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Star-laden Penguins hope longer summer equals faster start

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby can admit it now: The Pittsburgh Penguins were tired last season, a natural byproduct of becoming the first franchise in two decades to win consecutive Stanley Cups.

And though the Penguins came as close as any team in the last 35 years to capture three straight titles – they recovered from a blah start to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals before falling to Washington – that special gear they relied on so heavily during their run of dominance never materialized.

”Just for whatever reason, shorter summer, mentally not having that desperation level, as a group we were lacking that,” Crosby said.

Crosby isn’t making excuses so much as stating a simple fact. The Penguins played 213 regular season and playoff games from October 2015 to June 2017. A heavy workload to be sure but also a small price to pay to have your name written on hockey’s most prized possession.

While Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company spent most of last fall downplaying the idea they might be emotionally and physically drained, at times they certainly played like it. The proof came on the defensive end, where they gave up the most goals (250) of any playoff team.

Though they eventually got it going behind Malkin – who finished fourth in the league with 98 points – they also understand sleepwalking for three months cost them a legit shot at home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and forced them to expend more energy than they anticipated just keep pace in the hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division.

That can’t happen this time around if they want to throw another downtown parade in June.

”The start is important,” Crosby said. ”You want to start out the right way, especially with how tight teams are. You can’t be playing catch-up.”

A less taxing schedule should help. The Penguins played a league-high 19 sets of back-to-back games in 2017-18. That number drops to 11 this season. For a group whose core of Malkin, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang are all in their 30s, that’s no small comfort.

Oh, and there’s the lingering taste of watching the Capitals celebrate a rare playoff triumph in Pittsburgh.

”Of course I’m upset,” Malkin said. ”I feel we beat Washington, we have chance to win. … I never watch (after we lose). I like go to Miami, spend time with my family, my kids. It doesn’t matter, last year or five years ago. I never watch (after we lose). It’s not fun to watch.”

JACK’S BACK

Pittsburgh made just one splashy move in free agency when it lavished a five-year, $16.25 million contract on defenseman Jack Johnson. He called the move a ”perfect fit,” one that unites him with longtime friend Crosby. Still, the length of the deal and Johnson’s forgettable finish in Columbus – he requested a trade in the middle of last season and was a healthy scratch during the playoffs – raised eyebrows. The Penguins consider Johnson a versatile puck mover who could thrive in a system where he won’t be required to do much more than play responsibly and get out of the way.

”It’s always great to come into a team that has high expectations,” Johnson said. ”That’s what you want. That’s what any athlete wants coming into a team. There’s a lot of established guys that have been leaders on this team for a long time. I just wanted to come in and be myself and be part of the group and fit in with the guys and help the team win.”

‘DAD’ IS HOME

Matt Cullen is still going. The veteran center – who turns 42 in November – returns to Pittsburgh after one season in his native Minnesota. Cullen played a vital role both on the ice as a penalty killer and off the ice as a ”glue” guy as the Penguins won back-to-back Cups. Cullen still looked plenty spry during his 21st NHL training camp, and he will give the fourth line a boost.

MATT’S METTLE

Matt Murray‘s first full season as Pittsburgh’s firmly entrenched No. 1 goalie did not go to plan. After twice backstopping the team to the Cup before his 24th birthday, Murray struggled to stay healthy and play with consistency. He’s hoping an extra month to prepare for his third NHL season will help and coach Mike Sullivan is quick to point out Murray didn’t exactly receive a serious boost from the play in front of him.

GOING DEEP

As long as the Penguins have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel in the fold, they’ll be among the most talented offensive teams in the league. The goal this season is to spread the wealth a little bit more. Pittsburgh relied almost exclusively on its top power play and the combination of Crosby and Jake Guentzel late in the season and into the playoffs. A full training camp to integrate Derrick Brassard – who played with an injury most of last spring after being acquired at the trade deadline – should help. If Brassard and Patric Hornqvist can develop some chemistry, the third line could take some of the pressure off the star-laden top two groups.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Penguins ponder Brassard at wing; best fit for Jack Johnson?

