Mike Sullivan

PHT Morning Skate: Four Blues players, one coach test positive for COVID-19; Future for Rask

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Blues players test positive for COVID-19, and other return-to-play issues for NHL teams

• Four Blues players and one coach tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the team to cancel practices late last week. It sounds like the Blues will attempt to resume activities on Monday. [According to various reporters, including Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

• Beyond trying to start things back up, what’s next? Lou Korac of NHL.com reports that the Blues players who tested positive for COVID-19 are likely to miss the beginning of formal training camps (aka “Phase 3”). [Korac on Twitter]

Last Monday, the NHL announced that 26 players (15 of at least 250 who participated in Phase 2; 11 who weren’t participating in activities and team facilities) tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began on June 8. This bumps the player count to at least 30 during Phase 2.

• Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan recently said that assistant Jacques Martin is expected to be a full participant during the potential NHL return. Plenty of coaches are at a noteworthy age, considering the heightened risks for serious complications from COVID-19 for older people. At 67, you’d understand if Martin decided not to participate, or to scale back in some way. That’s not the case, at least according to Sullivan. [Pittsburgh Hockey Now]

Other hockey links

• Some early thoughts on the proposed changes to how the CBA works as the NHL and NHLPA work to hash out an extension. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• Jim Matheson believe that it is “big gulp” time for prospective NHL free agents. Go ahead and scratch off some 7-Eleven jokes, then read up on the predicament many are in. [Edmonton Journal]

• Last week, PHT evaluated how the Kings might use the No. 2 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. While we discussed a few scenarios, the piece focused quite a bit on Quinton Byfield vs. Tim Stutzle. Mayor’s Manor goes deep on that comparison, too, and adds a wrinkle: assessing Lucas Raymond as the possible second pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, too. [Mayor’s Manor]

• Speaking of going deep, Joe Haggerty breaks down what the future might look like for Tuukka Rask. With retirement sounding unlikely any time soon, what happens after Rask’s contract expires following the 2020-21 season? The Bruins could extend Rask as soon as this summer, but there’s a lot of cap uncertainty going on right now. [NBC Sports Boston]

• As far as Finnish hockey has come, Aatu Raty has a chance to break new ground. Could he be the first Finnish player to go first overall? It’s a long way until the 2021 NHL Draft, but Mark Masters spoke with Raty about the possibility. [TSN]

• Did the David Clarkson contract set the stage for the Maple Leafs to turn things around? For all we know, it may have accelerated certain processes, such as hiring Brendan Shanahan, who cleaned house of many of the people who … well, thought that Clarkson contract was a good idea. [Leafs Nation]

• Kevin Kurz shares the fascinating story of Ned Colletti. “MLB GM to NHL scout” isn’t a common career path, so expect an uncommon story. [The Hockey News]

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Beware the bumbling Rumble Bees

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Return to play/NHL Playoffs

• Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other officials have expressed some willingness to work with the NHL in the hub city process. Will it be enough, though? Ben Kuzma looks at it from Vancouver’s perspective. [The Province]

• On Wednesday, PHT looked at how the top four teams in the East and West will approach the Round Robin for Seeding. Here’s another chance to check out the article that inspired those posts. [NBC Sports Boston]

Brad Richardson shares his experience being exposed — but seemingly not infected — with COVID-19. The story ends with some optimism about Richardson getting extra time to heal because of the pandemic pause. [Arizona Republic]

Awards talk, Rumble Bees, and other hockey links

• You see, John Carlson wants the Norris Trophy. But he doesn’t need it. I feel like the Rolling Stones should write a song about that feeling. [The Hockey News]

• Carlson missed out on a chance to score 90 points, a rare feat for a defenseman. In David Pastrnak‘s case, he lost a chance to reach 50 goals and 100 points. Which missed milestone bugs him the most? [Bruins Daily]

• Could Mike Sullivan sneak up on Alain Vigneault for the Jack Adams Award? Hopefully Sullivan doesn’t startle Vigneault in the process, right? [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin remains stuck in a “holding pattern” regarding whether he can join the team from Russia or not. Sorokin’s agent Daniel Milstein explained that frustrating situation. [AMNY]

• Ally Koss went in-depth with Brady Hackmeister on the process behind designing the Henderson Silver Knights’ logo. They discuss how the design breaks with but also evokes design choices related to the AHL affiliate’s parent team, the Vegas Golden Knights. [Hockey By Design]

• Chris Peters tells the story of the Battle Creek Rumble Bees of the Federal Prospects Hockey League. Peters describes the FPHL as “the lowest rung of professional hockey in the U.S.,” so does that make the 1-45-2(!) Rumble Bees the lowest rung of the lowest rung? I’ll need to start doing some counting on my fingers, let me get back to you. (That said, Rumble Bees is a great team name.) [ESPN]

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.

