All posts by connorand31

Potential Third-Line Center Options

It seems like a tradition at this point to talk about third line center options for the Penguins.

Yes they acquired Riley Sheahan, but from the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like he is going to be the spark they needed. A spark that is desperately needed. I’ve been a firm believer that there should be no drastic moves or changes made, as it is early, but something has to be done.

It seems that a general consensus is that Carl Hagelin must go. His cap hit and very minimal production are far from adequate. Another consensus, is that Kris Letang is not playing up to par, but I do believe that will change as he gets more ice time. He had an injury that prevented him from even doing any sort of training for the main duration of the injury; however, I would not be too surprised if we somehow see Letang worked into a trade somehow.

Yes I know it seems crazy, but we have seen much bigger moves made that were unexpected, and the Penguins have proved they can win without him, but that is not the topic of this article.

The topic is on the last general consensus of Penguins fans, and that is that the Penguins are in need of a solid third line center. As the season has progressed, the options have greatly changed for the Penguins, so here are my potential options for a third line center.

William Karlsson

I still firmly believe that Karlsson is our best option for third line center.  Yes the Golden Knights are on a tear, but I do not think they will be able to keep up their pace, and they are already showing signs of slowing down. Karlsson has exploded offensively this year with 20 points in 21 games. I predicted he would have his best year to date in the offseason when I stated he was our best option, but we have yet to make an attempt at him. He will also fill our gap in the penalty kill as he is on Vegas’s first penalty kill line.  

However, with Karlsson’s recent offensive explosion, it won’t be easy to get him for cheap. One possible trade idea that might hit some nerves at first, and that is Ian Cole. Cole was an absolute rock on defense last year, and a huge part of our penalty kill. This year he has looked average at best 5v5, and good on the PK. The PK is still struggling though, and it seems to be the forwards that have a tough time on the Penalty kill.

Having Hagelin, Sheahan, and Greg McKegg as some of the PK forwards is far from ideal.

In addition, Cole is looking like he could demand a salary of $4-5 million dollars this offseason, which in my opinion needs to go to Patric Hornqvist more so than Cole. With all that in mind, I think it is worth it to trade Cole for Karlsson, as the Golden Knights weakest link is on defense.

Another option from the Knights which is good, but not as good as Karlsson is Erik Haula.  Haula has had 12 points in 21 games played, and would command a cheaper return.

Mikael Backlund

The next option is somewhat of a stretch, as Calgary is doing well currently, and will most likely make the playoffs. Backlund currently has 14 points in 21 games, which is very good for a third line center. He is also in the last year of his contract, with a cap hit of $3.75 million. This is not too bad as he will most likely be a rental center.

The reason that Calgary may want to move Backlund, is to allow Sam Bennett to move up as the second line center, and progress more. However, with a cap hit like Backlund’s, it would require the Penguins to move Hagelin’s $4 million cap hit. Calgary may have some interest, but maybe not with his recent struggles. This is why this trade may not be as likely, because Calgary is in a win now or soon mode, and giving up a solid center may not be a part of that plan.  

Antoine Vermette

This last option may come as a bit of a shock, as Vermette’s name hasn’t really been thrown out there; however, the 35 year old only has a cap hit of $1.75 million, is exceptional in the faceoff circle, and is a first line penalty killer in Anaheim. He may only have 7 points in 21 games, but his penalty kill ability and faceoff percentages are comparable to Matt Cullen. A trade will most likely be a low cost and low-medium reward trade, being as Anaheim is looking to be a fringe playoff team that needs some youth. Even if Vermette can’t fill the third line center position as well as Nick Bonino or Cullen did, at least he will be a better fourth line center than McKegg.

All in all, I believe the Penguins shouldn’t pull the trigger too eagerly and get the bad end of a trade, but I do believe a shake up could be coming soon.

The Penguins time to win is also now and after this year they will either lose Cole or Hornqvist, while other teams only get better and the Penguins get older. With this being the case, I think the Penguins should be open to trading prospects or one of their defenseman for some much needed offensive and penalty kill help. The only prospect that shouldn’t move is Daniel Sprong while all others should be open to move in trade negotiations.

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The Murray Glove Hand Dilemma

It seems to be a common theme nowadays among Penguins fans to think Matt Murray has a below average glove hand.

