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June 5, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: GM search chatter from Stanley Cup Final.

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There is a lot of chatter about where the Penguins’ general manager search is headed – and actually, how and when it might end – by well-connected hockey folks at the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s only chatter, however; and there are only four men that could confirm if any of the chatter is accurate. Those four men: Penguins majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, CEO/president David Morehouse and COO Travis Williams.

None of those guys are talking; not to the media, not to their closest confidants within the organization, not – seemingly ­– to family members and close friends.

So, consider this the full disclosure. The Penguins are not addressing anything about their search for Ray Shero’s replacement. Silence can and will be viewed many ways, but the safest way to identify it is as being consistent.

That said, some people in the hockey world would know what is going on with the Penguins’ search. Those people would be top-ranking NHL executives, all of whom have been in Los Angeles since Monday. The chatter started making its ways through the pipeline early Tuesday. Feel free to draw conclusions.

This is a summary of what the most consistent chatter was as of Wednesday night:

  • >> The Penguins were very close to making a decision between from a group of final candidates for general manager.
  • >> Interim GM Jason Botterill, Tampa Bay assistant Julien BriseBois and NBC Sports broadcaster Pierre McGuire were finalists.
  • >> An announcement could be made on one of the off days between Games 1 (Wednesday) and 2 (Saturday) of the Cup Final.
  • >> All GM finalists were challenged by Penguins ownership to identify candidates for a new coach in the likely event that current head coach Dan Bylsma was fired as the new GM’s first act.
  • >> Bylsma could end up quickly being tabbed by Florida to fill its head coach vacancy.
  • >> Teams were already letting James Neal’s representatives know they would be interested in working out a trade with the Penguins’ new general manager.

Again, all of that information was from chatter that proved most consistent from a variety of usually well-informed people within the hockey community.

All of it is intriguing and perhaps insightful, but none of it is confirmable.

That lack of confirmation from Penguins personnel making this decision is extremely important to remember when reading this or anything else regarding the general manager search.

Information is out there, though – and at this point our readers deserved to know what information is most consistent and creating the biggest buzz as Penguins approach the three-week mark since Shero was fired May 16.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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June 3, 2014
by Josh Yohe


16 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: A look at the blue line, goaltenders

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Greetings, hockey fans.

If you thought the Penguins faced difficult decisions at forward, which we discussed yesterday, wait until you take a look at the situation on the blue line. Let’s take a look at the goaltending situation, also.

Here’s what faces the Penguins:

The Defensemen

STILL UNDER CONTRACT

Kris Letang

Age: 27

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2022. His annual cap hit is $7.25 million. His contract includes a no-trade clause that is triggered on July 1, 2014.

The bottom line: Well, here’s an interesting situation. What in the world is one to do with Kris Letang? There is no right or wrong answer. Just lots of questions. Will Letang ever develop into a Drew Doughty type player? Before you laugh at this notion, know that Letang possesses all the physical talent in the world to play like Doughty. But he isn’t there yet and, at 27, one has to assume he is close to peaking. The bigger question is whether Letang can stay healthy. He has missed 89 games during the past three seasons. Last season alone, he sustained a stroke, a broken hand, an elbow infection and a knee injury that caused him to miss the season’s first month. There are members of the organization, past and present, that would have preferred to have traded Letang before he was locked up to a $58 million deal last summer. But would trading him now make sense? Given his recent health ailments and monster contract, there’s no way Letang’s trade value is terribly high. Still, his no-movement clause kicks in on July 1, so, in theory, if you’re going to trade him, now is the time. Interesting situation, eh? I actually thought Letang played really well in the playoffs. I’ve long been a fan of his work and think he is underrated in some areas. However, he is not a good power play guy, which makes his future salary pretty difficult to justify. The guess here is that the Penguins keep Letang, but then, we don’t even know who will be running the team in a few days, so it’s a guess and nothing else.

Paul Martin

Age: 33

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015. His annual cap hit is $5 million.

The bottom line: What a hockey player. The Penguins, and this includes former GM Ray Shero, deserve immense credit for showing such patience with Martin in the summer of 2012. It would have been easy to ditch him after those first two seasons. Instead, the Penguins trusted that Martin would rebound, and he is currently one of the NHL’s best defensemen. But, much like Letang, there is no easy answer in terms of Martin’s future. He’s 33. Next summer, when he’s due to hit the market, he’ll be 34. He will want another long term deal and will assuredly get one. If you’re the Penguins – all of these young defensemen have to play sooner rather than later – do you extend a 34-year-old defenseman? Do you trade him this summer, knowing his value is fairly strong despite only having one year left on his deal? Do you keep him for this season and risk letting him walk for no return? This isn’t an easy situation for the new GM. I think it’s worth keeping him around for a few more years, so long as he doesn’t require a no-trade clause. You still need a veteran presence on the blue line, and given Martin’s style, I think he could still be an elite player for about three more years.

Olli Maatta

Age: 19

Contract situation: Eligible to become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2016. His annual cap hit is $894,167.

The bottom line: I can’t manufacture any words that haven’t been written about this kid. He is special, will play in multiple all-star games and was among the most impressive rookies in team history. Maatta is also uncommonly mature, smart and motivated. How the Penguins landed his kid at No. 22 remains quite the mystery. His shoulder surgery in May might slow Maatta at bit when next season begins, but don’t lose any sleep over this. The kid is special and will be Penguins’ property for a long, long time.

Robert Bortuzzo

Age: 25

Contract situation: Eligible to become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2015. His annual cap hit is $600,000.

The bottom line: I’m a Robert Bortuzzo guy. This is a sturdy, physical NHL defenseman who absolutely should have been in the lineup in each postseason game. He’s going to have a lengthy, successful career. Bortuzzo has a lot of sandpaper in his game, which is something the Penguins badly need. He isn’t blessed with great offensive skills, but he doesn’t hurt the Penguins in terms of puck movement. Given his impressive reach and commitment to physical play, this guy should be a fixture on the Penguins blue line for many years to come. Is he a top-four guy? Maybe not. But he’s a very strong No. 5 or No. 6 defenseman at the NHL level, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And he might take that step into top-four territory at some point. Good player.

