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March 13, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Faceoff Factor: Value of Mobile D to Pens

(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.)

 

Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma bestowed the “shutdown pairing” moniker on the duo of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. When all was said and done, advanced metrics backed up what the eye-test said: Orpik and Martin met the expectation laid upon them.

In the 2013 season, 61 percent of all goals scored at even-strength while the Orpik-Martin pairing was on the ice had gone in favor of the Penguins. They limited the opposition to a mere 0.58 goals-against per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time and boasted a 0.91 goals-for per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time playing against the oppositions’ top lines throughout the year.

Injuries ­– including two long stretches of absences by Martin – have made for a limited engagement encore for the Orpik-Martin pairing this season.

And Orpik is sorely missing his partner.

The Penguins are allowing more goals than they’re scoring when Orpik is on the ice at even-strength. His goals-for percentage has dropped from the 61 percent (with Martin) to 46 percent overall.

Possession numbers also reflect this trend. If you calculate all shooting attempts (missed shots, blocked shots, saves, etc.) taken with Orpik on the ice, only 44 percent are shots registered by the Penguins.

Upon closer look Orpik’s numbers this season are anchored by instances where he’s been paired with a like-minded defenseman. Take Rob Scuderi, for example. In the time Orpik and Scuderi have been paired together this year, their goals-for percentage drops to 11.1 percent. Of all the shots taken while that duo is on the ice, only 35 percent are shots taken by the Penguins. The numbers for fellow “defensive defenseman” Deryk Engelland are also below Orpik’s overall average for the year.

Orpik’s metrics this season are highest when playing with Matt Niskanen, a defensemen that, in the vein of Martin, is able to generate offense and use his mobility rush the puck up ice. Orpik’s goals-for percentage with Niskanen is akin to the numbers he boasted with Martin last year; 60 percent of all goals scored with Orpik and Niskanen on the ice are goals scored by the Penguins and 62.2 percent of all shooting attempts are shots taken by the Penguins.

Martin’s return – projected by the Penguins to be at least during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs – will be a boost to their postseason chances. Precedent suggests it will lead to the defense corps seeing a major statistical bump.

Simply, the combination of Orpik with a mobile, puck-moving defensive partner has been a success. It just hasn’t been something the Penguins have had the luxury of using most of this season.

 

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

 

March 12, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Letang says weight returning.

Kris Letang has resumed skating, as the Trib’s Chris Adamaski noted in a notebook today: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5739054-74/game-games-capitals#axzz2vlDCOVly

The crucial thing to keep in mind  regarding Letang is there remains no time frame for his return. Also, because this cannot be stressed enough, the information on this end is that the Penguins are not expecting him to play again until next season.

That all being said…

Letang was in good spirits on Tuesday night while conversing with teammates after the Penguins’ win over Washington. He said he has put on some weight in the past couple of weeks – a good sign given the muscle mass he had dropped during a month of nothing but rest after his stroke.

To these eyes, Letang looked a little off-color; but these eyes are not those of a doctor, and they have not seen too many people on blood thinners who have not looked a bit off-color.

Letang is due to be re-evaluated by team physicians sometime near the end of next week, based off the six-week period offered by the Penguins when announcing his stroke on Feb. 7. That will be an important next step, but the exact cause of his stroke and whether he will require surgery, let alone if he can come off the blood thinners, remains to be determined.

Anyway, it remains good to simply see Letang doing some normal stuff – chatting with Marc-Andre Fleury, breaking down in-game sequences, skating – given everything he has gone through.

 

>> The Penguins just wrapped a stretch of traveling to seven cities – twice to Pittsburgh – and traveling over 7,000 miles in 11 days. They went 4-2-0 on that stretch and will play 11 of their final 17 games at home.

This season, the Penguins have taken 50 of a possible 60 home points. If that success continues, the Penguins will finish with at least 110 points overall because of their home-heavy finish.

 

>> By the way, with 391 man-games lost, the Penguins have increased their NHL-lead in that category to 105.

Two years ago, the last time the NHL staged a full season, the difference between the first and second teams in terms of man-games lost was 30 (Montreal 439, Columbus 409).

 

>> Brooks Orpik had himself an impressive 48 hours, as Josh Yohe reports: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5739053-74/orpik-ovechkin-brooks#axzz2vlDCOVly

 

>> If all goes as planned, we have something worth a few clicks coming your way on Thursday. Until then…

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

March 10, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Bennett’s role far from set.

