PHIL PREDICTS WINTER; ROSSI SAYS…
It is probably not wise to begin any update by comparing myself to a groundhog. However, given that – thanks largely to the Calgary Flames – the NHL trade season winds are picking up, perhaps it is fitting that I compare myself to an animal that lives mostly underground; that may be where I spend the next few weeks before the Olympic break chasing trade rumors. Speaking of rumors, some updates on a couple:
♦ D JAY MCKEE TO BLACKHAWKS
Word of this found me after the Penguins’ 5-4 win against Buffalo on Monday night. Did some checking, and it doesn’t seem at all legit. McKee was a scratch against the Sabres; he absorbed an upper-body blow on Sunday against Detroit. Also, it is unlikely the Penguins will get much cap relief for McKee, who counts $800,000 against on an expiring contract.
NOTE NO. 1: In any rumor – and I won’t address every one, as has been the policy since I took over this beat for the Tribune-Review – it is important to keep in mind that the Penguins are up against the cap in a big way, not unlike many contending teams. They want to keep $1 million in space for a possible move between now and the March 3 deadline, but they are within about $700,000 by my calculations.
NOTE NO. 2: Also, it is my experience that very few deals that get done are actually known about until they are close to being completed. This makes sense for so many reasons, but the big one is that GMs tend to be tight-lipped (understandably) about near-completion deals. Keep that in mind when considering a trade rumor.
♦ GM RAY SHERO SAID MONDAY…
That he did not think the two-week Olympic break would make for less action at the March 3 trade deadline, though he was not speaking specifically about the Penguins. GMs will have two days after the break before the deadline hits. Also, as of this posting, 26 of the NHL’s 30 teams owned legitimate playoff aspirations. If that is true by March 3, there will be fewer dance partners with which to deal because every GM will think his club has a shot at that treasured playoff gate revenue.
♦ Ds SERGEI GONCHAR AND KRIS LETANG CONTRACT TALKS
Sorry, readers; nothing to report on this end. Term continues to be a sticking point, and the Penguins remain interested in retaining both players for next season and beyond.
For what it’s worth, the Penguins are 19.8 percent on the PP with Gonchar in the lineup; they are 7.6 percent without. (Tease Time: More gems to come Wednesday in my Penguins Team Analysis for the print product.) His agent, JP BARRY, is expected to talk with Shero at the Vancouver Games later this month; the Penguins would prefer to have either Gonchar or Letang — if not both, though that seems unlikely – signed before the March 3 deadline. Gonchar (UFA) and Letang (RFA) can hit the market on July 1.
ON THE BEAT ROAD: MARK LETESTU
It happens far too often with me. I awake the day after a game, one during which an NHL player scored his first goal, and I think, “That deserved more than a line in my game story.”
RW NICK JOHNSON scored his first NHL goal on Jan. 21, but it came in a 6-3 loss at home against Washington, and that loss seemed significant enough – it was the first meeting between the Penguins and Capitals since their epic playoff series – to shortchange Johnson’s accomplishment. I’m pretty sure I gave him a sentence in the “gamer.”
Now, I’d like to write that I learned my lesson. I’d like to report that I’ve come across a new line of thought, that any player’s first NHL goal is worth more than one line in a “gamer.” However, readers had to hit the end of my “gamer” off Monday to find note of C MARK LETESTU’s first NHL goal.
I doubt anybody really cares about the excuses I could offer for making little of arguably the biggest moment of many players’ professional lives. Instead, I’ll use the blog to do what I can to show Letestu some love. His thoughts on that first NHL goal, scored Monday only 47 seconds into a win over Buffalo:
“I can’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s a pretty special moment for me. It took a while to get to this point, and to actually contribute in an NHL game feel pretty good.
“I was just trying to catch my breath. I was busy yelling. It was pretty cool for all the guys to come over and say congrats. They’ve all been there.”