Penguins may face ‘tough decisions’ with goalies thanks to salary cap crunch

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With all of the salary cap uncertainty caused in part by COVID-19, the Penguins may face some tough choices when it comes to their goalies.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford acknowledged as much to The Athletic’s Josh Yohe on Tuesday (sub required).

Specifically, Rutherford discussed two pending RFA goalies who played for the Penguins in 2019-20: Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. With almost $68.3M devoted to the cap even before signing one or both, Rutherford admitted that it will be tough to retain Murray and Jarry.

“Well,” Rutherford said to Yohe. “I’ll say this: If we are going to keep both of them, we’d have to move a few things around on our team. There is a way to do things and to make that work, yes. There are some very, very tough decisions ahead.”

Rutherford compared this situation to losing Marc-Andre Fleury to the expansion draft, as the Penguins simply couldn’t afford to keep both Murray and “MAF.” While the situations might be different, Rutherford faces challenges either way.

Pondering Penguins options with Murray, Jarry, and DeSmith

One name that didn’t really come up in the Yohe story is that of Casey DeSmith, but he’s quite relevant to this situation. Let’s run down the three most prominent Penguins goalie options, then.

Matt Murray

Murray, 25, is a pending RFA whose $3.75M cap hit expires after 2019-20.

The Penguins managed a pretty nice value in signing Murray right after he surprisingly helped the Penguins win the 2015-16 Stanley Cup. Murray almost certainly would have cost the Penguins quite a bit more if they signed him during the summer of 2017 (when his entry-level contract expired), rather than that proactive extension.

Yet, it’s true that it’s kind of difficult to gauge how much Murray should cost heading into 2020-21.

After putting up absolutely splendid numbers during the regular season and playoffs while the Penguins repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 2015-16 and 2016-17, it’s been up-and-down for Murray. Murray sandwiched a strong 2018-19 regular season between tough seasons in 2017-18 and 2019-20.

To complicate matters further, Murray hasn’t really been able to prove that he’s a true workhorse. Injuries, in particular, have limited Murray’s volume.

So, on one hand, Murray has two Stanley Cup rings. There have also been plenty of stretches of impressive play. Unfortunately, Murray struggled more often than not during most of his recent stretches, though. It’s interesting to note that Rutherford told Yohe that, while the would-be starter is a Mike Sullivan decision, Rutherford did guess that Murray was the likely playoff starter if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happened.

With all of that in mind, what kind of contract would be right for Murray? Frankly, I have no clue.

Tristan Jarry

Many would argue that Jarry ranks as the better starting option if the playoffs happen, and with good reason. The 25-year-old performed far better than Murray by just about every measure. While Murray struggled with weak backup-level numbers (.899 save percentage, -11.6 GSAA), Jarry put up stats that hovered around elite (.921 save percentage, 11.07 GSAA).

On the other hand, while Murray boasts two rings and 199 games of regular-season experience, Jarry’s only played 62 at the NHL level. Jarry didn’t enjoy a whole lot of success before his dominant run of 33 games in 2019-20, either.

The Penguins may ponder an interesting risk. Do you go with Murray, who has struggled mightily and likely will cost quite a bit, yet is also experienced? Or do you lean toward Jarry, another pending RFA who’s headed for a raise from $675K, but should be cheaper than Murray?

Could it even come down to which goalie fetches the best return in a hypothetical trade for their rights?

Tough calls all around.

Casey DeSmith

DeSmith, 28, just endured some surprises.

