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August 28, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Rookie tournament roster/schedule

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See yinz in London.

OK, OK, Ontario.

For the Penguins’ rookie tournament with the Senators, the Maple Leafs and the Blackhawks.

The team will play three games in four days Sept. 13-16, and Thursday morning the Penguins formally announced who will make the trip.

I was not on it, though I will be going.

Not many surprises Pens-wise. Defenseman Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin will take part. Same for goaltender Tristan Jarry and forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Josh Archibald.

The Penguins’ rookies open with a 2 p.m. game against Ottawa on Saturday, Sept. 13 at Budweiser Gardens, home to the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.

They play Chicago at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14 and Toronto at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes and assistant coach Alain Nasreddine will oversee the tournament, per the official release that’s viewable here.

It’s an interesting trip for Harrington, who was a junior player for the Knights and won back-to-back OHL championships in 2012 and ’13.

Harrington tied for second among WBS defensemen with 24 points this past season, his first as a professional.

Kapanen turned quite a few heads at developmental camp, prompting this reaction from assistant general manager Bill Guerin: “He’s even better than I thought he’d be.”

Dumoulin had 12 points in 17 games in the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs. Jarry helped the Edmonton Oil Kings to a Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup championship. And Archibald was a 2014 Hobey Baker finalist at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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August 26, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Trottier back in coaching

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Got a chance to talk this morning with former Penguins center Bryan Trottier, who was hired a few weeks ago as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres.

Trottier is 58. His back and joints limit his golf to four or five charity events a year. Buffalo finished with 52 points a season ago, the fewest in the NHL.

So, why get back into coaching?

“When (head coach Ted Nolan) called this summer, I was kind of excited but also, at the same time, doing some introspection to make sure I wanted to be that involved again,”

Trottier said at the 17th Annual Penguins Alumni Charity Golf Classic at Valley Brook Country Club in McMurray. “He convinced me, and I think he was a good salesman on that.

“He convinced me that I still had something to bring, and the more I thought about it, I talked to my family and thought this might be a fun thing. I’m going to go in both feet for the year and have a great time with the young kids up there in Buffalo. See if we can’t build something fun.”

Trottier should have plenty to keep him busy. The Sabres brought in forwards Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta and Andrei Meszaros amid a flurry of offseason moves.
There’s also a young nucleus with center Tyler Ennis (career-high 21 goals in 2013-14) and defenseman Tyler Myers.

Trottier joins a staff that also includes Arturs Irbe, Danny Flynn and Tom Coolen.
This is the fourth coaching stop for Trottier, who played 18 seasons, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Class of 1997) and won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

There is, of course, a connection here. Trottier and Nolan were both hired by the New York Islanders in June 2006, Nolan as head coach and Trottier as player development director. The Islanders didn’t renew Trottier’s contract following the 2009-10 season.

Working with players — the same ones over and over, as Trots points out — in a more hands-on role is exciting for Trottier, who might challenge current Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the Nicest Man Ever award.

“You have 20 familiar faces every day,” said Trottier, who said he will report to Buffalo next week. “In player development, you’re working with the NHL team, the American Hockey League team, college kids, junior kids. You see something different over the course of a month and a season.

“When you’re working with 20 faces for the whole season, you’re really engaged and you can fine-tune with the players what you want to work on. You’re building their confidence, their skill levels and whatever else I can help them with.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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August 19, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Ice Bucket Challenge

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Well, there. That was cold. Colder than I expected, really.

And, full disclosure, this is actually my second ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

I did one Monday night, but realized I misspoke in the video. So the wife and I took a second crack at it this morning.

Kevin Gorman, Chris Adamski and Travis Sawchik … you’re up.

With any luck, the WPIAL will rule Gorman ineligible with cold intent; Adamski will dominate the state … of dumping ice on your head; and Sawchik will calculate the UcR (Ultimate Cold Rating).

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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August 16, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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More on Bennett, Zatkoff and Scuderi

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They’re people, too.

