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January 13, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Pregame: Penguins vs. Wild, 7 p.m.


Give the Penguins this: They’re saying all the right things.

The Minnesota Wild are a mess right now. Coach Mike Yeo could be fired if this thing doesn’t turn around. Same for general manager Chuck Fletcher.

But nobody on the Penguins wants to take Minnesota, which will visit Consol Energy Center tonight at 7, for granted.

“To look at their record and how they’ve been struggling of late isn’t a testament to how good their team is and the type of players that they have,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “We can’t take them lightly. We have to expect a good game, a hard game from them and be ready to play.”

Minnesota has lost five in a row, 11 of 13 and 16 of 23 to fall to last place in the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference. Their power play is 25th at 14.3 percent, and they’re averaging just 2.93 goals per game, which ranks 24th.

Defenseman Kris Letang doesn’t care. A team with Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Thomas Vanek need not be taken lightly, Letang said.

“They’re not getting the result right now, but they’re a really good hockey team.” Letang said. “They’re pretty deep at every position, so we have to expect a team that’s going to be hungry to try and prove something.”

The Penguins will try to build on Sidney Crosby’s game-winning power-play goal from Saturday in Montreal. The chances were there, Letang and forward David Perron insisted, an assertion backed up by the fact that the Penguins generated eight shots with the man-advantage.

It was only a matter of time until one of them went in.

“We had tons of chances in that game,” Letang said. “We looked at the tape. (Goaltender Carey) Price made some key saves at key moments. We have to keep working and maybe simplify at times, but I think we’re on the right path.”

Perron, who has 16 shots in his three games thus far as a Penguin, agreed.

“I think it’s just a matter of time,” Perron said. “We had some good looks in Montreal other than that goal. I think we’re doing a lot of good things over the last few games that I’ve been here. I don’t know about before. I think it’s just a matter of time.”

News out of the skate: Not a ton. Pens called up Taylor Chorney from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Letang skated a day after missing practice because of a “maintenance day.” The day after it was reported he will likely miss the rest of the year, defenseman Olli Maatta skated prior to practice with Pascal Dupuis. … Lines remained the same:


Defense rotated in groups: 7, 10, 58 and 41 … 4, 47 and 44.

About the Wild: Jason Zucker leads in goals with 15. … Nino Niederreiter is one goal behind Zucker but hasn’t scored in 14 games. … Jason Pominville leads with 32 points. … Minnesota has outshot its opponent in 32 of 41 games this season (78.1 percent). … Marco Scandella has nine goals — or as many as the Wild’s other six defensemen combined. … Defenseman Ryan Suter has topped 30 minutes in 13 games this season, but he hasn’t scored since the first game of the season. … Since Dec. 5, the Wild has 13 power-play goals in 17 games (13 for 62, 21.0 percent).

The series: Tonight’s game completes the season series. … Penguins have won three of their last four against Minnesota and is looking to sweep the season series for the first time. … Penguins are 7-2 against the Western Conference this season. … Chris Kunitz has four goals in his last four games against the Wild. … The previous meeting was a 4-1 Penguins win at XCel Energy Center on Tuesday, Nov. 4. Thomas Greiss stop ped 33 of 34 shots. … Marc-Andre Fleury is 0-5-0 all-time against the Wild, the only NHL he’s never beaten. … Niederreiter scored with 9:18 left to snap a 205:28 shutout streak for the Penguins, it also snapped a stretch of 18 unanswered goals for them, the longest in the NHL since 2000-01. … Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter, Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist scored for the Penguins.

Next up: Penguins at Islanders, Friday, 7 p.m.

The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ home page
The Wild’s home page’s preview and box score


January 11, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Revisit the Johnston story


One of the first things I did on this beat was write an introductory piece on Penguins coach Mike Johnston.

How he loved football, specifically Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense. How he played music at practices. How he liked to play a fast-paced game.

To report it, I talked to Johnston’s longtime assistant with the Portland Winterhawks, Kyle Gustafson, who was extremely helpful.

I hope by now you’ve had a chance to read today’s story on Johnston, hopefully allowing you to get to know him a little bit more. Fascinating guy, really. I also thought it might make for an interesting blog to revisit some of what Gustafson told me shortly after Johnston was hired. I don’t believe any of this made the paper the first time around.

