Rutherford: Pittsburgh ‘very appealing’ for free agents, even with ownership situation


Penguins GM Jim Rutherford says the big news of this week — that owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle are exploring a possible sale — won’t affect how the club works free agency.

“Nothing changes as far as how we run hockey operations,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We have a great city to play in and the best facilities of anyone in the league with the opening of our new practice facility.

“That should be very appealing to a free agent.”

Just prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, TSN broke news that Lemieux and Burkle hired Morgan Stanley “to explore the possibility of selling some or all of the NHL franchise.”

Shortly thereafter, the Pens released a statement:

“We conduct periodic reviews of our business and, because we have received several inquiries about the franchise in recent years, we decided to engage Morgan Stanley for their insight and counsel.

“After buying the team out of bankruptcy, ensuring its long-term future in Pittsburgh and creating a strong foundation for continued success, we believe it is time to explore our options.”

Before the club can begin exploring free agents, it needs to reach decisions on the eight players set to become UFAs: Daniel Winnik, Maxim Lapierre, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Paul Martin, Thomas Greiss, Christian Ehrhoff and Craig Adams. One decision has already been made — Adams has been told he won’t be brought back — and Ehrhoff’s agent recently suggested his client will go to July 1.

The club also needs a new deal for RFA forward Beau Bennett, and RFA d-men Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin.

Agent: Ebbett getting European interest, but focused on staying with Pens


This week, a report from news outlet Berner Zeitung claimed that SC Bern, the powerhouse Swiss league team coached by Guy Boucher, was likely to sign Pittsburgh forward Andrew Ebbett.

Today, Ebbett’s agent clarified the situation.

“Andrew has had a lot of interest from European clubs,” Legacy Global Sports’ Alec Schall told PHT, via email. “At this time we are focusing on returning to the Pittsburgh organization.”

Ebbett, 32, just wrapped the last of a two-year, two-way, $1.1M deal that paid $550,000 at the NHL level. He was up and down between Pittsburgh and AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, scoring six points in 24 games with the Pens; he also lit up the American League, as he’s done throughout his career — Ebbett had 44 points in 44 games for the Baby Pens, and another seven in eight playoff appearances.

With over 200 NHL games on his resume and some very good years in the past — lest we forget that, in 2008-09, Ebbett scored 32 points in 48 games with the Ducks — it’s not surprising to hear the pending UFA wants to stick with in Pittsburgh.

But how that shakes out remains to be seen. The team projects to have around $11 million in cap space, with a number of other veteran UFAs to make decisions on, specifically d-men Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, and forwards Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, Daniel Winnik and Maxim Lapierre.

On the RFA front, Beau Bennett and Ian Cole need new deals. It’s also worth noting Pittsburgh has already told 38-year-old forward Craig Adams he won’t be brought back next season.

Agent: Comeau interested in sticking with Pens


Blake Comeau enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh this season and, according to his agent, would welcome a return to the organization for next year.

“[Blake] is definitely interested in the possibility of returning to Pittsburgh,” Kurt Overhardt told PHT on Thursday. “It’s our goal to try and work something out, but of course we always have July 1 pending.”

Comeau, 29, finished sixth on the team in goals last season, with 16, and averaged over 15 minutes per night — often on a line with Evgeni Malkin. The former Islander, Flame and Blue Jacket also netted his highest point total (31) since scoring 24 goals and 46 points on Long Island four years ago.

Considering GM Jim Rutherford signed Comeau to a one-year deal for $700,000 last July, the Pens received pretty good return on their investment. Head coach Mike Johnston sung Comeau’s praises throughout the season, most notably after a Game 1 loss to the Rangers in the opening playoff round.

“[Comeau] is a guy we can move in our lineup like we have during the year,” Johnston said, per ESPN. “He can play up, he can play the middle. He’s an energy guy. And he’s most effective when he uses his speed and shot.”

The former WHL Kelowna standout also brings a sandpaper element. He finished second on the team in hits this season, with 118, and said he enjoys playing a physical, gritty game. Add it all up, and Comeau could be a guy that generates a fair amount of interest on the open market.

“Hard, tough, two-way player,” said one Western Conference scout, also per ESPN. “I’d take him on [my team].”

Keith Yandle misses yet another practice


Keith Yandle didn’t join the Rangers for their practice on Tuesday and hasn’t taken part in a morning skate with the team since Game 2 of the Rangers’ first round series against Pittsburgh. He absorbed a hard hit from Blake Comeau in that contest.

The reason given for his absences was described as an illness at one point, but on Monday overall body soreness was cited as the cause. And today?

“Sniffles,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told the Bergen Record.

He’s expected to be on the ice Wednesday and even if he doesn’t skate, it’s worth emphasizing that he hasn’t missed a single playoff game. Yandle had two assists and a plus-two rating while averaging 18:24 minutes per contest in the first round.

If he has been playing through something significant, then the Rangers’ quick work of Pittsburgh likely helped matters. This is the Rangers’ fourth straight day off and their breather will continue tomorrow.

Early goal, discipline issues sink Penguins vs. Rangers


The Pittsburgh Penguins limped into the playoffs due in part to a battered defense and a drop in performance from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Neither was the issue in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the first round series.

While Fleury did surrender the opening goal just 28 seconds into the contest on a juicy rebound, he was solid for the most part, turning aside 36 of 38 shots on goal. In the end, the Penguins just couldn’t find a way to get much going against the Rangers or netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

At least the Penguins can say that they played better in the final 40 minutes of this contest, if only because they set the bar low in the first period. After Derick Brassard gave the Rangers the early lead, Pittsburgh got into penalty trouble, taking four minors over the course of the opening frame. That kept Sidney Crosby off the ice for much of the first. It also led to New York’s Ryan McDonagh scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal:

Pittsburgh’s Blake Comeau kept things interesting with his marker at 6:15 of the second period. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for just three shots on goal.

If there is a silver lining in this for the Penguins, it’s that the first round is just getting started. If they take Game 2 on Saturday then they’ll be in a solid position for when the series heads to Pittsburgh.