WASHINGTON – On his last trip here, Beau Bennett received some solid advice from Pascal Dupuis, whom he had recently supplanted as the top-line right winger.

That advice: Do not spend so much energy during morning practices on days of games.

That was over three months ago, and now the Penguins’ top line is without either of its two top-line options for the right-wing slot. (Or top three, if counting injured Brian Gibbons – though, nobody outside the organization seems to be counting him, which seems odd given the way this season has gone.)

Dupuis is done after surgery to repair a torn right ACL.

Bennett, though, seems like he is finally on a track toward playing.

Out since Nov. 22 because of a right hand/wrist injury that needed surgery and also time to recover from a setback, Bennett practiced at Verizon Center on Sunday night. After, while breathing heavy, he offered 10 days as a realistic time frame for his return to games.

Coach Dan Bylsma quickly tried to shade that ray of Sunshine by informing that Bennett would be re-evaluated by a team physician next Sunday, and only then would a time frame for return-to-play clearance be known.

Bylsma also downplayed any expectations for Bennett’s eventual return.

“He hasn’t played hockey, so it’s to say he’s going to be a top-line winger,” Bylsma said. “He’s got to get back and play, get back and get into the mix. He’s played very little hockey this year at all; so it’s tough to say, ‘Beau’s going to be on the first power play or on the top line.’ He’s got to get back and be involved in hockey, which he hasn’t been for an awful long time.”

 

>> Players looked tired Sunday night after traveling to Washington from Anaheim then practicing late. The five-game road trip wraps Monday, though given the Penguins play at home on Tuesday night, the return to Pittsburgh will seem like Game No. 6.

 

>> Evgeni Malkin’s lack of celebration after scoring at Anaheim on Saturday night was certainly out of character given his arm-wheeling, glass-jumping ways. Whatever the reason, Malkin’s response to that goal concerned Bylsma enough to ask him about the lack of celebration before practice on Sunday night.

 

>> Tomas Vokoun did not practice Sunday night, instead riding a stationary bicycle while teammates were on the ice. Vokoun, out all season after surgery to dissolve a blood clot, has said that he plans on playing at some point this season. The Penguins seem far from inclined to agree that he is anywhere close to being ready – or if he will be at any point.

 

>> Under Bylsma, the Penguins have always given a vibe during March ­– not always one that foreshadowed their future.

In 2009: Confident and joyful. They won the Cup.

In 2010: Spent and staggered. They lost in Round 2.

In 2011: Defiant and purposeful. They lost in Round 1, (though while playing without Sidney Crosby and Malkin).

In 2012: Brash and bold. They lost in Round 1.

In 2013: Optimistic and opportunistic. They lost in Round 3.

March is not over yet, but so far the vibe for 2014 feels like: Edgy and uncertain.

 

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Brandon Sutter has become a pretty important player for the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5704090-74/sutter-penguins-center

>> Still, Ryan Kesler remains on their radar: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5703733-74/penguins-kesler-crosby#axzz2vWhXpxvG

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

March 8, 2014
by Rob Rossi


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Rossi: Sutter steps up in conference leaders’ showdown.

Earlier this week, Brandon Sutter looked shaken to have heard he was part of proposed deal between the Penguins and Vancouver for fellow center Ryan Kesler.

Sutter, in his second season with the Penguins, handled that tough situation well. At least in terms of dealing with the media.

On Friday night in Anaheim, he probably gave those who would consider discarding him something to think about.

Sutter – at least from this view, thousands of miles away – was the most noticeable skater for the Penguins in the third period of their eventual 3-2 shootout win against fellow conference leader Anaheim.

Sometimes, the stats do not tell the story.

Sutter finished without a point or a shot or a hit. He registered a minus-1 rating.

Bringing energy every shift to a team that was fending off a shooting barrage – well, that cannot be measured.

There is a feeling within the Penguins organization that the best of Sutter has not been yet experienced, that with a playoff run under his belt he could become a critical component to the next Cup chase.

Third periods like the one he had at Anaheim on Friday night are probably the reason for that feeling.

 

>> The Penguins are off Saturday, returning to practice in Washington on Sunday night. A home-and-home on consecutive nights with the Capitals begins Monday. After a brief post-trade deadline break, I’m back with the club.

