It’s always fun to see a broader perspective from around the league and probably best aggregated in Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts Column. Let’s check on it from the Penguin perspective.
Perhaps the biggest NHL off ice news of the week is that agent Kent Hughes has been named the new general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. Hughes will step away from his large agency to step into his new role. One of his clients is of extreme interest, since it’s Kris Letang who is in some form of negotiations now in the final year of his contract.
So, here are the next questions I’m curious about:
• What other hires are to come? In particular, what is future of the amateur scouting department, as the upcoming draft is a crucial start to the rebuild?
• Who, exactly, is untouchable on the roster?
• Have there been — or will there be — conversations with the core of this team about their desire to stay or go?
Luckily “sign high profile former client” didn’t make the list, and Montreal’s cap situation is a disaster at this point anyways. Never say never in this sport, but the only real pertinent takeaway for Pittsburgh fans is that Kris Letang probably isn’t going to be settled or signing an extension in the immediate future with the transitions for his representation. But, then again, he probably wasn’t going to be putting pen to paper imminently anyways, so this is just more newsworthy and interesting than actually meaningful in the big scheme of things.
1. Other front-office situations: There are still interviews to be done in Vancouver. Getting mixed messages on whether or not Patrik Allvin is the frontrunner. There is intel that it may not be him. It’s disinformation season. It’s also believed current director of player development Ryan Johnson is due for an increased role.
It’s been a little under the radar, but Penguin assistant GM Patrik Allvin has interviewed for the Canucks GM job. Makes sense, being as Jim Rutherford is in place in Vancouver, likes Allvin and wants a young manager to help grow. Now under Ron Hextall, who knows what Allvin’s Pittsburgh future lies or how important he is in the new regime. Allvin is an important piece of the managerial structure, but between Hextall, Brian Burke and director of player personnel Chris Pryor are all considered the main influencers and decision makers with the new management team.
I don’t get too riled up about the Jim Matheson-Leon Draisaitl skirmish. It happens, particularly when teams are losing. I’ve been on the receiving end; try to roll my eyes and move on.
The added challenge now is, with restricted access due to Covid, there’s no opportunity for a media member and a player to privately sort things out. Only adds to the disconnect.
If you haven’t seen it, this media dust up has been the other main story around the league this week:
The reporter sent a baited question and Draisaitl didn’t give much of an answer that could have thrown teammates under the bus. That’s a big deal in Edmonton too, after goaltending performance has been openly questioned (and pushed back on with goalie Mikko Koskinen pointing out skater performance hasn’t helped the situation).
It gets out of bounds with the reporter calling Draisaitl “pissy” for not giving him what he wanted, and falls apart from there. I liked Gretz’s take on twitter:
I guess he could have said, "Well, Jim, we have like five good players and when one of us isn't on the ice the team gets run steamrolled into dust so it makes things a little difficult. Guess we can get some pucks deep, take it one shift at a time...."— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) January 18, 2022
But that’s a situation where losing makes everyone testy and clearly very frustrated. “Hockey culture” has long been built around players giving boring, vanilla answers and speaking in cliches. It’s a step forward when players like Draisatil (or Jakub Voracek last year in Philly) don’t dance the dance that media members want to push forward to further their pre-established narratives.
10. Stealth add: Rangers. The East and West are completely different. The West will have a playoff dogfight, particularly in the Pacific and wildcard. Meanwhile, as improved as Detroit is, it will take a massive collapse for any of the eight current post-season teams not to make it. New York is in and Chris Drury keeps quiet, but I could see them taking a surprise swing.
Important for the Penguins’ future prospects. NYR has a ton of cap space, and they are a team that could use a boost for their 5v5 play. Good chance they will improve their roster prior to the playoffs to support the star players and goaltending.
12. Several teams and agents have indicated that, if they know their unrestricted free agents aren’t being moved, there’s no point in rushing extension talks until there’s a better idea of what this month’s Canadian attendance caps do to the previously expected $1-million cap increase. Every cent matters.
This topic is also pretty relevant for a Pittsburgh team with Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Evan Rodrigues all months out from UFA. None of them are obviously going to be traded before the deadline, and there isn’t much of a hurry on any side to extend on any side. That’s not news for anyone following the Pens, we’ve been living that for the past six months, but shows some motivation as to why.
13. Dallas has increased efforts to move John Klingberg. In the minds of everyone involved, it’s time.
There’s that pesky salary cap (plus the fact the Pens’ new management really, really doesn’t want to burn future picks/prospects) but Klingberg would be such a beast add for the Pittsburgh defense. If this were still Jim Rutherford days I would be more open to the possibility, though..
19. We could see the updated non-Olympic schedule as soon as Wednesday. The All-Star Game is Saturday afternoon, Feb. 5. There will be teams playing the following Monday.
The Penguins, you will remember, have had five games postponed that they will likely be making up in February. (Or, there could be future games pushed around into February to open up space for the postponed games to be played later, if it’s takes a more complicated scheduling turn). Those games are home ones vs New Jersey and Philadelphia, and road games in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto.
It also kinda grinds my gears personally that starting tomorrow the Pens play seven times in 11 days from Jan 20-30. This includes two back-to-back with a third weekend matinee game on the fourth day. That’s a lot of hockey in a short amount of time.
They only have four games scheduled currently for February (the 1st, then the 24th, 26th, 27th). There’s a good chance they still could be looking at 7-10 days off at some points in February, or several 5+ day breaks, at least.
There’s probably little that can really be done at this point with a very complicated schedule and all, but it isn’t going to be a very smooth of balanced split when the Pens likely could play almost as many games from Jan 20-30 (7) as they will in the whole 28 days of February (9). Annoying, and perhaps not a huge factor, but just a thought on my mind in the midst of all these thoughts that I didn’t know would fit to write anywhere else.
25. Taxi squads are scheduled to end at the All-Star Break, and, at this time, that’s the plan. The NFL reduced testing for vaccinated, asymptomatic players on Dec. 19 and the NHL is scheduled to follow after All-Star weekend. As long as rates continue to decline, the league and NHLPA will meet on Jan. 31 to ease protocols. If that happens, a league memo states, “There will be a single test upon re-entry to club facilities post-All-Star, after which there will no longer be asymptomatic testing, or testing of fully vaccinated close contacts.”
At that point, testing will be held for vaccinated players and/or staff who develop symptoms or need it to cross the border.
Taxi squads are ending, and the Penguins are getting healthy too. Their defense has more or less been able to be very consistently stable this season — incredible given the circumstances — with all of their top six playing at least 33/38 games.
Up front, of course, it’s been much, much messier. But now the Pens are as healthy as they have ever been and their only remaining absences (Danton Heinen, Zach Aston-Reese) are COVID cases that will be ending soon.
The end result would mean 14 healthy forwards, with Dominik Simon and Brian Boyle presumably outside of the ideal top-12 that has never all suited up for the same game this season (Guentzel-Crosby-Rust; Zucker-Malkin-Kapanen; Heinen-Carter-Rodrigues; AstonReese-Blueger-McGinn as it would go with current usage).
Is Pittsburgh’s salary cap situation going to be inclined to keep 14 healthy forwards? Boyle was only signed as insurance and depth, but has played about as well as expected. Simon is Simon, for better or worse but a good depth piece as well. These aren’t players the Pens will want to shed, however, full health may force a tough decision with the extra players.
That said, we will all need to see full health before it is believed, but with testing requirements slacking and (whispers) the Pens current sunny injury situation, right now the team could be at full strength for the first time all year.