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While it’s fair to warn against reading too much into NHL training camps, sometimes they indeed provide a helpful preview for the coming season. If nothing else, they present a worthwhile opportunity for coaches to experiment.

The Pittsburgh Penguins come into 2018-19 with slightly fresher legs, as their title defense fell short in two rounds. They also have some players to work into the mix, whether they landed them at the trade deadline (Derick Brassard) or through free agency and amid salty drama with their former team (Jack Johnson, Torts, and the Blue Jackets).

Tinkering with Brassard

Last year, the Penguins’ hated rivals from Philly yielded a rebound year from Claude Giroux, as he seemed to be revitalized by a move to the wing. Maybe a lot of that revolved around reduced defensive responsibilities, but it was enough of a success story that it makes sense for the Penguins to ponder such a possibility in hopefully getting more out of Derick Brassard.

Mike Sullivan discussed such experiments on Friday.

“We’ve given a lot of thought into it and it’s something that we’ll explore,” Sullivan said of trying Brassard out on the wing. “We know he’s a center by nature but we also know he’s a versatile player. It’s an option that’s on the table.”

With a fully staffed group of Penguins forwards, it’s somewhat challenging to picture how Brassard would work better on the wing than he would as – ideally – a third center who could leverage certain matchup advantages.

Of course, the Penguins know as much as any other team that injuries strike. Brassard himself missed the first week of camp due to a minor chest infection.

The Penguins might as well gather as much data as they can for how Brassard might work with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the event that their customary wingers suffer injuries. Via Natural Stat Trick, Brassard played just 7:01 of even-strength ice time with Crosby during the regular season, and he didn’t even reach two minutes with Malkin. (Phil Kessel was far and away his most common forward partner.)

In the flow of regular-season competition, it makes sense that the Penguins didn’t enjoy a ton of opportunities to tinker with different combinations for Brassard. Now’s the time to see what works, what does not, and what might merely need time to marinate.

The most important thing is that the Penguins are exploring avenues to get the most out of the veteran forward, rather than giving up on Brassard.

And make no mistake about it, this is a crucial season for the 30-year-old, as Brassard approaches 2018-19 as a contract year. Such drive could really manifest itself if he got the chance to play with Crosby and/or Malkin, and for all we know, the next phase of his career could be as a “winger to the stars.”

A formidable pairing

Penguins fans owe it to themselves to read this Johnson-related article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Jonathan Bombulie for a host of reasons:

  • An amusing slight of privilege regarding Johnson’s adjustment to Pittsburgh. Gasp in terror at the thought of Johnson not finding a good sushi joint and possibly suffering from a bad hair style.
  • Enjoy a subtler form of shade at John Tortorella, as Johnson spoke about Torts’ grueling training camp, which apparently begins with a two-mile run that must be completed within 12 minutes. Johnson mostly dismissed such concerns, although it’s funny to see him describe the runs as activities that “don’t necessarily translate into how you’re playing or how hockey is.”

The most pertinent information, however, is that the initial plan is to pair Johnson with Justin Schultz.

That gnarly howl you just heard was analytics-minded people recoiling in terror, and possibly seeing their charts break. Seriously, Johnson – Schultz is a duo with the potential to get caved-in possession-wise at a level we rarely see.

Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool brings a lot of the data to the forefront:

One can only picture – again, maybe in horror – the sort of defensive misadventures such a pairing might endure. (Granted, the Penguins can mostly point to Schultz as a relative success story, and the two could at least bring something to the table from a transition standpoint.)

Maybe the Johnson tinkering has just begun, as Sullivan instead paired him with Olli Maatta today:

Frankly, it might be difficult to find the right fit for Johnson because … well, if his career so far provides any evidence, he carries some deep flaws in his own end, and his offensive contributions rarely make up for such issues. The deeper you dig into “fancy stats,” the worse Johnson tends to look, but even simple measures tend to be less-than-flattering.

The Penguins are dug in here, considering the jarring five-year, $16.25 million commitment they made to Johnson. For a team that’s perpetually tight to the cap ceiling, squandering $3.25M per season could be agonizing.

For what it’s worth, GM Jim Rutherford shook off analytics worries about Johnson (not to mention Matt Cullen and Derek Grant) in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey.

