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Uh Oh: It Could Be In-Season Before Pens Get 3rd Line Center



Matt Duchene [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

24 hours after comfortably admitting his team would fill their third line center role via trade, Pittsburgh Penguins Jim Rutherford came up empty, Saturday. No trade.  A day after implying it could happen quickly, Rutherford offered a small shrug when asked about a timeframe. Perhaps there were surprises when players began signing contracts at noon and some dominoes did not fall. Perhaps someone got cold feet. Regardless, everyone is waiting for the Penguins 3rd line center.

As of July 1, the Penguins have only two NHL centers on their roster. 3rd line center Nick Bonino upgraded his tax bracket by inking a four year-$16.4 million dollar contract with Nashville (you do not want pieces of catfish stuck in that beard, in June). Matt Cullen has not yet decided to retire but hasn’t committed to playing for the Penguins, either.

“It’s important we don’t panic,” said Rutherford. “I’ve talked with my coach (Mike Sullivan) about this. He said as long as we have our two big guys (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin) healthy, we can work around, early in the season.”

Rutherford offered a relaxed timeline. “It could be in the next day. It could be in a couple months. It could take us until early in the season.”

The Penguins find themselves in a bit of a pickle. Teams with extra centers now know a team trying to win a third straight Stanley Cup desperately needs what they have. …The price just went up.

Connecting Dots–What Happened?

Jim Rutherford told Josh Yohe of, Friday, that there were a handful of centers the Penguins were targeting. Read the original report (and we recommend subscribing) here.

After a week of hearing the Rangers and Canadiens connected to Nick Bonino, the center signed with the Nashville Predators.  We also know the Predators were talking with the Avalanche, as the Predators traded Colin Wilson to the Avs for a 4th round draft choice. Originally, it was reported that Matt Duchene was headed to Nashville.

Did Nashville fail to get Duchene and pluck Bonino with a late offer? If Bonino signed with a team like Montreal, would that have made a targeted center available?

Some pointed to the Predators addition of Alexei Emelin, Saturday, as further evidence that Nashville’s GM David Poile was in pursuit of Duchene. However, for those who watched the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators did not have a trustworthy 5-6 pairing, so too much can’t be read into the Emelin deal.

Hurricanes Connection?

The Hurricanes have been linked to Duchene over six months. Reports in January, February and this week linked the pair. Hurricanes GM Ron Francis has what Colorado covets: Young defenseman. However, to this point, Francis has flatly refused to part with any.

Could our tea leaf reading–suggesting Jordan Staal could be a fit for the Penguins–not be far off? If Duchene goes to Carolina, the ‘Canes would no longer need Staal as a first or second line center. And in fact, they would be happy to move a $6 million salary.

Martin Hanzal / Brian Boyle

Both big centers signed with teams not generally associated with them. Could one of them have altered the market, forcing another team to keep a pivot which would have otherwise been expendable?

Sometimes, we’re not crazy:  Nick Bonino or Brian Boyle; Pens Have No Choice

The Penguins clearly cannot wait until the season to add another center, or two. That’s just not going to work in their favor. If the Penguins wait until the early season, they’ll likely get stuck with a cast-off.

Or, are the Penguins playing a waiting game until the big Duchene domino drops? Stay tuned.


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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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