This statement may have been true during the 2016 playoff run, but after last season as well as this current season, that statement is outdated. That may seem like a bold statement to make, but I will try and shine some light on why I personally think Murray’s glove hand is not as bad as people make it seem. I am going to back this up with some little-known stats.

During the 2016-17 regular season, Murray played 49 games and let up 111 goals, and 38 of those were on his glove side. This means that 34.2% of the goals on Murray were on his glove side. Now let’s compare these numbers to another popular Pittsburgh goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury played 38 games during the regular season, and in those games he was scored on 107 times, and just like Murray he let in 38 goals on his glove side. This equates to 35.5% of the goals scored on Fleury went in on his glove side, a very close % to Murray.  However, it was very rare to hear any Pittsburgh fan criticize Fleury of his glove hand which, when you look at it, was statistically just barely worse than Murray’s.  

Now that may not provide the clearest picture of my point, as their percentages are just one percent apart.  So let’s look at Vezina nominee, Braden Holtby.

Holtby allowed 128 goals this past year, 57 of which were on his glove side.  This calculates to 44.5% of the goals that went in on Holtby being scored on his glove side.  That is a whole 10% higher than Murray, and yet again, you rarely hear anyone mention Holtby having a weak glove hand.

Some more stats won’t hurt.

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers had 42 goals of his 147 against scored on his glove side. This means 28.5% of the goals he let in were on his glove side. So this number here is one that is lower than Murray’s.

Lastly, we will compare Murray’s stats to Pekka Rinne.  Rinne allowed 144 goals against last season. 46 of them were on his glove side.  This shows that Rinne let in 32% of his goals in on the glove side, which is about 2% lower than Murray.

In conclusion, based off of the statistics, Murray’s glove hand is not horrible, nor is it out of this world.  It is simply on par with most of the NHL’s elite goaltenders.  In hindsight, Murray’s average glove hand is not that much of a detriment to his overall game, as most of his other attributes are far better than other goalies.

Reaves’ Impact Felt Immediately

While most Penguins fans watched the tail end of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft First Round to see which prospect their team would pick, most were greeted with the surprise news that the Penguins made a trade for known tough guy, Ryan Reaves.  The reactions to the trade that sent Oskar Sundqvist and the Penguins’ first round pick to the Blues for Reaves and their second round pick were all over the place, but after his first game Reaves is already becoming a favorite of many fans.

With the loss of Chris Kunitz, the Pens lost arguably their best hitter.  The Penguins were also without a player that was willing to drop the gloves when needed.  Sure they had Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin get in a few scuffles last year, but it isn’t ideal to have your best defenseman and second best forward in the box for five minutes.  So with the acquisition of Reaves, the Pens were given a new “hit man” for their team and a very intimidating presence on the ice.

I was fortunate enough to be at this past game, where Reaves made a tremendous impact.  In the first period, Reaves laid a few nice hits, and even gave Scott Hartnell the business in a corner battle.  This led to a near scrap between the two, but Hartnell chose not to take part in the fight after a drawn out act.  This is when most fans at the game, and I’m sure at home, realized that Reaves was not here to mess around.  

As the game progressed, Nashville forward, Austin Watson, hit Reaves into the Predators bench.  Reaves obviously unhappy extended Watson an offer to fight.  Watson accepted without hesitation.  As Reaves unleashed the ensuing beatdown on Watson, the fans at PPG Paints Arena got a much needed reason to cheer and the place got loud.  The Penguins haven’t had a NHL regular who could fight in a long time and the fans rejoiced the moment that signified there was a new enforcer in town.

The fan’s love for Reaves only increased when he notched a beautiful downward tip in front of the net to extend the Penguins lead to 3-0.  But Reaves’ historic night didn’t stop there,. He continued to punish the opponent with a few crunching hits throughout the remainder of the game; however, the real height of Reaves’s night came when he and Cody McLeod fought early in the third period.  Reaves handed out his second beating of the night and even antagonized McLeod as they sat in the box.  The fans at PPG Paints Arena surged with energy as one of the team’s new additions made a name for himself.  That was the loudest I had heard a regular season game at PPG Paints Arena in a long time.  The “Live Noise Meter” that appeared on the jumbotron even reached 107.3 decibels after Reaves’ second fight.

