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What will Penguins do with all their centers?

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This past week the Pittsburgh Penguins added free agent Derek Grant on a one-year contract. Not a major signing, but one that still seems to be a little curious given the current construction of the roster.

The 28-year-old Grant, you see, is a center. After bouncing around the NHL and recording just seven points (all assists) in 86 career games, mostly as a fourth-line/depth player, he finally received an increased role with the Anaheim Ducks this past season due to to their rash of center injuries and made the most of it. He scored 12 goals (and added 12 more assists) in 66 games and earned himself a one-way contract with the Penguins.

What makes the signing so curious from a Penguins perspective is it comes just a few weeks after they brought back soon-to-be 42-year-old center Matt Cullen.

That came after they re-signed restricted free agent center Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $2.1 million contract.

Which came just a couple of months after they give up a bounty of assets to acquire Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators prior to the NHL trade deadline to give them another big-time third-line center to play behind their two superstars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

That is … a lot of centers. Six, to be exact, all with NHL contracts, all expected to be on the NHL roster.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said he wanted to make his team deeper after its second-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the additions of Cullen and Grant definitely help accomplish that. It also comes after the Penguins entered last season without much depth at the position following the free agent departures of Nick Bonino and Cullen. They opened the 2017-18 season with the likes of Carter Rowney and Greg McKegg playing NHL roles, a situation that was less than ideal.

It is the exact opposite now.

So what can they possibly do with all of these guys?

Option 1: Somebody moves to the wing. Aside from the fact that Cullen or Grant will probably be healthy scratches from time to time, this is probably the most logical outcome as one of those two could also probably flip to the wing on the fourth line.

The other candidate to move is Brassard who could move to the left side to play in a top-six role.

This, of course, runs counter to the reason the Penguins acquired Brassard in the first place which was to help give them a trio of centers that no other team could match up with. Brassard not only has his best value at center, it also forces one of Sheahan or Cullen up into a third-line spot, both of whom would be a downgrade from what Brassard would likely do.

Brassard’s initial debut with the Penguins following the trade had its ups and downs and probably didn’t work exactly as planned, but it was also only a 26-game sampling. Sometimes it takes time for a player to adjust to a new team, system, etc.

The other issue with moving one of their centers to the wing? They already have a lot of wingers. Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, and Patric Hornqvist are the top ones. Then there is Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, free agent addition Jimmy Hayes (potential AHL player), and a crop of youngsters that includes Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, and Zach Aston-Reese. Moving one — or two — of the centers to the wings is going to take one of the latter group out of the equation, either relegating them to the press box or back to the American Hockey League.

Sprong, the team’s top prospect, is expected to be on the roster but he hasn’t fully seemed to gain the trust of the coaching staff to this point in his career and, quite honestly, his situation has reached the “believe it when you see it” point when it comes to his playing time and spot on the roster.

Option 2: Somebody gets traded. Crosby and Malkin are obviously on the untouchable list, while Cullen and Grant were just signed so they are not going anywhere, either — at least not yet.

That leaves Brassard or Sheahan, with Brassard probably being the most likely player to be used as trade bait because of the value he might still bring back and the fact he has the largest contract and the Penguins are firmly pressed against the league’s salary cap.

The optics of that would certainly be bad because it would look like they are admitting that acquiring him in the first place was a bad idea (it wasn’t), and they probably wouldn’t get back the value they gave up to get him. His value to them as a third-line center is more than it is as a second-line winger or as trade bait.

Option 3: Don’t worry about it, somebody is going to get hurt and depth is good. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Evgeni Malkin has played more than 70 games in a season just two times in the past nine years. Cullen is going to be 42 years old. Grant is a bit of a mystery because he really hasn’t produced at an NHL level outside of this past season when his shooting percentage was 18 percent. The glut of centers will probably take care of itself.

One thing you have to say about Jim Rutherford is that he recognizes his mistakes and is not afraid to correct them, with Mike Johnston and the way he undid all of his offseason moves a year ago being the two most notable examples. After opening last season with only two NHL quality centers on the roster (something that definitely hurt the team) he made sure this summer that is not going to happen again.