 

>> Sometimes, by the way, the stats do disprove a narrative. The Penguins are 13-6-1 against the mighty Western Conference. They can compete, folks.

 

>> Josh Yohe on what he feels was arguably the grittiest performance by these Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5703300-74/penguins-game-period#axzz2vOY9xB93

 

>> A real nice read here from Yohe on Lee Stempniak: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5703302-74/stempniak-penguins-game#axzz2vOY9xB93

 

>> Teemu Selanne is a hockey treasure, and he’s keeping an eye on Olli Maatta, as Yohe reports: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5703316-74/penguins-selanne-sharks#axzz2vOY9xB93

 

>> Thanks, Dear Readers, for the sensational response to the blog during the trade-deadline period. I’m told you forced it to stop working – twice.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

March 5, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Faceoff Factor: The loss of Pascal Dupuis

(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.)

 

The Penguins have had the luxury of having the most productive top line in hockey since the NHL opened its locked doors in January of 2013.

The combination of Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby, and Chris Kunitz paced the NHL with 70 even-strength points scored through the truncated 48 game season of 2012-2013.

This year started in a similar fashion. The combination of Dupuis, Crosby and Kunitz accounted for 25 goals scored in the 39 games they played as a unit together, amassing 57 total points as a trio in that time.

That’s a number that’s still good for seventh among NHL line combinations this season. (Boston’s trio of Milan Lucic, David Krecji, and Jarome Iginla leads the NHL with 42 goals scored as a unit this season.)

However, while Dupuis may lack the superstar offensive skills boasted by some of his peers, his presence on that line has been sorely missed for the Penguins.

Since Dupuis injury on December 23, the Penguins top line has been missing some of the punch it brought to the table over the course of the last two years. That lack of punch has been especially noticeable in recent games. Before Tuesday, the combination of Kunitz and Crosby had not been on the ice together for an even-strength goal scored since January 27th, 2014 in a 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Dupuis absence also reflects in the even-strength possession numbers for the Penguins captain.

Corsi-For percentage is a great metric that tracks even-strength shooting attempts (blocked shots, missed shots, posts, saves, etc) and breaks them down in a number that describes what percentage of shots went a specific players way. You can’t score if you don’t have the puck, so the higher Corsi-For percentage a player has, the more puck possession we can estimate that player had.

This season, Crosby is averaging 53.3 percent Corsi-For, which means that 53.3 percent of all shots taken while Crosby is on the ice are shots registered by the Penguins.

Since the departure of Dupuis, Crosby’s Corsi-For percentage has dropped to 46.5, a fairly noticeable difference.

Chemistry is a real thing in hockey, and while it isn’t always easily measured in a tangible fashion, these numbers show that the Penguins’ top line is missing something. While Dupuis might not carry the star power of some of his teammates, the work he does in the dirty areas of the ice is hard to ignore.

The Penguins need the combination of Crosby and Kunitz to be as hot as possible heading into the postseason.

 

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

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Chris Adamski delves into the unlikely speedster in arguably hockey’s biggest spot: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5524450-74/gibbons-crosby-nhl#axzz2sTev6XPf

>> Adamski also notes that Sidney Crosby is not worried about where he’s staying in Sochi: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5524451-74/games-penguins-bylsma#axzz2sTev6XPf

 

Josh Yohe in is snowy Buffalo, and will have all your information on this icy Wednesday.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

March 5, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Latest on Kesler, Pouliot.

A quick update, perhaps the last one before the NHL trade deadline expires at 3 p.m.:

 

>> The Penguins are NOT convinced Vancouver is sold on moving C Ryan Kesler. They believe Canucks ownership prefers to keep Kesler and chase a playoff spot, which would mean at least two games of postseason revenue, and re-explore moving Kesler in the summer.

 

>> GM Ray Shero’s developmental staff has lobbied hard that D Derrick Pouliot not be included in any deal. Pouliot, a first-round pick in 2012, is viewed by several members of the staff as perhaps being ready to make an Olli Maatta-like jump to the NHL next season – if not for the start, then sometime during.

 

>> The Penguins were in on Oilers RW Ales Hemsky, but were hesitant to pay a heavy price for a rental player. Also, they did not have the second-round pick that Edmonton craved.

 

>> If acquiring a rental player, the Penguins would prefer to go in the direction of a puck-moving defenseman.

 

>> On the positive side, asking prices are said to be decreasing as the deadline approaches.