Unfortunately, Reaves’ night was cut short at roughly the 10-minute mark of the third period.  After Hartnell elbowed Sidney Crosby in the head, Reaves’s jumped in to protect the NHL’s best player. Players from each team followed into the scrum but that did not stop Reaves from finding a known enemy of the Penguins in the pile. The ref promptly threw both Hartnell and Reaves out of the game, but the fans were still fired up from the spark Reaves kept providing.

Now, although his night on the ice was technically cut short as a result of Reaves being ejected, it also did not technically end.  As the three stars were being announced, almost every Penguins fan was hoping for one particular player to receive the first star honors.  So, when Ryan Reaves name was announced as a the first star, the fans leaving and still in their seats roared with appreciation for a new fan favorite player.

Top 10 NHL Goalies

NHL Network featured who they believed are their top 10 goalies currently. Our guys, Connor and Austin list who they think the top 10 goalies are currently in the league.

Connor’s Top 10 NHL Goalies

  • Carey Price – I don’t think Price coming in at number one on my list is going to surprise anybody.  Price has proved year in and year out that he is the best in the league by carrying an average team further than they should go each year.  If it was not for Carey Price the Canadiens would be a bottom team in the Eastern Conference.  Although he may only have a .922 save percentage, the fact that has to be taken in is how much the team in front of him relies on him to carry their them.
  • Braden HoltbyThis past season, Holtby again showed why he is a top three goalie and, in my opinion, an easy choice for the second best goalie in the NHL.  Holtby turned in an impressive .925 save percentage this year.  Now even though Holtby has arguably the best team in the NHL in front of him that does not negate his preformance.  Holtby is one of the reasons his team is so good and seems to make hard saves look effortless in a similar way that Price does.
  • Matt MurrayThis choice to put Murray this high on the list may create some controversy among non-Penguins fans and Fleury fans.  However, with all bias aside including mine, Murray is easily a top 3 goaltender.  Although he is yet to play a full season he has accomplished more at the age of 23 than most goalies ever have.  Even with a team like Pittsburgh in front of him Murray still made a statement these playoffs.  He was leaned on heavily by the Penguins during some games in the regular season and during the playoffs.  He turns in an impressive .923 save percentage and like Price and Holtby, he makes most saves seem effortless due to his size and positioning.
  • Sergei BobrovskyIt may come as a shock to most people that the Vezina winning goaltender of the 2016-2017 season is placed in the fourth spot.  Bobrovsky turned in the best save percentage with a .932 this past year.  But stats are not everything. Bobrovsky’s play was very inconsistent and so was his teams.  When the team in front of him played well, so did he and vice versa.  And the thing that usually separates the top three goalies from the rest is consistency.  Because most goalies in the NHL look just as good as each other when they play at their best, but the best goalies can play at their best consistently.
  • Henrik LundqvistAt number five I placed Lundqvist, a wylie veteran who recently proved he can still compete with the best of them.  Early in the year Lundqvist struggled mightily and lost the starter job.  He eventually got it back and played the end of the year like he was out of his mind…in a good way.  He seemed to go back to vintage 2012 Lundqvist and backstop his team to the second round, where they ended up losing to the Senators boring, yet efficient, trap game. Lundqvist may be on his way out in the near future, but he is proving that he can still compete with the best of them.
  • Pekka Rinne At number six, I put the Finnish wonder Pekka Rinne, and yes I did say wonder.  When Pekka Rinne is on his game he is virtually a brick wall, but the thing that puts him at number six is his wildly inconsistent play.  Rinne has proved that he has trouble playing in away arenas in big games this past year as he also proved last year against the Sharks.  A factor that almost counteracts his negative of inconsistency is his ability to handle the puck with the best of them.  Rinne is similar to Martin Brodeur to where he is basically a third defenseman for his team and can play the puck with a ease and a level headedness.
  • John GibsonPlacing John Gibson at number seven on the list may surprise many people.  Gibson plays a very acrobatic and flashy style, which is almost obsolete in today’s game with the exception of Jonathan Quick. Gibson turned in a top 5 save percentage with a .924, however he did have one of the better D-cores in the league in front of him.  That being said, Gibson is a huge reason why the Ducks made it so far in the playoffs.  He came up huge when they needed him, and when he unfortunately got hurt it was clear that he was a key piece for their team.  It won’t be long until he cracks the top five for this list in the coming years.
  • Devan DubnykAt number eight I placed Devan Dubnyk of the Wild.  Dubnyk plays a somewhat calm game and turned in a .924 save percentage this year.  Dubnyk has one of the better D-cores in front of him as well, but when they needed him to step up he fell short in the playoffs.  Here we see the factor of consistency affecting a goalie’s rating on this list.
  • Cam Talbot Coming in at number nine we have Cam Talbot, who had a breakout year with the Oilers.  This year Talbot really solidified himself as one of the better goalies in the league.  Talbot turned in a .919 save percentage and backstopped the Oilers to the second round where John Gibson and the Ducks knocked them out of the playoffs.  Talbot’s statement was only enough to land him the ninth spot however due to the fact of some inconsistency as well as him showing characteristics of something known as the avalanche effect.  For goalies this is where when one goal goes in, others tend to follow suit and quite quickly.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury – Coming in at number ten, I have the new face of the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  Fleury, better known as “Flower”, had an interesting year.  He was going to start the year as a backup, but when Murray got injured Fleury stepped in as the starter.  However, when Murray came back he quickly regained the starter role and showed that he is an elite goalie on the rise.  As this happened Fleury struggled quite a bit, his save percentage was even below .900 at one point.  However when Murray went down with another injury at the start of the playoffs Fleury took the reigns and was a key part of the Penguins cup run.  Some people may be puzzled as to why Fleury is even on this list, and some may be puzzled at why he isn’t higher, and the answer is quite simple.  Fleury has something in common with a lot of the other goalies on the tail end of this list.  He is inconsistent, but not in the way that you may think.  When Fleury is the clear choice as the starter for a team he plays at his best, but when there is competition his game tends to take a hit as we have seen.
  • Honorable Mention

