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Friday Notebook: Power Play Changes, Hunwick on the Block

Trade rumors around the NHL and a look at the Penguins locker room

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By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0

1:50 p.m.: It was an interesting locker room after practice. Quote of the day came from Phil Kessel, after being pressed by a couple reporters, the final one was Jonathan Bombulie of the Tribune-Review, about wanting to win the Art Ross Trophy. Kessel refused. “I’ve got two Cups” he deadpanned.

Look for Kris Letang to run PP2, and Justin Schultz to Qb the top power-play unit, more often. Mike Sullivan went into detail on the thought process. According to Sullivan, Letang shoots more on the second unit and doesn’t feel the same pressure to distribute the puck, “for obvious reasons.”

1:40 p.m.: TSN’s Darren Dreger officially heated up this Friday afternoon with a tweet that struggling Penguins defenseman Matt Hunwick is “looking more like” he’s on the trading block.

This isn’t a huge shock, but to be forced to deal a player you signed for three years over the summer can’t be a good feeling for Rutherford. Hunwick’s cap hit of $2.25 million shouldn’t be prohibitive for a team that thinks it can rehab his game, but it won’t be easy to move, either.

Industry sources told Pittsburgh Hockey Now earlier this week that the Jets are looking for Tobias Enstrom insurance. With Jets assistant GM Larry Simmons scouting the Penguins in person this week, perhaps that’s the connection?

8:20 a.m.: It is the season of trade rumors, speculation, reports and retorts. So, when Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux stopped to quietly chat with GM Jim Rutherford, about 20 feet away from the media hoard waiting to enter the locker room, we all stopped and stared. Was this the big moment?

Of course, it wasn’t. Most likely the pair exchanged pleasantries, a quick opinion or two on the Penguins impressive win over the Kings, or even cursory input on talks. But, we all turned to look. ‘Tis the season.

The Scouts list was light, Thursday. The intensity of the Penguins trade chatter has died considerably. This is usually when Rutherford strikes. The division rival New York Rangers’ impending sell-off has flooded the market with several new potentials at each position. Even J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello have popped up in chatter.

With so many big names on the market, does that make the Rangers ‘King-makers?’ I’ll show myself out …

As sources deliver news to Pittsburgh Hockey Now and its writers dig up news, such as Penguins scouting the Kings’ AHL affiliate and the Winnipeg Jets traveling heavy Tuesday, we’ll report it … with or without the cool kids’ approval of how we do things.

Penguins analysis: If nothing else, the Penguins desperately need a center. The Penguins roll four lines, but with three centers. And, the jury is still out on Sheahan’s recent surge.

In the locker room: The Penguins have a great group of players. The relaxed nature of rookies and young players is a direct testament to an organization and team leadership which welcomes them.

Zach Aston-Reese holding a media scrum at his locker stall, laughing about taking away a goal from Kris Letang was a prime example. “I didn’t think it touched me,” laughed Aston-Reese, who was credited with the game-winner. I do suspect the goal may be changed to Letang, but the camaraderie among the players is undeniable.

The Penguins have some great personalities and guys with a great sense of humor about themselves and the game. Jamie Oleksiak, Ian Cole and Patric Hornqvist jump to mind. Even rookies Dominik Simon and Aston-Reese have been all smiles.

Note for another day: It appears Matt Murray is growing into a leadership role. The tone and tenor of his comments, including his defense of Cole last week, shows a player with a sense of his standing.

Trade Talk Around the League

It feels like the floodgates are about to open, around the league, even if the Penguins just nibble.

Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic delved into the Eastern Conference and Metro Division yesterday. His reports and speculation added fuel to the Metro Division fire. From Jack Johnson in Columbus to Rick Nash in New York, big names will be on the move.

Analysis: Leadership and vision are crucial. The Montreal Canadiens are sellers. Maybe. Possibly. They are going to deal Tomas Plekanec. Maybe. Or, they are going to re-sign him. They could deal Max Pacioretty. Maybe.

The Canadiens’ decline has been obvious for two years. Without Carey Price to save their bacon last season, the Canadiens were not a good team. This season, Price is tired and has struggled with consistency. However, general manager Marc Bergevin has waffled and talked himself into paralysis.

Conversely, there are the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts are in the thick of the playoff race. In fact, given their competition — the Hurricanes and Islanders — they had (have?) a good chance to make the postseason. However, big boss Glen Sather and GM Jeff Gorton assessed their team. They concluded the Rangers did not have Stanley Cup mettle and are choosing to recoup assets in exchange for pending free agents and aging contributors.

Guess which team is being well run?

Don’t sleep on the Carolina Hurricanes. If they are able to pick up a rental scorer, they are going to be a tough out. They are one of a few teams in the NHL who have out-skated the Penguins.

The New York Islanders are in a unique position, as well. The Islanders are close to being championship contenders. A little help on the blueline and real help in net would vault them to contender status. However, Garth Snow has not been able to make anything happen. As a result, nothing has happened, including a decision on franchise center John Tavares.

The Islanders are playing a game of chicken with their existence. If they do nothing this season and lose Tavares, they will go all the way back to square one with nothing to show for a missed opportunity to establish themselves for many years to come.

It would be a shame to see them rebuilding just in time for their big move to a real hockey arena home. In fact, square one would be an upgrade if they lose Tavares for nothing.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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