That was one of my biggest takeaways from speaking with Beau Bennett, Jeff Zatkoff and Rob Scuderi Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at RMU Island Sports Center.

OK, full disclosure, I’ve talked with Bennett and Scuderi inside the Penguins locker room before.

But as a first-year beat guy — heck, it was my first week on the job — I figured this would be a good chance introduced myself to some of the players, talk a little away from the rink, etc.

Turned out to be quite an experience. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Got to watch all three interact with kids, parents, the media, all in one.

Zatkoff sat on a bench laughing at all the kids toting iPhones. He meticulously double-checked spellings of names.

“G-R-I-F-F-I-N, right?” Zatkoff asked one kid.

Bennett drew the biggest crowd I saw — to be fair, we talked to Scuderi in the middle of the ongoing youth camp, not after — and he patiently signed sticks, pucks and jerseys while also posing for countless pictures.

He’s 22 years old. The patience I had at that age would have gotten me through, oh, about two or three minutes. Later, Bennett talked about shopping at Whole Foods and how he apparently stinks at cooking.

Zatkoff slipped out of his Penguins warmups to a pair of jeans underneath — how he skated in jeans, I’ll never know — put on a pair of flip-flops and walked alone to his car.

He, like me, worried about awful Pittsburgh traffic on the Parkway West.

Give credit to Bennett. Like I said, I didn’t stay for all of Scuderi’s visit, but I’m willing to bet Bennett was the most participatory. He took part in drills, played in a scrimmage and even got stoned on a breakaway.

Zatkoff laughed when I asked whether Bennett’s performance created an expectation he would try to live up to.

No way, Zatkoff said.

“I said from the beginning that I wasn’t hopping in any of the shooting drills,” Zatkoff said. “I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I’m just sticking with the goalies. I tried to stay in the corner by the goalies, now have to show off too much of my forward skills.”

Scuderi drove the whole real-people thought home for me.

Talk about an offseason all you want. The middle of August means that Scuderi and his wife, Courtney, are dangerously close to sending the kids back to school — and that’s a big deal for any parent, hockey player or not.

“Once your kids get to a certain age, it’s tough to stay away for so long,” said Scuderi, whose big summer vacation was a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. “When we were here in Pittsburgh last time, we came back early just because more of your life is here. You’re here for nine to 10 months of the year. This feels more like home than my home. It’s a great place to come back. We fit in great with the neighborhood. We love the town. We love the area. It’s not like anyone’s twisting my arm to come back.”

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August 12, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: An introduction

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There they sat, side-by-side at a table, two men at the top of their profession.
The day before the Penguins’ Game 7 against the New York Rangers this past spring, franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin spoke to the media.
They appeared calm, cool and collected, confident this wouldn’t be a pivot point in the franchise’s history — only a steppingstone to the Eastern Conference final.
Yet as those two uncharacteristically took to the podium, it was two other men, Trib beat guys Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe, who made the biggest impression on me.
The relationship these two cultivated and the coverage they provided made me stop and take notice.
Sure, I grew up a hockey fan — I debated opening this thing with how I memorized “One from the Heart: The Story of the 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins” as a kid or how I collected sticker books (nerdtacular proof below) — but this was something more.
Organization, teamwork, hockey and writing? Count me in.
I continued working, and when Rossi got the chance to step into a larger role, I was lucky enough to get a spot on the team.
I will be working alongside Josh, and I couldn’t be more proud to join the Trib’s Penguins beat team.
If I were listing the five nicest people I know and the five most knowledgeable about hockey, Josh makes both lists. Easily.
At the same time, I hope to take a slightly different approach, to find bigger-picture or off-the-beaten-path stories.
Oh, that news thing, too. That’s important. Let’s say we both do that.
This upcoming journey, though exciting, isn’t without its challenges.
Meeting and working with a whole new regime when it comes to the Penguins.
Replacing the heaviest of hitters in Rossi.
Capturing the narrative of what will likely be as pivotal a season as we’ve seen around here in awhile.
None of it will be easy, but I’m unbelievably lucky to have someone like Josh here to help. Same with Rossi, whose glasses will surely be watching and my every move.
The blog will remain a go-to source for information. Maybe it even increases a little. Responsibilities and frequency of blogging will develop over time.
Also make sure to follow along on Twitter (@Mackey_Trib), if you don’t already.
As you’ll see, I’m a Grateful Dead fanatic; suggested shows are always welcomed. Ditto for great local restaurants and coffee shops.
Experience-wise, I’ve done a little of everything at the Trib: college wrestling; high schools; random fill-in for Pitt football, Pitt basketball, Steelers, Power; local golf and tennis.
To be totally honest, I’d be lying if I said this new assignment didn’t scare the crap out of me.
I’d also be lying if I said it wasn’t the most exciting thing I’ve experienced outside of my wedding day and the birth of our son.
Rob and Josh did an exemplary job covering your local hockey club. Big shoes to fill and match, for sure.
I will do everything possible to make sure there’s not a drop-off.
Hey, maybe we’ll even see an improvement. Who knows.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