 Jonathan Quick- Some people may wonder why Quick was left off of this list and for good reason.  Quick suffered a major injury this year and missed a good part of the season, when he came back to play he jumped right back into his flashy style.  But this did not translate to much success for him at all.  He had an adequate .917 save percentage this year.  But in the larger picture Quick has not put up a save percentage over .920 since 2012-2013 when he has his best season of his career.  Quick has been given the benefit of the doubt by most analysts in a similar way that Lundqvist was where they keep saying he will return to his form.  Lundqvist has done that, Quick has not.  Quick is slowly on his way out of the conversation for the best goalies in the league and it does not seem like it will turn around anytime soon.

Austin’s Top 10 NHL Goalies

  • Carey Price– I highly doubt that anyone in the hockey community would argue this one. Recently signing an 8 year extension worth $84 million, I believe Price is worth every penny. In 2015 Price took home a number of awards, including the leagues MVP. Posting a .923 SV% last season, Price is the the back bone of the Montreal Canadians.

 

  • Matt Murray- Putting Murray so high on this list may cause some controversy, but how can you argue with back to back Stanley Cups in his first two years as a NHL pro? Yes, Murray’s career is very short lived, but with a 41-12-5 career record it’s hard not to put him so high on the list. Murray brings a very calm element to his game, very similar to Carey Price where he does not panic and gives his team a chance to win every game he plays. The kid is 23 with 2 Stanley Cups! I am very excited to see Murray as a full time starter this coming season, and have full confidence he will lead the Pens to yet another deep playoff run. (I truly believe that 2-4 can be interchangeable on this list)

 

  • Braden Holtby- Holtby cracks my top 3 for top goalies in the league. The argument could be made that he is playing in front of the best team in the league, and yes this may be true, but look at the pure amount of shots Holtby sees. Ever since becoming a full time starter in 2013 he has been steady on the back end for the Caps. Not to mention he has a Vezina to add to his resume.

 

  • Sergei Bobrovsky- Boy, do the Flyers wish they still had this guy, eh? Bobs posted insane numbers last season with a .931 SV% and a 2.06 GAA on a Columbus team that took the hockey world by storm. Winning 16 games in a row this year, Bobs was a huge peace to that amazing streak. CBJ finished 3rd in the Metro with a whopping 108 points, but fell short in the playoffs to eventual the champions, Pittsburgh Penguins. Bobrovsky also has two Vezina’s to his name and honestly could add more in years to come.