Gustafson: “It seemed like every arena we were in, whether we were scouting, playing or at the NHL Draft, he couldn’t go five minutes without seeing a guy that he knows. I think that speaks volumes on the character and the guy that he is, to know that he has a lot of allies out there. That’s just Mike’s makeup. He’s a friendly guy. He’s the most caring guy I’ve been around.”

Mackey: Johnston has proven to be extremely well-connected. Seriously, every coach that comes into town, it seems like Johnston coached against him, coached for him, knew him through Canada’s national team or in Willie Desjardins’ case was the best man in his wedding. The guys knows a lot of people.

Gustafson: “He’s always reading. He’s always learning. He doesn’t come across like he knows everything, by any means. He likes to study different athletes. I can’t tell you the amount of examples we’ve had for individuals through Portland here. His go-to guy is Tom Brady. He’s got a lot of respect for Tom Brady and the professionalism he carries and the path that he took to the NFL. … Every training camp, every long road trip and playoffs, there was always a motivator: a story, a little example, something we used as a crutch to really try to have success with short-term motivation.”

Mackey: In the takeout, I wrote about Johnston is reading at the moment. “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabatt-Zinn. Johnston is also a published author himself. I’m not aware any anecdotes until this point or little stories that he’s used, though I’m not sure that would translate as well as with the NHL crowd as it might have in the Western Hockey League.

Gustafson: “One of his best abilities is the way that he addresses the media, the way that he can get his point across to a large group. That stuff is right in his wheelhouse. He loves that stuff. He eats it up.”

Mackey: Johnston has been forced to handle a lot of injury updates and questions. This is not his comfort zone, nor would it be for pretty much any hockey coach. Sure wouldn’t be for me. His answers on hockey-related topics, however, are incredible. Johnston does love Brady and roots for the Pats because of it. Big, big football guy. He loves Brady’s demeanor. Always even keel. Never overly celebratory or petulant. I think we can see we’ve seen a lot of that from Johnston postgame.

Gustafson: “He’s got a lot of time for different people. It didn’t matter, for our team, whether you’re a prospect coming up through the system or you’re our star player, he’s going to pull you aside and spend 5-10 minutes with you every day, telling you what you need to work on, what you need to do to become a player. That goes outside the arena, too. It’s developing young men into professionals and taking the time to do so. There’s not a question in my mind that there’s not a guy who wouldn’t go through the end wall for him.”

Mackey: Johnston has been equal opportunity. He chewed out Derrick Pouliot — his Winterhawks connection and no doubt a favorite of his — when the young defenseman struggled, then praised him when he was good. He spends as much time talking to and coaching Andrew Ebbett as he does Sidney Crosby. Many Penguins were unsure what to think of Johnston early on — a guy who had never been an NHL head coach taking over one of its top teams. He has their attention now.

Club practices at 11 a.m. at Consol tomorrow. Talk to you from there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



January 10, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Pregame: Penguins at Canadiens, 7 p.m.


MONTREAL — The two have been polar opposites.

Dan Bylsma and Mike Johnston? Well, no. But you might want to pick up a Trib tomorrow to learn a little bit more — OK, a lot more — about the Penguins’ new coach and what makes him tick.

I’m talking about the two games thus far against the Montreal Canadiens: a 4-0 win at Bell Centre on Nov. 18 and a 4-1 loss at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 3.

Starts, I guess you could say, were huge. The Canadiens scored two in the first in Pittsburgh and rolled. The Canadiens didn’t offer much resistance here last time, when Beau Bennett had a career-high three points, Marc-Andre Fleury won his fourth in nine, and the Penguins won for the 10th time in a 11 games.

Those were the day, eh? Not this recent road skid: 0-2-3, winless on the road in December, matching the stretch that got Michel Therrien fired and replaced with Bylsma.

Oddly, the November game snapped a six-game winning streak for the Canadiens, while the loss at Consol a week ago made it six in a row for Montreal, a stretch that was snapped by Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

“If you look at the last game, there wasn’t a ton of room out there,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after Saturday’s gameday skate. “They capitalized on some chances. I think we’d like to generate a few more chances. I thought we did a pretty good job in the first period against them. The second two they seemed to shut those chances down pretty well. If we can improve in that area and be a little more consistent, it will hopefully generate more goals.”

The neutral zone will be important tonight. Montreal dominated it last game; in the first, the Penguins played the transition game Johnston prefers. I’ll say this: The Penguins had plenty of jump this morning.

