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7 Thoughts before Pens/Caps: Guerin possibly to Buffalo, Sully snubbed, Nisky, Maatta and more!

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A look at news and notes on the day of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals Game 1. Might Bill Guerin be Buffalo's choice for GM? A look at Matt Niskanen in Pittsburgh and Washington, Olli Maatta, Nikita Kucherov's explosive off the ice as he is on it, and more!

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Gameday is finally here, but some thoughts first!

#1: Billy G (possibly) to the Buffalo Sabres, say it ain't so!

I'm on record in the comments saying my hottest Penguins take is that I've long believed it will be Bill Guerin (and not the more conventional candidate in Jason Botterill) that will end up being the next Pittsburgh GM one day. But could be Guerin be hired away before Jim Rutherford hangs 'em up?

Obviously looks like he's a contender now. Buffalo owner Terry Pegula is said in some reports to have "Pittsburgh ties", but other than being a huge Penn State booster and alumni, I'm not really sure how connected to the city of Pittsburgh that he is. Isn't from the area or really that connected other than some geography.

Anyways, to know Guerin is to love him, I have to imagine he is absolutely aces in an interview with his electric personality and people skills. However, it was said Buffalo is seeking a manager with previous GM experience (probably wise) and they may have former Stanley Cup winner in LA Dean Lombardi as a top target.

#2: A second Lebrun tweet since he got laid off from ESPN today, why not?

After none of Sidney Crosby or Kris Letang or Pascal Dupuis ever were voted to win the Masterton Trophy in recent years, I must admit to having a large bit of malaise about NHL awards. Just don't care about them too much to get outraged.

I'm sure Mike Sullivan will say the same thing, especially since he's a little busy chasing a bigger prize than the Jack Adams.

Still, in the wake of disappointing playoffs in the later-Bylsma years...and then the Mike Johnston debacle that was disappointing - well, everywhere - it's difficult to imagine that a coach who leads a team to #2 in the league with injuries like the below can't even be a finalist for coach of the year

Yeah, Sullivan had Crosby and a great group. Babcock had like 8 terrific rookies, including Auston Matthews who proved to be one of the league's best players period. McLellan had Connor McDavid. Tortorella had the best goalie in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky and a 16-game win streak, worthy of recognition, but come on. Behind every great coach is a ton of great players.

That said, with the Pens 5-0 under Sullivan in the playoffs (2/3 of the Adams finalists eliminated), we'll just keep on heading down the road in search of that bigger prize.

#3: Yesterday was my birthday and I'm not afraid or ashamed to say it was the big Dan LaCouture (a reference to test the memory of some older fans). Anyways, I was hoping the NHL schedule would have coincided to have the Pens play on my birthday, given the history, per PittsburghHockey.net: they're 5-2 overall, including 4-1 in the ever-extending time I've been on this mortal coil:

Year April 26 Opponent Score
1970 St. Louis 2-1
1975 NY Isles 0-1
1993 New Jersey 5-3
1996 Washington 4-1
1997 Philly 3-6
2001 Buffalo 3-0
2014 Columbus 4-1

The 2014 game was cool (it was a Game 5, and a relatively easy win that pushed Pittsburgh to a 3-2 series lead) but I think the 2001 game was my all-time favorite birthday game. Mario Lemieux scored early, the Pens outshot Dominik Hasek and the Sabres and rolled to a win in the magic of the "Moose" playoff run and last hurrah for Jagr with the boys.

It certainly helped erase the bad memory of the 1997 loss to Philly, which you might also remember as the last game that Lemieux played prior to his first retirement. Yeah, that one happened on my 13th birthday, and to think Mario was gone forever didn't stay with me or sour the day, not even a little bit, no sir. But hey, all's well that ends well and 2001 was finally that chance to make things right.

Also, no one blame me (I didn't make the schedule) but the Pens are just 3-5 all-time on April 27ths throughout history.

#4: Interesting piece here on our old friend Matt Niskanen who's become probably the most steady and reliable defender on the Capitals these days:

The Pens will have their work cut out for them going up against Nisky and seeing what chances they can generate. It will be of huge interest to see if the Dmitry Orlov-Niskanen pair draws the Crosby assignment on home ice (which usually the Caps reserve for the injured Karl Alzner and healthy John Carlson) or if they put Niskanen out mainly against Evgeni Malkin.