Rob Scuderi

Age: 35

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2017. His annual cap hit is $3.375 million.

The bottom line: The fan base quickly became disenchanted with Scuderi, a veteran who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009. In general, the criticism was fair. He clearly has lost a step and never looked the same after breaking his ankle in October. Scuderi is not a candidate for a compliance buyout. So, what to do? I have two quick thoughts on this: If you can trade Scuderi, this probably would be wise. He makes a lot of money, is almost 36, and clearly isn’t the player he once was. However, I don’t think he’s completely finished. Scuderi looked bad in Dan Bylsma’s puck-retrieval system, which puts a premium on players being able to skate fluidly. This was not the system that was in place when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Maybe Scuderi was just a rotten fit for this system – Martin and Zbynek Michalek didn’t exactly look good in their first year in the system, either – and maybe, assuming Bylsma is relieved from his duties and a more conventional approach is implemented, Scuderi can still be effective.

 RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Simon Despres

Age: 22

Contract situation: Eligible to become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2014.

The bottom line: Wow. Now things get interesting. What do the Penguins do with Simon Despres? Your guess is as good as mine. Me? I’d sign him. Despres is an impressive physical talent, a big man who can skate and who has good offensive awareness. Bylsma never liked the guy. He thought he was lazy and that he had a questionable attitude. These are probably fair criticisms on Bylsma’s part, but perhaps the coach should have worked with Despres to improve these problems instead of simply dismissing him. We’ve learned that Despres is too good to be playing in the AHL. He’s definitely an NHL player. Will the Penguins ultimately send Despres to another organization? Yeah, I’d say that’s likely, and maybe it’s the best thing for him. But this man has serious talent and is still capable of becoming a top-four guy on a good team. Another team will always be interested in a defenseman with this kind of talent. Sign him. You can always trade him and get value in return.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Matt Niskanen

Age: 27

The bottom line: This name should get your attention. Niskanen is a good hockey player and one of the finer human beings I’ve dealt with, professionally or personally speaking. The Penguins would do well to bring him back and stitch an ‘A’ on his chest. He’s that kind of person, that kind of leader. He also was one of the NHL’s better defensemen during the past season and seemingly gets better every year. Here’s the problem for the Penguins: Niskanen is probably going to receive offers that range between $5-6 million per season on the open market. Is he that good? Is he worth that kind of money? Unlikely. But he’s a hot commodity in a relatively unimpressive free agent field. The Wild, Niskanen’s hometown team, will make a run for him. Niskanen wants to stay in Pittsburgh, loves the city and the franchise, and feels a sense of loyalty to the coaching staff that has so thoroughly revitalized his game. But that coaching staff might not be here in a few days. The same could be said of Niskanen, whose departure could badly damage the Penguins in the short term, on and off the ice.

Brooks Orpik

Age: 33

The bottom line: It appears unlikely that Orpik will return. While the Penguins would like to have him on their blue line for a couple of more seasons, the fact remains that young players are on their way to Pittsburgh soon and need to play. Orpik could almost certainly receive more money, and a longer deal, on the open market. He’s not a kid anymore and certainly has dealt with some injuries. Orpik, though, remains a physical presence, is steady defensively and is one of the fine leaders in Penguins history. Saying goodbye to Orpik wouldn’t have been easy for Shero, who has immense respect for the veteran. A new GM probably won’t feel the same emotional connection. Orpik is one of the fine warriors in Penguins history, a good man off the ice who will be missed. But it appears quite likely that the final game he ever plays in a Penguins sweater will be Game 4 against the Rangers.

Deryk Engelland

Age: 32

The bottom line: Engelland has almost certainly played his final game with the Penguins. He has an opportunity to sign the biggest contract of his career, but it won’t be with the Penguins. Engelland is a physical defenseman who is probably a better player than he receives credit for. He has limited physical talent but is rarely out of position. He’s also pretty good in front of his net and played surprisingly well in a role on the fourth line this season. The Penguins won’t re-sign him because of the young talent in their system on defense. Engelland should receive a multi-year offer from an NHL team. He is from Edmonton, and that sounds like a perfect destination for him.

 

The Goaltenders

STILL UNDER CONTRACT

Marc-Andre Fleury

Age: 29

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015. His cap hit will be $5 million next season.

The bottom line: We all know his story. We just don’t know how his story – with the Penguins, at least – will end. Fleury is coming off a terrific season that saw him prove a lot of people wrong. He was one of hockey’s 10 best goaltenders this season and played well in the playoffs. Is he the reason the Penguins lost to the Rangers in seven games? Absolutely not. In fact, he’s become one of the most stable forces in what appears to be a crumbling organization. Fleury will want a contract extension with a raise this summer. He probably should get it, all things considered. I wouldn’t be quick to give him a no-trade agreement, but goalies who win 40 games per season don’t grow on trees. Still, this is an interesting situation. Perhaps a new GM won’t think highly of Fleury and will want to trade him? Could it happen? I suppose a lot of things could happen this summer. But Fleury proved a lot of people wrong last season. My hunch is that he stays for quite some time.

Jeff Zatkoff

Age: 26

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016. His annual cap hit will be $600,000.

The bottom line: Speaking of proving people wrong, so too did Jeff Zatkoff. His first couple of NHL starts weren’t good, but Zatkoff quickly proved himself a worthy NHL goaltender. He also has the perfect personality to be a backup goalie at the NHL level. Everyone likes Zatkoff, and I mean everyone. He’s always chirping, always laughing, and always making people laugh. This is exactly who you want backing up the star goalie. Plus, the guy can play.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

Tomas Vokoun

Age: 37

The bottom line: Vokoun won’t be back with the Penguins, but here’s hoping he receives another NHL job. What a goaltender he’s been. And how about the character of this man? He easily could have retired last season when he was forced to deal with more blood clot problems. But he carried on, doing everything in his power to play again. Vokoun also easily could have complained about the Penguins not letting him play late in the regular season, when their effort indicated that the games were even more meaningless than they actually were. But he never complained. Vokoun should be remembered for his performance in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. Great stuff.