Here’s Johnston answer from his morning scrum:

“Both games are almost opposite,” Johnston said. “If you look at the game we had here, we got up to an early lead. It was exactly the opposite when we played them in Pittsburgh (seven) days ago. They got off to the early lead. They capitalized right away. They played from the front. Certainly you’re never going to control that in a game, but I thought those were both factors in the two games.

“The key thing for Montreal, for me, is we’ve got to deny them transition opportunities. They’re a good team in transition. They’ve got very good skill, very good speed up front. We just don’t want to give them those easy transition opportunities.

“You’re talking about turnovers through the neutral zone. Make sure we manage the puck really well through there. And making sure our backcheck is solid off the forecheck.”

News out of the skate: Not a ton. … Habs skated off-site, but PA Parenteau, Mike Weaver and Manny Malhotra are reportedly out. … Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby are united, and David Perron shifted to right wing on the Penguins’ top line. … Steve Downie skated with Brandon Sutter and Bryan Rust. … Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff will play together, Robert Bortuzzo and Paul Martin. … Center Marcel Goc reported no problems and took rushes on a fourth line with Zach Sill and Craig Adams.

About the Canadiens: Like the Penguins, Montreal has 54 points, four behind Tampa Bay for the Eastern Conference lead. … Power play is 26th in the league at 14.2 percent, though Montreal has have power-play goals in five of its past 10 games. … Max Pacioretty leads the team in goals and points at 17-15–32. … Lightning snapped Montreal’s six-game winning streak with a 4-2 decision Tuesday. Canadiens hadn’t allowed more than one goal in a game prior to that since Dec. 6.

The series: Tied at 1 game apiece this season. Pittsburgh has a 5-4 edge in goals, Montreal a 60-53 lead in shots. Canadiens are 0 for 7 on the power play. … Penguins are 8-2-2 over their past 12 games overall vs. Montreal, 6-2-2 in their last 10 at Bell Centre.

Next up: Penguins vs. Wild, 7 p.m.

The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Canadiens’ gameday page’s preview and box score


January 10, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Pens roundtable: episode 2


While I was literally flying from Toronto to Montreal, fellow beat man Josh Yohe joined Ken Laird to talk some Pens on TribLIVE Radio.

Pens play at the Canadiens on Saturday. I’m told it’s an atmosphere unlike anything else. Hockey Night in Canada, in Montreal. Can’t wait, seriously.

Road trip has been excellent so far, despite the cold. Just a beautiful city. Walked around some earlier, found a small Italian place for dinner. All good.

Anyway, the podcast. Check it out.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



January 8, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Postgame: Bruins 3, Penguins 2 (OT)


I chose in my game story to take a closer look at the Penguins’ power play, which is generating chances but no goals.

This is problematic for a couple reasons. One is that games are decided by goals, not chances. Another is that teams such as Montreal and Boston, Pittsburgh’s last two opponents, have tried to clog the neutral zone. This frustrates the Penguins, much the opposite of what Tampa Bay did in its willingness to play a more open game.

If this continues five-on-five, the Penguins need an alternative form of offense. It hasn’t come from the power play, and I’m not sure I’d suggest turning to the penalty kill, although it has been solid, to generate many goals.

The mystery of the Penguins power play is quite something. The unit scored on 24 of 68 chances through 21 games — 35.3 percent of the time, the best in the NHL. Not so much over the past 19, as I wrote.

“We’re getting chances” has been a familiar refrain. But sooner or later that has to get frustrating, I would think.

“It might wear on us a little bit,” forward Beau Bennett allowed. “You want to produce when you’re on the power play. You want to be a guy who helps out the team in that way, but I think we’ll get better going forward.”

Many of you laughed about Trib columnist Rob Rossi drawing what he believes would be a better power-play setup, with Sidney Crosby in the right corner, Evgeni Malkin along the right-wing boards and David Perron in the left circle.

It’s an interesting option, for sure. One I would not dismiss.

But enough with the power play.

What I did like tonight came from Malkin and Beau Bennett together. They were extremely good.

I don’t know whether Beau Bennett is ready to be The Guy next to Malkin. We’ll need more than 60 minutes to judge. But Malkin’s pass from behind the net and Bennett’s finish for the Penguins’ first goal was a thing of beauty.

“I thought we had a lot of chances each period,” Bennett said. “It’s something to build on, first time playing with those two guys this year. I thought we did some good things.”