“The same as any player, analytics play a role,” Rutherford said. “Our personal opinions and viewings play a role. And where they might fit into what we’re looking for. You look at different players in a different way. What are you looking for in your team? What are some of your needs and how do they fit? All those things. These are guys who fit for us.”

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Of course, the risks with Cullen and Grant are pretty minimal, as each player’s only carrying a $650K AAV in 2018-19.

For a team that already struggles when it comes to turning the puck over in dangerous situations and allowing a ton of odd-man rushes, Johnson may only exacerbate such issues. It’s not surprising that management is resolute in defending the signing – what else can they say? – but there’s a strong chance Pittsburgh will regret this expensive reclamation project.

Then again, Schultz’s career was in a dire place when he was traded from Edmonton, so maybe the Penguins really do “see” something others do not? They’ve pulled off the unlikely before.

***

As much attention is lavished on stars like Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Kris Letang, the Penguins – and other contenders – need other players to step up.

When Pittsburgh landed Brassard, the expectation was that he’s provide that additional pop. Some NHL GMs outright groaned at the Penguins landing him, and Vegas GM George McPhee’s logic in helping to aid a trade to Pittsburgh revolved around keeping the center off of a West contender.

In the post-deadline rush, Brassard didn’t meet positive expectations. Meanwhile, the Penguins are gambling big-time that Johnson will defy pessimistic expectations.

Training camp tinkering will likely be forgotten in the long run, yet either way, it’s crucial for Pittsburgh to find the optimal lineups and strategies to contend after falling short last season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sidney Crosby, Penguins return from long summer

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CRANBERRY, Pa. (AP) — Sidney Crosby has been back in Pittsburgh for a few weeks, participating in several informal practices while his Penguins teammates returned from an unusually long offseason. Still, the first day of training camp felt different Friday.

”It’s always an exciting time. You’re excited to see all the guys,” Crosby said. ”You’re energized by the start of the year.”

That’s not the only way this camp, in particular, differs. After winning two straight Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins don’t enter the season as champs.

That said, different doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

”It’s a good challenge,” Crosby said, ”and it’s fun to be back out there.”

After being eliminated with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Penguins will look slightly different while attempting to win a third championship in four seasons.

Forward Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick were traded to Buffalo on June 27. In their place, 21-year-old forward Daniel Sprong has a chance to play first-line right wing next to Crosby and left wing Jake Guentzel and Jack Johnson could bolster a shallow defense after signing a five-year, $16.25 million contract July 1.

Matt Cullen, a 41-year-old forward who was on the two title teams, signed a one-year, $650,000 contract to return to Pittsburgh. He should return to the fourth line after Tom Kuhnhackl joined the New York Islanders on a one-year contract.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t plan to approach this camp any differently, though.

”I think training camp is a great opportunity to establish our identity right away, to instill the right habits,” Sullivan said. ”It’s no secret we’re a team that likes to skate. So, our fitness level as a group is really important. We’re trying to establish that foundation right away.”

Sprong, who had 32 goals and 65 points in 65 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL last season, helped push the tempo with Crosby during the first practice Friday. He remained there in a scrimmage, where set up a goal from Crosby in the right circle.

”You want to make a difference in camp and open eyes,” Sprong said. ”I think today was a good first day, but again, it’s only one day in camp. There’s many days left to go and you have to get better everyday.”

The Penguins have seemingly been in an endless search for a right wing that could play next to Crosby throughout his 13 NHL seasons.

Sheary seemed like the answer after scoring 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 61 games in 2016-17. That was before he regressed with 18 goals and 30 points in 79 games the following season.

With Sprong, they might have found the solution. His offensive upside could overcome what defensive pitfalls his game provides.

Even it Sprong doesn’t fit, Crosby wouldn’t be concerned.

”Whatever the combinations are, I think we’re just looking to make things happen out there,” Crosby said. ”Create offensively. Make sure we get our timing and we’re aware of each other out there on the ice.”

