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Rossi: Pens see Flyers, Blackhawks as top Kesler competition.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Penguins will land in the Music City to a familiar feeling of bone-chilling cold.

As a contrast, the jostling for trade-deadline acquisitions is heating up. The deadline is 3 p.m. Wednesday.

A look at the latest regarding the Penguins, who have placed winger Chuck Kobasew on waivers:

 

>>ON RYAN KESLER

He remains their top target, as noted first here on Saturday night: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5686336-74/penguins-kesler-sources#axzz2ud8U59IJ

As of Monday afternoon, nothing has changed on the situation– except that the Penguins feel division rival Philadelphia, in addition to defending champion Chicago, is emerging as a top challenger to acquire Kesler.

Kesler does have a movement clause in his contract, as did Jarome Iginla, who famously picked the Penguins over the Bruins last season.

However, the Penguins feel that Kesler, if he does want out of Vancouver, prefers their situation as an immediate and longer-term Cup contender in an Eastern Time Zone city. Also, they believe he connected well with head coach Dan Bylsma – and especially assistant Tony Granato and GM Ray Shero ­ – while playing for Team USA during the Olympics.

The Penguins also believe Kesler, who they are told has several long-term business commitments in Vancouver, would prefer not to invite backlash by playing for perhaps the Canucks’ most bitter current rival in the Blackhawks.

Again, the Penguins would circle back to Kesler in the summer if Vancouver does not move him before the deadline. His potential acquisition is seen internally as a possible way to maximize the next couple of years with franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who by the end of 2015-16 will be set to turn 30 and 29, respectively.

Shero’s preference is to make a hockey trade that would address third-line scoring and add some toughness for a potential return playoff engagement with Boston. He has ownership’s blessing to go all-in on the push for Kesler because of his two remaining contract years.

With the Penguins, Kesler would essentially fill the same role – on the ice as a shutdown center with offensive punch, off the ice as a snarly, dressing-room comfort challenging presence – as did Jordan Staal, whom Shero never wanted to trade in June 2012.

The Penguins prefer to keep defensive prospects Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington and instead surrender picks, but those parameters could change to close a deal for Kesler. Also, it is possible the deal could involve more players from both sides, similar to the one that helped the Penguins land Marian Hossa six years ago.

 

>>ON MATT MOULSON

The Penguins are keeping an eye on his situation with Buffalo, and they may look his way if for some reason they feel Kesler is slipping away to another team.

The priority within the organization is not necessarily finding a replacement for top-line right winger Pascal Dupuis, though the Penguins are open to acquiring one if the situation presents itself.

Shero is skeptical of his chances to fill that spot with a trade, though.

Moulson is an impending free agent, and for that reason the Penguins are not willing to overpay for his rental services.

 

>>ON ANDREW MACDONALD

The Penguins, like almost every Cup contender, are interested in MacDonald, an impending free agent with a cap-friendly $550,000 hit. He is perhaps the most sought-after rental player on the trade market.

Upgrading on defense is the Penguins’ second priority after Kesler because they are operating as though Kris Letang (stroke) will not play again until at least next season. They do believe, as of now, that Paul Martin (right hand) will be ready for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs – but coaches are not at all comfortable with going into the postseason possibly having to play Simon Despres, if he is not traded, or Robert Bortuzzo. Neither player is all that much trusted by the staff at this point.

The Penguins believe they can make the salary-cap work to add Kesler and a veteran defenseman. That is partly because a deal with Kesler would be a hockey move that involves player(s) taking up cap space.

To add a defenseman, the Penguins would consider adding a rental player on an expiring contract.

 

>>ON NEW JERSEY

The Penguins have sent one of Shero’s trusted staffers, pro scout and former Atlanta GM Don Waddell, to the past couple of games involving the New Jersey Devils.

New Jersey has three defensemen – Marek Zidlicky, Mark Fayne and Eric Gelinas (RFA) – on expiring contracts.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,
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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