Is anyone in the NHL playing better than Malkin right now? It’s a fair question, in my opinion.
He has points in 30 of 40 games, 12 multi-point efforts in there, including tonight. He attempted 12 shots tonight, and six were on goal. His blast from above the circle for the Penguins’ second goal was a clear assertion of of his dominance.

By the way, he now has a team-high 45 points. Crosby has 43.

“I thought ‘Geno’ had a real good night,” coach Mike Johnston said. “I thought that line was a consistent threat all night. They had pressure. They had speed. They controlled the puck when they had it in the offensive zone.”

It’s clear the Penguins are lacking a net-front presence.

They put 39 shots on Tuukka Rask and didn’t score on a single rebound. Blake Comeau would be a welcome addition. Even better would be the return of Patric Hornqvist. Especially on the power play and especially when opponents are thwarting the Penguins’ transition game.

“The other night, I don’t think we did a very good job in front of (Montreal’s Carey) Price,” Johnston said. “Tonight we did a better job, but we have to find those pucks. It’s a matter of when the rebound hits the goaltender, having a heavy stick and being really strong around the net on those loose pucks.”

Club practices a Southpointe Thursday at noon. Will see yinz there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



January 7, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Pregame: Penguins vs. Bruins, 8 p.m.


It’s Rivalry Night. Finally. Welcome to the legendary Mike “Doc” Emrick, whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this morning. Just a human and a wonderful conversation about Pittsburgh, about meeting eventual wives … bunch of good stuff.

Not only does this one offer a late start, but it pits the Penguins against a perennial playoff contender in the Boston Bruins.

Oh wait. What? Yeah, that’s right. The Bruins aren’t in the playoff picture at the moment. Ninth in the Eastern Conference. Behind Toronto. Just doesn’t feel right.

“Even right now where they are in the standings, I don’t think we’re paying much attention to that,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We’re expecting to play one of the best teams tonight.”

The numbers are ugly for the Bruins. They’re 4-2-4 in their past 10, 1-1-3 in their past five, 0-0-3 in their past three. They’re 7-9-2 on the road. Their road power play is 4 for 45, an 8.9-percent conversion rate that ranks 26th.

How bad have things gotten in Beantown? Well — this may sound familiar — Torey Krug and Brad Marchand reportedly got into a scuffle at practice Tuesday.

Need more?

In being named CEO of Delaware North Boston Holdings, which controls the Bruins, Charlie Jacobs called the team’s performance “unacceptable” and talks about a top-to-bottom review — they never to find the unsung heroes in those examinations.

“As players, we created that,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “But we have a good opportunity to turn things around with half a season left. We’re still right there as far as the standings go. No one’s going to do it for us. We have to do it as individuals and as a team.”

The Bruins have 44 points through 40 games, their lowest total since coach Claude Julien’s first year in 2007-08. They’ve made the postseason every year since then, yet injuries and inconsistency have plagued the Bruins big-time.

“Right now we’re looking at the standings, we’re looking at where we are in the year, and we know we need to turn things around,” center Patric Bergeron said. “It definitely needs to start as quick as possible.”

Penguins forward Chris Kunitz doesn’t want it to happen against the Penguins, on Rivalry Night.

“I don’t think you ever take a team for granted,” Kunitz said. “No matter what stage they’re in or how they’re playing. We have to make sure we play our game and do the best we can out there to make sure they don’t get onto their roll playing us.”

News out of the skate: Defenseman Paul Martin is still a game-time decision. … Center Marcel Goc is sick and won’t play. Winger Zach Sill will place him and will also see time on the penalty kill. … Olli Maatta skated before practice. … Bruins rookie David Pastrnak, who’s five games into his NHL career, will not play tonight; Boston is saving him for Thursday against the Devils.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Bruins: Bergeron leads them in points (28), Marchand in goals (11). … They went 5-6-3 in December, their first month with a losing record since going 5-7-1 in February 2012. … Bergeron has a ridiculous 59% faceoff success rate, which ranks second in the NHL behind Montreal’s Manny Malhotra (61.9%). … The power play has actually not been the culprit. Boston has notched a power-play goal in five of its past seven. … The Bruins were outshot, 36-20, in a 2-1 shootout loss at Carolina on Jan. 4.