 

  • Pekka Rinne- Rinne lead his team to the Stanley Cup Finals this past season with a .930 SV% and a 1.96 GAA during their run. (not to mention 3 assists) Rinne has been consistent for Nashville over the years, and is just now starting to get the credit that I truly think he deserves. His puck handling skills are some of the best in the league, and his ability to make huge saves when needed make him an elite goalie. Rinne has been a Vezina finalist 3 times in his career, but has never won the trophy. I expect Rinne to start the season on a high horse, very similar to his playoff run last season.

 

  • Jonathan Quick- Some may think that Quick has fallen off a bit since LA’s last Cup in 2013-14, but I would disagree. Recently, his career has been plagued with injuries , but when healthy Quick is among the best. Only playing 17 games this past season, it is hard to judge his play with such limited time spent, but bringing in a Ben Bishop at the end of the season may of fueled the fire for Quick, and I expect him to be back on top of the league next season.

 

  • Cam Talbot- Talbot came on the NHL radar during the 2014-15 season when he stepped in for Lundvqist during his injury. The following season he became a full time NHL starter for the Edmonton Oilers, and this past season has taken his game to another level. Talbot finished the season tied with Holtby for most wins with 42. As an Oilers fan, I’ve seen time and time again Talbot steal wins for the Oilers. Posting a .919% SV% and a 2.39 GAA is not to shabby for the 30 year old tendy.

 

  • Henrik Lundqvist-  The King comes in at number eight on my list. Lundvqist has posted 30+ wins in every NHL season he has been healthy. Many can argue that the King has it easy in New York, playing in front of one of the best defense core in recent NHL memory. the main reason why I have Lundqvist at eight and not higher is because he has yet to take that next step in his career. Yes, he has a Vezina, but he has yet to win the trophy that everyone cares about.

 

  • Devan Dubnyk- Ever since being traded to the Wild in 2014, Dubnyk has turned his career completely around. The 1st round, 14th overall pick of the 2004 draft was one more bad season away from being run out of the NHL. In the 3 years spent in Minnesota he has had a .936, .918, .923 SV% years. Those numbers are among the best in the league and he’s even been in Vezina talk in recent years. Needless to say Dubnyk has completely revamped his career and is proving to be the goalie the Wild needed.

 

  • Cory Schneider- Schneider rounds out my top 10 list. He some what goes under the radar playing in NJ with no real superstars, or playoff success in recent years. But Schneider has played consistently well since being traded from Vancouver in 2013. His save percentage has been above .920 in every year since 2011, except this past season. (.908) NJ had a bad season this year but that is not to blame Schneider, he goes unrecognized around the NHL, but has been solid for regressing NJ team.

 

  • Honorable Mention -Martin Jones- Jones led the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16 , and was a key factor to their success. Posting a .925% that playoff run is a positive for San Jose moving forward to a new era in SoCal.  Jones recently signed a 6 year extension with a cap hit of $5.75 per year. Sharks fans, you have your goalie for the future.

Debating The Sheary Deal: Was It Worth It?

Last week, the Penguins extended forward Conor Sheary by signing him to a 3-year, $9 million ($3 million AAV) contract. After having an unprecedented regular season for an undrafted rookie, Sheary struggled to put up points in the playoffs and was scratched for a string of games.

Our Connor Andrews and Cody Flavell debate whether or not the Sheary deal was worth it.

“Conor Sheary was totally worth it.” -Connor Andrews

Recently one of the most influential Penguins’ players during the regular season signed a three year contract with a $3 million AAV. That player is the young Conor Sheary.  This signing has gotten a lot of mixed opinions in the same way the Brian Dumoulin deal did.  Some people agree with it and some do not, I am one that agrees with the signing and will try to shed more light upon why I do.