MORE PHT PENGUINS COVERAGE:
Three questions facing the Penguins
Under Pressure: Jack Johnson

ProHockeyTalk’s NHL free agency tracker

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The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2018-19 Stanley Cup.

August 30
• The Flames extend Noah Hanifin with a six-year, $29.7 million deal. (Link)

August 27
• Troy Brouwer signs a one-year, $850,000 deal with the Panthers. (Link)

August 21
• Anthony Peluso gets a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Flames. (Link)

August 20
• Dustin Tokarski signs a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Rangers. (Link)

• Hunter Shinkaruk inks a one-year, $650,000 contract after being traded to the Canadiens. (Link)

• Kerby Rychel goes the other way in the Shinkaruk trade and agrees to a one-year, $725,000 contract with the Flames. (Link)

August 15
Ondrej Kase gets a three-year extension from the Ducks worth $7.8 million. (Link)

August 14
• The Devils re-sign Steve Santini to a three-year, $4.25 million extension. (Link)

Ryan Ellis, Predators agree to an eight-year, $50 million extension. (Link)

August 13
• Noah Dobson signs his three-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders. (Link)

August 10
Dylan Larkin and the Red Wings agree to a five-year, $30.1 million extension. (Link)

August 9
Christian Dvorak inks a six-year, $26.7 million extension with the Coyotes. (Link)

August 4
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights avoid arbitration with one-year, $5.25 million contract. (Link)

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks agree to an eight-year extension with a $6.4 million AAV (Link)

August 3
Mark Stone gets a one-year, $7.35 million contract from the Senators. (Link)

• Stars forward Gemel Smith is awarded a one-year, $720,000 contract in arbitration. (Link)

Cody Ceci gets a one-year, $4.3 million deal via arbitration. (Link)

August 1
• The Flyers and Robert Hagg agree to a two-year, $2.3 million deal (Link)

Patrik Nemeth and the Avalanche agree to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

July 31
• The Rangers and Ryan Spooner agree to a two-year, $8 million deal. (Link)

July 30
• Flames, Garnet Hathaway avoid arbitration and agree to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

Miikka Salomaki and the Predators come to terms on a two-year, $1.5 million extension. (Link)

Matt Read joins the Wild on a two-way deal. One-year, $650,000. (Link)

July 28
Brady Skjei and the Rangers agree to a six-year, $31.5 million deal. (Link)

July 27
Tom Wilson gets a six-year, $31 million extension from the Capitals. (Link)

July 26
• David Rittich, Calgary Flames agree to one-year, $800,000 contract. (Link)

Tristan Jarry re-signs with the Penguins. Two years, $1.35 million (Link)

July 25
• Mark Jankowski and the Flames agree to two-year, $3.35 million deal to avoid arbitration. (Link)

Dan Hamhuis returns to the Predators with a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

Mattias Janmark signs a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Stars. (Link)

Jake Virtanen re-signs with the Canucks. Two years, $2.5 million. (Link)

• An arbitrator has awarded Flames defenseman Brett Kulak a one-year, $900,000 contract. (Link)

MacKenzie Weegar returns to the Panthers one a one-year deal. (Link)

Jason Zucker and the Wild agree to a five-year, $27.5 million extension. (Link)

July 24
Joel Edmundson and the Blues avoid arbitration and agree to a one-year, $3 million deal. (Link)

• Another arbitration session avoided as Brandon Montour and the Ducks reach a two-year, $6.775 million deal. (Link)

Tucker Poolman and the Jets agree to a three-year, $2.325 million deal. (Link)

Brooks Orpik returns to the Capitals on a one-year, $1 million contract. (Link)

• Jets, Marko Dano agree to a one-year, $800,000 deal. (Link)

July 23
William Carrier stays with the Golden Knights with a two-year, $1.45 million contract. (Link)

• Islanders, Brock Nelson avoid arbitration with one-year, $4.25 million deal. (Link)

July 22
• Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is awarded a one-year, $5.5 million contract in arbitration. (Link)

Brandon Tanev and the Jets agree to a one-year, $1.15 million deal. (Link)

July 21
Matt Dumba signs a five-year, $30 million extension with the Wild. (Link)