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins ship Hunwick, Sheary to Sabres in cap-clearing deal

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It was only two days ago that Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford joked, “I’m a creative. I’m not a magician” when asked about finding room to fit John Tavares on the roster. But on Wednesday, he managed to clear some salary cap room and find a taker for defenseman Matt Hunwick’s contract, thanks to his former assistant Jason Botterill.

The Penguins and Buffalo Sabres completed a trade on Wednesday that sees Hunwick and winger Conor Sheary head to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick that can become a third-rounder. (Per Darren Dreger, the pick becomes a third-rounder if Sheary scores 20 goals or 40 points or the Sabres move Hunwick before next year’s NHL draft.) No salary is retained. The move clears $5.25 million of cap space, bringing Pittsburgh’s total to a little over $10 million for Rutherford to play with, according to Cap Friendly.

[Penguins, Rust agree to four-year extension]

It’s been a busy week for Rutherford having already re-signed Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong to new deals. This trade allows him to attempt to bring back defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and forward Riley Sheahan. While Oleksiak was given a qualifying offer this week, Sheahan was not and can become an unrestricted free agent on Sunday. That will still leave some money freed up to add to the blue line or on the wing.

The contracts of Sheary ($3 million cap hit) and Hunwick ($2.25 million cap hit) each run through the 2019-20 NHL season. Sheary has scored 41 goals over the last two seasons, with 37 of them coming at even strength. But with Sprong coming, it was clear his time in Pittsburgh was up. With his speed, he could thrive playing next to Jack Eichel. Hunwick, meanwhile, suited up for only 42 games this past season and was one of the Penguins’ worst blue liners in possession, per Corsica, while averaging 17:31 a night. He couldn’t crack Mike Sullivan’s top six for any of their 12 playoff games this spring.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Malkin, Dumoulin practice again, will be game-time decisions

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After dropping Game 2 of their second-round series against the Washington Capitals, it looks like the Pittsburgh Penguins could be getting some reinforcements for Game 3.

Evgeni Malkin, who missed the first two games of the series because of a leg injury, was on the ice for the Pens morning skate. Brian Dumoulin, who left Sunday’s game after taking a hit to the head from Tom Wilson, was also on the ice during the skate.

Both players are considered game-time decisions for tonight’s game.

The fact that the Penguins were able to get a split in Washington without Malkin was pretty significant. Getting him back for Game 3 would be huge for obvious reasons. The 31-year-old had 42 goals and 98 points in 78 games during the regular season and three goals and two assists in five postseason contests.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Malkin’s return would also allow Riley Sheahan to slide back into his fourth-line role. Sheahan had been centering Dominik Simon and Phil Kessel on Pittsburgh’s second line.

As for Dumoulin, much was made about Wilson not being suspended for the hit on the Pens defenseman, but head coach Mike Sullivan isn’t going to allow his team to get caught up in that.

The Penguins have relied on Dumoulin to play significant minutes throughout the postseason (he’s averaging 21 minutes per game), so him potentially being available would also give them a significant boost.

Carl Hagelin was also on the ice, but he wore a full visor and a non-contact jersey. Sullivan said Hagelin is also considered a game-time decision, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be available for Game 3.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Capitals strike early, hold on to even series in chaotic game

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After allowing three different two-goal leads to disappear on home ice this postseason, the Washington Capitals were able to hold on to one on Sunday afternoon, picking up a 4-1 win to tie their second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins at one game apiece.

It was another fast start for the Capitals as they were able to jump all over a sloppy Penguins team in the first period.

Alex Ovechkin started the scoring just 1:26 into the game when he pounced on a Patric Hornqvist turnover at the blue line and wired a shot into the top corner behind Matt Murray to give the Capitals an early lead. Later in the period Jakub Vrana scored on the power play to give the Capitals what has become — for them — a dreaded two-goal lead. But unlike in Games 1 and 2 of the first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and also in Game 1 of this series against Pittsburgh, the Capitals were able to build on that lead and hold on for the win.