(Jason) Mackey

015

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July 22, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: SATISFACTION

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Change happens. Sometimes it happens without warning.

I’m no longer the Penguins beat reporter for the Tribune-Review. This change came my way Monday morning, and if it is for the better it is not without mixed emotions.

I have never let anybody knows how much this beat meant to me. Here goes.

It’s meant EVERYTHING.

It’s meant opportunity.

It’s meant challenge.

It’s meant commitment.

It’s meant growth.

It’s meant disappointment.

It’s meant tolerance.

It’s meant friendship.

It’s meant wonder.

It’s meant fear.

It’s meant faith.

It’s meant life.

I don’t want to get too specific, for fear of not recognizing something or somebody important. There are people that I’ve worked with – and against – daily for the past eight years, and so many of those people have changed me for the better in ways they probably will never know.

I was a beaten beat boy when Tribune-Review executive sports editor Kevin Smith assigned me to the Penguins beat in October 2006. I had just spent a season covering the Pirates, and most of those nights ended with me knowing I could have done that job better.

I did not cover many games that first season with the Penguins. I wrote about an arena deal I was not sure would happen. Tribune-Review investigative reporter Andrew Conte allowed me to be his partner on that story, and it was so fun that upon its completion I offered our bosses to become a “sort of sports-news hybrid guy.”

I was told I’d be covering the Penguins, and that I better be as good as my bosses thought.

The readers can judge how I did. I think I held my own at the very least.

You’re not a fan when you cover a team, and I was never a Penguins fan during my time on the beat. Readers can’t understand that, but it’s the only way I knew how to operate. I didn’t care about their wins or losses, only the short- and long-term narrative that those wins and losses contributed to telling.

You’re also not a friend to the players, coaches and management. Readers probably think that isn’t true, but it’s something to behold how quickly you’re forgotten by and how quickly you forget the people to whom you spend so much time talking.

This is the job.

It’s a damn great job, too.

I’m a sports columnist now. I don’t know what that means. I’ll find out.

I can’t imagine liking anything more than covering the Penguins, being there for their remarkably quick rise to and fall from grace, chronicling a franchise go from possible relocation to so popular that games are always sold out.

They will win another Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby, and somebody else at the Tribune-Review will write that game story and it will be amazing; but I’ll always have my moment, from June 12, 2009, and the lede I love so much: Kids, they grow up so fast.

I was 27 when this journey with the local hockey club started. I had energy to burn, but I had lessons to learn professionally and personally.

Now I’m scared and I’m thinking that maybe I ain’t that young anymore.

This beat was my life. It defined me. It crushed me and wrecked me and ripped my heart out, and I’ll miss all of that about it the most. I’ll miss the pressure to be on top of developments at the trade deadline and during free agency. I’ll miss the third-period comebacks that ruined game stories. I’ll miss the moments the readers never see between beat reporters and the athletes they cover. I’ll miss the jokes that only road-weary travelers can understand.