“He is nothing without Sidney Crosby”- That is the line that has been blurted out countless times by fans everywhere that do not agree with this signing.  These fans will also point out that players such as Colby Armstrong, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis were all PPG players with Crosby, but what they won’t mention is all the players that did not mesh with Crosby as well as Sheary did.  Lee Stempniak, Jarome Iginla, Scott Wilson, David Winnik, Steve Sullivan, Beau Bennett, and countless others did not mesh with Crosby’s line.  Heck, even Phil Kessel did not work on Crosby’s line.  I personally have not seen a line mesh this well since 2012 when Kunitz and Dupuis were on Sidney Crosby’s line.  Both that line and the current line with Crosby were virtually unstoppable together when they clicked.  Playing on Crosby’s line isn’t an easy task, and Sheary has proven that he can keep up for sure.  His game is still developing and getting better as time goes on, and as time goes on he should become more of a perfect mold for Crosby’s line.

Another argument that fans opposed to this deal will say is that his playoff slump makes him unworthy of this contract.  The somewhat amusing and ironic thing is that most of the fans saying this are also the ones who wanted to pay Nick Bonino $4 million dollars despite him having just as many point as Conor Sheary during the playoffs.  Most of these fans are also the ones saying that Carl Hagelin just was in a “slump” this season and during the playoffs, and that he will have a bounceback year. Yes, Conor Sheary’s early playoff slump was not ideal, but when he broke out of it at the start of the Nashville series Crosby’s line was basically unmatched.  Another point to make is that yes, playoffs do matter a lot, but without regular season contributors are a key part.  And without big regular season contributors there may not even be a playoffs appearance for said team.

The last point to touch on is the contract itself, which in my opinion is a very good contract.  Sheary is well worth the $3 million dollar price tag, and compared to other deals around the league it isn’t a bad deal at all.  Keep in mind that fourth line players like Cal Clutterbuck are making $3.5 million per year.  The Penguins also have other cap issues to worry about, such as Hagelin’s $4 million price tag that may be moved if he doesn’t perform this year.  This deal was also a bridge deal, and with the salary cap looking like a steady $2 million increase per year this contract could end up being a steal in the last year of his contract.

All in all, I believe the Sheary contract was a smart signing by GMJR.  He locks up a key player on Sidney Crosby’s line and a key contributor to both cups during the past two seasons.  If Sheary keeps up his play we could easily see another 50+ point season for only $3 million dollars which is a steak itself.  If he doesn’t workout as planned then the Penguins are paying a third liner $3 million dollars which is not even a bad deal with today’s cap hit.  I think with the steady rise of the cap ceiling and thus inflation of contracts this three year deal is nowhere as near catastrophic as people are making it seem.

“Sheary’s signing kind of puzzles me.” -Cody Flavell

Admittedly, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Sheary. When he’s playing well, I like him. When he’s struggling, obviously those feelings are the opposite.

I will say that Sheary was very impressive last regular season and that his line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel was the most dominant in the entire league for a stretch of time. As Connor eluded to, the line was incredible at the beginning of the Cup Finals.

In my opinion, $3 million is a hefty price to pay for a streaky player. Not that Sheary was expected to score 20+ goals and be the left winger on the league’s best line, but he still goes through spurts.

This is being considered a bridge deal which I completely understand. Matt Murray received a bridge deal before last season, and deservedly so. Sheary, to me, didn’t.

If you watch Sheary during his slumps, which every player does go through, he seems to take them a bit harder. He second guesses himself. He grips the stick a bit harder. But it seems to be very frequent.

I’ve seen comparisons to Martin St. Louis for Sheary and I think those come in a bit far fetched.

I will say that seeing Sheary on the top line for $3 million is something I can get used to.

I think that the three years is a positive for when some of these new wingers, such as Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese, get to the NHL. It will make him an expendable piece. Having term will entice a team to potentially pay a bit more for his services.

Offseason Player Grades: Olli Maatta

Regular Season Stats

GP:55  G:1  A:6  PTS:7  +/-:17  PIM:12

Playoff Stats

GP: 25  G:2  A:6  PTS: 8 +/-:8  PIM:12

Player Grade (B-)

I gave Olli Maatta a B- mainly because his play from game to game was that of a rollercoaster. During the beginning of the year he did not look good, but after his injury he looked a little better. Once the playoffs rolled around was when his rollercoaster effect came into play, but in the playoffs the majority of the games he actually played well in. He showed some great signs of progression and only a few minor lapses in his game. He is only 22 years old and will develop for a few more years.