The series: Penguins are 7-2 in their past nine games at Consol Energy Center. … They’re 8-1-1 in their past 10 against Boston, winning four in a row. … The last seven games in the series have been decided by a single goal. … Penguins won the only previous meeting, 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 24. … That game, Evgeni Malkin scored the winner, Marc-Andre Fleury got No. 300, and Beau Bennett suffered a lower-body injury.

Up next: Saturday, at Canadiens, 7 p.m.

The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Bruins’ gameday page’s preview and box score


January 4, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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‘A pretty good first night’


The Penguins didn’t have their best night offensively during Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center.

One of their worst all season, I thought. Not many quality scoring chances at all.

It would be hard to blame David Perron, who roughly 24 hours prior flew from Denver to Pittsburgh, in the middle of a road trip, to start a new life in a new city with a new team.

Perron finished with six shots on goal and eight attempts in 15:47. He had 74 hits in 38 games for the Oilers and exceeded that 1.94-per-game average with four hits against the Habs.

And, oh yeah, the goal, the snipe from the inner-edge of the left circle.

“David had good poise with the puck,” coach Mike Johnston said. “You could see when the puck hit his stick, he’s got his head up, he’s looking to make a play. He had a quick-release shot on the goal. He had a couple other touches, a couple other deflections around the goal.

“It was a pretty good first night for him. Coming in, just traveling in, then all of a sudden jumping in with a new team and playing, I like what he did there. (captain Sidney Crosby) and him at times had some chemistry there.”

Perron was reserved in his postgame comments.

“With the last couple days here, the energy wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be,” Perron said. “I was running on adrenaline and trying to push myself as much as possible.”

I was impressed with Perron. He has solid hands and you could practically see him thinking on the ice. Also liked the hustle, backchecking and creating a turnover.

Loved his quote on Crosby’s pass: “That was probably the best pass I’ve ever received,” Perron said. “Over two sticks. I had a good portion of the net to put it in, so it felt good.”

When I talked to Perron over the phone the day he was traded, he talked about wanting to make plays in the neutral zone, not simply dumping the puck in. His new coach likes that. Perron has also hinted a couple times now at using his speed through the neutral zone. His new coach likes that, too.

“It’s a system that I think is going to fit my game pretty well,” Perron said. “A lot of speed in the neutral zone.”

“It was only the first game,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s going to get used to the system and everything. Pretty excited.”

Many are. And for good reason.

Club’s off tomorrow. So am I. Will talk to you Monday from practice here at Consol.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



January 3, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Looking back and ahead to Saturday


Before we preview tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, I wanted to touch on a few leftovers from Friday’s 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

First, I thought Evgeni Malkin, Andrew Ebbett and Bryan Rust were really good together. Not saying I wouldn’t replace one of them for David Perron — I would — but they were largely responsible for the win, probably as much as captain Sidney Crosby’s playmaking.

Ebbett had his first multi-point game since March 14, 2013 and scored on his birthday for the second time in his career, also doing it in 2009. His goal was his first with the Penguins, while Rust’s one assist was his first in the NHL.

Malkin, meanwhile, snapped a three-game scoreless streak with a goal and an assist.

“I actually thought that Geno and Ebbett — Ebbett had a really good game tonight — and ‘Ruster’ were one of our better lines early in the game,” coach Mike Johnston said. “We had some good balance.”

Now, he needs to settle on a nickname for Rust; we’ve had “Rusty” and “Ruster.” Need to pick one.

I would also continue to play Steve Downie with Crosby. Why? Well, because Downie can. And no one on this current roster — not counting Patric Hornqvist or Pascal Dupuis — have worked with Crosby.

Downie had a pair of goals Friday, and I thought what he said about Crosby after the game was telling.

“I thought (linemate Nick Spaling) and I kept it simple, tried to get him the puck as much as possible,” Downie said. “He makes plays that not a lot of people can make. It’s just about putting the puck in the net for him. I thought tonight we buried our chances.”

Johnston noticed.

“ ‘Downs’ is an underestimated player,” Johnston said. “He’s a guy who people look at as a physical, hard, antagonizer. He does so much more. You saw (Friday) with the puck down low in the zone. He makes good plays with the puck. He hangs on to it, makes good decisions. I really think he can play with top-end players, for sure.”

OK, Montreal. The Canadiens (25-11-2) are tied with the Lightning atop the Atlantic Division with 52 points. They’re coming off a 4-2 win at New Jersey on Friday, with two goals from Michael Bournival (including the first of his NHL career) and one apiece from Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. P.K. Subban had three helpers.

