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Friday, June 30, 2017

Flashback Friday: Remembering 2003-04

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Summer gives us time to look back and reflect on the hockey season.  It gives us time to remember years gone by.  It's time to go back and remember some of the most memorable moments in team history.  This week we remember the 2003-04 season

It's hard to believe, on the end of back-to-back Cups, that the Penguins weren't always a promised thing in Pittsburgh.  The 2003-04 season was the height of that questionable period.  An NHL worst 58 points, an 18 game losing streak, and the debut of Marc-Andre Fleury marked the year.  It was a year that could have possibly been their last.

The year-end recap on Fox Sports Pittsburgh went through a variety of emotions to express as such.  Glimmers of hope, the agony of loss, and the use of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" hit a lot of emotional notes that, to this day, flash me back to that day and get me jammed up.

A full 13 years later this all worked out for the better.  This disastrous season essentially brought the Penguins Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.  CONSOL Energy Center would follow a young, promising team and three Cups have followed.  Back then, none of this was promised.  Back then this seemed like the end.  And back then the hope that this video brought was all we had.

Join us next week for Friday Flashback.
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Thursday, June 29, 2017

In Defense of Derrick Pouliot by @disgruntledbill

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Derrik Pouliot finished out last season with the WBS Penguins 

Derrick Pouliot has received a qualifying offer from the Penguins. The news of his qualifying offer was buried behind offers made to NHL regulars: Sheary, Dumoulin, Schultz and also AHLers: Archibald, Dea, and Corrado.  

It seems half of Pens fans are shocked by this move. Chad Ruhwedel and David Warsofsky appeared to have passed Pouliot on the depth chart in Pittsburgh and the general word on the street is that he is a “bust”.

The other half of Penguins fans are simply indifferent towards the fate of an AHL defenseman.  They shouldn’t be.

Pouliot is a smart hockey player. He is patient on the power play and has a lethal shot. 

Pouliot showing off in WBS

Pouliot has the kind of raw talent that other serviceable AHL defensemen simply do not have. The elephant in the room though is that Derik Pouliot has not yet been ready for full time duty in the NHL.

At this point Pouliot has played 67 games in the NHL and has 2 goals and 12 assists. He is 23-year-old.

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin is 25.  Two years ago when he was 23, Dumoulin had played just 19 NHL games. That’s 48 games less than Pouliot has played.

Dumoulin wearing one of the very best WBS sweaters in  2012-2013.

23 year old Dumoulin had 1 goal and 1 assist. That’s half as many goals as Pouliot now has and 11 less assists.

Over the past two seasons largely spent in WBS, Pouliot has also showed tremendous personal growth. In November of 2015 21 year old Pouliot was cited for public drunkenness in Wilkes-Barre. The Times Leader has all the details.

He has been incident free ever since and racked up 75 points in the AHL during the past two seasons, including this goal where he skated through every Hershey Bear on the team, all around Hershey Park, and shot the puck into the net from the Kiss Tower.

Simply put, Pouliot isn’t a bust. He is a young prospect that still has a ton of promise. GMJR apparently agrees and thinks that Pouliot will be playing with the Penguins next year. 

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Transformation Tuesday: Evgeni Malkin

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It's the summer and that means it's time for some fun.  Throughout the summer we'll be running Transformation Tuesday.  We take a look at current Pittsburgh Penguins now and back at the time of their draft.  We start today with Evgeni Malkin.

If you're a long time Penguins fan you've literally seen Evgeni Malkin grow up in front of you.  It's not as obvious until you look back at these photos of him from his draft year in 2003.

Oh my God, were we ever so young?

Join us again next week for Transformation Tuesday.
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Monday, June 26, 2017

Mark Recchi Elected to Hockey Hall of Fame

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images/ WPXI)
It seems the hockey world can't get enough of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Just a few short weeks after the winning their fifth Stanley Cup, the Penguins Organization will again be front and center as it was announced Monday, June 26, that current director of player development, Mark Recchi, will be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Recchi was drafted by the Penguins in 1988 and would play for the team a total of seven seasons over three separate occasions. His dynamic and high energy playing style, along with his no-fear attitude and ability to make a heavy hit, made him a key element to the Penguins success in the early 1990s.