  • I was a little surprised DeSmith was unable to secure at least a backup job. Obviously, the Penguins were right in choosing Jarry, but it was still jarring. After all, DeSmith managed a sturdy .917 save percentage over 50 games played for the Penguins between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Frankly, his contract extension ($1.25M AAV through 2021-22) looked like a steal at the time.
  • Instead, the Penguins demoted DeSmith, which carried another surprise: no other NHL team snatched him up. Yes, it’s difficult to find room during the waiver period right before a season starts, but DeSmith’s cheap contract and track record made him intriguing.

The 2019-20 season ended up being pretty rocky for DeSmith. He only managed a mediocre 18-18-2 record and equally mediocre .905 save percentage in the AHL.

Such stretches make it tougher to sell the idea of the Penguins getting much for DeSmith in a potential trade. During 2019-20, burying his cap hit in the minors cost the Penguins $175K. It seems unlikely that will happen again going forward, but who knows?

Tough calls for Penguins with goalies

My guess is that the Penguins will go with DeSmith as a backup to either Murray or Jarry. It’s tough to gauge the wisest course. Jarry could be cheaper, and may very well continue to provide superior play. Then again, the stakes are high for the Penguins, so if they’re wrong, it could wreck one of the precious remaining seasons they have as contenders. Would it be better to hope Murray can stay consistent and healthy, even at a higher rate, then?

There’s also an outside-the-box solution, such as dipping into the pool of free agent goalies.

It’s easy to see why Rutherford describes tough decisions. That said, there are multiple goalies who could work out for the Penguins, which is not an argument every NHL contender can make.

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.

What is the Penguins’ long-term outlook?

Pittsburgh Penguins
Getty

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Penguins’ core is mostly the same as it has been for the past 15 years, and it is the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang.

They are all into their 30s at this point, and there will come a time in the not-too-distant future that they really start to slow down, but for now they remain the foundation of a Stanley Cup contending team.

Along with them there is a pretty strong supporting cast in place, and one that is probably a lot younger than you might realize. Even though they have made a habit of trading draft picks and prospects to strengthen their championship chases (as they should have) they have done a nice job replenishing the cupboard around their superstars. Especially over the past year.

Jake Guentzel (signed for five more years at $6 million per season) has become a star and one of their best home-grown players in years, while John Marino, Marcus Pettersson, and Jared McCann have been strong additions from the outside.

Bryan Rust has shown what he is capable of in an expanded role and carries a very affordable salary cap hit for the next two years, while Jason Zucker seems like an outstanding fit in their top-six while also being signed for three more full seasons after this one.

Brian Dumoulin remains a perfect complement for Letang on the top defense pair (while also being signed for three more seasons) while they have two very good young goalies in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry that are still under team control for the next few years.

Long-Term Needs

They have some long-term salary cap restrictions, but that has been a constant theme for them for the better part of the Crosby-Malkin era. It just comes with the territory of being a contending team with superstar players. They do have a couple of contracts that will probably get dumped one way or another before they expire (Jack Johnson, Nick Bjugstad, maybe even Brandon Tanev a couple of years down the line).

The salary cap crunch could also create a little headache this offseason as they work to re-sign some key restricted free agents like McCann, Murray, and Jarry.

The latter two also create an interesting situation because both have the potential and ability to be outstanding goalies in the NHL. They also have both showed it (Murray more than Jarry). But juggling that contract situation is going to be interesting, especially as they figure out what sort of financial commitment to make with Murray.

He is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. But he has had some ups and downs over the past two seasons. How much can they commit to him, and for how long?

While they have done a great job of having a steady pipeline of talent come through their system to complement the stars, there is going to come a point where they will need to develop another truly high-end player when Crosby and/or Malkin are no longer able to carry the team. That time is not yet here, but it will eventually arrive.

Long-Term Strengths

The bottom line is the Penguins still have a couple of Hall of Famers and All-Star level players on their roster. They are still players that can take over and dominate games. As long as they have that, they have the most important ingredient for contending.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel are the type of players you win championships with. The Penguins have won multiple championships with them and been one of the league’s most successful teams by every objective measure. There will come a time when the window really does close on this core and a rebuild is needed, but that time is not here just yet. It may not be here for a couple of more years.