July 20
• Troy Stetcher and the Canucks agree to a two-year, $4.65 million extension. (Link)

July 19
Adam Lowry and the Jets come to terms on a three-year, $8.75 million extension, avoiding arbitration. (Link)

Madison Bowey re-signs with the Capitals. Two years, $2 million. (Link)

Derek Grant joins the Penguins on a one-year, $650,000 deal. (Link)

July 18
• Chris Tierney, San Jose Sharks avoid arbitration with a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.9375 million. (Link)

• The Edmonton Oilers sign their 2018 first-round pick Evan Bouchard to an entry-level deal. (Link)

July 17
• The Devils agree to terms with Blake Coleman on a three-year, $5.4 million deal (Link)

• A busy morning for Ray Shero also sees Stefan Noesen agree to a one-year, $1.725 million deal. (Link)

Ryan Pulock, Islanders agree to a two-year, $4 million contract. (Link)

Jimmy Vesey and the Rangers avoid arbitration and agree to a two-year, $4.55 million deal. (Link)

Tomas Nosek re-signs with the Golden Knights. One-year, $962,500. (Link)

July 16
Ryan Hartman and the Predators agree to a one-year, $875,000 deal. (Link)

Elias Lindholm inks a six-year, $29.1 million extension with the Flames. (Link)

• The Ducks lock up Adam Henrique with a five-year, $29.125 million extension. (Link)

Juuse Saros signs a three-year, $4.5 million extension with the Predators. (Link)

Jon Gillies and the Flames agree to a two-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

July 15
• The Blue Jackets and Oliver Bjorkstrand agree to a three-year, $7.5 million extension. (Link)

• Philip Danult re-signs with the Canadiens. Thee years, $9.249 million. (Link)

July 14
Ryan Murray accepts his qualifying offer with the Blue Jackets. One year, $2.825 million. (Link)

Rob O'Gara re-signs with the Rangers. One year, $874,125. (Link)

July 13
Joel Armia and the Canadiens come to terms on a one-year, $1.85 million contract. (Link)

Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights agree to a three-year, $21 million extension. (Link)

Andreas Johnsson accepts his qualifying offer, a one-year, $787,500 deal with the Maple Leafs. (Link)

• The Stars extend Devin Shore with a two-year, $4.6 million contract. (Link)

July 12
Connor Hellebuyck signs a six-year, $37 million extension with the Jets. (Link)

• The Blackhawks send the contract of Marian Hossa’s contract, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle and a 2019 third-rounder to the Coyotes for Marcus Kruger, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell, MacKenzie Entwistle’s rights and a 2019 fifth-rounder. (Link)

Cody McLeod returns to the Rangers on a one-year deal. (Link)

Jamie Oleksiak and the Penguins agree to a three-year, $6.4125 million extension. (Link)

July 11
Adam Erne re-signs with the Lightning. One-year, $800,000. (Link)

Anthony Mantha and the Red Wings agree to a two-year, $6.6 million extension. (Link)

July 10
Patrick Maroon heads homes to St. Louis and signs a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Blues. (Link)

Nikita Kucherov signs an eight-year, $76 million extension with the Lightning. (Link)

July 9
Ross Johnston gets a four-year, $4 million extension with the Islanders. (Link)

Rasmus Dahlin inks his three-year, entry level contract with the Sabres. (Link)

• The Islanders add forward Jan Kovar, who spent the last five seasons in the KHL, with a one-year deal. (Link)

July 7
• Alex Lyon re-signs in Philadelphia. Two years, $1.5 million. (Link)

Dmitrij Jaskin and the Blues agree to a one-year, $1.1 million extension. (Link)

Colin Miller signs four-year, $15.5 million extension with the Vegas Golden Knights (Link)

Dylan DeMelo re-ups with the San Jose Sharks. Two years, $1.8 million total. (Link)

July 6
Matt Nieto stays with the Colorado Avalanche. Two years, $3.95 million total. (Link)

• Oscar Dansk re-signs with the Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $1.35 million total. (Link)

• The Dallas Stars re-sign Jason Dickinson to a one-year, $875,000 contract. (Link)