 

THE YOUNG GUNS

Young players such as Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin could all be playing for the Penguins at some point next season. All appear ready for NHL action and all remain under Penguins control. Pouliot recently had shoulder surgery and might not be ready for training camp, but he isn’t far from being a big-time NHL contributor. When he is ready, his path to the NHL will not be blocked.

Harrington and Dumoulin clearly have the look of NHL players.

It will be interesting to see how much confidence a new regime has in playing in the young guys.

 

 CONCLUSION

The Penguins still showcase plenty of talent, but they have reached a crossroads. Whoever takes over as GM has enormous decisions to make this summer.

Do you trade Neal? Fleury? Letang? Martin? None of the above. Do you move Kunitz while his value remains high?

Do you let the young guys play on defense now? Do you try to keep Niskanen? Do you throw a curve ball and keep one of your free agents that everyone is assuming will leave? Do you make a splash on July 1, or do you use the money remaining under the salary cap to keep your own?

Are your superstars happy? How do you find the grit and character that Mario Lemieux wants? How do you make your third and fourth lines better? How do you make your team younger?

Just what was wrong with Sidney Crosby? Is he ok now?

How do you keep the increasingly annoyed fan base happy?

How do you win a Stanley Cup again?

There are probably a few more questions that need answered, but that’s a healthy list. This promises to be an off-season we won’t forget anytime soon. And it’s just getting started.

Stay tuned, everyone.

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June 2, 2014
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: A look at the roster, and a wild summer

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Greetings, hockey fans.

We still don’t know the identity of the new Penguins general manager. One would assume this person will be named sooner rather than later, but then, it’s been a curious past few weeks for the Penguins, so let’s assume nothing.

When the new man takes over control of the Penguins, he’ll have some fascinating decisions to make. Let’s break down the roster.

Today, we’ll start with the forwards. We’ll hit the goaltenders and defensemen tomorrow.

 

The Forwards

 STILL UNDER CONTRACT

 Sidney Crosby

Age: 26

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2025. His annual cap hit will be $8.7 million. His contract includes a no-movement clause.

The bottom line: He remains the face of the Penguins and the face of the NHL. It is a face, however, that might possess remnants of a wart for the first time. Crosby, the consensus best player in the world for the past five years, did not look like the best player in the world during the 2014 postseason. Aside from the stunning lack of production, Crosby failed the eye-test miserably this spring, often looking disengaged. If Crosby has been anything while playing hockey, it is engaged. I’ve often called him the hardest working superstar in hockey history. Which Crosby will show up at training camp in September? Was he merely tired or secretly injured? Was it simply a slump that will pass, making this spring nothing more than an aberration as Crosby goes on to finish as one of the five-to-ten greatest players in hockey history? Or, did something go wrong this spring that is foreshadowing a decline in Crosby’s power? I tend to bet on Crosby. Great player, and a terrific human being. But, he’s dealing with pressure now, and not just the kind of pressure that is associating with wins and losses. His legacy took a hit during the past two postseasons. How will he respond?

Evgeni Malkin

Age: 27

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2022. His annual cap hit will be $9.5 million. His contract includes a no-movement clause.

The bottom line: Gauging Malkin is always difficult. When in full flight, Malkin is probably more physically gifted than Crosby and perhaps the game’s finest player. Problem is, he’s not always in full flight. Why? What needs to happen for Malkin to play like he did in the 2009 postseason, or during the 2011-12 season? He was pretty good in the playoffs, brilliant at times, and certainly better than Crosby. The decision that will be made with the coaching staff could affect Malkin more than anyone. While he’s had fine moments under coach Dan Bylsma, it has become fairly evident to me that Bylsma is not always capable of getting through to Malkin, or of knowing which buttons to push. Mike Therrien almost always got through to him. What does this mean? It means that Malkin could probably use a coach who isn’t afraid to confront him when things aren’t going well. Malkin is still in his prime, and is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. There is every reason to believe he will play the rest of his prime in Pittsburgh. Although he remains inconsistent at times, I’d say that Malkin is the least of the Penguins’ worries moving forward.

James Neal

Age: 26

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. His annual cap hit will be $5 million. His contract possesses a modified no-trade clause that begins on July 1, 2015.

The bottom line: Here’s where things get interesting. The Penguins would be making a perfectly logical decision if they conclude that keeping Neal during the entirety of his contract makes sense. After all, 40-goal scorers are rare. Plus, Malkin and Crosby thrive playing with him. Both centers are pretty particular about who they play with. Malkin loves playing with Neal. Crosby wouldn’t mind playing with him more often, by the way. But, as you know, there are plenty of reasons to trade Neal. No one’s contract on this team is easier to trade than Neal’s. He is hardly overpaid. In fact, lesser NHL forwards often make more money than Neal. So, if the Penguins conclude that depth at forward at the NHL level and throughout the organization is a weakness – and make no mistake, it is – trading Neal makes perfect sense, given that a player of his age and caliber could easily draw a couple of young, good forwards. Neal also has developed a deserved reputation as a dirty player, something the front office is sensitive to.  He also is noted for having the ability to rub people the wrong way. But still, he’s quite a hockey player, always plays hard and never once complained even after being removed from Malkin’s line and the top power play – both were bad decisions by the coaching staff – in the playoffs. An interesting decision is looming.

Chris Kunitz

Age: 34

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2017. His annual cap hit will be $3.85 million. His contract includes a modified no-trade clause.