They were able to add to it when Brett Connolly scored on a breakaway early in the second period, again capitalizing on another sloppy Penguins turnover, this time by Dominik Simon.

With all of that important details taken care of, it was a pretty chaotic path to get us to the end result.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

You want replay controversy? We had that!

Vrana’s goal in the first period had to withstand a goaltender interference review after the Penguins challenged it due to Brett Connolly taking a whack at Murray’s pad.

Connolly clearly knocked Murray off balance, but in the eyes of the league he had enough time to reset himself and get back into position to continue to play his position.

The call on the ice was upheld and the Capitals had their two-goal lead.

The Penguins were not happy with it, but that seems to be fairly consistent with how these reviews have been handled. Murray had time to recover after the contact from Connolly while that contact did not really alter his ability to stop the puck. There is a lot of griping about how interference reviews have been handled this season — and in many cases the griping is justified — but not all of them are completely arbitrary and inconsistent. If the goalie has time to get back into position, they usually let it go.

That would not be the only review in the game.

Midway through the third period, with the Penguins now trailing 3-1, they thought they had scored to pull within one on a Patric Hornqvist rebound attempt on the doorstep. It was unclear whether or not Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was able to keep the puck out of the net or if it had entirely crossed the goal line.

The call on the ice was no-goal and after a lengthy review it was determined that there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the call.

Holtby’s leg blocked the overhead and in-net cameras from determining whether or not the puck was entirely across the line.

This was the only angle that clearly showed the puck.

The team you want to win — or the team you are playing for — will determine what you want to see here.

This was a play that no matter what the call on the ice was they were going to stick with it given the replay angles they had to work with.

Then there was Tom Wilson!

Wilson was involved in another controversial play when he knocked Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin out of the game with a hit to the head.

There was no penalty called on the play but it will almost certainly be reviewed by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Wilson avoided a suspension in the first-round when he knocked Columbus’ Alex Wennberg out of the series for a few games with a high hit.

Losing Dumoulin was a big blow to the Penguins because it not only forced them to play with only five defensemen for the rest of the game — not a great spot for a team that is already lacking blue line depth to be in — but because Dumoulin has been great for them this postseason. If he can not go in Game 3 they would have to turn to Matt Hunwick.

The Penguins are already dealing with some significant injury issues as forwards Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin have yet to play in this series due to injuries they sustained in their first-round series win against the Philadelphia Flyers. Malkin’s absence has been glaring on the power play, while he and Hagelin make up two-thirds of what has been the team’s second line this postseason. That is a major dent in their forward depth.  That said, they have still won two of the three games they have played this postseason without Malkin, managed to split in Washington without him and Hagelin, and head home on Tuesday night for Game 3 tied in the series.

There also needs to be some attention given to the game Holtby played in net for the Capitals on Sunday because he was outstanding, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced.

The only goal he allowed, a long distance shot from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, was one that beat him through traffic that he probably did not get a clear view of. He made a couple of highlight reel saves — including two on Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel that really stood out — to help slow down the Penguins’ offense.

Related: Penguins’ Dumoulin injured by hit to head from Tom Wilson

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins’ Malkin out for Game 2 at Capitals

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WASHINGTON (AP) Injured star Evgeni Malkin will not play for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of their second-round series against the Washington Capitals.

Coach Mike Sullivan confirmed about two hours before Sunday’s puck drop that Malkin would miss his third consecutive game. Malkin appeared to injure his left leg in Game 5 of Pittsburgh’s first-round series against Philadelphia and has not played since.

Malkin had three goals and two assists in five first-round games. He practiced Saturday, and Sullivan said the 31-year-old Russian center could play in Game 3 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

With Malkin and winger Carl Hagelin out, Carter Rowney and Dominik Simon remain in the Penguins’ lineup. They lead the series 1-0.

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