1. There’s a GM who has one of the best lines I’ve ever heard about life in sports: “There are only two moods — winning and hell.”
In conversations over the last week, one theme stood out: This league is tense.
“Well, it’s always tense,” one executive laughed. “But even more than normal for this early.”
Various coaches, players, execs and media said they could see it in places like Arizona (winless after some good summer moves), Boston (injuries and a slow start, despite talented young players), Minnesota (injuries and expectation), Montreal (losses and intense local pressure), New York Rangers (roster in transition), Vancouver (attendance), Washington (organizational pressure) and Winnipeg (rough start before three straight wins).
This caught my eye, because teams that are under pressure may be willing to consider making trades to get out of a funk before it’s too late in the season and the playoffs become unrealistic. That and firing the coach are about the only tools in the toolbox for a struggling team under pressure to turn things around.
Let’s not forget Pens GM Jim Rutherford had this to say to the Post-Gazette about the status of the long discussed about trade addition of a third line center:
“I don’t feel the urgency,” Rutherford said. “McKegg and Rowney have played well. I would like to continue to look and find somebody there. That doesn’t affect either of those two guys because of those guys can go to the wing when we add another center.
“As long as we can hang in there, we’ll continue to wait until it’s somebody that we’ve identified that we feel will fit into our team and help us win.”
McKegg and Rowney haven’t been the issues or major problems, so Rutherford’s stance seems reasonable and realistic.
However, none of the teams Friedman mentions above tend to have one of those “somebod[ies] that we’ve identified”, here at Pensburgh at least. Winnipeg just re-signed Bryan Little, so scratch him off any hope of the trade block. Ryan Spooner from Boston has had his named whispered about, but we feel he’s too inconsistent and poor away from the puck and would be a lot more Brandon Sutter-lite than Jordan Staal-lite. Arizona and Montreal don’t have any 3rd line centers to trade away and teams like the Rangers and Capitals aren’t going to help their division (and possible future playoff) rivals in Pittsburgh with a trade, unless it’s a rip-off of talent for them.
However, a few notes down Friedman did hint about a center who could be traded:
5. The trade market tends to be very slow at this time of the season, but I started to hear the name Sam Reinhart last weekend. Reinhart scored his first of the season Sunday, although it took an NHL review a day later to confirm it.
I don’t think it would surprise Sabres fans to hear this, but, after checking around, my sense is Buffalo doesn’t want to do anything rash. It’s a new regime, it’s been five games, and you want to make sure you really know what you’ve got unless something spectacular drops on you. Might be something to watch later in the year. Also with Buffalo, I get the sense people (not just the Sabres) want to see Alex Nylander play.
Reinhart was the #2 pick in 2014 and even at age 21 has already had seasons of 42 and 47 points in the NHL. For this trade, it’s as if the Penguins are shopping for and have the budget for a capable but older used truck and Reinhart would be like a late-model sports car. Not a fit by any realistic means, but fun to dream, and interesting to note since not too many specific names are being talked about as Friedman notes. It’s tough to see the Pens as players whatsoever for Reinhart, but certainly interesting that he could be available.
20. Fun stat to keep an eye on, Toronto. No team has ever won 50 games in a season with a Goals Against Average of 3.00 or worse. Highest number was 2.93, done in 2008-09 by both the Red Wings (51 wins) and Capitals (50). The 1974-75 Sabres, 1976-77 Bruins and 1982-83 Flyers all won 49 games with a GAA of exactly 3.00.
The Pens sample is skewed a bit still by the 10-1 drubbing in Chicago, but right now they’re 30 out of 31 with a 4.14 Goals Allowed per game. With 4 wins in 7 games, Pittsburgh is currently on pace for a 47 win season despite all the goals allowed, but naturally and obviously they’ll have to clean up a lot defensively if they want to end up making a run at 50 wins this season.
24. Impressive, under-the-radar first-couple-of-weeks player: Alex Iafalo, Los Angeles. An NCAA free agent. “Looks like a lot of us missed on him,” one exec said.
25. One of the top targets this time around is Mankato State defenceman Daniel Brickley. He had four points in a game last weekend at Boston University. That did not go unnoticed.
Included these 2 notes since it’s never to early in Pittsburgh to start thinking about the spring NCAA possibilities as free agents, since the Penguins either sign (or are finalists) for seemingly all the top college UFA’s. Brickley in particular I’ve seen a lot of twitter buzz about, seeing the 22-year old defenseman listed a 6’3, 203 and being a point per game player since last season stands out. One to file in the memory banks for sure as the type of player that Pittsburgh could use, being as the pool of prospect defensemen age 20-24 is very, very thin right now.
That’s about all we found this week Pittsburgh related in this column.