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Breaking down the Penguins’ related notes in 31 Thoughts

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Were the Pens trying to “rattle Malkin’s cage” with recent unhappiness?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On a Monday morning in the May wasteland of the offseason, about the best thing going on in the world is Sportsnet’s “31 Thoughts” column from Elliotte Friedman. The whole thing is worth a read to see what is going on around the league — we’ll break into the Penguins’ related notes:

Krueger is rising on Buffalo’s list of coaching candidates. He’s got a real shot at the job. John Shannon reported earlier in the week that Tampa Bay assistant Todd Richards is no longer a candidate. There is a belief Jacques Martin is out, too

It looks like the Buffalo Sabres, who interviewed Pens’ assistant Jacques Martin, will not be looking in his direction for their head coaching opening. This is almost a low-key shame for Pittsburgh. Martin has been behind the bench since 2013 with three different head coaches, something almost unheard of in NHL climates. The organization likes Martin, but a fresh voice and perspective might not be the worst thing in the world for the Pens.

Ottawa’s list includes Dallas assistant Rick Bowness, incumbent Marc Crawford, NCAA Providence’s Nate Leaman, AHL Belleville bench boss Troy Mann, Martin and Toronto assistant DJ Smith.

From the disappointment of the above, there’s still a chance for Martin to coach the Senators again. Though I can’t imagine given his age (67 before next season), and prior history (Ottawa coach from 1995-2004), that would feel like a very inspired hire for their team.

A couple of executives who said there was definitely something to the Evgeni Malkin trade rumours think those will die down. “If their goal was to rattle his cage,” one said, “he got the message.” When Malkin arrived at the world championships, the future Hall-of-Famer told reporter Simon Galkevich, “I had a bad season…Sometimes criticism is justified. This time it’s probably justified.” Malkin also controls his future.

Now we get into the meat of this week’s scoops. As many remember, a lot of this “cage rattling” culminated with what Josh Yohe of The Athletic wrote from Jim Rutherford’s comments on April 25, the Pens’ GM would not commit to Malkin’s future.

The general manager was asked specifically if Evgeni Malkin, 32, is part of the team’s long-term plans.

“I’m not at the point where I’m making any decision on that at this point,” he explained. “I just can’t answer that kind of question right now.”

Why?

“There are a lot of things to sort through right now,” he said.

That’s a pretty bold non-endorsement of Malkin, a former MVP, scoring champion, Conn Smythe winner and one of the league’s absolute best players over the last 12 seasons.

Related: Evgeni Malkin responds to trade rumors: “I’m used to the talks I’ll get traded”, isn’t “nervous”

Right now it’s a good thing that the general consensus around the league is that trade rumors will die down. Likely Rutherford was emotionally frayed from the first round exit and definitely looking to send a message that no one should be comfortable or satisfied with how the team’s performance was.

Trading a massive star center (with a full no movement clause) was always going to be a death sentence to the Pens’ championship contention hopes, so it is encouraging that at the very least it looks like a worst case scenario of actually exploring moving Malkin won’t be followed up on beyond the bluster of initial anger.

First, what are Minnesota’s plans for Jared Spurgeon? He’ll be 30 in November, with one more season on a $5.2M cap hit. Ideally, the Wild re-sign him, but Spurgeon might be their most tradable asset at a time they don’t have too many. There’d be a ton of interest. There already is, but Minnesota has to make a decision. It would be a surprise if Jason Zucker returned following last season’s aborted trade to Calgary. There’s always interest in scorers.

Though I’m loathe to fan the flames of Phil Kessel rumors, we know Minnesota was an available option in 2015 for Phil to be traded per his contract. Phil has personal connections being from nearby Wisconsin, as well as playing college at the University of Minnesota for one season.

Also, just as something to think about — Kessel ($6.8 million cap hit) plus Jack Johnson ($3.25 million) is in the same ballpark salary-wise as Zucker ($5.5 million) and Spurgeon ($5.1 million).

Olli Maatta ($4.08m) is another name that should be mentioned too, since it’s likely he will be dealt by Pittsburgh this summer and could fit in here as well in some manner.

Surely the Wild could look in a lot of different directions to flip or re-sign Spurgeon, but just saying on the surface a major Minnesota/Pittsburgh trade makes a bit of sense for both sides where teams are going to look to shake up their rosters.

How will Vegas get under the cap? The Golden Knights are already over this year’s $79.5M figure and close to the projected $83M for 2019-20. Defenceman Colin Miller fell out of favour, but teams who tried to take advantage of his healthy scratches were told the Knights aren’t interested in simply giving him away.

Colin Miller has three more years at $3.875 million left. This is an example where trading for Erik Gudbranson (two more years at $4 million) constrains the team. Gudbranson did OK in his small sample, but the Penguins have painted themselves into a corner hoping he can continue on that. And even then, he’s still a third pair defenseman who needs to be sheltered and can’t move the puck up the ice consistently.

The opportunity cost of being locked in with Gudbranson closes off avenues to pursue other teams in salary cap crunches, but alas, that won’t be available for Pittsburgh this offseason.

What is Vancouver planning on the blue line? Derrick Pouliot out, Luke Schenn expected to get an extension. It’s possible only one of Alex Edler, Ben Hutton and/or Chris Tanev is back next season. The Canucks are going to investigate countless possibilities.

The Canucks might just be THE prime spot to unload Jack Johnson this season for Pittsburgh (assuming they would want to).

Also RIP in peace Derrick Pouliot’s NHL career.

Pat Maroon’s superb spring could help Wayne Simmonds. The latter has to get healthy, but what Maroon’s reminded everyone is that you need those kinds of players in April, May and (hopefully) June.

It’s always interesting to see how unique players like this are valued in the modern game. Much is made of Patric Hornqvist’s $5.3 million cap hit, but that really is on the low-end of a lot of his contemporaries. We’ll see how the market plays out for guys like Simmonds and Maroon this summer.

David Krejci made his NHL playoff debut in 2008. He’s got 98 post-season points. Players with more during that span: Sidney Crosby (181), Evgeni Malkin (164), Alexander Ovechkin (126), Patrick Kane (123), Marian Hossa (114), Jonathan Toews (110), Nicklas Backstrom (106).

I’m including this just as the reminder how well Crosby and Malkin have done in the playoffs, combined with how many games they’ve gotten to play there over the years. Often times it’s so negative, especially on a year like this, so it’s important to take a step back and remember how much has been accomplished sometimes!