This beat changed my life, too. I made friends that will last a lifetime, stepped on lands I could only have otherwise imagined and saw things I may never believe.

Again, I don’t want to single out people because that isn’t fair. There are people within the Penguins organization who I’ve come to value as friends as much as professional colleagues. They know who they are.

At the Tribune-Review there are so many people that have supported, nurtured and worked with me on the beat – from editors to fellow reporters to photographers to designers to the world’s greatest night desk. I don’t know if anybody is as lucky as I am to work at a place where it feels like family, but I hope that is the case for everybody once.

One person must be named, however.

I met Josh Yohe in August 2009, and I’ll let him tell the story of how that went. Five years later we are as close as any beat partner I’ve known, and his friendship, patience and support has only helped me in ways that I really want to keep to myself.

Josh is the Keef to my Mick, the Animal to my Hawk, the Crosby to my Malkin – and, truthfully, I’ll take our chances against any one of those all-time tag teams.

Josh is the best young hockey reporter I know, and I’ll let that settle that.

Now, look, something else needs addressed before I sign off. That’s all of you.

It’s never been so easy between us has it, dear readers?

The only thing I’ve ever promised is that I wouldn’t pander. I never have, and I am proudest of that during my time on this beat. You deserved sincerity, even if it risked not being popular – and, boy, were there times I wasn’t popular.

I don’t know how we’ll get along in this new role of mine, but I’ll always hold the most special place in my heart for the Penguins. I always felt it was a fair fight with us, and I will miss it terribly.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

Penguins beat reporter (2006-14)

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July 20, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Mackey: Billy G and a Recchin’ Ball

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Bill Guerin and Mark Recchi don’t have much in common — on paper, anyway.

One’s a 6-foot-3 American, the other a 5-10 Canadian.

Though they combined to play 2,915 NHL games, Guerin and Recchi never once played together.

This week, however, the Penguins hired Recchi to succeed Guerin as player development coach, and the two — who presumably talked a time or two during their lengthy careers — took turns generating laughs following Saturday’s development camp-ending scrimmage at Consol Energy Center.

“He’s going to be my mentor,” Recchi said of Guerin, who was promoted to assistant general manager last month. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

Speaking five minutes later in the same spot inside the Penguins’ locker room, Guerin cracked, “He’s a good friend, and he has so much to offer. I think he played 40 years in the league.”

Seriously, though, Guerin thinks Recchi will be perfect for the role.

Recchi is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and mentored several younger players while playing for the Boston Bruins’ Cup-winning squad in 2011.

“I think he’s going to be great,” Guerin said. “Mark’s fantastic with younger players. Obviously what he did later in his career with the Bruins … he was invaluable with that team teaching that group how to win. I think Mark is going to do a terrific job. We’re excited to have him on board. I know I am.”

Recchi insisted that Saturday was the first time he could truly do much evaluating, spending the afternoon behind the bench.

He expects to become much more familiar with the players within the Penguins’ system between now and training camp in late September.
Part of that involves “getting on the computer and getting in contact with all these young guys.”

More will come at the 2014 Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario from Sept. 13-16.

“I know they’re excited about some young prospects,” Recchi said. “We’ll keep working with them and make them into better ones. That’s the important thing.”

Part of Recchi’s new job will require him to teach hockey skills, but he views it as something more. Mental preparation is important. So is consistency. All parts of adjusting to life as a pro.

“There’s stuff on the ice that you can teach them, but a lot of it is going to be teaching them how to be a pro, on and off the ice,” Recchi said. “That’s something of the stuff that Billy’s been talking about.”

 

>> MORE ON GUERIN

He shined in his meeting with reporters.

Asked about right wing Adam Payerl, Guerin responded: “His nickname is ‘Beast’ and for good reason. He’s a mountain of a man. The more he can be in front of the net, the less goalies can see. He’s got a good skill level. We push him to have a good mix between physical game and being able to make plays. Adam’s a very capable guy.”