The bottom line: Chris Kunitz is a good hockey player and has been among the NHL’s steadiest contributors during the past five years. Crosby loves playing with him. Malkin does, too. Given that Kunitz will be 35 when next season begins, it’s safe to say that we’ve seen his best years. Still, he figures to remain a steady, reliable player for a couple of more seasons. Was there a touch of autumn in his game this spring? Maybe. But he also enjoyed some strong moments, and the fact remains, Crosby’s struggles partially explain Kunitz’s lack of production in the second half. Would the Penguins consider dealing Kunitz to get younger? I guess anything is possible, but it seems unlikely. You know what you’re getting from Kunitz, and in his case, that’s a good thing.

Pascal Dupuis

Age: 35

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2017. His annual cap hit will be $3.75 million. His contract includes a modified no-trade clause.

The bottom line: Dupuis is one of the fine two-way players in franchise history, a player who is also a true gentleman off the ice. He is dealing with significant adversity thanks to a knee injury sustained Dec. 23 in Ottawa. It ended his season and has produced some doubt that he will be able to return for the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign. Of course, Dupuis has said on numerous occasions that he will be back for the beginning of the season. He is one of the league’s best-conditioned athletes, a tireless worker who inspires teammates. It will be interesting to analyze his form when he returns. One thing is most certain: The Penguins badly missed him while he was away.

Beau Bennett

Age: 22

Contract situation: Eligible to become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2015. His cap hit next season will be $900,000.

The bottom line: Next year figures to be large for Bennett. There is little question that Bennett has talent. In particular, he is blessed with a wonderful pair of hands and sees the ice well. Should he skate with a proven goal scorer, he figures to be a productive playmaker at the NHL level. Of course, Bennett has also proved anything but durable during his brief NHL career, suffering a number of injuries. We need to see more of Bennett. He might well have the skill to become a legitimate top-six NHL player. But that isn’t etched in stone yet. I’d expect him to start in the top-six next season because of the lack of depth the Penguins have at forward and because the organization needs to give him an extended amount of playing time in that role to see if he flourishes.

Craig Adams

Age: 37

Contract situation: Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015. His cap hit next season will be $700,000.

The bottom line: Adams remains a fixture on the fourth line. Given that he will turn 38 next April, there is legitimate reason to think this could be his final NHL season. He remains a reliable penalty killer, but provides little offensive firepower. Adams looked a step slow at times last season but he has long been a favorite of coach Dan Bylsma’s.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Brandon Sutter

Age: 25

The bottom line: It’s funny the way things work. The perception of Brandon Sutter in the regular season wasn’t so great. He wasn’t productive, wasn’t horribly noticeable at times and was dangled by the Penguins in Ryan Kesler talks. Then came the playoffs, when Sutter was suddenly among the Penguins’ best players. He was defensively strong throughout the postseason and displayed a goal-scoring touch that had rarely been evident during his first two seasons with the Penguins. Does Sutter deserve a huge raise? Tough to say. Would the Penguins be wise to ink him to a long term contract? Probably. He’s not a great player by any stretch, but he’s a good one. He’s also someone who will blossom into a terrific leader. As long as Sutter doesn’t ask for too heavy of a raise, I think it’s wise for the Penguins to make him their No. 3 center for the next few seasons. That said, it could be an interesting summer for him.

Jayson Megna

Age: 24

The bottom line: There is potential here, no question. But there’s also a problem. Megna possesses a bit of goal-scoring touch, but is there enough to consider him as a top-six forward someday at the NHL level? Unlikely. So, while you can use him in a bottom-six role, I wouldn’t say he’s physical enough to be overly proficient in that role. That said, I do believe he’s capable of being a regular NHL player. He doesn’t do anything poorly.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Jussi Jokinen

Age: 31

The bottom line:  What a spring it was for Jokinen, who led the Penguins in goals during the Stanley Cup playoffs. This performance, along with the reality that Jokinen is a solid NHL player, almost certainly has priced him out of returning to Pittsburgh. Someone is going to pay this guy. Should the Penguins pay him? Only within reason. Yes, he’s a good player and he provides some bonuses, namely his shootout prowess and that fact that he was a fine mentor for fellow Finland native Olli Maatta. But let’s not get carried away. Truth is, Jokinen has a bad back, endured a number of defensive lapses in the playoffs and has developed a horrible habit of taking bad penalties. The Penguins already have enough guys under contract who are guilty of that. I like Jokinen. Good guy, good player. But he’s got a chance for big payday here, and I don’t think he’ll get it in Pittsburgh.

Lee Stempniak

Age: 31

The bottom line: Stempniak certainly wasn’t spectacular during his time with the Penguins. But, he did his job pretty well. He was perfectly effective on the first and third lines, scored a few big goals in the playoffs and was a solid addition to the locker room. That said, I’d be surprised if he returns to Pittsburgh. The Penguins need to get younger and can’t afford to be paying average NHL forwards too much money, especially those who are 30 and over. Give former GM Ray Shero credit for brining Stempniak to Pittsburgh. He didn’t make the Penguins a lot better, but he was an upgrade. Only a temporary one, though, I suspect.

Marcel Goc

Age: 30

The bottom line: Much like Stempniak, Goc came to Pittsburgh for a short time and was effective enough, though he didn’t score a goal. He’s a legitimate NHL player, a third-line center on some teams. But do the Penguins need him? Probably not. I believe he will test the market and will probably do OK for himself. It’s too bad we didn’t see much of Goc. I suspect he could have become a fan favorite here. Very likeable guy. But one must think he’ll be moving on.

Tanner Glass

Age: 30

The bottom line: The Penguins desire more grit and character, correct? Well, Glass doesn’t provide a ton of offensive touch and the Corsi Crowd despises him, but if grit and character is what you desire, this is your guy. However, I find it unlikely that Glass returns. He was a healthy scratch for much of the postseason, and this did not sit well with him. I spoke with Glass in the minutes following Game 7 and, while emotions can always run high in such a setting, I received a very distinct feeling that he had played his final game with the Penguins. He’s a perfectly respectable fourth-liner, but the Penguins are likely to move on. Glass was clearly better in his second season with the Penguins and he will find NHL work somewhere.

