Mike Halford

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on from the bench in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise

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Matt Murray‘s emergence this postseason has led to questions about Marc-Andre Fleury‘s future in Pittsburgh (see here and here and here).

But if you ask Pens GM Jim Rutherford about it — like WPXI’s Alby Oxenreiter did on Thursday — you’ll get a pretty definitive answer.

From the NHL:

Q: What about the young players?

Rutherford: “They speak for themselves. Those two goalies – you can never have enough good goalies. The Penguins have three good ones now. I feel bad for Fleury. He’s such a great team guy and we’re fortunate that he is. He’s handled this situation like a pro. First class. He’s ready to go when called on.”

Q [from Oxenreiter]: Does this mean he’s history with the organization?

Rutherford: “Absolutely not.”

That absolute hasn’t kept pundits from pointing out that Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh is far from certain.

First, there’s the fact the No. 1 gig may not just be Murray’s now, but also moving forward — meaning Fleury, who turns 32 in November, would be a backup making $5.75 million annually through 2019. An expensive backup, sure, but also a good backup. Fleury’s had at least 30 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .920 save percentage over each of the last two seasons, and was an All-Star in 2015.

That’s the kind of goalie a few teams could use.

One of them, as has been speculated over the last few months, is the proposed Las Vegas expansion club. While the announcement has yet to be made official, all signs — including discussions of expansion draft format at the most recent GM meetings — have led to assumptions Vegas will be a go.

With that said, consider this bit from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.

Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.

As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season.

It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.

Rutherford’s move could be to give Fleury an option for his future. Something like:

“If it’s not going to be in Pittsburgh, want to try and choose a location? Or risk having your location (Vegas) chosen for you?”

A landing spot that’s making the rounds is Calgary. The Flames don’t have a legit NHL starter under contract for next season and, as the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatshek points out, Fleury could be the ideal “transitional guy.”

“In a perfect world you’d bring in a young guy who can play for you for a long time and grow and mature with your group, but if that guy isn’t available and if you think [goalie prospect] Jon Gillies can be that guy in a few years down the road, then you just need a transitional guy,” Duhatshek said, per Sportsnet. “The acquisition cost for a guy like Fleury… that might just be taking him off your hands, free the money off the books, and it doesn’t cost you a tangible asset off your roster.”

Money’s a key part of all this. In the end, money could end up trumping all.

Because as good as Fleury’s been for Pittsburgh, as good as he might continue to be and as well-liked in the room as he is, the Penguins 1) have their goalie of the future in Murray, 2) are hovering very close to the salary cap ceiling, and 3) could certainly use nearly $6 million in cap relief.

It might have to come via trade this summer, because there’s no guarantee Fleury would be picked at a potential expansion draft next year — and who knows where his market value would be by then?

Whether they like it or not, Rutherford and the Pens may need to act sooner rather than later.

No matter now much they love the Flower.

Hitchcock said changes were coming — will Paajarvi make playoff debut?

Magnus Paajarvi
AP
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Following an ugly 4-0 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock alluded to lineup changes for when the series shifted back to San Jose for Game 3.

“Changing your lineup has a real impact,” Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We’ve made adjustments all playoffs and everyone of them has worked.

“We’re probably going to have to make a few more [Thursday] and hopefully they work.”

So, what are those changes going to be?

Here are Blues beat reporters Jeremy Rutherford and Lou Korac:

Of the two, Paajarvi would be the biggest move. The veteran Swede hasn’t played at all in the playoffs, with his last action coming on Apr. 9, and he finished the year with just three goals and nine points in 48 games.

That said, Hitchcock has been fond of what Paajarvi brings to the table — calling him one of the team’s best players back in late December — and the move could give St. Louis some more speed, which has been an issue against the Sharks.

“They skate fast,” Hitchcock said, also per the Post-Dispatch. “They skate fast, they support the puck. They might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players. They’ve got a lot of aggressive skating players.”

Jaskin has been more involved than Paajarvi this postseason, though only slightly. He appeared in two games during the Dallas series, but did score the game-winning goal in Game 5 of the series.