Alexander Petrovic re-signs with the Florida Panthers with a one-year deal. (Link)

• After getting bought out by the Wild, Tyler Ennis signs with the Maple Leafs. One year, $650,000. (Link)

Ryan Strome re-ups with the Oilers with a two-year, $6.2 million extension. (Link)

Oskar Sundqvist inks a one-year, $700,000 to remain a St. Louis Blue. (Link)

July 5
Cedric Paquette gets a one-year, $1 million deal to stay with the Lightning. (Link)

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Hurricanes avoid arbitration with two-year, $4.6 million deal. (Link)

Anthony Duclair heads to the Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 deal. (Link)

Andreas Athanasiou stays with the Detroit Red Wings with a two-year, $6 million deal. (Link)

Jacob De La Rose re-signs with the Canadiens with a two-year, $1.8 million contract. (Link)

• The Ducks bring on Andrej Sustr with a one-year, $1.3 million contract. (Link)

Boone Jenner gets a four-year, $15 million extension from the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Link)

Christian Folin gets a one-year deal from the Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)

Jordan Nolan heads to the St. Louis Blues. One year, $650,000. (Link)

July 3
Robby Fabbri stays in St. Louis with a one-year, $925,000 deal. (Link)

• The Boston Bruins re-sign Sean Kuraly for three years, $3.825 million. (Link)

Remi Elie re-signs with the Dallas Stars. One year, $735,000 (Link)

Calvin de Haan signs with the Carolina Hurricanes on a four-year, $18.4 million contract in free agency. [Link]

• The Islanders signed goalie Robin Lehner to a one-year contract. [Link]

Brad Richardson is back with the Arizona Coyotes on a two-year contract. [Link]

• The Islanders bring back Matt Martin in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Link)

July 2
Tomas Hertl re-ups with the Sharks on a four-year, $22.5 million contract. (Link)

Carter Rowney gets a three-year deal from the Anaheim Ducks. (Link)

Joe Thornton re-signs in San Jose with a one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

Brian Gibbons lands a one-year, $1 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks. (Link)

Slater Koekkoek is back with the Tampa Bay Lightning. One year, $865,000. (Link)

Zac Rinaldo has a new home with the Nashville Predators. One year, $650,000. (Link)

James Neal gets a five-year, $28.75 million deal from the Calgary Flames. (Link)

Tom Kuhnhackl joins the Islanders on a one-year deal. (Link)

July 1
Matt Calvert joins the Colorado Avalanche on a three-year, $8.4 millon deal. (Link)

Valtteri Filppula joins the Islanders on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. (Link)

• The Buffalo Sabres send Ryan O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a 2019 first-rounder, 2021 second-rounder, forwards Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, and Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues also pick up O’Reilly’s $7.5 million signing bonus. (Link)

Luke Schenn will be manning the Anaheim Ducks’ blue line next season. One year, $800,000. (Link)

• Defenseman Nick Holden is joining the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $4.4 million (Link)

• Islanders sign Leo Komarov for four years, $12 million. (Link)

Sven Baertschi is back in Vancouver on a three-year, $10 million contract. (Link)

Riley Nash cashes in on a big year and gets a three-year, $8.25 million deal with the Blue Jackets. (Link)

Vladislav Namestnikov is staying with the New York Rangers with a two-year, $8 million extension. (Link)

Tobias Rieder hooks up with the Oilers on a one-year, $1.3 million contract. (Link)

Matt Cullen goes back to Pittsburgh on a one-year. $650,000 deal. (Link)

John Moore gets a big contract from the Boston Bruins. Five years, $13.75 million. (Link)

• #TavaresWatch is over. John Tavares has signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Link)

• The Sabres and Blues basically swap backup goalies now that Chad Johnson signs for one year, $1.75 million in St. Louis. (Link)

• The Hurricanes find their backup in Petr Mrazek. One year, $1.5 million. (Link)

Michael Grabner heads west with a three-year, $10.05 million deal with the Coyotes. (Link)

Kyle Brodziak joins the Oilers for two years, $2.3 million. (Link)

• After two seasons in the KHL, Val Nichushkin returns to Dallas with a two-year, $5.9 million deal. (Link)

