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PHN Penguins Q&A: Big-Name Assistants, Trade Rumors and More

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Pittsburgh Penguins trade Matt Murray

Another early offseason isn’t sitting well with Pittsburgh Penguins fans. This year, fans are not alone in their anger or desire for change. The Penguins organization, from top to bottom, agrees, though the two sides are unlikely to agree which changes. The professionals on the inside are unlikely to actually blame Jack Johnson quite as much as fans or bloggers who believe he was the chief culprit for the loss,

I’ll chat with Jeff Hatthord on 93-7 the Fan today, and Jeff is keeping me around for calls at 2 p.m., so you can further chat with us then, too. I’m sure we’ll post the podcats on PHN, too.

I’ve been home from Toronto, where we covered the Hub Games, but still haven’t fully unpacked. There sits on my bedroom floor a giant suitcase of dirty clothes, and a hockey bag full of the clothes and odds and ends which I took with me and to make my stay slightly comfier.

I’d rather spend the time writing and communicating with you. We’ve had some great inside stories this week, but this is about you. Pittsb

Welcome to the first PHN Pittsburgh Penguins Q&A in recent memory.

Q1:

A: Obviously, Murray is the most likely to be traded. His odds to stick around are probably at 10%. The Penguins financial losses in the last two seasons also cloud the picture. Patric Hornqvist may be sacrificed if the Penguins get a decent offer, but he cannot be given away. If the Penguins make a salary dump move, they’ll regret it.

I also can’t ignore the possibility of Kris Letang. GM Jim Rutherford was clear that he planned to keep the core intact, but it seems it contradict the mandate for change.

I’ll also drop a nugget to chew on. Rutehrford also called into question the leadership in the room and said he would evaluate if some locker room leaders will be able to provide that leadership. Crosby and Malkin are 100% safe. I’m not sure Letang is safe but I’ve not heard any trade talks or even whispers.

Q2:

A2: The Pittsburgh Penguins need to re-establish an identity. They were greased lightning who swarmed opponents’ defenseman and controlled the puck in 2016. They were faster and they reveled in it. The confidence from their speed advantage allowed them to “just play,” and the Penguins weathered beatings from tougher teams because they had a real advantage. From their confidence sprang a grittiness.

I don’t know what the Penguins identity is, anymore. They were a talented team with a brilliantly tough game for months at a time, this season. The Penguins were intense and they filled the net with gritty play.

They played chip-n-chase and they played on the rush, pending how they were defended. They played fast, hard and simple. Being a desperate team with gobs of talent and a simple, hard game can be an identity which succeeds.

Being a talented team that wants to play around is also an identity, but not one that will get much playoff time.

Q3:

A3: See our story about “the call” from ownership which arrived Thursday morning. Understand, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux was so serious about change that he allowed he friend and company man Mark Recchi to get the ax. We were told before the terminations, by well connected team employee, that he expected Recchi to wind up in management. That didn’t happen.

Now, to the bigger question which has been asked 100 times. Gerard Gallant. Peter Laviolette. Fans are expecting a big name assistant coach to peer over Mike Sullivan’s shoulder next season.

Big question — Why would a successful head coach who will be in line for head coach jobs in the near future take such an uncomfortable position which is also a demotion? Answer: they won’t.

I’d bet heavily against a big name coach taking an assistant’s gig. However, a former head coach could become an assistant. I lean towards names like (but I’m not reporting these names are under consideration) Alain Nasredine or Phil Housley. Another name which I haven’t heard but makes sense is Player Development coach Tom Kostopoulous.

Q4:

A4: The market for a starting goalie, but not an elite goalie, is murky. We examined the six starters who have been traded since 2013, and the result usually includes a high draft pick, perhaps a second rounder, and a prospect, but not a top prospect. However, Murray’s .899 save percentage and that he wasn’t brilliant in either the 2019 Round One loss or the Qualifying Round series hurts his value. So too does Braden Holtby being on the UFA market. Ben Bishop could also be on the market, which will make Rutherford’s job even more difficult.

Little nugget for you: don’t be surprised to see the Pittsburgh Penguins package Jack Johnson with Murray and get little return.

Last Question:

A: Yeah, I noted that in a column this week. Sullivan rebuffed my question after Game 4, when I specifically asked about the trend of playoff losses.

“I don’t think that adds up,” he said.

Rutherford distinctly called the losses, “a trend.”

I’m not sure if you picked up the little note I put into our series reporting, but I’ll make it clear now. Head coach Mike Sullivan was told to make changes after Game 3, or there would be consequences. The feeling was if the Penguins lost but went out swinging, Sullivan would be safe. If he didn’t make changes, his safety was in question.

The bad loss didn’t bode well, but he made changes. We can argue the changes, but Sullivan will also have a summer and fall to think about it, too.

Happy weekend!

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