Review

Maatta became a key factor around the tail end of the playoffs, and more specifically against Ottawa. He scored the opening goal in back to back games and provided the Pens with a much needed spark. Another notable accolade for him would be him taking social media by storm when a picture emerged of how Maatta handled the after effects of the parade.

Preview

I think this next season could very easily be Maatta’s best. His skating has already improved a ton and even though he may not have the speed of Kris Letang, he is still a good skater. I also believe that Sergei Gonchar will be able to fix the little lapses in his game during the offseason, and in turn lead to Olli being a key part of this next season.

Realistic Third Line Center Options

Ever since the news of Nick Bonino’s departure to the Nashville Predators, Penguins fans and media have all been buzzing about who the Penguins new third line center would be.

Right off the bat names such as Matt Duchene, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Bozak were thrown out there with dream scenario trade proposals involving those players coming from every angle of the media.

However, after recent news arose that GM Jim Rutherford is not looking for any of those centers the potential options for the Penguins third line center have slimmed down to a few key options.  These options are all based on the salary budget of 2-3 million dollars that Jim Rutherford told the media.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights, $1 Million

The best replacement to fill all of Bonino’s roles would without a doubt be the young center William Karlsson.  William carries a very low cap hit of $1 million dollars and has one year left on his contract.  He put up 25 points in 82 games which isn’t stellar, but his biggest strength is that he was on the first line penalty kill for the Columbus Blue Jackets this past year.  Karlsson could slot in on the first penalty kill line for the Penguins and fill that third line center void.

Erik Haula, Vegas Golden Knights, $2.75 Million

Arguably the second best and most attainable center would be Erik Haula from the Vegas Golden Knights.  Haula had an alright 2016-2017 season and put up 28 points in 72 games.  He also just got locked into a 3 year deal with an AAV of $2.75 Million dollars.  Haula is a two way player, but his skill set leans a little towards the offensive side.

Adam Lowry, Winnipeg Jets, $1.25 Million

The last player that seems to present himself as a real option, is the big bodied Adam Lowry.  Lowry comes in with a solid 6’5 frame and was able to put up 29 points in 82 games this past year.  Although Lowry did not play penalty kill for the Jets, I can see him developing into someone that can take up penalty kill minutes in Sullivan’s system.

Why would Jim Rutherford Want a Player Only Worth $3 Million or Less?

Penguins fans have been spoiled with the wizardous moves that Jim Rutherford has pulled off during his time in Pittsburgh.  He has acquired so many big name players that to the average fan it would only make sense to go after someone such as Bozak, Duchene, or Staal.

However, to take everything in perspective we need to look at what the Penguins have been able to do over the past few years.  They have turned players into something from almost nothing.

They turned Ian Cole from a 7th defenseman to a top 4 defenseman, they turned Nick Bonino from mediocre to noteworthy, they took Justin Schultz from a scapegoat to an elite defenseman, and they turned a low-end prospect in Brian Dumoulin into a $4.1 million AAV defenseman.

It would make lots of sense for them to look at someone in Bonino’s price range from the 2016-2017 season, which was $1.9 million, and see how they can better that player in their system.

What Would it Take to Get One of These Players?

The two most often thrown out names in traders are the two most unjustified scapegoats in recent Penguins history.  Those two players are Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, and yes I did say unjustified.

Most average fans find it quite easy to place the blame on these two, and most of the time it is undeserved, but that is besides the point.  The Penguins most likely will not deal Maatta, but Pouliot is looking like he could be on the move.

Pouliot looked like he could finally get his chance as a sixth defenseman with the departure of Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey, but then Jim Rutherford signed Hunwick to a deal worth $2.25 AAV…and that kind of contract doesn’t seem like he signed him just to trade him.

So it is looking like the Penguins could deal out Pouliot along with picks for any of these centers.  This also means that Haula and Karlsson are much more likely to be the targets, the reason being that Vegas is not a contender and has already made it clear they will move players for young prospects and picks.

Winnipeg on the other hand is a team that can contend for a playoff spot and doesn’t need more defenseman.  So the likely trade would be either Karlsson or Haula coming to Pittsburgh and in return they get Pouliot and picks or just picks.  But obviously this is all just educated speculation as I am not in Jim Rutherford’s head nor do I know what wizardous move he will pull next.