Recchi, aptly nicknamed The Wrecking Ball, won three Stanley Cup Championships over his playing career: with Pittsburgh in 1991 in which he was the leading scorer with 113 points, then again with Carolina in 2006 and Boston in 2011. Recchi also made pit stops in Montreal, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Tampa Bay before retiring with the Boston Bruins after their 2011 Stanley Cup victory. He joined the Penguins' front office 2014 and was promoted to his current position within the club earlier in June 2017.

Recchi sits 12th all-time on the NHL scoring list with 1,533 career points. He also sits fifth in games played (1,652) and 20th in goals (577). These stats make Recchi the only former player not previously elected to the HOF to hold at least 500 career goals and 1,500 points.

Joining Recchi in the inductee class are Dave Andreychuk, Danielle Goyette, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Clare Drake, and Jeremy Jacobs. The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place in Toronto on November 13, 2017.
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Your Daily Cry: Fleury Pens Emotional Goodbye

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The Player's Tribute is a website familiar to many Penguins fans.  With articles from Jake Guentzel, Pascal Dupuis, and Mike Lange it's offered a look inside the mind of our favorite players and personalities.  Now comes Marc-Andre Fleury with his turn to make us ugly face cry.

If you thought you were done with the feels over Marc-Andre Fleury's departure, he comes along to tell you that you're wrong and you're about to cry at work with his article "Thank You, Pittsburgh."

Starting off with the tale of his draft bringing things full circle for his time in Pittsburgh, he gives us a peak in to what was in his mind during the last two rounds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
I wish I could have been in net for my last game as a Penguin. But we raised the Cup, again, and it made all the sacrifices worthy. I felt proud — proud of my teammates for battling through injuries, for showing a lot of character, and for winning two years in a row. I am grateful that I had the chance to contribute to our success through the first rounds. And I feel very fortunate that the last time I have skated with a Penguins jersey, it will have been with the Stanley Cup in my hands. Not that it wasn’t an emotional moment.
He goes on to praise Mario Lemieux for the human we know him to be both on and off the ice:
 I remember the first time I stopped Mario in practice. It was a simple warmup shot. But you better believe that I kept that puck — and still have it at home. Mario is a great role model for me — his loyalty to the team, his contributions to the community, how he handles himself and how he and Nathalie raised four great, humble kids. I’ll always be thankful for their support throughout the years.
Tells us an anecdote about his first game in the NHL:
My first home game was against the Kings at the Igloo on Oct. 10, 2003. My dream was becoming a reality. Maybe the excitement was a little high. So high, that, well … I forgot something. As everybody was getting ready to head out of the locker room, I made my way towards the ice, fist bumped a few guys (including Marc Bergevin and Mario) and then I realized that I had forgotten my stick. It was a pretty funny walk of shame past all my teammates to go grab my stick.  As I was walking back, Mario cracked a little smile and said “You’re going to need that tonight, kid.”
Recalls fondly his, perhaps, finest moment as a Pittsburgh Penguin:
Game 7 of the 2009 finals in Detroit is without a doubt one of my favorite moments as a Penguin. Seeing my good friend Max Talbot score two huge goals for us was incredible. And then, of course, making that save against Lidstrom in the last seconds was something I will never forget. I proudly sported a deep bruise on my ribs from that save for weeks following that game. I’ll always remember my teammates jumping on the ice, racing toward me with the biggest smiles. The feeling of winning the Stanley Cup that night is indescribable.
And waxes poetic on how the Penguins fans helped turn around a rough start to his season this past year:
One of my best memories is from earlier this season, actually. We had just been on a road trip and it was our first game back home against Tampa Bay. I had been struggling a bit. I couldn’t buy a save, and I wasn’t feeling great about it. Everybody was getting ready for the anthem, and the crowd started chanting my name. It made no sense. I wasn’t playing well. The game hadn’t even started yet. But they were behind me anyway. 
Fleu-ry, Fleu-ry. 
Maybe they could sense that I was feeling a little down, and I needed it. We ended up winning the game, things turned around for me, and I ended up having a great season. That moment was the turning point, and it was because of our fans. 
These are but a few of the stories, words, and tales told in Marc's emotional goodbye to the friends, family and fans he made over 14 years in Pittsburgh.  Read it, take it in, love him even more.  Just do so at your own peril.  Your make up may run, your eyes will get misty, and you'll be crying at your desk when you do.
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The 2017 NHL Awards: Awkwardness Overshadows All by @MedinaMarie_PI