Goaltender Carey Price played last night — his 400th career game — which means we’ll probably see Dustin Tokarski opposite Marc-Andre Fleury. Can anyone guess the other two goalies for Montreal who have played 400-plus games? Pacioretty leads the Habs with 15-14–29.

Montreal doesn’t hit much. They had 15 hits last night, only eight from their defenseman and six from Alexei Emelin.

Yet, the Canadiens have won five in a row and eight of nine. Should be a good one. Johnston talks at 5 p.m. Will have updates after.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



January 2, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Debut of Penguins Roundtable


In between general manager Jim Rutherford trading for David Perron, Craig Adams fighting Evgeni Malkin or Steve Downie returning, you may have missed the debut of the Trib’s Pens Roundtable show.

It will be on TribLIVE every Friday afternoon from 1-2 p.m. It’s me, fellow beat man Josh Yohe and TribLIVE Radio’s Ken Laird talking about pucks for an hour.

Here’s the podcast of our first show. Hope you like it.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



January 2, 2015
by Josh Yohe

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Which defensemen should the Penguins trade?


Greetings, hockey fans. Happy New Year! Hope your celebrations were fun and safe.

You know what isn’t fun or safe? Being Jim Rutherford in the next couple of months. There is a lot of pressure on GMJR to deliver a couple of impact wingers before the trade deadline. It is widely assumed by the fan base that trading a couple of defensemen is the simple solution to acquiring forwards. This makes perfect sense to me.

However, we must take into account the salary cap situation, some injury issues that could disrupt Rutherford’s plans and the reality that the Penguins don’t want to trade away all of their young players.

I’ve ranked the organization’s top 10 defensemen. Here’s a look at where each stands, who is a candidate to be traded, and some other nuggets.

No. 1 Kris Letang


He’s having arguably his finest season and is a legitimate star. Letang isn’t going anywhere, of course. For the Penguins to compete for a championship, Letang needs to stay healthy and play even better, particularly on the power play. He’s in his prime and looks terrific.


No. 2 Paul Martin


Assessing Martin’s season has been difficult. He’s been perfectly fine, though I don’t think he’s played at last season’s level. Granted, that would be difficult. Martin was arguably the Penguins’ best player in the 2014 postseason. It was just an awesome performance. He hasn’t been bad this year, but I feel like his level of play has slipped slightly. That said, Martin and Letang are so good together. It will be tempting to keep Martin through the season simply to let those two play together for the duration. That said, Martin is an unrestricted free agent this summer and seems quite unlikely to return to the Penguins. Will they trade him? Perhaps, though I’d be careful. If you’re going to trade a player of Martin’s caliber, you better be getting a big return. Still, it remains very possible.


No. 3 Christian Ehrhoff


I didn’t like his game in October. Or maybe I just needed a month to fully appreciate Christian Ehrhoff. What a good player. He’s very economical with the puck, makes excellent decisions, owns a booming shot and remains, at 32, an above average skater. He isn’t the least bit physical and isn’t what I’d consider a shutdown guy. Interestingly, the Penguins haven’t displayed any interest in putting him on their top power play. I don’t see the Penguins trading Ehrhoff, even though you could receive something decent in return. GM Jim Rutherford really, really likes this guy. It’s more likely he receives an extension or walks this summer. A trade is unlikely. He’s just an unassuming, quality top-four defenseman. Those guys don’t grow on trees.


No. 4 Olli Maatta


Here’s where things get interesting. Will Maatta be healthy for the second half of the season and the playoffs? You tell me. Maatta visited one doctor and was told he needed surgery to repair his balky shoulder and that his season could be finished. So, he sought a second opinion and was told that he merely required a month of rehabilitation. I’ll respect the doctor’s opinion here. I’m no doctor, after all. But it sounds like the kind of injury that could linger. Maatta has been through so much already this year, it really wouldn’t be fair for him to sustain another shoulder surgery. Still, it’s impossible to predict how his shoulder will respond and whether he can play top-four minutes in the playoffs. He could find himself as Letang’s defense partner if he is healthy, especially if Martin is moved. I can’t imagine the Penguins trading him, certainly not now, as his health has become an issue because of the shoulder problem.


