Tag: Nick Spaling

Sidney Crosby

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT


Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

After another disappointing finish in the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to change course by replacing GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma with Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston respectively prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The results, at least as far as last season was concerned, were not desirable.

To be fair, Pittsburgh was strong for much of the campaign and was even in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy through March 12 with a 39-18-10 record. However, they went 4-9-2 for the remainder of the season and they just barely secured the second Wild Card seed. That set up a first round series against the New York Rangers that the Penguins lost in five games.

For a team that’s home to two of the best forwards in the league, the Penguins’ big weakness last season was actually their offense. Years of subpar drafting beyond first round picks and a top-heavy salary balance sheet seemed to finally catch up with the Penguins as they were thin on scoring threats outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen provided the Penguins with at least 57 points each in 2013-14, but the 35-year-old Kunitz slid to 40 points, Neal had been dealt to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, and Jokinen left as an unrestricted free agent. Consequently, Malkin and Crosby were the only Penguins players to record more than 57 points last season.

Pittsburgh went from being tied for the fifth best offense in 2013-14 to finishing in a tie for 18th just one season later. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a strong campaign and that continued into the 2015 playoffs, but the Penguins provided him with just eight goals of support over five games against the Rangers.

Off-season recap

Rutherford has moved to bolster the Penguins’ offense over the summer. He brought Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster trade with Toronto that also involved the Penguins conceding 2014 first round pick Kasperi Kapanen. Nearly a month later, Pittsburgh acquired Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second round pick from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third round selection.

Pittsburgh further addressed its forward depth with the signings of Eric Fehr (three years, $6 million) and Matt Cullen (one-year, $800K).

Combine that with the return of Pascal Dupuis (blood clots) and Pittsburgh’s group of forwards should look significantly different this season.

Kessel will always ‘consider Toronto home’


Nearly two months after his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Phil Kessel took to Twitter to show his appreciation for Leafs’ fans and the city of Toronto.

The 27-year-old, who spent six seasons with the Leafs, had the following message for fans:

Kessel was dealt to the Penguins along with Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs and a conditional second-round draft pick on July 1 in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, a conditional first-round draft pick, a third-round draft pick and Nick Spaling.

The former Boston Bruins’ first-round pick appeared in 446 games with the Leafs scoring 181 goals and 213 assists.

Photo courtesy of @Penguins

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs Day at PHT

Mike Babcock, Brendan Shanahan

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Going into the 2014-15 campaign, the Maple Leafs were trying to end a disturbing trend of late season collapses and…in a way they succeeded.

Toronto got off to a 19-9-3 start, but there were already warning signs of what was to come as the Maple Leafs had suffered two embarrassing blowout losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators earlier in the season. On top of that, the Maple Leafs were struggling from a puck possession perspective even at their height as they had the fourth-worst five-on-five Corsi in the league (45.5%) through Dec. 17.

It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the other shoe dropped, but the degree to which they collapsed was still stunning. It started with a three-game losing streak from Dec. 18-21 where they were outscored 15-5. By Jan. 6, Toronto had lost seven of its last nine games, prompting the Leafs to fire head coach Randy Carlyle.

At the time, new bench boss Peter Horachek was inheriting a team that still seemed salvageable as it had a 21-16-3 record, but the Maple Leafs only won nine of 42 games under him. During his tenure, they scored just 79 goals, putting them behind every team in the league except Arizona over that span.

The Maple Leafs finished with a 30-44-8 record, their worst of the salary cap era, which says a lot given their lack of success since the system started. But still, the collapse started on Dec. 18, so it wasn’t late season. So there’s that.

Off-season recap

After that disastrous season, team president Brendan Shanahan set out to change the culture of this team. Leafs GM Dave Nonis was fired along with Horachek and replaced with Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock respectively.

Toronto also pushed its rebuild forward by trading Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a conditional second-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for prospects Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, as well as a conditional first rounder, a third round pick, and Nick Spaling.

On the free agent front, the Maple Leafs added a slew of veterans to short-term contracts including Shawn Matthias, Mark Arcobello, and P.A. Parenteau to help fill out the roster during the transitional period.

For Pens, Tuesday’s moves were all about depth and finances up front

Jim Rutherford

Following a busy day in which he flipped Brandon Sutter to Vancouver for Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening, then signed ex-Capital Eric Fehr, Pens GM Jim Rutherford explained how those moves met two of his biggest objectives.

“The two deals went hand-in-hand so we can add more depth,” Rutherford said. “We have enough good players now that guys are going to have to compete for those spots [in training camp] and compete for them all year.”

He then addressed the money issue.

“When you look at the structure of our salaries and our cap, it’s important to get those bottom-six cap hits in better shape,” Rutherford explained. “That’s what we were able to do with these two deals.”

It’s not surprising that depth and finances were two of Pittsburgh’s biggest offseason priorities. Money allotment has been an issue — Sutter, a pending UFA potentially in line for a raise, was making $3.3 million while playing what amounted to a third-line center role.

Combined, Bonino and Fehr are a $3.9M cap hit.

(Lest we forget that, in the Phil Kessel trade earlier this month, Rutherford dealt away another relatively expensive third-liner in Nick Spaling, who makes $2.2M annually.)

Earlier, veteran depth guys Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Daniel Winnik and Craig Adams were allowed to walk in free agency, giving likes of Beau Bennett ($800K), KHLer Sergei Plotnikov ($925K), Swedish prospect Oskar Sundqvist ($700K) and Czech Leaguer Dominik Simon ($692K) a chance to get into the rotation.

So that’s the financial side.

In terms of depth up front, Pittsburgh seems far better suited to deal with injuries — something that, you may remember, was a recurring issue in ’14-15. Kessel gives the club a bonafide scoring winger to play alongside either Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while Fehr and Bonino, both natural centers, provide nice depth down the middle.

Fehr could even bounce outside if need be.

“Eric is definitely comfortable as a two-positional player,” Rutherford said. “He could possibly jump up into the top six, if that situation presented itself, but he’s coming off of a year where he played center.”

Pascal Dupuis is expected to return after playing just 16 games last year, and the club will get a full season of David Perron, acquired from Edmonton in January. Add it all up, and it’s easy to see why Rutherford is so pleased with Pittsburgh’s new-look forward group — it’s deeper, with a more sensible financial structure.

“If a guy falls off, there’s a guy waiting to jump right in there,” he explained. “I like the fact that we have enough guys that each guy can push each other.

“I like our depth at forward now.”

Blockbuster: Kessel traded to the Penguins


In a blockbuster deal that’s been rumored for some time now, the Toronto Maple Leafs have traded winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The return is a couple of well-regarded prospects, forward Kasperi Kapanen (22nd overall in 2014) and defenseman Scott Harrington (54th overall in 2011), plus a conditional first-round draft pick, a third-round draft pick (previously New Jersey’s) and forward Nick Spaling.

The Leafs also sent the Penguins defenseman Tim Erixon, forward Tyler Biggs and a conditional second-round draft pick.

Much has been said and written about Kessel’s time in Toronto, not all positive. But in Pittsburgh, he’ll be able to skate with two of the best centers in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The 27-year-old played mostly with Tyler Bozak as his center with the Leafs.

Kessel, one of the NHL’s premier scoring wingers, has 247 goals in 668 career NHL games.

The Leafs were reportedly forced to eat $1.25 million of Kessel’s annual salary, leaving the Pens with a $6.75 million cap hit through 2021-22.

Related: Are we seeing the last of Kessel in Toronto?