 

>> Shero was described by somebody as “waiting to pounce… it’s what he does best.”

 

>> Have not heard anything linking Penguins to LW Thomas Vanek. Know that’s out there, but if so, Penguins are keeping it quiet.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

March 5, 2014
by Rob Rossi


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Rossi: Pens not sure if Kesler is still in play.

A quick update, specifically on the Ryan Kesler watch, with about six hours remaining before the NHL trade deadline (3 p.m.):

 

>> The Penguins had not yet upped their latest offer to Vancouver – center Brandon Sutter, a choice between defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin, and their 2014 first- and third-round picks.

 

>> The Penguins and Canucks touched based late Tuesday.

 

>> The Penguins are open to sweetening their offer, but if top prospect Derrick Pouliot were part of it the package would change in terms of draft picks. (Pouliot, whom the Penguins want to keep, was part of original talks between GM Ray Shero and his Vancouver counterpart, Mike Gillis, in mid-January.)

 

>> The Penguins would look at an expanded package that would include another roster player or prospect going to the Canucks, but they would seek another NHL player in return.

 

>> The Penguins are NOT convinced Kesler will be moved by the deadline. They sense he could be moved in the summer instead. The Penguins would chase him then, too.

 

>> There is a growing suspicion within the Penguins that Gillis may not be authorized by Vancouver ownership to move Kesler. That seems to be a new development on Wednesday.

 

>> The Penguins’ information is that Kesler would waive his no-trade clause only to play for an Eastern Conference contender with pedigree. They do believe his preference is to play for them.

 

>> The Penguins do not think for a minute that the Flyers, as had been reported by some national outlets, are out of the running for Kesler. They expect a strong push, perhaps in the final hours before the deadline.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

March 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


12 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: A Commonwealth cold war for Kesler.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Commonwealth Cold War for Ryan Kesler has broken out with about 24 hours remaining before the NHL trade deadline.

It might cost the Penguins their top overall prospect, too.

The Penguins and Flyers have emerged as top contenders for Kesler, a center for the Vancouver Canucks with two years remaining on a contract that counts $5 million annually against the salary-cap.

The Penguins have offered center Brandon Sutter, a first- and third-round pick and the Canucks’ choice of defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin.

That offer was not final and could be altered as GM Ray Shero is said to be aggressively chasing this potential move.

Derrick Pouliot, a defenseman and the Penguins’ top-rated prospect, would be in play if it meant closing a deal for Kesler. However, the Penguins would be less willing to part with the third-round pick or the other offered defensemen.

Kesler has a no-trade clause and can control where he goes, and the Penguins believe he will waive that clause to join them.

However, the Penguins also believed late Monday that the Flyers intended to make a big push for Kesler, perhaps on a multi-player proposal – though it remains uncertain if Kesler, an American, wants to play for the Flyers.

Kesler, who has publicly denied requesting a trade, was impressed by the so-called Penguins Way on display for Team USA at the Olympics. He especially was taken with Shero, who was assistant GM for the Americans.

Kesler.

The Penguins believe the Canucks’ asking price for Kesler is a forward 25 or younger, a top prospect and a first-round pick. (Sutter turned 25 in February, and he reportedly has a fan in Canucks GM Mike Gillis.)

The Penguins do not want to part with Pouliot, but that stance is negotiable.

It may have to be to sell the Canucks on moving Kesler.

Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reported early Tuesday that the Flyers have made a substantial offer for Kesler, and also are interested in Canucks defensemen Alexander Edler.

Seravalli’s report: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sports/flyers/Flyers-pursuing-Kesler.html

Kesler holds the cards, however.

As did winger Jarome Iginla last season, Kesler could agree only to a trade to the Penguins.

The trade deadline is 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The Penguins also are looking at New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky and Edmonton right winger Ales Hemsky.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

March 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


2 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Shero’s top 3 targets are…

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ray Shero is chasing a few players with the NHL trade deadline fast approaching.

The deadline is 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and these were players on the Penguins’ radar as of Tuesday morning:

 

>> C Ryan Kesler (Vancouver)

Nothing new here, as the Penguins had identified Kesler as their top target in January, before D Kris Letang’s stroke. Kesler is not a rental player, with two years remaining on his contract after this season; so, essentially, the Penguins are trying to get him for three postseason runs. At 29, he is hitting the end of his prime, but the Penguins believe he would have great value at a $5 million salary-cap hit. His role would look familiar. Kesler would be used as a shutdown third-line center, though he would be the lead penalty-killing forward and play over 20 minutes – maybe more than any forward but captain Sidney Crosby. Basically, Kesler would become the new Jordan Staal, who the Penguins never wanted to trade two years ago, anyway.

