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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.)

Blues have ‘wiggle room’ after locking up Parayko

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The St. Louis Blues didn’t break the bank to keep Colton Parayko for five more years, and that’s important since they don’t believe the NHL’s salary cap will rise significantly in the next little while.

Parayko’s cap hit came in at a manageable $5.5 million, as the two sides narrowly avoided an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for today.

“You like to have as much wiggle room as possible,” GM Doug Armstrong said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Now we view the cap will stay flat for the foreseeable future. We’re content with the space we have. We’ll move forward and get ready for training camp.”

The Blues now have a number of key players locked up long term, including Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, and Jake Allen.

For Armstrong, the next big decision could involve Paul Stastny, the 31-year-old center who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But a decision on Stastny doesn’t need to be made now, or even before the season starts. It’s the trade deadline that could be the real pressure point, akin to the Kevin Shattenkirk situation this past year.

Per CapFriendly, the Blues have just over $3 million in cap space, with one roster spot left to fill.

PHT Morning Skate: The top 50 Russians in NHL history

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Remember that Preds fan who missed out on the Stanley Cup Final tickets? Well, the Predators are making it up to him by inviting him to the home opener next fall. (NHL.com/Preds)

–Russian magazine Sports-Express put together a list of the top 50 Russian players in NHL history. Interestingly enough, Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Bure aren’t first or second. Also, Evgeni Malkin may not have made the NHL’s top 100 list, but he couldn’t be any higher on this one. (The Hockey News)

–Two NHLers made Sports Illustrated’s list of the 50 most fashionable athletes of 2017. To no ones surprise, Henrik Lundqvist and P.K. Subban are the ones who were able to crack the top 50 (Lundqvist was ranked sixth, Subban was 15th). “My style is true to who I am and definitely different than everyone else’s style. I’m always looking for things that are uncommon and unique,” said Subban. (NHL.com)

–The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs in quite some time, and it’s definitely hurting them at the gate. The ‘Canes currently own the second worst home attendance numbers in pro sports right now (the Chicago White Sox are the only team below them). the News Observer’s Abbie Bennett writes: “Over the last 10 years, attendance at Canes home games dropped 32 percent, with just 64 percent of all seats filled. Average home game attendance for the Canes is 11,776.” (Charlotte News Observer)

–Speaking of the Hurricanes, The Score gives us three reasons why they believe they’ll end their eight-year playoff drought. The addition of Scott Darling is huge for them. If he can give them some consistency between the pipes, they could earn a trip back to the postseason. (The Score)

–Some Golden Knights prospects got together to serve their community by preparing meals for those in need in the Vegas area:

Jonathan Drouin goes undercover — which he won’t be able to do much longer in Montreal

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There is a video making the rounds online right now of Jonathan Drouin interviewing Montreal Canadiens fans about Jonathan Drouin.

His disguise of choice? A black T-shirt. Equipped with a Habs microphone, Drouin goes around asking folks in both English and French what they think of the team’s new additions this offseason and about how many points their recently acquired and signed 22-year-old skilled forward may get — among other hard-hitting inquiries.

Based on the video evidence, some fans seem to recognize him after a short conversation. Others don’t before the big reveal is made.

One fan’s advice: “Don’t take Montreal too seriously.”

While the premise of the video is for Drouin to be right out in the open acting as a team reporter yet incognito at the same time, it would be foolish to think the pressure on him next season won’t be anything short of immense. He was born in Ste-Agathe, Quebec, which is just a short drive northwest from Montreal. Per the Montreal Gazette, he grew up spending summers on the West Island of Montreal. He’s a hometown player for the Habs.

As to be expected in a trade of this magnitude, the Canadians paid a price to land Drouin from the Lightning, parting ways with prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, selected ninth overall last year. The Habs then signed their new acquisition to a six-year, $33 million contract following his breakout 21-goal, 53-point season in Tampa Bay.

The Habs have bulked up on defense over the last few years, acquiring Shea Weber and then signing Karl Alzner this summer. Their success has hinged mostly on the play — and health — of their goalie Carey Price, who was in turn paid a historic amount in his latest contract extension.

For all their efforts to bolster that element of their game, the Habs need dynamic offensive players. They sent that type of player in P.K. Subban to Nashville last year to get Weber. Montreal’s offensive attack during the regular season was middle of the pack for the NHL, 15th in goals-for per game at 2.72. In the playoffs? In six games, they averaged just 1.83 goals-for per game against the Rangers and were eliminated.

Keep in mind, as well, that they lost Alex Radulov during free agency. Back in the NHL after a four-year stint in the KHL, Radulov was responsible for 18 goals and 54 points, before he cashed in with the Dallas Stars.

There are others that can help carry the burden of offensive production. If Paul Byron could duplicate — or come close to duplicating — what he did a year ago, that would be a huge boost. Alex Galchenyuk is only 23 years old but has a 30-goal season under his belt already. Max Pacioretty has five 30-goal seasons, including four in a row.

But the Habs were in need of another highly skilled and speedy forward and that’s what they have in Drouin. He’s young, which is also a plus. He’s coming off a solid year with the Bolts, with the promise for greater things in the future. He has already discussed the pressure he’ll face playing in Montreal. He believes he will “thrive” in this situation.

Playing for the Habs, it will be impossible for Drouin to remain anonymous.

Former Caps forward Galiev signs with Ak Bars in KHL

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After five years in the Washington Capitals organization, forward Stanislav Galiev officially returned to Russia this week by signing a two-year contract with Ak Bars of the KHL.

It ends what was a complicated contract situation for the 25-year-old forward.

A restricted free agent that always seemed to be in limbo in the Capitals organization, he made the decision to return to Russia this summer but was initially unable to sign with a new team because his KHL rights were still owned by Dynamo Moscow, a team that was struggling financially and was unable to pay its players.

Eventually, all of them were declared unrestricted free agents.

On Friday the KHL announced that Galiev has signed a two-year contract with Ak Bars.

A third-round pick by the Capitals in 2010, Galiev’s career in North America was never able to take off with the Capitals.

Since officially joining the organization in 2012-13 he played in just 26 games at the NHL level, scoring one goal to go with five assists. He spent the bulk of his time playing in the AHL where he always had a decent amount of success, scoring 25 goals in only 67 games during the 2014-15 season. He spent this past season in Hershey, appearing in 56 games and scoring 21 goals to go with 19 assists. Even though he was stuck in the American Hockey League all season it was still a better situation for him than the previous year (at least as it relates to playing time) when he was stuck in the NHL because he was not waiver exempt, spending most of the season as a healthy scratch.