Joe Vitale

Age: 28

The bottom line: Vitale has spent portions of the past three seasons as the Penguins’ fourth-line center. He certainly hasn’t been a failure, but he also hasn’t cemented himself as a fixture in such a role. Vitale possesses excellent NHL speed and is a terrific faceoff man. Because of these attributes, he’ll find NHL work either here or elsewhere. If Vitale had hands, he’d be a really good player. However, he managed only one goal in 59 games last season. He simply doesn’t possess a feel for the offensive game, which is something that holds him back significantly. Still, when he’s at his best, Vitale is a very good fourth-linter. Problem is, he isn’t always at his best.

Taylor Pyatt

Age: 32

The bottom line: Pyatt is a delightful man and was well liked in the locker room. And, for all of his speed issues – and they are many – he wasn’t unproductive. Rather, Pyatt did score four goals in 34 games which, considering the role in which he was deployed, isn’t the worst total. But the fact remains, adding Pyatt off waivers from the Rangers did little to help the Penguins. He won’t be back, and despite his size, might have trouble landing NHL work next season.

Brian Gibbons

Age: 26

The bottom line: Now here’s an interesting situation. Of all the players who joined the Penguins from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, Gibbons made the biggest impact. His speed is special. Maybe he doesn’t own the world’s finest hands, and he obviously wasn’t blessed with great size, but the guy can absolutely fly. He was well on his way to establishing himself as a legitimate if limited NHL player this spring. That speed – he was especially impressive killing penalties – is a real weapon, and given that the Penguins aren’t exactly bursting with forward prospects, perhaps Gibbons is a player they’d like to keep around. Perhaps other teams were impressed with his speed, too.

Harry Zolnierczyk

Age: 26

The bottom line: Let’s talk about Harry Z for a few moments. Question: Did the Penguins possess a better candidate for their fourth line all season? Answer: No. It remains horribly curious to me that Zolnierczyk was not used more at the NHL level this season, especially given the struggles of the third and fourth lines all season. Harry Z is fast, he is physical, and he plays on the edge. He’s borderline crazy on the ice, and I mean that as a compliment. Don’t you agree the Penguins could have used some of Harry Z’s fire this season? When we saw him at the NHL level, he was very good. He’s been one of the best players in Wilkes-Barre all season. Many Penguins officials told me during the past season that the Flyers badly hindered Harry Z’s progression as a player, essentially telling him to play like a madman instead of teaching him the game. OK. Whatever. At some point this season, he should have been with the Penguins to stay.

Zach Sill

Age: 26

The bottom line: There is a lot to like about this guy. He’s physical, first and foremost. Sill plays the game with a real edge, dishes nasty hits and is a good and willing fighter. The Penguins could have used his attitude in the playoffs. Sill is clearly a limited offensive player – zero points in 20 NHL games speaks volumes, I suppose – but is so good defensively and such a tenacious player that I believe there is an NHL future for him. Could I see Sill being the Penguins’ fourth line center next season? Yeah, I could. Many in the organization really like him. He’s a younger, nastier Craig Adams, essentially. Thing is, those who really like him in the organization might not be in power later this week, so Sill’s future, like that of so many others, remains unknown.

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May 31, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: Evaluating Tristan Jarry.

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Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.

 

>> RISK OF JARRY SELECTION

When the Penguins drafted goaltender Tristan Jarry with the 44th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, they weren’t picking a young player with a large body of work.

The science of drafting goaltenders in the modern league is by no means exact. It’s risky business and even the most well groomed prospects can fall apart completely. It’s even riskier when you are taking a young player who appeared in a mere 41 games through his first two seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Jarry sat on the bench as Calgary Flames prospect Lauren Brossoit backstopped the Oil Kings to two straight WHL final appearances against the Portland Winterhawks the last two seasons – one of which matriculated into a Memorial Cup appearance. At the time he was drafted, Jarry was coming off a season for which he posted an 18-7 record and made it into only one of the Oil Kings playoff appearances. The Penguins were selecting a goaltender that had a high pedigree with a lack of performances to back it up.

When I spoke with scouts leading up to the 2013 draft, there were a few primary thoughts that made it into the discussion about Tristan Jarry. The first was a slight sense of apprehension about his lack of a starters’ grind. The second was his pedigree and ability to track the puck. The third was that the Oil Kings were losing several key players and a run at a third straight WHL final could potentially be more difficult with an exodus of talent forthcoming.

Fast forward a year, and Jarry is a Memorial Cup champion who has quelled any questions about his ability to handle a large workload on a roster that was perceived as diminished. He posted a 16-4-1 record in the WHL playoffs with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. This season was a grueling on Jarry. He racked up more minutes in net than any goaltender in North America, including the NHL. Jarry logged 5,268 minutes and at the time of his Memorial Cup victory that was 658 minutes more than New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Prior to his time with the Oil Kings, Jarry studied with an academy called Optimal Reaction Sports, which places a focus in a trademarked school of thought called Head Trajectory. Head Trajectory trains goaltenders to track the puck in a way that eliminates delays in reaction. If you had the chance to watch Jarry this season, you probably walked away impressed with his quick legs and lightning-fast glove.

Jarry’s ability to play the puck is already at a professional level. His reflexes are fast and his ability to make second saves is also top-notch. Perhaps there are some improvements to be made in pucks that sneak in via the routine route, but make no mistake – Jarry has exhibited all the tools to become a starter at the NHL level.

It’s a selection that could work perfectly for the Penguins as Marc-Andre Fleury approaches his 30s.

 

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

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May 26, 2014
by Rob Rossi


37 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Pens prefer new GM to excel at scouting/development.

