Tag: Matt Niskanen

St. Louis Blues v Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh’s biggest question: Is the defense good enough?


For a team not really known for its defense, the Penguins sure have seen defensemen fly off the shelves.

Last summer, teams spent $76.45 million to lure away Deryk Engelland (Calgary), Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (Washington).

This summer, more of the same with the Sharks signing Paul Martin and the Kings inking Christian Ehrhoff.

The issue here is obvious — if Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t that great to begin with and then lost all these guys, how good will it be heading into 2015-16?

“I’m comfortable with (our defense) going into the season,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said earlier this summer, per USA Today. “But it is certainly the area we will watch the closest.”

Rutherford isn’t the only one that’ll be watching.

Eyes across the league will be glued to Pittsburgh following Rutherford’s bold renovation project. Nearly all of his moves this summer were designed to improve his forward group — adding the likes of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and KHLer Sergei Plotnikov — essentially banking on the idea that, ready or not, his collection of young defensemen will carry the load.

And it really is a young group.

Only Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy have appeared in over 200 NHL games; even a “veteran” presence like 26-year-old Ian Cole is a bit of a wildcard, given he was buried on a deep Blues blueline before being acquired last season (prior to ’14-15, Cole’s career high in games played was 46).

As such, kids are going to take on some pretty hefty roles.

Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, both 21, figure to get a lion’s share of the now-available minutes, while the likes of Adam Clendening (22), Brian Dumoulin (23) and Tim Erixon (24) will be fighting for depth spots — which, in Pittsburgh, are pretty important spots.

This is a defensive unit, remember, that was ravaged by injury a year ago (recall when the Pens only dressed five d-men against San Jose?) Things got so bad that, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Taylor Chorney was in the lineup.

Though the club has since hired two new staffers in an effort to “minimize injuries,” losing blueliners to injury always remains a concern.

But there is a wrinkle.

Rutherford, who took heat last year for rolling the dice on a thin blueline while stockpiling offense, says that his abundance of forwards may actually help out should he to add a defenseman.

“Hopefully the younger guys can fall into place and do a consistent job,” he explained. “If not, part of having more depth up front, is that it can help us in the long run because if we have to go get a defenseman we have those extra pieces.”

Translation: Rutherford knows the group might need help.

“I’m fully aware,” he said, “that at some point in time we may have to address that position.”

Poll: Will the Caps miss Mike Green?

Mike Green

Mike Green only averaged 19:06 of ice time last season, down more than three minutes from his previous season.

But that reduction wasn’t really a reflection of his play. It was the additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in free agency. There are only so many minutes to go around, and the Caps also had to give John Carlson and Karl Alzner their time.

Despite Green playing less, he actually saw his production increase, from 38 points in 70 games in 2013-14 to 45 points in 72 games last season. Only 15 NHL defensemen had more points than Green did. Shea Weber and Duncan Keith also had 45 points, and they played more games and received far more ice time.

But the Caps had to make a tough decision. If Green wasn’t a top-four d-man on their team, they couldn’t pay him like one. So he signed with Detroit for three years and $18 million.

Green’s departure leaves the Caps with a top four of Orpik, Carlson, Alzner and Niskanen, with a potential bottom pairing of 24-year-olds Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. (KHL veteran Ilya Nikulin could reportedly be on his way to D.C., too.)

OK, time to vote:

Related: John Carlson is under pressure

After winning 2C audition, Kuznetsov aiming to ‘play better’

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

Less than a year ago, the Washington Capitals had no idea who would be their second-line center.

They know now.

It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, the talented 23-year-old Russian who just signed a two-year extension with the club.

“I played good hockey but I have to play better,” Kuznetsov said, per CSN Washington. “I’ll try to focus on my game and what the coach tells me. If everybody does the right job probably something good will happen.”

Next season, the Caps could have a first line comprised of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and a second line featuring Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.

“[Kuznetsov] filled a hole at second-line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said in May.

With a defense headlined by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, and with Braden Holtby in goal, you’ll excuse Caps fans for finding it difficult to contain their excitement.

Related: Caps landing ‘affordable’ Williams a sign of the new free agency

Green signs with Red Wings — 3 years, $18 million

Mike Green

Mike Green, long rumored to be joining the Detroit Red Wings, has finally, actually joined the Detroit Red Wings.

Green has agreed to a three-year, $18 million dollar deal. The 29-year-old will give the Wings the kind of right-shooting, power-play quarterback that former coach Mike Babcock had been “all over” GM Ken Holland to get.

Green is coming off a productive season with the Caps, one in which he finished with 10 goals and 35 assists. Also notable was his ice time. He averaged just 19:06, considerably less than the 22:44 he logged in 2013-14, before Washington signed Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.

The additions of Niskanen and Orpik ultimately meant Green would move on from the club that drafted him all the way back in 2004.

“We want to thank Mike for 10 great seasons with the Washington Capitals,” the Caps said in a statement. “Mike was an ultimate professional in his long tenure with our organization and had a huge impact on our community. We wish Mike all the best with the Detroit Red Wings organization.”

Related: Green calls this year’s Caps ‘the best team we’ve had overall’

UFA of the Day: Mike Green

Calgary Flames v Washington Capitals

Check PHT every day until June 30 for a new pending unrestricted free agent of the day. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Mike Green

Leaving Washington isn’t what he wants to do; however, it was reported last week that that’s what he’ll probably do.

Green is coming off a productive season with the Caps, one in which the 29-year-old defenseman finished with 10 goals and 35 assists. Also notable was his ice time. He averaged just 19:06, considerably less than the 22:44 he logged in 2013-14, before Washington signed Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.

There’s reason to believe his first choice will be a team with a reasonable shot at winning a championship, something he failed to do in seven postseason appearances with the Caps.

“I want to win the Cup,” he said in May. “It’s not about money.”

The challenge he’ll face is finding a contender with both the need and the cap space.

“I think players of Mike’s ability, age, productivity, right shot, all of the positive things that Mike does on the ice is very rare when they get to unrestricted free agency,” his agent, Craig Oster, told the Washington Post.

Detroit has long been rumored as a potential landing spot. However, it’s worth noting that, in February, Red Wings GM Ken Holland said that adding a right-shot d-man for the power play no longer seemed necessary, given his team was doing just fine with the man advantage. Also, it was Mike Babcock who pushed Holland the hardest for more right-shot defensemen, and you may have heard he’s not there anymore.

If not Detroit, who might take a run at Green?

One team that may make sense is Anaheim. The Ducks are coached by Bruce Boudreau, who knows Green well from their time together in Washington. The Ducks also struggled on the power play last season, finishing 28th in the league. Plus, they cleared some cap space by trading James Wisniewski.

Click here for more UFAs.