No. 5 Simon Despres


How about this guy? Simon Despres has suddenly given the Penguins a ton of flexibility. Is he a top-four defenseman? Yes, yes he is. Despres has been magnificent all season, a physical force who still possesses plenty of untapped offensive ability. You can see the offense methodically starting to come in Despres’ game. The physical play has been stunning. He’s a beast. And he’s also a fine puck-moving player, the kind of guy who usually makes a good first pass. There isn’t much to dislike here. Despres isn’t perfect – he has a bizarre habit of falling down for no reason and does occasionally make glaring mistakes – but he’s been really, really good. I believe Despres’ emergence allows the Penguins to trade someone like Martin, should they choose to. I wouldn’t have said that three months ago. But Despres is a different player now. Would I trade Despres? Heck no. You’ve got him for cheap this season and next. Take advantage of it.


No. 6 Rob Scuderi


The advanced stats community isn’t a big Scuderi fan, and it’s no secret that the 2013-14 campaign was a total disaster for the veteran. But give Scuderi credit. He has been much better this season and has been a fine defense partner for the developing Despres. In fact, Scuderi has been good enough this season that I suspect the Penguins could trade him to get rid of his contract. But perhaps they don’t want to. With the possibility that the Penguins could lose Martin and Ehrhoff this summer, the Penguins could be extremely young on the blue line next season. Yes, the young guys are great talents. But keeping one veteran around isn’t a bad idea. And like I said, this guy is playing much better this season.


No. 7 Robert Bortuzzo


I’m a Bortuzzo fan. He’s perfect solid. If he’s your No. 6 defenseman, you’re doing fine. He works relatively cheap and wouldn’t fetch a huge return in a trade, so I don’t know that dealing him makes sense, unless he’s part of a package deal. He’s one of those guys who just needs to stay healthy and play every night. He’ll keep getting better. He’s never going to be a star, but he should have a perfectly long NHL career.


No. 8 Derrick Pouliot


What a talent. I’ve talked with about 10 different people in the organization regarding Pouliot in the last two weeks. Everybody is smitten with this kid. Everyone. People in the front office, Penguins coaching staff and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaching staff all think he is going to be a star. By all accounts, drafting him with the No. 8 pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was a wise move by the Penguins. Is there a chance Pouliot could be traded? Well, sure. If the Penguins intend on making a blockbuster trade in the next few months – we know they’re going to be active, just not to what extent – Pouliot’s name will pop up. He’s by far their best prospect. Most believe he is a can’t miss, future NHL all-star defenseman. Those guys don’t come around often. Pouliot isn’t untouchable. For the right deal, the Penguins would consider trading him. But the only way the Penguins would trade Pouliot is if they receive an overwhelming offer. They don’t want to trade this kid and the odds of them doing so are small. I suspect he’ll be back in Wilkes-Barre soon, and that’s fine. Look at the depth chart and the number of impending free agents next summer. Starting in October, Pouliot will have played his final AHL game. Heck, if a couple of guys are traded away or injured during the rest of this season, Pouliot could be in Pittsburgh to stay. He’s not a great defensive player, but he’s an offensive wizard. The likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin thoroughly enjoy playing with him, and you can see why.


No. 9 Scott Harrington


He’s going to be a very, very solid NHL defenseman. You can just tell. Harrington doesn’t possess Brian Dumoulin’s size, and probably isn’t as slick a skater. But the organization likes him a lot. Harrington has wonderful defensive instincts and is remarkably comfortable in his own skin. He knows he’s a defensive defenseman, albeit one with perfectly decent puck skills, and he’s OK with that. Harrington projects as a Rob Scuderi type, but will be much better with the puck and is a better skater. Is he going to be a top-four guy? Yeah, I think so. Worst case scenario, Harrington turns into a very reliable No. 5 or No. 6 guy. Nothing wrong with that. But I think he’ll be even better. Is he attractive trade bait for other teams? Absolutely. Do the Penguins want to part ways with him? Absolutely not. He isn’t untouchable, but the return would have to be significant.


No. 10 Brian Dumoulin


The Penguins still view him as a very attractive prospect, even though his miserable night at Madison Square Garden last month was somewhat memorable. This guy doesn’t project as a star, but he definitely is an NHL-ready player who simply needs to see more game action. Will the Penguins trade him? It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. They like him, but they like Harrington more. I don’t know that Dumoulin could fetch a significant return, but he could be part of a package. Of course, if they want to keep him, there’s nothing wrong with that. He’ll be a solid enough pro.

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