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Memorial Day weekend may prove the last stretch of quiet before an onslaught of chatter surrounding the Penguins’ general manager search.

CEO David Morehouse held conversations with several potential candidates last week, but talks are expected to progress toward formal interviews this week.

Morehouse is said to have spoken with the following people:

  • PAT BRISSON – one of the NHL’s most powerful agents, including the representative for Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
  • JASON BOTTERILL – the Penguins’ interim GM and the assistant GM under Ray Shero for the last five seasons
  • JULIEN BRISEBOIS – Tampa Bay’s assistant GM
  • DAVE POULIN – Toronto’s vice president of hockey operations

Morehouse is also said to have spoken with his NHL contacts about – and possibly directly with – the following potential candidates:

  • NORM MACIVER – Chicago’s assistant GM
  • RICK DUDLEY – Montreal’s assistant GM
  • JEF GORTON – New York Rangers’ assistant GM
  • DON SWEENEY – Boston’s assistant general manager
  • PAUL FENTON – Nashville’s assistant general manager
  • GEORGE MCPHEE – Washington’s former GM

Shero was fired May 16. Morehouse said then he would not comment publicly during the process to find a replacement.

As of the middle of last week, the Penguins were said to target having a new general manager within two weeks. They want to provide the new general manager time to make a decision on head coach Dan Bylsma before the NHL Enty Draft on June 27-28. Bylsma has two years remaining on his contract, and Penguins ownership is said to be growing comfortable with the potential for him to return for next season.

Morehouse said the new general manager would determine the statuses of Bylsma, his assistants and all members of the hockey operations department.

Morehouse is spearheading the general manager search, though majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burke have relied on their trusted league colleagues regarding potential candidates. That group is said to have included Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik, and Brisson.

Penguins ownership is said to prefer the new general manager to have a successful background in scouting and development, believing the franchise needs to improve most in those areas.

 

Thanks to all who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States of America; be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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May 23, 2014
by Rob Rossi


27 comments so far - add yours!

RE: GM search update, and Bennett’s woe.

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A quick update before the Memorial Day weekend likely slows the Penguins’ search for a new general manager…

 

>> CEO David Morehouse is said to have staged talks with several candidates and plans to pick up conversations next week. However, no formal interviews are said to have taken place.

 

>> The Penguins are said to prefer wrapping their GM search within 2-3 weeks.

 

>> Candidates said to be on ownership’s radar include: interim GM Jason Botterill, Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois, Maple Leafs VP of hockey operations Dave Poulin, Rangers assistant GM Jeff Gorton and Blackhawks assistant GM Norm Maciver.

Botterill is said to be very much in contention to replace former GM Ray Shero because ownership believes Botterill and Shero have different philosophies when it comes to the type of hockey team to build and style to play.

 

>> ICYMI, the latest on the Penguins’ injury-plagued week: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6160496-74/maatta-penguins-surgery

Shoulder surgeries are tough on defensemen, who already take a lot of punishment by retrieving pucks. Though recovery prognostications of 4-6 months likely mean Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot will be playing hockey before the calendar year ends, keep in mind both defensemen will miss an entire offseason of training. Pouliot is 20 and Maatta 19. This summer was going to be big for their physical development, and now it is going to be lost to rehab sessions.

As for winger Beau Bennett, who had a second wrist surgery within seven months – look, the Penguins will hope for the best with their first-round pick from 2010; but Bennett has been operated on a lot for a 22-year-old player. He has played 166 hockey games – in college and as a pro – since he was drafted four years ago. Injuries have already limited his development, and this past season was basically a lost cause.

Two years ago, Bennett was viewed as a top-six forward in-waiting. Now he will have a new GM, one that may be less impressed by a young player that cannot stay healthy. This latest wrist surgery may limit Bennett for what should prove a pivotal training camp in his young career.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other, and thank a veteran (as you always should),

Rossi

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May 22, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: With interviews soon, Pens’ GM targets emerging.

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Look for the Penguins’ general manager search to kick into another gear very soon, as ownership is expected to start conducting formal interviews – perhaps later this week.

As of Thursday there was no final list of candidates.

The Penguins are expected to formally interview interim general manager Jason Botterill and seek permission to interview Tampa Bay assistant general manager Julien BriseBois.

Botterill and BriseBois, both 37, are viewed as up-and-coming potential management stars. As noted here a few times already, Penguins ownership is high on Botterill and does not believe he is too close ideologically with Ray Shero, who hired him seven years ago. Also, ownership is tight with its Tampa Bay counterpart, which makes looking at BriseBois – especially given his reputation – an obvious option for the Penguins.

Some personnel with clubs currently still playing are also potential interview candidates for the Penguins:

*Jeff Gorton (New York Rangers assistant GM)

*Norm Maciver (Chicago assistant GM)

The Penguins could interview those candidates during the respective NHL conference final series, or wait until those wrap next week.

Toronto vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin is also said to interest the Penguins. Poulin, 55, played 13 seasons in the NHL. He was brought to Toronto by former general manager Brian Burke, and has run the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate for most of the last two seasons.

 

>> The Penguins are said to prefer having a new general manager in place within 2-3 weeks. That would give the new general manager time to make a decision on head coach Dan Bylsma and the assistants before the NHL Entry Draft, which is slated for June 27-28.

Nobody within the Penguins expects Bylsma to be retained, but that decision will be the new general manager’s to make.

 

>> The Penguins will know more about Olli Maatta’s status soon, but the summer is already off to a lousy start for him and the other Penguins’ top young defenseman: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6154455-74/penguins-shero-pouliot#axzz32SWK6nLX

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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May 22, 2014
by Josh Yohe


37 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: Losing Niskanen could cripple Penguins

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Greetings, hockey fans.

 

Matt Niskanen, anyone? Hear me out.

 

This is what we know about the Penguins’ current defensive unit.

