Evgeni Malkin

Rutherford: Pens need a better ‘supporting cast’ for core

24 Comments

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is more than comfortable with the core of his roster.

And no, he has no plans to trade Evgeni Malkin, despite the speculation.

It’s the “supporting cast” — beyond Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury — that Rutherford is taking it upon himself to improve.

For good reason, he sees Chicago as the blueprint for success in the salary-cap era.

“The Blackhawks’ core group have risen to the occasion over the span of these last three Cups,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette. “Clearly Kane and Toews and Crawford and Keith and some others have been really key players, but all three times they’ve had a different supporting cast.

“The conclusion I draw from that is that 1, we have the core guys to win a championship and 2, it’s my job and the job of everyone in hockey [operations] to try to get the right supporting cast so that we can build enough balance, speed and youth to have a complementary group that allows us to make the same run.”

One of the areas where the Penguins have fallen short is player development. Case in point, Rutherford admitted at the end of the season that Beau Bennett hasn’t been brought along properly.

Bennett was the Penguins’ first-round draft pick (20th overall) in 2010.

That was also the year Los Angeles took Tyler Toffoli, one of the leading scorers for the Kings in their second Cup run, with the 47th overall pick.

The next year, the Blackhawks drafted Brandon Saad in the second round and Andrew Shaw in the fifth.

To stay competitive in the salary-cap era, teams need that constant “support from the bottom.”

The Penguins haven’t received that. We mentioned Bennett’s failure to develop into an impact player. Well, at least he’s still with the organization. Pittsburgh traded the first-round picks that came before and after him. Simon Despres (2009) went to the Ducks to get Ben Lovejoy; Joe Morrow (2011) went to Dallas to get Brenden Morrow.

The Pens do have some good prospects in Derrick Pouliot, Kasperi Kapanen and a few others. The key for Rutherford will be to develop those prospects properly, while also acquiring the right veterans, for the right price, to fill out the rest of the roster.

Related: Rutherford insists Pittsburgh is ‘very appealing’ for free agents, even with ownership situation

If the Avs trade O’Reilly, they need to hit a home run

71 Comments

It’s not often that a talented 24-year-old center is expected to be traded. But that’s the case with Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly, whose tenure with the Avalanche has been marked by contentious contract negotiations with the club.

Last summer, O’Reilly signed a two-year, $12 million deal that left the player a pending unrestricted free agent after 2015-16. If the Avs can’t re-sign him to an extension, they really have no other choice but to trade him, lest they lose him for nothing a la Paul Stastny.

Simply put, if the Avs do trade O’Reilly, they cannot afford to screw it up. Assuming Evgeni Malkin isn’t actually for sale, O’Reilly could well be the most valuable player on the offseason trade market. He’s three years younger than Toronto’s Phil Kessel, and centers are generally in higher demand than wingers.

What should be interesting to see is how much O’Reilly controls the process. After all, no team is going to pay a huge price to get a young player without some semblance of confidence that the player can be re-signed. (Remember when Garth Snow gambled on Thomas Vanek and lost?)

On top of that, there aren’t exactly a ton of teams with the assets to give the Avs what they need. Like, say, a good young defenseman.

So, for the Avs to trade O’Reilly, they’ll need to find a team that:

— Has confidence it can re-sign him;
— Has the cap space, both now and in the future;
— Has the right assets;
— Is willing to pay a big price.

Feel free to add your trade proposals in the comments section.

How ’bout a deal with the Leafs involving Jake Gardiner?

Have we seen the Blackhawks at their highest point?

30 Comments

The Chicago Blackhawks have already been named as an early favorite to win the 2016 championship. That would be their fourth in seven years.

As good as the Blackhawks have been, with Patrick Kane just 26 years old and Jonathan Toews only two months removed from his 27th birthday, is it really a stretch to say that Chicago’s run has plenty of strong years left in it? Maybe not, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

The single biggest roadblock at this point is the Blackhawks’ cap situation. In the short-term, Chicago is likely going to have to make some sacrifices as it has about $64 million committed to 14 players, per General Fanager.

That’s not including 22-year-old Brandon Saad, who has now completed his entry-level contract and is in line for a considerable raise. Chicago also has to prepare for the fact that Brent Seabrook, who only has one year left on his contract, will likely demand more than his current $5.8 million annual cap hit.

Perhaps Patrick Sharp will be moved to give the Blackhawks the flexibility that they need. Maybe Chicago will find a way to keep him, although doing so would likely come at the expense of the Blackhawks’ depth.

Which brings us to the other part of their cap situation. While Kane and Toews just demonstrated once again — as if further proof was required — why Chicago had to re-sign them at any cost, in the salary cap era it’s the team that gets the best value that has the edge. Having Kane and Toews at $6.5 million cap hits each was a big part of the Blackhawks’ strength as it allowed them to support a rather large core, making the burden on the supporting cast somewhat less. The duo will continue to be enviable players, but their days of being under market value are over.