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Awarding the Best in the NHL while building a new team
As Marc Andre Fleury walked onto the stage enrobed in the colors of his new team, Penguin's Jesus looked up to the heavens from center ice at PPG Paints Arena, and proclaimed, "It is finished."

Though fans knew it was coming, it didn't make the inevitable any easier to swallow. In the second to last selection of the expansion draft, Pittsburgh bid farewell and thank you to MAF as he became a member of the new Golden Knight franchise. He looked so thrilled.
That's not a real MAF smile
(Photo credit: Pittsburgh Penguin's Twitter)
While the NHL hosted their annual awards night Wednesday June 21 in the desert heat and blistering sun of Las Vegas inside the new T-Mobile Arena, the trophies and who won them became over shadowed by the looming expansion draft that would be taking place at the same time and the sustained moments of uncomfortable awkwardness.

"No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
Every Pens fan wanted Sidney Crosby to win more than the Maurice "Rocket " Richard Trophy, which is awarded to the leagues leading scorer, but it was no surprise when Conner McDavid walked away with both the Ted Lindsey Award and the Hart Memorial Trophy for NHL MVP. Most of the night's talking points, however, came from the antics in between presentations and the almost beauty pageant-like process used to announce the draftees of the Vegas Golden Knights. That and Patrik Laine's best visual impression of a James Bond villain. For a full list of the 2017 award winners, click here.

Pittsburgh's favourite stripping werewolf, Joe Manganiello, hosted the event and took much joy in rubbing as much Pittsburgh pride into the faces of players, fans and Gary Bettman himself as he possibly could.

It would have been a great "ha ha, take that haters" moment for the Penguins' fan base if the whole thing didn't come off as forced and overly rehearsed. Between having Sid switch seats with the NHL commissioner, handing out pieces of fried catfish and breath mints to the audience (really, who thought that was a good idea?), to a burlesque dancing Iceburgh, the majority of the telecast left most viewers feeling embarrassed for anyone who had to actually be there in person.

But wait...there's more! Throw in every half hearted joke regarding underage players being in Vegas, an NHL legend making mildly inappropriate remarks about a young female gymnasts legs, and B and C list celebrities as co-presenters trying to be funny and you have the makings of what could very well be one of the worst awards shows ever produced.

All was not lost however. The night did have some heartfelt and feel good moments.

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for a players dedication to hockey was presented by young Canadian actor, Jacob Tremblay (Smurfs 2, Wonder) to Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson. During his speech, Anderson became visibly choked up as he thanked his team and the NHL for their support during his wife's battle with cancer. You can see the full presentation below:
The biggest tear jerker of the night came late in the broadcast when the NHL honored the career and courage of (now former) Carolina Hurricane forward, Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, in the middle of last season. After a touching video tribute, host Joe Maganiello brought Bickell and his wife Amanda on stage for a farewell speech and check presentation to the Bryan and Amanda Bickell Foundation on behalf of the NHL.

As for the expansion draft, not much can be said. It was like watching a the top finalists of a beauty pageant being called except most hockey fans already knew who was going to be selected thanks to online leaks. With the exception of a minor snafu in which one teams selection was announced out of order, the draft names were read through in a timely manner within each round of names, four rounds in total, and will be forgotten about just as quickly.