 

= Kris Letang is coming off a fairly strong postseason. His best hockey of the season actually came after he sustained a stroke in January. Good for him. Still, during the past eight months, Letang has endured a stroke, an elbow infection, a significant knee injury, a broken hand and an injured foot that, according to his agent, isn’t broken. His new contract kicks in on July 1 and with it comes a pretty heavy no-movement agreement. Is Letang’s value, because of the injury, strong enough to make him legitimate trade bait? No, not at $7.25 million for the next eight years. And really, don’t you have to wonder how healthy he’ll be able to stay? Letang has also endured numerous concussions in his career, among many other minor injuries. Do you trust him to stay healthy?

 

= Paul Martin is coming off a magnificent season. What a hockey player. He was easily the Penguins’ finest defensemen during the 2013-14 season. So, what else do you need to know? Well, he’ll be 34 before the next postseason arrives and he’ll be a free agent in about 13 months. Those are two pretty significant items. Oh, he also sustained a broken leg and broken hand during last season. Do you trust him to stay healthy?

 

= Rob Scuderi is coming off a dreadful season. You all know this. He’ll be 36 in December and still has three years left on his contract. Also, the Penguins can’t use an amnesty buyout on him because his most recent contract was signed following the latest CBA. Ouch.

 

= Brooks Orpik, among the finer warriors in Penguins history, probably isn’t coming back. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and will be 34 in December. Also, he suffered a pretty serious knee injury in Game 4 against the Rangers. His body is starting to break down.

 

= Olli Maatta enjoyed a wonderful rookie season. He’s also scheduled to have shoulder surgery this week. The Penguins aren’t going to make a timetable for Maatta until following the operation, but it sounds fairly serious. Shoulder surgeries aren’t easy for hockey players to return from. Maatta is young, of course, and the odds say he’ll be fine. But still, you wonder if he’ll be ready for the beginning of next season and you wonder about his form next season.

 

= Deryk Engelland is an unrestricted free agent. You know, he’s not a great player by any stretch, but he’s perfectly serviceable, adds a physical edge and can help on the fourth line. Someone is going to give Engelland a decent contract this summer. I doubt it will be the Penguins.

 

= Robert Bortuzzo enjoyed a nice season. He’s limited offensively, but if you like your defensemen physical and sound defensively, he’s your guy.

 

= Simon Despres’ confidence level is always in question. The coaching staff never figured out how to handle Despres at the NHL level. Is this Despres’ fault or the fault of the coaching staff? I don’t know, honestly. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around. Would you trust him at the NHL level next season? Probably not.

 

= Brian Dumoulin is playing really well for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton right now and has an NHL future. But his NHL experience is so, so limited.

 

= Scott Harrington is another guy having a really good year in Wlkes-Barre. He has an NHL future too. But how many rookies do you want on next season’s roster?

 

= Derrick Pouliot? He just had shoulder surgery and probably won’t be ready for action when the season begins. Even if he improves quickly, Pouliot was probably set to start the season at the AHL level anyway.

 

What’s my point, you ask? My point is, specifically regarding the 2014-15 season, the Penguins could be in a world of trouble if they don’t re-sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Matt Niskanen.

He is going to command plenty of cash, and understandably so. He’s a hot commodity. Niskanen isn’t a great player, but he’s a good one. There’s something to be said for having a right-handed, mobile, strong two-way, 27-year-old defenseman who is one of the truly good people in the game on your team.

Letang and Martin are both wonderful players, but very little data suggests that either will come close to playing 82 games next season. Letang, in particular, has dealt with serious health problems. Martin is older than you think.

Orpik? He’s almost certainly gone. Engelland? Same thing.

Scuderi was brought here to be a top-four defenseman and to play with Letang. He might not even be a top-six defenseman any longer.

Bortuzzo is a legitimate NHL defenseman but still in the 5-6 mold as opposed to a clear top-four guy.

Maatta’s injury sounds serious. Pouliot’s, too. Harrington might not be ready yet. The same thing goes for Dumoulin, and really, do you want multiple rookie defensemen on the blue line at the same time if you’re interested in winning a championship next season?

For that matter, do you trust Despres?

All of this brings us back to Matt Niskanen. Or, as I prefer to label him, Matt Ni$kanen.

Once such an extraordinary strength on paper, the Penguins’ blue line is in shambles long before next season begins.

Niskanen can make things better. He’s not a guy you want to overpay. Those who fall in the “good but not great” category often make more money than they should at the NHL level. But Niskanen brings much to the table. He’s legitimately good, he’s durable, he’s young, but he isn’t too young. Although Niskanen will never be a top-two defenseman, I believe he is a reasonable answer as a top-four defenseman. He’s good on the power play too, which is no small thing, since the Penguins rely heavily on special teams.

What has become disturbingly clear during the past couple of days is that the Penguins, for all of their organizational depth on defense, might not have many answers on the blue line next fall.

Signing Niskanen soon – even if you have to overpay him slightly – would solve a lot of defensive problems, especially in the short term.

I realize that the Penguins are oozing with young defensemen, but you can’t bring all those guys up at the same time. You don’t want multiple rookies on your blue line, especially near playoff time. The NHL just doesn’t work that way.

Niskanen can be a bridge from the Orpik era on the blue line to the Maatta era.

And judging by so many things – health, free agency, bad luck, youth, old age – Niskanen is starting to look like a necessary bridge.

- Yohe

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May 21, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Gorton, BriseBois mentioned as good fits for Pens.

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This being a first go at a general manager search, one aspect has become clear. A lot more names are floated than it seems are being considered for the Penguins’ vacancy. As of Wednesday morning, there was no indication Penguins ownership had settled on a list of candidates to replace Ray Shero, let alone conducted formal interviews.

Of course, it has only been about a week since the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs. Other teams have taken almost a month on their general manager searches.

