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Rossi: What losing Dupuis means for the Penguins.

Pascal Dupuis’ injury could be a short- and long-term problem for the Penguins. Dupuis will have surgery in two weeks to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. He could miss the rest of this season.

Josh Yohe is in Raleigh, N.C., with the club. His developing story on Dupuis: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5321616-74/dupuis-penguins-season#axzz2ohpy3Bwg

Some initial thoughts…

 

>> Dupuis counts $3.75 million against the Penguins’ salary cap, and his placement on the long-term injury list will give them some space. However, the Penguins have spent much of the past few months making moves designated to buy them every available dollar under the $64.3 million cap. They will have more room with Dupuis’ LTI designation, but not a huge surplus. If anything, his LTI designation could allow them to not force players on two-way contracts (see: Simon Despres) to the AHL, as would have likely been the case.

 

>> Dupuis was a top-line fit for captain Sidney Crosby, who so preferred him that he sought to keep him as a linemate even when Jarome Iginla arrived last season. Finding wingers that fit with Crosby has proven a great challenge over the years, as his style – skilled grinder with speed and a backhand preference – does not easily fit with traditional scoring wingers. Few acquisitions by GM Ray Shero have meshed instantly with Crosby, with Bill Guerin (2009) being the exception. Replacing Dupuis in this regard will provide a great challenge to Shero, who was already interested in upgrading the third line.

 

>> The Penguins have liked the potential for RW Beau Bennett playing with Crosby and LW Chris Kunitz on the top line, but he is out through January after surgery to repair a broken bone in his wrist. Bennett has shown flashes of possible dynamic contribution, and he is a natural right winger. Still, he has played in only 44 NHL games (including playoffs), and he has missed large chunks in three of his past four seasons because of freakish injuries. The label of injury prone is perhaps unfair, but Bennett has not played a lot of hockey – only 130 games – since the Penguins drafted him on the first round in 2010. Still, he is likely the best in-house option to fill Dupuis’ top-line role this season.

 

>> Dupuis filled a variety of roles, including as arguably the top penalty-killing forward. Replacing him with a one-dimensional player would not make the Penguins better. In many ways, what made him an ideal fit for Crosby – aside from speed to keep up – is that he thought the game similarly in a straight-ahead manner, and his willingness to fill a defensive role while also contributing offensively. (Dupuis was worthy of a Selke Trophy nomination as a top defensive forward last season, also his second in a row with 20 goals.) Coaches trusted him to be the first player on the ice after a Penguins’ power play. These are all things to keep in mind when trying to assess the measure of his loss. Aside from Crosby and fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin, Dupuis may have been the forward the Penguins could least easily replace.

 

>> Dupuis’ loss will be huge on the ice, and dramatic off of it. He was one of few consistently vocal players. He commanded respect from the longest tenured (Brooks Orpik) and highest profile (Crosby, Malkin) of Penguins. Coaches and management love the Penguins’ room, but there was a sense within those two groups that the squad needed an oversized personality to bring a little noise to what is a quiet dynamic. Guerin did that in 2009, in addition to contributing as a top-line winger. Shero hoped Jarome Iginla would do similarly last season, but Iginla, by his own admission, opted for ceding to Crosby, Malkin and other 2009 Cup holdovers such as Kunitz and Orpik. Management and coaches were looking to add a player that could contribute on the ice and bring a different feel in the room – and that was before losing Dupuis, whom teammates have often described as the one player closest to Max Talbot in terms of knowing when to speak seriously and when to bring laughter at the expense of anybody.

 

>> Think Shero doesn’t feel a dressing-room dynamic is important for a Cup contender? Well, he has admitted that losing Rob Scuderi during the 2009 offseason ended up being something the Penguins never overcame on or off the ice, and he did not hesitate in July to bring back Scuderi as a free agent. Scuderi’s worth to the Penguins is even greater now in the wake of Dupuis’ injury.

 

>> No NHL club is as stocked with young defensemen as the Penguins, who have proven willing to move a higher profile back-end player for help up front. That happened in February 2009 (Ryan Whitney for Kunitz and Eric Tangradi) and February 2011 (Alex Goligoski for James Neal and Matt Niskanen). Traditionally though not always, if parting with a younger defenseman, Shero has sought a winger whom the Penguins would control contractually, and one that is not necessarily a big name but rather a player that management views as having potential to grow into a key contributor by playing with either Crosby or Malkin. Shero has made those moves in weeks BEFORE the trade deadline.

 

>> The trade deadline is March 5 (3 p.m.). That is AFTER the Olympic break.

 

>> The young defensemen the Penguins like most and are likely most unwilling to deal (excluding Olli Maatta): Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot.

 

>> Dupuis is 34. He is about to undergo a serious procedure on his right knee. His greatest natural athletic attribute is his skating. He is as dedicated to conditioning as any NHL player. Still, even with that insatiable desire to build and maintain his body, he will be a 35-year-old winger whose game is built on speed trying to comeback from a torn ACL that required surgery – and he will have three years left on his contract for a franchise that consistently is up against the cap and is looking at built-in increases for Malkin, Kunitz and D Kris Letang next season, and a new contract for at least C Brandon Sutter. Every penny in cap space counts for the Penguins, even with the cap going up to at least $71 million next season.

 

>> For what it’s worth: Were I to bet on any player under those circumstances, I would bet on Pascal Dupuis. His dedication is one aspect never to question.

 

>> Last, but not least, I wish Dupuis the best of luck.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

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