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AMskate log: Niskanen update; Subban impact on Letang; #TribHKY Power Poll.

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Good morning, dear readers.
Some quick hits on this unseasonably warm late-January AM in Pittsburgh:

= D Matt Niskanen will not play Tuesday for the Penguins. Josh Y ohe has the details here: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/3380918-74/niskanen-tuesday-penguins
If Niskanen only misses one game, or even just two, consider that a big win for the Penguins. Imagine if the Penguins’ top four were to include on a regular basis somebody on the current roster other than him, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin.

= The announcement will officially happen after coach Dan Bylsma’s news conference Tuesday morning, but this is some of what to expect: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/3373633-74/hockey-game-center
Seriously, what a 15 or so months for hockey in Pittsburgh, dating to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, that All-American Prospects Game will cap.

= Canadiens D P.K. Subban has a new deal, and Penguins fans should pay special attention to when it expires: http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/hockey/montreal-canadiens/Subban+signs+year+deal+with+Habs/7884941/story.html
OK, so now Subban and Letang are set to have their current deals expire at the same time. Just let that thought kick around in your head for a while.
Not pleasant, huh?
Last summer, GM Ray Shero attempted to work long-term deals with Cs Sidney Crosby AND Jordan Staal, each of whom was set to enter the final year of his contract. Crosby was basically going to get whatever he wanted. Staal was the trickier case, because his full potential had not yet been realized, but he remained a key part of the Penguins’ foundation.
The Penguins offered Staal a 10-year deal worth around $57 million, though the contract did include upfront money, as did the extension Crosby would sign. Staal declined, and rather than risk a so-called Lame Duck Year and likely losing him for nothing the next summer, Shero traded Staal to Carolina, getting in return the No. 7 overall pick, a defensive prospect and C Brandon Sutter –a nice package for a player that Shero knew was no longer part of the future.
This summer, Shero will face a similar situation with C Evgeni Malkin and Letang, both of whom will be entering the final years of their current deals. Malkin, like Crosby, will basically get whatever he wants. (Ownership has mandated the Penguins keep Malkin.)
Letang will be the trickier signing. As of RIGHT NOW, his full potential has not been realized, but he is a key part of the Penguins’ foundation (along Crosby, Malkin, G Marc-Andre Fleury, RW James Neal).
The Penguins cannot offer Letang more than eight years, and their upfront money options will be limited. This is because of the new labor contract restrictions.
Letang, like Staal would have been, is a safe bet to attract a massive bidding war if he ever hits the open market. The Penguins only chance to keep him is this summer, and they are banking that he follows the form (twice) of Crosby and takes less than market value for a long-term commitment.
Staal was not willing to play that game for a third contract with the Penguins. If Letang is equally unwilling this summer, know that the precedent is already set – and it will take a first-round pick, a prospect, and an NHL player to land him. (That prospect would probably need to be a forward, because aside from LW Beau Bennett the Penguins’ best prospects are defensemen.)
A Penguins fan might be wise to start studying the players in Montreal and in the Canadiens’ system.

= And, now, for the insanity that is the #TribHKY Power Poll. Submitted for your disapproval, and based off nothing more than this blog author’s assessment of the NHL landscape before results Monday. Enjoy, but be kind. Family reads this blog, after all.
1 – Blues
2 – Blackhawks
3 – Devils
4 – Sharks
5 – Bruins
6 – Penguins
7 – Senators
8 – Lightning
9 – Ducks
10 – Canadiens
11 – Jets
12 – Islanders
13 – Wild
14 – Stars
15 – Rangers
16 – Avalanche
17 – Red Wings
18 – Canucks
19 – Predators
20 – Oilers
21 – Sabres
22 – Kings
23 – Maple Leafs
24 – Islanders
25 – Oilers
26 – Flyers
27 – Coyotes
28 – Blue Jackets
29 – Capitals
30 – Panthers

Cheers,
Rossi

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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.

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