There’s also the possibility Hitchcock could shake up his defense as well. Roberto Bortuzzo, who hasn’t played since Game 6 of the Dallas series, could draw in ahead of Joel Edmundson, who was out doing extra work following this morning’s skate.

Matthews stars as U.S. upsets Czechs at worlds

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 19: Auston Matthews #34 of USA celebrates his second period goal against Czech Republic with teammates Noah Hanifin #15 and Kyle Connor #18 at Ice Palace on May 19, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) Auston Matthews scored one goal in regulation and one after it Thursday to give the United States a spot in the semifinals of the hockey world championship with a 2-1 shootout win over the Czech Republic.

Loaded with young talent, the Americans came into the game as underdogs after losing four times in the round robin stage. But they managed to eliminate an experienced Czech team that had won its preliminary round group.

Matthews, still only 18, scored in the second period to tie the game and later scored the only goal in the shootout, sliding the puck between Czech goaltender Dominik Furch’s legs.

“I just wanted to open his legs, go five-hole,” Matthews said. “I was able to sneak it in there, so it worked out.”

Matthews is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in next month’s NHL draft.

“He almost presses too hard sometimes, you know. I talked to him, I said `You know, your moment’s going to come,’ and sure enough it comes in the shootout,” teammate Nick Foligno said. “He’s just young and he’s learning but he’s got all the tools and all the talent.”

Tomas Zohorna gave the Czechs the lead with a penalty shot after Patrick Maroon was penalized for hooking Zohorna on a U.S. power play.

American goalie Keith Kinkaid saved all three Czech shots in the shootout.

The U.S. was outshot 29-20 in regulation, including 8-2 in the first, but piled on the pressure in 10 minutes of four-on-four overtime, forcing Furch to make seven saves, including a stick save on a shot from Chris Wideman.

The United States will next play either Canada or Sweden in Saturday’s semifinals.

Finland also secured a place in the semifinals with a 5-1 win over Denmark. The Finns will next play either Russia or Germany.

Bolts sign Memorial Cup hero Cirelli

QUEBEC CITY, QC - MAY 31:  Anthony Cirelli #22 of the Oshawa Generals celebrates his goal with teammates during the 2015 Memorial Cup Championship against the Kelowna Rockets at the Pepsi Coliseum on May 31, 2015 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Another of Tampa Bay’s bright young prospects has signed on the line that is dotted.

Anthony Cirelli, the 75th overall pick at the 2015 draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal with the club, Tampa Bay announced on Thursday.

Cirellia, 18, led OHL Oshawa with 38 assists and 59 points in 62 games this year and served as the club’s captain. But it was his theatrics in last year’s Memorial Cup Final that he’s most remembered for — he scored both goals in the championship win Kelowna, including this dramatic OT winner:

Cirelli got his first, albeit brief, taste of pro hockey this season, appearing in three games for Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

 

 

Video: Kucherov’s sharpshooting on display

Last year, Nikita Kucherov finished second on the Lightning with an impressive 10 playoff goals.

This year, he’s scoring at an even better clip.

Kucherov has nine markers through 13 games thus far, a major reason why the Bolts are playing in their second straight Eastern Conference Final. The Russian sniper is tied with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski for the playoff scoring lead, and has been one of the most active shooters in the postseason (43 shots on goal in 13 games).

Widely regarded as one of the most accurate and lethal shooters in the NHL, Kucherov’s marksmanship has won him accolades from a number of people — including his assistant coach, Steve Thomas.

“His ability to get pucks on and off his stick is amazing,” Thomas told the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s 80 percent (of) shooting the puck, the art of deception.

“He just has an unbelievable hockey IQ. That allows him to see the ice the way he does and anticipate plays.”

The issue now, of course, is that Kucherov has yet to find the back of the net through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final. It’s his longest scoring slump of this postseason, and a big reason why the Bolts trail the Penguins two games to one.

But given how Kucherov can shoot the puck, don’t expect that slump to go on much longer.