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Pens-related rumor roundup and props to Mark Letestu

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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.”

GOT THOUGHTS? Feedback is always welcome. Send emails to hockeyday@tribweb.com or rrossi@tribweb.com. Emails without writers’ full name and current hometown will not be read.

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Comments

  1. Dave Baldwin says:

    Rob,

    Isn’t defense at a premium right now for this club? Especially after losing Scuderi and Gill. I think they will miss Jay McKee’s shot blocking and penalty killing which has an even greater impact in a tight, low scoring playoff series. If Ben Lovejoy or Martin Skula could give you that same level of experienced blue line presence, grit and shot blocking I would say deal him. But I don’t think their level is McKee’s level. Besides, I don’t think you could even get a 3 line wing for him from the Blackhawks. A Kris Versteeg or Patrick Sharp is not coming back this way. I was wondering about Edmonton…they are a mess right now…and will be trying to unload an expensive and recently injured Sheldon Souray. Maybe an Andrew Cogliano or a Patrick O’Sullivan or a Robert Nilsson could be had for a decent draft pick or 2 and/or a W/B Penguin prospect?

  2. Jeff Bonifati says:

    Rob,
    If the pens do get a winger for Geno do you think it is going to be Alexei Ponikarovsky or maybe Alex Frolov

  3. OP: I might be daff (lord knows I have been told lol) but you made absolutely no sense what so ever…

  4. Great Blog, Mate! I am always on the watch for new and interesting sports sites and posts… which is what led me here. I certainly plan on visiting again! Cheers

  5. Mike Hatt says:

    I agree, about GMs being tight lipped. Look at the Hossa deal, no one even mentioned the Pens in the running for him when all the rumors where flying.
    Just my opinion as a pens and hockey fan, but I would love to see Poni. on Malkins wing with Dupuis. He has a +55 in his career on those terrible Leaf teams. His size, hands, and underrated defensive play would solidify that second line. I would also try for Selanne to work with Crosby and Kunitz. I no people probably hate this but trade Guerin and Fedetenko to make room. All four of these players are around 2mill. Selanne (without his injury) would be on pace for 40+goals and half of his 18 are on the powerplay. I love what the playoffs bring out in Fed. but he’s been a terrible defensive liability this year. I love Guerin too, but he has lost a step this year and seems to be losing his scoring touch. Selanne would replace that experience and has tons of playoff exerience under his belt. We would definitely lose some picks, maybe even a first, but I think with Talbot healthy and giving the fourth line some much needed help, and letting Staal get back to what he does best; Centering the best third line and shut down trio in the league. We would solidify all four lines and be able to go punch for punch with the Caps. Be interested in knowing what you think.

 
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