Now Chicago might find itself in a similar situation to Pittsburgh, which has struggled to build around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby since they starting making what they’re worth (when the Penguins won the Cup, Malkin was still on his entry-level contract).

Then there’s the matter of Marian Hossa, who has had a tremendous career, but will be 37 in January. He nevertheless comes with a roughly $5.3 million annual cap hit through 2020-21. If Sharp gets traded away and Hossa declines, then suddenly Chicago starts to look a little thin offensively after Kane and Toews.

That’s not to suggest that Chicago’s decline is inevitable. Just because Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to make its cap situation work doesn’t mean that Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman can’t. After all, he’s been dealing with ceiling issues since he took over and they’ve stayed competitive. In part that’s because they’ve been able to draft and develop talent like Saad to help fill the gaps while keeping costs down. It’s also possible that Hossa has several good years left in him.

The salary cap by its nature pushes great teams down. Chicago has been remarkable in its ability to work around it. Time will tell if the Blackhawks will eventually succumb.

source: AP
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane

Dupuis recommended medication ‘that will allow him to play’

10 Comments

Pascal Dupuis’ future has been uncertain since Nov. 19 when he was diagnosed with a blood clot on his lung, but now the road ahead of him is coming into focus. In addition to working out, he’s been given the green light to start taking contact.

“The blood clot has dissolved, and the doctors have recommended a blood thinner medication that will allow him to play,” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said, per the team’s website. “It’s a big step forward for Pascal, and we’re all excited for him.”

Dupuis last played on Nov. 15 due to his condition. He had six goals and 11 points in 16 contests prior to being shutdown. His return would help firm up the Penguins’ top-six as he can be slotted into either Sidney Crosby’s or Evgeni Malkin’s line.

His absence has been felt by the Penguins in each of the last two campaigns as he didn’t play past Dec. 23 during 2013-14 because of a knee injury.

Would Pittsburgh really make a play for Brandon Saad? (Updated)

52 Comments

CHICAGO — At the moment, Brandon Saad is a key part of a Chicago Blackhawks team looking to win its third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons.

Not long from now, though, Saad will be something else — a restricted free agent.

And that has people talking.

On TSN’s Insider Trading yesterday, Pierre LeBrun offered this nugget (transcript courtesy Today’s Slapshot):

[Saad’s] a guy you’ve heard his name attached to offer sheets maybe because the Hawks have all of these salary cap problems. I’ll tell you this. I know this. He’s a Pittsburgh native and the Penguins do have interest. What a splash that would make. They need a top-6 winger.

I don’t think that Brandon Saad is going anywhere. The Blackhawks covet him way too much. But it’s worth noting, the Penguins like the player.

There’s also this, from DK on Pittsburgh Sports’ Josh Yohe:

[Penguins GM] Jim Rutherford can’t comment on other teams’ players because of NHL tampering rules, but I mentioned Saad as an example when posing a general question to the Penguins’ GM about pursuing restricted free agents.

He isn’t against it.

“Let me say this about restricted free agents out there: We’ll always play within the rules,” Rutherford said. “If there is a situation that comes up, we’ll think about it.

“As long as it’s OK under the CBA, if there’s a player out there that we think can make us better, we won’t be afraid to consider making an offer.”

Now before we go too deep here, remember — offer sheets are rarely signed (Brough broke down the reasons why quite thoroughly last week.) It also seems really, really unlikely Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman would let his prized youngster go under any circumstances; last week, Bowman flatly told the Chicago Tribune he’ll get Saad signed.

But it’s easy to see why there’s smoke around Saad-to-Pittsburgh.

As mentioned above, there’s the hometown connection. The Pens are also always on the lookout for wingers to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the 22-year-old Saad, a blossoming star that scored a career-high 23 goals this year, would be more of a long-term solution (rather than some of the short-term fixes the club tried previously.)

And then there’s Chicago’s financial future.

How much can the ‘Hawks afford to pay Saad? Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews start pulling down $10 million cap hits next year and Bowman has his eye on an extension for Brent Seabrook, who’s unrestricted after next season. On the RFA front, Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom need new deals this year, and Andrew Shaw the next.

Now remember — for all this talk about how an offer sheet would make sense, it just doesn’t happen all that often. The last one signed was in 2013 (Ryan O’Reilly with Calgary) and the last player to actually leave via the offer sheet?

Eight years ago. When Dustin Penner bolted Anaheim to join the Oilers.

Update: It’s worth noting that, because of the Daniel Winnik trade at this year’s deadline, Pittsburgh doesn’t own its own second-round pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft — which they’d all but assuredly need to sign Saad to an offer sheet. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of acquiring him via trade (or, trading with Toronto to get the pick back), but it does put the rumors in a different light.