Brenden Morrow

Rutherford: Pens need a better ‘supporting cast’ for core


Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is more than comfortable with the core of his roster.

And no, he has no plans to trade Evgeni Malkin, despite the speculation.

It’s the “supporting cast” — beyond Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury — that Rutherford is taking it upon himself to improve.

For good reason, he sees Chicago as the blueprint for success in the salary-cap era.

“The Blackhawks’ core group have risen to the occasion over the span of these last three Cups,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette. “Clearly Kane and Toews and Crawford and Keith and some others have been really key players, but all three times they’ve had a different supporting cast.

“The conclusion I draw from that is that 1, we have the core guys to win a championship and 2, it’s my job and the job of everyone in hockey [operations] to try to get the right supporting cast so that we can build enough balance, speed and youth to have a complementary group that allows us to make the same run.”

One of the areas where the Penguins have fallen short is player development. Case in point, Rutherford admitted at the end of the season that Beau Bennett hasn’t been brought along properly.

Bennett was the Penguins’ first-round draft pick (20th overall) in 2010.

That was also the year Los Angeles took Tyler Toffoli, one of the leading scorers for the Kings in their second Cup run, with the 47th overall pick.

The next year, the Blackhawks drafted Brandon Saad in the second round and Andrew Shaw in the fifth.

To stay competitive in the salary-cap era, teams need that constant “support from the bottom.”

The Penguins haven’t received that. We mentioned Bennett’s failure to develop into an impact player. Well, at least he’s still with the organization. Pittsburgh traded the first-round picks that came before and after him. Simon Despres (2009) went to the Ducks to get Ben Lovejoy; Joe Morrow (2011) went to Dallas to get Brenden Morrow.

The Pens do have some good prospects in Derrick Pouliot, Kasperi Kapanen and a few others. The key for Rutherford will be to develop those prospects properly, while also acquiring the right veterans, for the right price, to fill out the rest of the roster.

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

After falling just shy of the Cup, UFA Morrow might ‘give it one more go’


Brenden Morrow ended up just two wins shy of winning his first Stanley Cup championship. At the age of 36, that would have left the door open to him retiring on a high note. As it is, he doesn’t seem certain about his future.

He’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and has indicated that he might “give it one more go,” per the Tampa Bay Times. He’ll start working out again in two weeks and go from there.

As for his destination, he would love to stay with Tampa Bay, but he hasn’t spoke to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman yet. The Lightning don’t have a ton of cap space, but he made $1.55 million last season and might be willing to accept a cut given his modest workload, so fitting him under the ceiling might not be the main concern.

Instead, it’s up to the Lightning to decide if they want to stick with the veteran or see what the free agent market or their prospects have to offer. Morrow had three goals and eight points in 70 contests in 2014-15 while averaging 9:19 minutes. He was held off the scoresheet entirely in 24 playoff games and logged just 8:40 minutes per contest.

Lightning aim to get ‘greedy’ and take two in Chicago


CHICAGO — The best investors will tell you there’s no such thing as playing with house money. Any money you’ve earned is yours, and yours alone. The only thing to do next is earn more.

After winning Game 3 in Chicago to take a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to take that attitude into Game 4, also at the United Center.

“We came here to get a win. Last night we got one,” said veteran forward Brenden Morrow. “We got to get greedy and get another one tomorrow night. That’s our focus.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. The little voice in the back of your mind that tells you that you’ve already guaranteed a split — and that’s pretty good, isn’t it? — can be tough to ignore.

The Chicago Blackhawks will have something to say about Game 4, too.

“That locker room over there, there’s no panic in their game right now,” said Morrow. “They’ve been here before. They know what it takes.”

For the Lightning, it’s about recognizing what a victory Wednesday night could mean. Going back to Tampa with a 3-1 lead? Which would leave three whole games to get just one win? And two of those games at home?

That’s reason enough to get greedy.

“We’re inching our way along, but we’re not there yet,” warned coach Jon Cooper. “I don’t think anybody’s looking ahead. We’re looking at Game4. That’s it.”

Cooper had high praise for Drouin


TAMPA — Despite playing a team-low 7:52, Jonathan Drouin left his coach decidedly impressed after being inserted into the Lightning lineup for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought Jo was great,” said Jon Cooper. “He did everything we wanted him to. He took some short shifts, which cut his ice time down a little bit. But he came into that game, and he’s been prepared to play during our run here.”

Drouin had his best moments early on. With a little luck, he might’ve scored on his first shift with linemates Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle. He finished with two shots on goal. He missed the net on another attempt.

“The adrenaline, all that stuff, he was really fired up,” said Cooper.

But later in the first, the 20-year-old had a turnover in the offensive zone that led to a Chicago scoring chance. And early in the second period, his line was on for a goal against.

“As the game went on, you know, everybody comes back to earth a little bit,” said Cooper. “I thought that line did very well in the first period. Then special teams and things took over. It was harder to get guys out.”

Cooper did not say whether Drouin would play in Chicago. It’s always a different story on the road, where it’s tougher to protect young players who are still, in the coach’s mind, learning that there’s “more than one net in a rink.”

But Drouin made a strong case tonight to remain in the lineup, and in the process gave the entire hockey world a glimpse at why the Lightning used the third overall pick to draft him.

Kane, Toews may have toughest assignment yet in Hedman, Stralman


TAMPA — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have gone up against some pretty formidable defensive pairings in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fitting, because they’re about to face another one — possibly the best so far.

Prior to Wednesday’s series opener, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that Kane and Toews can expect to see a lot of his ace pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman in the coming days.

“Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the best players this league has seen in a long time,” Cooper explained. “But we feel Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, we go down our list and think, maybe we’re not too bad ourselves. Let’s prove to everybody you can play against these guys.

“In saying that, they’ll probably see a high dose of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.”

Cooper admitted that while line matching is important, getting the right defensive pair out against forwards is imperative. So it’ll be interesting to see the chess game that unfolds with Kane and Toews — assuming Joel Quenneville keeps the pieces together.

There has been talk of possibly splitting up Kane and Toews, who starred in the Anaheim series while playing together; Toews finished with five goals and two assists, Kane three and four. Quenneville was non-committal about his plans earlier this week — saying “we’ll see” and “it’s nice having some flexibility” — and, of course, his penchant for firing up the ol’ line blender is well-documented.

“Joel changes lines quite a bit,” Cooper noted. “We’ll just have to see how things go, how things start. I can’t predict what he’s going to do.

“I’m fairly certain the lineup he starts with won’t be the lineup he finishes with. He’ll move things around.”

Hedman and Stralman are superior to any of the pairings Anaheim put out in the Western Conference final. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Hedman brings tremendous physicality while the cerebral Stralman, lauded for his ability to read the game, always seems to be in the right position to make a play. Both of their skill sets will come into play if they’re tasked with Toews and Kane, who can beat opponents in a variety of ways.

“Their hockey IQ is combined as good as they come,” veteran Bolts forward Brenden Morrow said. “You put them together, they’re pretty tough. [Toews] wins all his one on one battles, and Kane is the setup guy, playmaker with quick hands.

“They’re both tough to contain as individuals, but you put them together, that makes it that much tougher.”