The Penguins have offered Vancouver a package that includes C Brandon Sutter, either of Ds Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin, and their first- and third-round picks at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. That they are willing now to soften on their stance against including D Derrick Pouliot, a first-round pick from 2012, is an indication of just how badly they want Kesler. Also, the Penguins believe Philadelphia and Chicago will bring big offers for Kesler.

The catch, perhaps, is that the Penguins think Kesler wants to play for them – as did Jarome Iginla last season. Kesler, like Iginla, has a no trade clause.

Shero is said to be as aggressive in this pursuit of Kesler as he has any player at seven previous deadline periods.

Kesler’s player profile from NHL.com: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8470616#&navid=nhl-search

>> D Marek Zidlicky (New Jersey)

Pro scout Don Waddell, one of GM Ray Shero’s close confidants, had scouted the Devils in person last week – and that was to get a read on Zidlicky. He is a pure rental player, something the Penguins were not interested in before losing Letang and D Paul Martin. Letang is likely out for the season; Martin (broken hand) is out 4-6 weeks, and there are indications that will be closer to the six-week range. Zidlickly, 37, counts $3 million against the cap.

The Penguins are not planning for Letang’s return this season and they view puck-moving defenseman as a big need because of that expectation. There is growing concern that Crosby and LW Chris Kunitz, the top-line duo already dealing with the loss of regular RW Pascal Dupuis, who handled a lot of the dirty duties away from the puck, are chasing too much because neither Letang nor Martin have been in the lineup. Zidlicky is neither Letang nor Martin, but he is an upgrade as a puck mover for a defense corps suddenly lacking in that area aside from Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta.

Zidlicky’s player profile from NHL.com: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8469623#&navid=nhl-search

 

>> RW Ales Hemsky (Edmonton)

The Penguins do not have the second-round choice the Oilers seek for Hemsky, who Shero was able to scout in-person at the Winter Olympics in Russia. Hemsky, 30, is also a rental player with a $5 million cap hit. He is an alternative if the Penguins do not land Kesler – though, Edmonton is asking for a second-round pick that the Penguins do not have unless they acquire one in another trade. (The Penguins’ second-round pick was part of the cost for D Douglas Murray last season.)

Hemsky, if acquired, would play with Crosby and Kunitz. He is more of a playmaker than a sniper, though he conceivably could keep up with those two in the skating department. Also, he is a right-handed shot.

Hemsky’s player profile from NHL.com: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8469466#&navid=nhl-search

>> These are not the only players the Penguins are considering, but they have emerged as the likely top three targets. Kesler is the clear priority, but the Penguins believe they could have the cap space – because of potential long-term injury designations for possibly several players, including Martin ($5 million), Dupuis ($3.75 million) and Letang ($3.5 million) – to fit all three players.

To go on LTI, a player must miss at least 10 games and 24 days. That will not be a problem for Letang or Martin, and Dupuis is out for the season.

(A player counts against the cap once he returns to the active roster off the LTI list; though teams can exceed the cap during the playoffs.)

All cap hits are prorated at this point, but for simpler purpose, consider:

The Penguins could save $12.25 million in space by placing Martin, Dupuis and Letang on LTI. Kesler, Zidlicky and Hemsky would combine to count $13 million.

By the way, RW Chuck Kobasew was placed on waivers Monday. If he is claimed, his $550,000 cap-hit could help the Penguins in a not-so-small way.

>> As always, things change fast around the trade deadline, so keep clicking.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Shero’s history suggests whatever player/prospect he surrenders in a trade might not come back to haunt him: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5695797-74/round-nhl-penguins

>> Colleague Chris Adamski – not my intern, by the way – looks at the impact Dupuis’ absence is having on Crosby and Kunitz: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5695788-74/dupuis-crosby-game#axzz2ud8U59IJ

>> Adamski also filed this notebook: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5695792-74/penguins-players-trade#axzz2ud8U59IJ

Figures to be a busy day and a half on this end.

Still, be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

March 3, 2014
by Rob Rossi


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

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

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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