The NHL attempted to make this years awards ceremony more along the lines of other more prominent and flashy awards shows such as the Espy's or whatever awards show MTV has going on now a days. All it was missing was a lip synced performance by a struggling musical performer trying to regain the spotlight. In short, the attempt to bring more fanfare to the show flopped harder than the Phildelphia Flyers attempt to make the post season and now that it is over, we can all get back to celebrating another summer with Lord Stanley.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rumored Running List of Las Vegas Selections

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The Vegas Golden Knights are A Thing.  It'll be official very soon and in the mean time there are the usual leaks of nuggets here and there.  Here's a running list of those leaks:

Toronto Maple Leafs

 Los Angeles Kings

 Calgary Flames
Editor Note: LOLOL

Anaheim Ducks
St. Louis Blues

Editors Note: Translation is "David Perron will be claimed by the Golden Knights of Las Vegas during the expansion draft according to a source near the player. #VGK"

New York Islanders
Minnesota Wild

Detroit Red Wings

Philadelphia Flyers

San Jose Sharks
Edmonton Oilers
Boston Bruins
Ottawa Sentaors

Chicago Blackhawks

Florida Panthers

Columbus Blue Jackets

 Tampa Bay Lightning

Montreal Canadiens

Nashville Predators

Dallas Stars

New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Editor's Note: I don't want to talk about it

Washington Capitals
Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils
We'll have more as they develop as we await word on Colorado, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Arizona, and Carolina.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The PI Staff Bids Fleury Adieu

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Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar

I'm not going to lie. It's been a rough couple of weeks. We've known how this was going to play out but when Marc-Andre Fleury handed the Stanley Cup to Matt Murray, it felt like the beginning of the end.

In between reminiscing over old photos and crying fits, the Pens Initiative staff compiled our favorite memories, moments, stories, and musings of our Flower. (He'll always be "ours.") Please share your own thoughts about Fleury in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter. We brought plenty of tissues.

Bill Manley (@disgruntledbill)

I feel like I really got to know MAF during his awkward middle school years. It was big news when MAF showed up in WBS for the Playoff. This was the first real high end talent we had in WBS...like top shelf bottle of liquor talent. I surprised he even reported to WBS after he let in that terrible goal in World Juniors just a few days prior. He never really dazzled me in WBS, playing behind an AHL defense will do that sometimes. When he went up to Pittsburgh it was a completely different story and he looked incredible. I'm still surprised they let him wear his neon yellow pads with the blue jersey back then. It looked really funky.

Nicholas Case (@Nick422)

As a journalist you're always told to be impartial.  You can't let feelings get in the way of your writing.  As a human that's hard and people like Marc-Andre Fleury make that even harder.

My meetings with Fleury were few.  The Winter Classic, the All Star Game in 2012, after an Atlanta Thrashers game.  These weren't the things that tied Marc-Andre Fleury to me.  It was this day and age of media coverage, of hearing from people, of seeing the man behind the mask.

It was the smile that belied the fierce competitor.  It was the cartwheels that hid the champion that wanted more.  It was the fun he had in net that shielded you from the hunger to be the best.  Most of all, it was the smile and the fun that made him stand out from many other athletes.

He was my draft class.  He and I are the same age.  We came of age at the same time.  He's almost been my avatar.  From the same way I play the game to the ages we are in real life.  His draft was also the first one that told you that the Penguins were turning it around.

Yellow pads, 40 plus stops, and raw athleticism in his first game was a glimpse at the next umpteen years.  His first game summarized his career: the start of something special, the need for better.

Fleury was the end of the X Generation.  He was the beginning of the new generation.  He was the start of our time.  He was bright, shining, smiling the whole way.  Every up, every down.  In the end his story was his.  It was one that he re-wrote as he left on top, his team on his back.  His career ended the way it began.  It was something special, stopping as much as he could going his way, as he needed better.

Marc-Andre Fleury's loss will hit a lot of people in the gut.  His first return will be tear-filled.  He is tied to the Pittsburgh Penguins as he's re-written every record he could.  No matter what jersey he dons, he'll always be in black-and-gold.  He'll always be the start of a dynasty.  He'll always be our generation.