Besides Payerl, Guerin praised right wing Kasperi Kapanen and defenseman Jeff Taylor — while the latter was getting dressed a few feet away.

“He really stuck out,” Guerin said. “And, oh, there he is right there. Didn’t even see him.”

Guerin paused.

“He’s got terrible fashion sense, but he plays a good, smart game.”

We all crack up.

“That sucks that you’re right there,” Guerin continued. “Edit that out.”

 

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July 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: The Right Words

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There was a year without the newspapers. It was the worst. There were no magic numbers for the pennant-chasing Pirates. There was no Calvin or Hobbes.

Back in the year without the newspapers all I really wanted was those magic numbers and the kid and his tiger.

Somebody tried to explain to me what was going on in Pittsburgh. It was probably one of the grandparents. After all, they were the reason I read the newspapers. I had always watched them read – in the morning then the afternoon – and so when they were done their newspapers became mine. For many years I had known the newspapers were important, but it was that year without the newspapers that I started to understand why.

The newspapers had a little bit of everything for anybody, from whatever the mayor had said to the horoscopes to the pictures of Barry Bonds’ home runs.

All of that was gone, though, in the year without the newspapers. There was a strike, and for whatever reason it had wiped out the newspapers. Sure, the television still showed the news, but those shows weren’t the same. I could not fold those shows. I could not circle words on those shows. I could not skip the advertisements on those shows.

The year without newspapers was the worst – mostly because without the newspapers it was impossible to believe I would ever know if the newspapers would return. Where would I find that story? There was somebody designated to scream the news somewhere downtown. Video of that person was shown on the TV news, and it was then that I realized how badly we needed the newspapers.

One day there was some actual news. Somebody wanted to buy one of the newspapers. If he did, at least we would have a newspaper. All I knew about this somebody was that my grandfather said he was rich. When I asked how rich I was told, “Rich enough to buy a newspaper.”

He actually had his own newspaper in Greensburg.

The thing I remember most about the year without the newspapers is that somebody tried to end it.

I am thinking about that somebody right now.

I am thinking about how he eventually brought his Tribune-Review to Pittsburgh and lived to see it become the rare newspaper that did not force layoffs or cut costs, but rather a champion of investigative journalism and – most important – a choice for regional readers that are better served for living in a two-newspaper town.

Pittsburgh is one, which is rare for a city of its size, and that is entirely because of one man.

In the coming days there will be a lot of words said about Richard Scaife. I choose to remember the ones he said at the end of each of our handful of brief conversations over the last 12 years.

“Thank you for being here,” Mr. Scaife said.

I never found the words that seemed an appropriate response because there was no place else I would rather have been.

The year without the newspapers ended for a teenage boy when he spotted his grandfather’s copy of a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review then spent the next 15 minutes simply looking at it. Eventually, that boy would read; but upon first seeing that newspaper he could only stare while surely thinking, Thank you for being here.

 

Rest peacefully, Mr. Scaife.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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June 29, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: One last thing about James Neal

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The “real deal” is that James Neal is an easy target, and that is understandable. Neal is unapologetically himself, and that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way – especially in a city such as Pittsburgh, where the star athletes are too often too important to people that want them to be something they simply are not, which is a finished product.

Neal, 26, is not finished growing into the man he will become. In fact, the guess here is that he has only really just started. This past season, ultimately his last with the Penguins, provided him painful moments that called for reflection – and this last one, a trade that shocked him, should provide him an opportunity for growth.

People can think what they want of Neal. A lot of people think they probably know him.

I am not one of those people. As Neal compelled me to write only a few months ago, I do not believe journalists ever really know the athletes we cover. As journalists, we feel important by insisting we know these athletes, but we do not – at least not as people. Neal, perhaps more than any athlete, helped me realize that truth.

See, I enjoyed covering Neal. I appreciated the attributes that I suspect others found distasteful. Maybe I find an advantage in building a professional relationship with somebody that seems difficult to everybody else? Maybe I subconsciously relate to something about that somebody? Maybe I’m a mark for a challenge?