 

>> Perhaps, though, cross Boston’s Jim Benning off the list. TSN reported Wednesday that Benning will take over Vancouver’s hockey operations department and become the Canucks’ general manager: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=452733

 

>> Shero remains quiet since his dismissal, but Katie Carrera of the Washington Post reports the Capitals have reached out to Shero: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capitals-insider/wp/2014/05/20/capitals-enter-fourth-week-of-general-manager-search/

Also, in that report, the Capitals are interested in Boston’s Don Sweeney and Nashville’s Paul Fenton.

Some thoughts to ponder:

If Sweeney heads to Washington, leaving the Bruins without GM Peter Chiarelli’s two assistants, would Shero perhaps join the Bruins in an advisory role? He and Chiarelli are good friends, and Shero’s son is headed to Boston College to play hockey. Taking an advisory role would allow Shero to stay in the NHL and wait on another opening while collecting his general manager’s role salary from the Penguins. It would also give the Bruins some insider information on the Penguins.

If Fenton heads to Washington, could Shero join the Predators in an advisory role? His mentor, David Poile, is the general manager with Nashville. Or, could Shero head to Nashville with the understanding he will become the general manager, say, after Poile’s potential last season before taking a different role in that organization?

Those are just some thoughts regarding Shero, who is sure to have options.

 

>> One name that keeps popping up regarding the Penguins is Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton. Something to consider: He was Boston’s interim GM before the Bruins chose Chiarelli – largely because Shero picked the Penguins in May 2006. During his interim run, Gorton orchestrated the trade that brought Tuukka Rask to Boston.

Gorton is mostly behind-the-scenes with the Rangers, but he is viewed by people within the NHL offices as a rising star – very much in a manner similar to what was said about Chuck Fletcher before he left the Penguins during their 2009 Stanley Cup run to take over the Wild.

 

>> The other name that keeps getting dropped, though perhaps because the good relationship between Penguins and Lightning ownership is well known, is Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois.

If the Penguins really like what current interim GM Jason Botterill does well – manage the salary cap, negotiate contracts, and scout – but believe Botterill is too close a link to the Shero era, BriseBois would make a lot of sense. Botterill and BriseBois are both young and viewed as up-and-comers that are ready to lead an NHL franchise.

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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May 20, 2014
by Rob Rossi


24 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Pens likely to keep nudging Brisson

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Technically, the Penguins’ general manager search started Friday, but it still has not intensified.

NHL super agent Pat Brisson pulled his name from consideration on Monday, telling the Tribune-Review and many other outlets he wishes to stay in his current role as representative to many stars such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.

Still, the Penguins are not done pursuing Brisson – and the interest of ownership is said to be real, specifically from Ron Burkle.

The Penguins believe Brisson is interested in a role with a team, but is hesitant to leave Southern California and a lucrative agent business. Those close to him have said Brisson does not want the Penguins’ GM job, but is open to working for the Penguins.

Keep in mind, too, that Brisson was somebody ownership thought worth a look during the search that landed Shero eight years ago.

Expect the Penguins to keep trying to sell Brisson on a role within the organization. If not as the next general manager then perhaps as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, which would find him working with a GM that focuses more on scouting and the salary cap – and likely a coach with significant say in player personnel matters.

Also, it is said Brisson might covet being President of the Penguins. Currently, CEO David Morehouse is holding that role. However, only a few years ago, there was a management structure that featured Ken Sawyer as CEO, Morehouse as president and Ray Shero as GM.

The Penguins are said to be open to a non-traditional management structure depending on the candidates for GM. Only Morehouse, though, will report directly to ownership.

 

>> The Penguins’ last GM search did involve Burkle and majority co-owner Mario Lemieux, but it was led by Sawyer, who had 14 years experience as the NHL’s chief financial officer. It’s the same dynamic this time around, only Sawyer’s role is being filled by Morehouse.

There really is no rush, because ownership is confident that interim GM Jason Botterill can steer the organization right up to and through the NHL Entry Draft if necessary. Also, it is believed Botterill will remain with the organization in some capacity – or at least it will be his choice – even if he does not land the full-time gig. He is a candidate, Morehouse said.

 

>> The Penguins are one of three teams looking for GMs. The others are Vancouver and Washington.

As of Monday, Boston assistant general managers Jim Benning and Don Sweeney were being mentioned in conversations around the league as candidates expected to get serious consideration for the vacancies. Benning is believed by some to be the favorite with Vancouver.

Sweeney is on Washington’s radar, per Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington: http://www.csnwashington.com/hockey-washington-capitals/talk/plenty-questions-surround-caps-gm-search

Within the hockey community, there seems to be no feel for where the Penguins want to go with the next general manager. Mostly, there remains lingering shock that Shero was fired.

Will DePaoli of Inside Pittsburgh Sports first reported Brisson as a possibility last week, and now reports Rick Dudley on the Penguins’ radar: http://insidepittsburghsports.com/story/rick-dudley-among-shortlist-of-potential-gm-candidates-emerging-on-penguins-radar/65226/

A name gaining traction as a dark-horse candidate to land a GM opening is New York Rangers assistant GM Jeff Gorton. Also, as the Trib reported on Friday, Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois intrigues the Penguins.

Ownership is said to favor emphasizing drafting and development when it comes to the next GM.

 

>> Nobody still with the Penguins, from coaching staff to hockey operations employees, is sure how the franchise’s hockey side is expected to run efficiently right now. Nobody is permitted to speak (on the record) with the media, though. There is a lot of frustration among remaining employees – mostly because everybody is being kept in the dark. Words used to describe the current situation are strange and uncomfortable.

 

>> Head coach Dan Bylsma is said to have expressed his displeasure to ownership about the situation that finds him employed but unlikely to be retained. Ownership is said to have understood his concern, but remained unwilling to let him out of his contract.

Bylsma wants to coach somewhere next season. He is said not to be interested in another job with within the organization. His salary, over $2 million, would seemingly make him overpaid for anything other than head coach or team executive.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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