Matt Steiner (@msteiner90)

Marc Andre Fleury came to Pittsburgh during an era when seats were empty in Mellon Arena, and the Penguins fans were still confused about why we traded Jaromir Jagr for Kris Beech.  The fans that once packed Mellon Arena were gone and the team was seriously considering moving to another city.

A team as bad as the Penguins were had good draft picks, and Marc Andre Fleury lived up to the hype.  To me, he was the face of the franchise before Sidney Crosby came along.  Marc Andre Fleury has been through the lowest of lows with this franchise and now has seen his team lift three Stanley Cups during his tenure.

I hate to seem him go, but it's best for him to find a team that will give him ice time.

Brian Blystone (@ToonsBrian)

For those of us who have been around since the X-Generation (and prior to that), the departure of Marc-Andre Fleury is a little different than it might be for newer fans of the Penguins. That is not meant as a derogatory in any way, just as a point of fact.

For the past several years, we as Penguins fans have been immensely spoiled with the team's success. Yet that X-Gen period of time had a huge impact on my - and I'm sure many others' - perspective of what to take out of the "7 years of plenty" we are currently enjoying.

Many look primarily to Sid, Geno and Letang as the root of the Penguins success. But if you look back to that time, MAF was the beginning of the turnaround for the franchise. Here was this kid with the goofy smile (and later bold yellow kick pads) taken as the first pick of the 2003 NHL Draft.

That smile. That goofy, infectious smile.

We, as fans, had no idea what the future of this team held but in the midst of the misery, here was this kid that just enjoyed being here. The future Marc-Andre led the team into - every bit as much as the aforementioned superstars have - are why this fan-base, community and blog exist today. And that smile is still there.

Regardless of what the future holds for Marc-Andre Fleury, his beautiful family and anybody who is associated with him, the Penguins' present is owed largely to him. He's never let the franchise or the fan base down. His strength of character, pure enjoyment of the game and his team-first mentality which led him to waive his NMC are ingrained into the DNA of this team and its fans.

All of that is why MAF moving on from this team means so much more to me than any Fleury/Murray angle that people discuss today. MAF made it okay to smile again. And, in a small way, MAF, in his handling of interviews since raising his third Cup, has made it okay to cry again as well.

My one true hope is that Vegas - who will take Marc-Andre - treats him well. He helped to set one black and gold franchise on the right path. Of all the players available in this Expansion Draft, he's the one that the fledgling franchise can be assured will always remain an epitome of class and character, regardless of the fact that he will always be a Penguin to us.

Medina Menozzi (@MedinaMarie_PI)

This is going to sound unkind, but the first thing I thought to myself when I laid eyes on MAF in his debut in Pittsburgh was, "Who is this lanky, horse faced kid? He looks more like a poet than a goalie! Look at his eyes! There is no intimidation in them!" I was never so happy to be wrong in my life.

Over the next 14 years, the shenanigans, pranks and bright smile of MAF became staples fans and media looked forward to each season. With Slap Shot being my favorite sports movie, it brought me immense joy to see the Penguins having a little fun, and recreate the opening scene: the goalie interview. MAF played the part perfectly and did his best to stay in character the entire time while trying not to burst into laughter. Alongside Dan Potash and that wig with the badly taped on sideburns, I understood how keeping a straight face would have been difficult.

MAF will be difficult personality to replace in the Penguins' locker room, if he can be at all. He brought a child-like joy to the team and had a way of keeping even the toughest times light hearted. Pittsburgh will be forever blessed to have called him a Penguin. 

David Bytnar (@AlfaM1keFoxtrot)

Marc Andre may not be remembered as "the guy" for this current era of the Penguins but, he was and always will be the "right guy" at the right time.

His jovial personality and otherworldly athleticism at the position was in many ways a mirror image of the unjaded youth and generational talent the Sidney Crosby era ushered in. And, just as the two generational talents that have now carried the franchise to three Stanley Cups struggled with the weight of expectations and missed opportunities, so did Fleury.