J.T. Brown joins the Wild on a two-year, $1.375 million contract. (Link)

Ryan McDonagh inks a seven-year, $47.25 million extension to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Link)

• The Stars stay busy adding Roman Polak (one year, $1.3 million) to their blue line. (Link)

Tomas Plekanec is member of the Montreal Canadiens again. One year, $2.25 million. (Link)

• The Chicago Blackhawks add Cam Ward ($3 million) and Chris Kunitz ($1 million) on one year deals and ink Brandon Manning to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. (Link)

• The Coyotes make Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s eight year, $66 million extension official. (Link)

• The Colorado Avalanche add to their blue line bringing in Ian Cole on a three-year, $12.75 million deal. (Link)

Blake Comeau is signed by the Dallas Stars, three years, $7.2 million. (Link)

Tyler Bozak joins Perron in St. Louis as the Blues ink the center to a three-year, $15 million deal. (Link)

Thomas Hickey heads back to the Islanders with a four-year, $10 million contract. (Link)

Paul Stastny leaves Winnipeg for the Vegas Golden Knights on a three-year, $19.5 million deal. (Link)

• The Jack Johnson to the Penguins deal is real and it’s $16.25 million over five years. (Link)

Thomas Vanek (one year, $3 million), Mike Green (two year, $10.75 million) and Jonathan Bernier (three year, $9 million) have all signed with the Detroit Red Wings.

James van Riemsdyk heads back to Philadelphia with a five-year, $35 million contract. (Link)

David Perron returns to St. Louis and signs a four-year, $16 million deal with the Blues. (Link)

Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel each get four-year, $12 million deals from the Vancouver Canucks. (Link)

• The Calgary Flames pick up Derek Ryan (three years, $9.375 million) and Austin Czarnik (two years, $2.50 million). (Link)

Greg Pateryn gets a three-year, $6.75 million deal from the Minnesota Wild. Eric Fehr (one year, $1 million) is joining him. (Link)

• The Bruins, Sabres Stars find backups with Jaroslav Halak (two years, $5.5 million) headed to Boston, Anton Khudobin (two years, $5 million) on his way to Dallas and Carter Hutton (three years, $8.25 million) going to Buffalo.

Matt Hendricks moves on to the Wild with a one-year, $700,000 deal. (Link)

June 30
• Winnipeg Jets clear valuable cap space by shipping Steve Mason to Montreal Canadiens. (Link)

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks agree to eight-year, $64 million extension. (Link)

Ryan Reaves is sticking in Sin City, signing a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. (Link)

Chris Wagner heads to the Boston Bruins on a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

Eddie Lack returns to New Jersey on a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Devils. (Link)

• The Carolina Hurricanes hand Andrei Svechnikov his three-year, entry level deal worth $2,497,500. (Link)

Niklas Hjalmarsson inks a two-year, $10 million extension (kicks in 2019-20) with the Arizona Coyotes. (Link)

June 29
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings agree to eight-year, $88 million extension. (Link)

Michal Kempny stays in Washington with four-year, $10 million extension. (Link)

• Capitals name Todd Reirden as Barry Trotz’s replacement. (Link)

Frank Vatrano returns to Florida Panthers on one-year, $925,000 contract. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Valentin Zykov with two-year, $1.35 million contract. (Link)

June 28
• Penguins hand one-year, $650,000 deal to J.S. Dea. (Link)

June 27
• Penguins deal Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick to Buffalo Sabres. (Link)

Devante Smith-Pelly returns to Washington Capitals with one-year, $1 million deal (Link)

• Penguins re-sign Riley Sheahan to $2.1 million, 1-year deal. (Link)

• Arizona Coyotes bring back Kevin Connauton with two year, $2.75 million extension. (Link)

June 26
• Vancouver Canucks re-sign Derrick Pouliot, one year, $1.1 million. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign Bryan Rust with 4 year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators buy out final year Alex Burrows’s contract. (Link)

J.T. Miller gets five-year, $26.25 million extension from Tampa Bay Lightning. (Link)

• Sam Morin gets three-year, $2.1 million extension from Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)

Joe Morrow re-signs with Winnipeg Jets for $1 million over one year. (Link)

Three questions facing Pittsburgh Penguins

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Three questions for you to ponder as we look ahead to the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins…

1. Which Kris Letang will the Penguins get?

Perhaps one of the more disappointing developments for the Penguins in 2017-18 was the performance of top defenseman Kris Letang. His return to the lineup after missing most of the 2016-17 season (including all of the playoffs) was supposed to be a huge boost to a team that had won the previous two Stanley Cups.