I really don’t know why I enjoyed covering Neal, but I did. He always made time to answer a question, and in my business that is one of the few things that is fair for a reporter to ask of somebody he or she covers.

Trading Neal was the absolute right call by the Penguins, though – even though he was never one of the biggest reasons they failed to win the Cup during his four postseason runs with the club.

Neal will be better off in Nashville, where he will have to continue growing because now he has the responsibility of being “The Man” offensively for a team that has long needed “That Guy.”

Neal was the best player in the trade the Penguins made on Friday night, and teams that give up the best player usually lose a trade. Still, the Penguins had to make this one. Something about them is broken, and though that something is far from being fixed, the reality is that Neal was the easiest member of this nucleus for GM Jim Rutherford to move because of contract clauses for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

There are more than two sides to every story, and that is especially true with the story about people that have a public profile. Now that Neal is no longer a Penguin, I feel this story can be shared:

The day after the Penguins’ Game 7 loss to the Rangers in May, a group of players hit the city to blow off some steam. This is not an uncommon practice when an NHL season ends for a club.

This night, at one establishment, the Penguins players lined across and around a bar. A bartender at this establishment, as the best bartenders do, treated them as regular customers, not pro athletes. He gave them space and served them drinks.

At one point during the evening, one of the players called the bartender over and said, “Are you a big fan?”
The bartender, who happened to be wearing a Penguins ball cap, answered with a nod.

“I’m really sorry, bud,” the player said. “We should have won that series. We let everybody down. I should have played better, so I’m sorry. I wish we could have don better for you.”

This story was relayed to me a week later.

“Obviously, you don’t know,” the bartender said. “But that guy didn’t have to say any of that to me. He brought it up. He just seemed to be taking it very hard. It seemed real.”

The bartender said that player was James Neal.

 

>> Josh Yohe will be leading the coverage of free agency from this point going forward. You’d do well to follow him on Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib. (To every season turn, turn, turn…)

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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June 27, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Pens taking calls on Neal

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PHILADELPHIA – Jim Rutherford is seemingly busy.

Buzz on Day 1 of the NHL Entry Draft had Rutherford taking calls – taking more often than making – from fellow GMs looking to see which Penguins’ players are available in a trade.

The name Rutherford has discussed most often: James Neal.

Rutherford is not looking to move Neal, but from the day he took over the Penguins he has fielded calls from teams looking to acquire the former 40-goal winger. Neal, 26, has four years remaining on a cap-friendly contract that has an annual $5 million hit.

Of course, at that price, it is going to cost a team to get Neal.

Though Rutherford said he is open to making a trade that includes a player on his roster to open some salary-cap space for the strapped Penguins, it is believed he will only move Neal if the return is an NHL player or players that could fill immediate holes.

Keep in mind, too – Neal leaving would create an immediate hole on the second line, which already will be without Jussi Jokinen, who Rutherford said the Penguins are unlikely to prevent from hitting free agency on July 1.

Those with ties to center Evgeni Malkin are closely watching the Penguins right now. Moving Neal could leave him without a winger, and word is Malkin would not be happy to face breaking in two new wingers next season.

 

>> Cap space is almost as important to Rutherford as a player or players in terms of an asset received in any trade. Though the Penguins are not shopping defenseman Kris Letang, that has not stopped Rutherford from listening to offers. However, it is said that Rutherford is leaning heavily to keeping Letang – unless a move would include a package that allow the Penguins to free cap space to address needs elsewhere.

 

>> Another name Rutherford is said to be taking calls on is Paul Martin, who is set to enter the final year of his current contract. Martin has given the Penguins no indication he is ready to sign an extension this summer.

 

>> Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is not said to be on the trade block. He would like to work out an extension this summer, though Rutherford has not decided if that will be among his priorities.

 

>> New coach Mike Johnston is said to favor adding Travis Green, his former assistant coach with Portland in the WHL, to a Penguins staff that includes Rick Tocchet.

 

 

More later. Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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