Hextall: These Penguins Can Contend for Cup
CRANBERRY — Ron Hextall didn’t claim that the Pittsburgh Penguins came out of the NHL trade deadline as a favorite to win the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup.
He did, however, say that they are on a fairly lengthy list of clubs that are legitimate contenders for it.
“I think we made our team better today, and I think there are a lot of teams that are capable of winning the Cup,” Hextall said. “And, yes, I’d say we’re one of them.
“We’ve got a proven group. We’ve got a hungry group. We’ve got a group of guys we all think of as winners. You have to make the playoffs first and right now, that’s our objective and then we’ll see where we go from there. But I feel good about this team.”
Hextall was quick to point out, though, that parity, rooted in factors like the salary cap, has swelled the total of quality clubs in the league.
“I think the number of teams that are capable (of winning a Cup) is a lot greater than is used to be,” he said. “With the salary cap and the way teams are constructed nowadays, I think a lot of teams loaded up. It will be interesting to see how those teams do. There are some good teams out there, for sure.”
Hextall added three players — forwards Mikael Granlund and Nick Bonino and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov — and lost two (Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn) in deals as the deadline approached. All but Granlund, who was acquired from Nashville Wednesday, switched teams within a few hours of the deadline.
Granlund played left wing on the third line in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 overtime victory in Tampa Thursday, while Bonino figures to center the fourth line once he joins the lineup. It’s not clear whether Kulikov will have a spot immediately.
Granlund is the most prominent addition of the three, and Hextall said he was pleased with how he performed against the Lightning.
“Mikael Granlund is a really smart player,” he said. “When you start looking at your lines, you look for guys who kind of connect the dots and make plays, who make the really intelligent plays. A very intelligent player who can find guys when they’re open.
“He’s a very responsible defensive player. He can play all three (forward) positions. When you’re trying to tweak a line, you’re looking for a guy who has some versatility, and that’s what we feel Mikael brings.”
Hextall added that Granlund is a player “we actually tried to get a couple of years ago at the deadline” and that, “I talked to three or four GMs today who said they’d tried to get him the last couple of years.”
Partly because Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman Ty Smith is recovering from a facial fracture, Hextall did not consider trading away a player at that position.
“Dmitry gives us depth on (defense),” Hextall said. ‘He gives us a player who can play on both sides. He’s a heavy player. He’s got a good defensive presence. He can kill penalties, so we’re excited about that.”
The Kulikov trade was fairly straightforward — the Penguins got him in exchange for McGinn and a third-round draft choice — but many player swaps in today’s game are not.
The Bonino deal was a good example of that, as the Penguins and San Jose had to recruit Montreal, which absorbed 50 percent of Bonino’s cap hit, to make the deal work.
“The moves now are so much more complex than they were 10 years ago, with the third-team brokers and (retaining) salary,” Hextall said. “It’s a complex world out there. … You try to do the best you can do, with all the constraints we have.”
Bonino figures to replace Drew O’Connor, who moved into Blueger’s old spot as the No. 4 center against the Lightning Thursday.
O’Connor was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre Friday, but Hextall said the Penguins have the cap space — and the intent — to recall him before they play Florida Saturday at 6:08 p.m.
“Drew’s played extremely well for us,” Hextall said. “We’re excited about Drew.”
He seems to feel the same about the Penguins’ prospects coming out of the deadline.
“We like our team,” Hextall said. “We wanted to enhance our chances and get better, and we feel like we did.”