For as much money as they have committed to their core, and for as tight as their salary cap situation may be, they do have some pretty significant long-term contracts that are team-and cap-friendly. The trio of Guentzel, Rust, and Dumoulin is an outstanding secondary group of stars, and together they account for less than $14 million against the cap for the next couple of years. Even Crosby and Malkin are making far less than they could be. Every little bit of savings counts and helps make the rest of the team that much stronger.

They also have Mike Sullivan behind the bench who has done some of his best work this season.

MORE Penguins:
 Looking at the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

New-look Penguins play first game since trade deadline on NBCSN

Hockey fans get their first post-trade deadline glance at the new-look Penguins on Wednesday. Then again, it’s also true that later versions of the Penguins will look different from the group that faces the Kings on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET (stream here).

Penguins roll out new trade deadline additions in these lineups — for now

Like many other NHL coaches, Mike Sullivan likes to tinker with his combinations. Injuries forced Sullivan to do so anyway this season, and the Penguins’ trade deadline investments now give him a plethora of options. When/if certain players come back, the variety will only grow.

Let’s go forward line by forward line based on NHL.com’s projected combos for Wednesday, since that’s where Pittsburgh made acquisitions.

Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary

As new-look as the Penguins feel, there seems to be warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the reunion of Crosby and Sheary. Personally, I never understood why Pittsburgh broke them up in the first place. (Especially if the answer is troublingly “to afford bad defenseman Jack Johnson.”)

In a lineup breakdown from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (sub required), both Crosby and Sheary amusingly described each other as easy to play with. Sullivan’s comments provided a little more substance.

“He brings a speed element,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “He can finish. He’s good in traffic. A lot of attributes that Conor brings to the table are complementary to Sid.”

Sheary can think the game at a reasonable level with Crosby, and the early returns on Zucker indicate the same. (On paper, Zucker seems like a no-brainer fit for Crosby, but in reality not everyone clicks with 87.)

Still, there are a number of different factors that could break these fellows up. What if Jake Guentzel beats the timeline for recovery from his shoulder surgery, at least for the playoffs? Will Penguins eventually want a right-handed shot with Crosby instead of two other lefties?

This seems like a good mix overall, at least to start, though.

Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Business as usual there, basically. Rust and Hornqvist can work with Crosby if needed, so that’s nice.

Patrick MarleauEvan RodriguesDominik Simon

Trade deadline additions make two-thirds of this third line, and the potential is interesting. Simon ranks as the most feasible candidate to move up, possibly with Crosby again. While Marleau ranks as a bigger name, Rodrigues stands out as a fascinating wild card.

People have been noting Rodrigues’ potential as a hidden gem for some time.

(His underlying numbers still look good at Hockey Viz, although things slipped a bit in 2019-20 compared to more robust work in 2017-18 and 2018-19.)

The sheer variety of useful players in the Penguins’ top nine is really something, especially when you realize that Jared McCann could end up being a more regular fit as third-line center. Nick Bjugstad already feels like old news, considering the revolving door of Penguins forwards, yet he’s another interesting player if health eventually permits.

Sam LaffertyTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Then you have what seems to be a pretty strong fourth line from a defensive standpoint. Quite a group.

(Oh yeah, and there’s also Zach Aston-Reese. Healthy scratches could eventually become straight-up awkward if most/everyone actually gets healthy.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Defense and other considerations for Penguins

NHL.com projects Pittsburgh’s Wednesday defensive pairings as such:

Jack Johnson — Kris Letang

Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz

Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Naturally, injuries have been a factor for the Penguins’ defense (and also goalies including Matt Murray). Moving past players who have worked past injuries like Letang and Schultz, Pittsburgh has some significant blueliners on the shelf. It’s possible Brian Dumoulin may return with time to shake off rust before the playoffs, while rookie revelation John Marino is recovery from surgery after a wayward puck broke bones in his cheek.

In other words … the Penguins’ defense could continue to look quite different as things go along, much like their forward groups.

Despite all that turbulence, the Penguins figure to be a formidable opponent, particularly after stocking up with Zucker, Sheary, Marleau, and Rodrigues in recent times. Catch your first look at that new-look group against the Kings on Wednesday on NBCSN.

More: Kings aim to upset Penguins

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.