#5: Speaking of Niskanen, Ryan Wilson from Hockeybuzz had an interesting thought too:

I'd also say that Maatta was a promising top level defenseman prior to all his injuries/mumps/cancer too prior to Niskanen but that opens up a longer range thought: what can the Penguins do to help get him back to that level?

It's pretty much locked in for the immediate future that Maatta is tied with Trevor Daley. For better or worse they're likely to be a pair for Pittsburgh for the rest of these playoffs. But Daley is a free agent at season's end and probably not returning.

So how do the Pens get the most out of Maatta in the future? They'll have Kris Letang and Justin Schultz as right-side defensemen at the top of the list next season, does Maatta fit in there? I would assume a Maatta-Schultz 2nd pair could help Maatta get back to his days with Niskanen.

Or is there another option in free agency or via trade to bring in another RH shot that could pair with Maatta for next season? Pittsburgh has Maatta under contract for 5 more seasons after this and though he's been rocky at times, he's still a very young player that will be a big piece of the puzzle. It would be wise to pair him with a partner that can help bring the most out of him, like Niskanen did years ago.

#6: Did you catch this hot, hot heat that Tampa's Nikita Kucherov threw at his Lightning teammates in a translated interview that our SBN TB blog Raw Charge got into English first?

For example, you tell a new partner where you need to be, but he does not manage to get there with his feet.

A: I've been tormented all season. Stamkos broke down, and I could not find partners with whom there would be perfect mutual understanding. We played with Jonathan Drouin once, and it was good, but coach didn't put us together for some reason. Although when we crossed one day, the game went very well.

And there were other guys who just sat in the team. They got their money and stopped working. They knew that they had no competition, that "Tampa" would not take anyone. They did not play so well this year - this is evident from both statistics and movement. When I went out with them and gave them a pass, they did not even expect it. That's why I had a hard season, despite the statistics.

--

Other than Kucherov, there are only three players that his comments could point to that got paid last summer: Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, and Victor Hedman. We can rule out Stamkos as one of the players he’s complaining about since he obviously was having a good time playing with him.

Not sure how much should be put on Hedman, being as he was a deserving finalist for the Norris trophy but woo boy, "They got their money and stopped working" is a strong statement to make.

There could always be "lost in translation" issues, but this is fitting with the anger and attitude Kucherov showed in his last interview at the end of the regular season a couple weeks ago

Question: Is getting 40 goals special to you? I mean, obviously not many guys get to that.

Kucherov: I mean we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s the big thing. I don’t think about my goals.

On one hand, good to see he cares and is invested, anyone would have to love that. On the other, not very tactful. But many were predicting Tampa to go far this year and they had a disappointing season (in large part due to injuries). Obviously Kucherov is among them.

#7: Well one of these model projections are not like the other:

We reached out and asked Steve Burtch why his model is the only one the favors the Pens to win the series over the Caps. You can see them all here in his feed, below we'll copy and paste it to avoid the 140 character twitter limit to form a more cohesive thought:

Model significantly prefers the number of goals the Pens PK is likely to give up...slight edge to Pens PP also.....at 5v5 WSH's D is significantly superior, but the Pens O has a significant advantage...so really it'll be a matter of the Pens outscoring their potential defensive issues. Particularly if the Caps take penalties.

Steve's projection obviously sees the "Pens O vs. WSH D" as a bigger advantage than the flip-side of "WSH O vs. Pens D" which is a bit against the grain of most models. Interesting that he gives the Pens PP a bigger edge than the Caps PP, while both are strong, the PK edge to Pittsburgh seems to be a factor as well.

As with any projection, if you want to find a sunny day, you probably can. If the Pens can win 1 out of the first 2 games in DC, they'll likely shift to be favorites in the eyes of many of these models updates.

If you want to find doom and gloom, well that's even easier. It's going to be a real battle, perhaps the biggest challenge in the playoffs that either team will face all spring.

Bring to mind the end of the movie Rocky III with Balboa and his nemesis Apollo Creed about to slug it out to see who the better man is, with only them around to witness and find out.

Rocky: "Wanna ring the bell?"

Apollo: "Ding, ding'

Luckily for us, the whole world will be able to see the clash of the Pens and Caps.