bass would make at the NHL vs. AHL level in each season of this two-year deal.

This continues a fairly busy day for Predators GM David Poile, who also locked down important goalie prospect Jonas Gunnarsson.

The signing of Gunnarsson leaves Carter Hutton wondering about his future (or lack thereof) with Nashville, as the backup told the Tennessean.

“The unknown starts now,” Hutton said at the end of the season. “It’s something I’ve been through numerous times now. Obviously, this situation is a lot different than years past. I’ve kind of established myself and had a pretty strong year. Obviously, I play in a tough situation here. That’s my job. … I love Nashville. I want to be in Nashville, so hopefully we can figure something out here to make me stay.”

Bass will deal will some unknowns since he has a two-way deal, but at least he has a contract for two seasons.

Poile’s work is far from done with plenty of cap space and Filip Forsberg to re-sign, by the way.

Video: Patrick Marleau gets minor penalty for hit on Bryan Rust

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Patrick Marleau made a big impact with the 2-2 goal in Game 1, yet a hit he delivered on Bryan Rust might draw more attention.

With the score tied 2-2, Marleau was whistled for a minor penalty for “illegal check to the head” on Rust. The Pittsburgh Penguins power play was not able to score on the San Jose Sharks during that two-minute power play.

Rust left the bench for a short period of time, yet he returned to action.

Some believe that Marleau deserves a look from the Department of Player Safety for the check. Others wonder if it should have been a penalty at all.

Watch the video above and check out the GIFs below to decide for yourself: