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Penguins GM confident they can find third-line center with Bonino gone

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August is nearing, and the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made a trade or signing to replace Nick Bonino, their outstanding (but former) third-line center.

On the bright side, the Penguins have remarkable breathing room considering their status as repeat Stanley Cup champions. Cap Friendly places their 2017-18 room at about $10.38 million.

That robust space likely explains why GM Jim Rutherford seemed fairly calm about the whole situation, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“I do feel confident that, by the start of the season, we’re going to have a third-line center that we’re comfortable with,” Rutherford said. “Whether it’s one of those guys on the list or one of the guys that I could go and get right today.”

Rutherford (jokingly?) said that he had a list of “hundreds of names” as options, although it’s difficult to top Mackey’s suggestion of Phil Kessel‘s buddy, Tyler Bozak. After all, Bozak is a competent player who carries a $4.2 million cap hit that Pittsburgh could comfortably absorb (and the Toronto Maple Leafs might need to shed). It doesn’t hurt that Bozak’s contract expires after 2017-18, so the Penguins wouldn’t be on the hook if things don’t work out.

Of course, Matt Duchene is another name worth considering. It almost feels a little strange to ponder that speedy Avalanche forward being a “third-line center,” especially if Pittsburgh would want to get the most out of him.

MORE: Duchene might begin next season with the Colorado Avalanche

After that, though … the pickings could be much slimmer than Rutherford indicated to Mackey.

Shallow pool

Take a look at this current list of forwards who are unrestricted free agents.

There are some potential bargains here (P.A. Parenteau, Jiri Hudler, anyone?), but the situation gets significantly shakier if you’re picky enough to look only at centers. The likes of Daniel Winnik and Ryan White are reasonable roster additions, but the drop-off from Bonino could be pretty drastic.

What about other trade possibilities?

That’s a shaky group, too, especially if you apply Bozak-like terms as far as guys who only have one year left on their current contracts.

Honestly, the Penguins’ best bet in looking at that list would probably come down to an in-season move with a team that realizes it’s not a contender or simply understands that a player won’t be back.

Maybe the Calgary Flames would want to cut bait on Matt Stajan or (less realistically) Mikael Backlund? Would the Ducks move speedy, versatile sometimes-center Andrew Cogliano? There are other remote possibilities, such as the Leafs instead trading Leo Komarov (or especially unlikely moves in Paul Stastny or Tomas Plekanec).

Even if the above list seems enticing, how many of those teams would really want to move those players now, especially the bigger difference-makers?

If you’re the Penguins, you’re probably hoping that a Bozak deal could take place. And maybe you’re sweating this situation more than you let on.

(Note: There’s also the slight possibility that the Penguins might identify a replacement from within, though a contending team like Pittsburgh might not be so comfortable with that approach.)

Sabres’ Kyle Okposo returning to ice after health scare

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Here’s some heartwarming hockey news for you: apparently Kyle Okposo is playing hockey tonight.

Considering his late-season health scare, it was promising enough that the Buffalo Sabres expect him to be ready by training camp. But in mid-July? This is even more promising.

Apparently he’s one of many NHL-relevant participants in … “Da Beauty League?”

Again, there are a lot of familiar names, as you can see based on this lineup sheet:

Wow. Along with Okposo, there are many other noteworthy participants, including Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan McDonagh, and Zach Parise.

Here’s more insight on the event, via their “About Us” section:

Da Beauty League was established in the Fall of 2015 by local business people in an effort to bring professional hockey to Minnesota on a year round basis. Da Beauty League centers itself on bringing fans fast paced professional hockey in a casual environment. For the players, Da Beauty League serves as a training ground for the players as they prepare for their upcoming professional seasons. Da Beauty League provides fans with 3 fast paced regular season games played out of Braemar Arena on a nightly basis during the summer. Fans will experience a relaxed atmosphere to watch hockey and enjoy typical intermission entertainment while watching the best hockey talent in the world.

Really, though, it’s just great to see that Okposo’s apparently feeling close to 100 percent.

(H/T to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.)

Hanzal believes Stars will be a ‘winning team’

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If there was a theme to the Dallas Stars’ off-season, it was to getting bigger and meaner.

Bringing back Ken Hitchcock was a big step in that direction. Heck, even Ben Bishop ranks as one of the larger goalies you can find.

Such a pattern carried over to Tuesday, as GM Jim Nill introduced sizable acquisitions Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot. After being a rental with the Minnesota Wild, Hanzal noted his experience in the Western Conference, and said that he signed with Dallas in part because he views the Stars as a “winning team.”

As you can see, Hanzal was especially effusive in his praise of Jamie Benn, deeming him a “top-five player” in the NHL.

One interesting note comes from NHL.com’s Sean Shapiro, who believes that Jason Spezza might move to the wing to make room for the hulking center.

On paper, that’s a sensible idea. Hanzal is a more defensive-minded pivot, so moving Spezza to the wing – whether it’s on Hanzal’s line or not – might free up Spezza to maximize his offensive output.

Hitchcock has been provided with an enviable array of possibilities, including combining Hanzal with another big Stars forward. One could picture a puck-possessing pairing of Hanzal and fellow addition Alex Radulov causing opponents big headaches, especially on rugged West runs with a lot of travel.

Dallas has taken some criticism for being something of a perennial “off-season champion,” so it’s fair to caution against too much daydreaming. Considering his history of injuries, Hanzal likely knows how quickly a good situation can turn sour.

Still, as it stands in mid-July, it’s reasonable to consider the Stars “a winning team” once again.

Unlikely comeback? Stars hand R.J. Umberger tryout offer

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Ken Hitchcock once again becoming head coach of the Dallas Stars might not be the least likely “comeback” associated with the team during this turbulent off-season.

Not if R.J. Umberger can rejuvenate his career.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Stars are handing Umberger, 35, a PTO. That’s quite the offer considering the fact that Umberger didn’t play at all in 2016-17.

Instead, Umberger dipped his toes in the coaching pool, as Portzline discusses.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News confirmed Portzline’s report:

Hitchcock is likely keen on giving Umberger a chance since he saw his best days as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Umberger rattled off four consecutive 20+ goal seasons and almost reached that total in his final Columbus campaign, managing 18 in 2013-14. After being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, Umberger struggled, ultimately getting bought out a bit more than a year ago.

It’s likely that he’ll face a tough climb to land a spot on a crowded Stars roster, although Hitchcock may place extra value on his experience.

If Umberger could defy the odds and make the cut, it would continue a move toward bigger bodies in Dallas. They already beefed up in adding rugged defenseman Marc Methot, hulking center Martin Hanzal, and puck-protecting-phenom Alex Radulov to the mix.

PHT Morning Skate: Four teams that have improved the most this offseason

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–The Detroit Red Wings are still trying to work out a deal with restricted free agent Tomas Tatar. The salary is expected to be in the $5 million range, but the hold up is over the term. The Lightning and Capitals have both committed a number of years to players like Tyler Johnson and T.J. Oshie. Would that make sense for Detroit and Tatar? (Detroit Free Press)

–The Dallas Stars brought in Alex Radulov, Ben Bishop and Martin Hanzal this off-season, but beat reporter Mike Heika believes the acquisition of Tyler Pitlick might be the best under-the-radar signing. (Dallas Morning News)

–Now that we’re into the second week of July, we can start breaking down who had the best off-season of all the teams in the league. Sportsnet looks at four teams that have made the biggest improvements this summer. The Carolina Hurricanes have done some good work by adding a bunch of former Chicago Blackhawks and Justin Williams. (Sportsnet)

–Want to see Alex Ovechkin dancing shirtless at his own wedding? Well, here it is. Check out those moves. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New Jersey Devils are getting their first look at Nico Hischier in their uniform this week, so NHL.com breaks down 10 things you might not know about the top pick in the 2017 draft. His favorite TV show is “Prison Break” and his favorite movie is “Happy Gilmore”. (NHL.com)

–Yesterday was the anniversary of the Pittsburgh Penguins trading Jaromir Jagr to the Washington Capitals. Jagr’s stint with the Caps wasn’t great, but it was still one of the rare times a scoring champion was moved in a trade. The Hockey News looks at other examples of former Art Ross Trophy winners that were traded. Obviously, Wayne Gretzky going from Edmonton to Los Angeles is the biggest trade in NHL history. (The Hockey News)