When Letang is on top of his game he is one of the best, most versatile defenders in the entire league with his swift skating and ability to take over a game from the back end.

For whatever reason, he was not that player in 2017-18.

The Penguins — and Letang — knew there would be an adjustment period early in the season as he returned to the lineup from another significant injury, but he never really seemed to be comfortable at any point during the year as his performance was marred by inconsistency.

Overall, it was probably one of the worst single seasons of his NHL career.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Johnson | Breakthrough: Oleksiak]

It should not happen again.

Despite his struggles there is reason to believe he will bounce back (great possession numbers, the fact he will be a full year removed from the injury that sidelined him, just getting a fresh start) and be closer to the player he’s been throughout most of his career. If he is able to do that it would be a massive swing for the Penguins’ defense because there are only a handful of defenders in the NHL capable of reaching the level that Letang does when he is at his best.

2. Will Matt Murray bounce back?

Almost no goalie in the NHL has had a start to their career like the one Matt Murray has had, winning two Stanley Cups while he was still technically considered a rookie.

After the Penguins traded Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the expansion draft process, Murray had his first chance to be the Penguins’ full-time starting goaltender from the start of the season.

It turned out to be a difficult season for him on and off the ice.

His .907 save percentage was one of the lowest marks in the NHL, while his year was interrupted by injury and the sudden passing of his father during the season.

His struggles carried over to the playoffs, where he had been money the previous two seasons as the Penguins were eliminated in the second round by the Washington Capitals.

Even though he’s been around for parts of three seasons now it’s important to remember that Murray is still only 24 years old and has played in fewer than 160 NHL games (including playoffs). In that limited time he has already compiled a pretty impressive resume that includes a pair of championships, and even with his down year in 2017-18, an overall save percentage of .918 in both regular season and playoffs combined. Among goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games during that stretch, that .918 save percentage is 10th in the league. Overall, the early performance is strong even if the sample size is still small.

Now he has to show that the 2017-18 season was the one that was the outlier.

3. Will Derick Brassard be worth the price the Penguins paid?

General manager Jim Rutherford made another blockbuster trade when he landed Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators in a massive three-team trade with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights. It resulted in the Penguins giving up a lot of assets, but Brassard was supposed to be the final piece in the Penguins’ quest for a three-peat.

It did not go exactly as planned.

While Brassard was, for the most part, fine for the Penguins, he did not really make the massive impact on the scoresheet that was expected when he was acquired. That resulted in him facing some heat for his performance and probably lowered expectations for him this season.

The crazy thing about all of it is that Brassard’s performance wasn’t as bad as it was perceived to be. Between the regular season and playoffs he recorded 12 points in 26 games (around a 40-point pace over 82 games) and helped create some great chances in the playoffs. He just did not finish or convert on most of them. While that can be frustrating for the team and fans it’s still better than not creating any chances, and it at least offers the hope that he can be even better this season.

There is always an adjustment period for a player joining a new team — especially mid-season — and you probably shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions if there is not an immediate impact.

Because of the conditions on the trade, the Penguins are only on the hook for a $3 million cap hit for Brassard this season, and with the the return of Riley Sheahan and the additions of Matt Cullen and Derek Grant in free agency the Penguins will enter the season with a ton of depth down the middle after their big-two of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That depth could result in Brassard getting some time on the wing on one of the top two lines, but his best value to the team is still probably going to be as the third center behind Crosby and Malkin with Sheahan in the fourth spot to help create the matchup problems that made the team so difficult to beat in the 2016 and 2017 playoffs.

Related: Will Sidney Crosby win another scoring title in his career?

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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.