The talent never went away though, as well as that..." level"....Fleury could get to. This past year's playoff run was an enjoyable smirk-inducing reminder of the franchise worthy talent Fleury is.

God bless him! God bless him for having enough fortitude to overcome whatever personal anxiety, inconsistent focus, or positional blunders that occurred between 08-09 and this year. God bless him for not making a scene during any moment of his stay here when things weren't going well. And God bless him moving forward, because he deserves it!

(Sauf quand il est en concurrence avec les Pingouins)😏

Paul Clemente (@evil_shero)

It's impossible to keep sports and emotions separate. I've been watching hockey for 25 years now and no group of players have ever endeared themselves to this city like the team we have now. The Penguin's "Core" group of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kessel, and ... Fleury is losing it's longest tenured member of this beloved team. 

I'm not going to recall history or laud over his achievements or his polarizing mark in Pittsburgh folk-lore. Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the most rare of humans in existence. He is selfless.

The Flower did not HAVE to waive his NMC for Vegas. He did not HAVE to talk to management to make sure that both sides agree to an amicable release. He did not HAVE to put the team first, a team that has told him that they no longer need him. He is going to uproot his family, leave his friends, and the city who has been a strange mix of love and criticism to go to a team that is almost certain to struggle for the remainder of his contractual obligation. 

Marc-Andre Fleury did all of those things not for himself, he did it for his team and this city. I will never forget this valiant act of sacrifice. I will always support someone who in the face of difficulty makes the right choice. We owe Flower a debt of immense gratitude and undoubtedly be remembered fondly.

Ryan Klassen (@ryank_119)

The Flower was already pretty established when I seriously began following Penguins hockey in early 2008.  The first thing that stood out to me was his aggressive and acrobatic flair in net.  Whether it was a cross-crease split save or a massive windmill robbery, he always brought me out of my seat.  His style and passion for the game is what got me back into playing net myself.  To this day I still watch his highlights before most games.

He's by no means my favorite goalie in the league (that's a tough contest between Jonathan Quick and Sergei Bobrovsky) but is probably my favorite personality in the league.  There are so many moments from interviews, documentaries and games that I will always remember but my top highlight is from the 2011 Winter Classic.  In the clip below Flower tells Jordan Staal that he is going to lose the practice shootout and then he proceeds to shut him out forcing him to run to the top of the stadium at Heinz Field.  The energy and fun that this man brought to the Penguins for more than 10 years will never be replaced.  Snap Snap, Flower... Snap Snap.

Stacey Miller (@SpinMeWrite)

For most or Fleury's tenure, I was living in a hockey desert (Georgia) or hostile territory (Philly area). I tried to keep up with the team as best I could as the internet was improving. Even from afar, Fleury was always one of my favorites. While his acrobatics in the net make a lot of people nervous, I've always been impressed by his athleticism and ability to get across the crease to make a play with his toe. He's not the smallest goalie, but he doesn't have the height advantage like say, Ben Bishop. 

This postseason a lot has been said about Rinne's ability to play the puck out of the net, but I think Fleury belongs in the same conversation. And his poke check? He could teach a clinic on that alone. 

I haven't been to a ton of games, but one of my favorites was a home game against the Islanders in March last year. It ended in a shootout, which is where Fleury does some of his best work. I had seats behind the goal and was so thrilled to see the Flower emerge victorious. Hyperbole aside, it was an awesome game and I was glad I was able to witness in person Fleury at his best. 

There aren't enough words in our vocabulary to describe how great Marc-Andre and his family are. He and Veronique have known each other since their teens. I was on the train in Boston when I read about their donation to the Boys and Girls Club and I had to put my head down and hide my face so no one could see me crying. 

It's going to be so hard to watch him blossom somewhere else. Vegas, or wherever he ends up, doesn't even realize what kind of player, teammate, and person they're getting. I look forward to hearing what kind of pranks he has up his sleeves for his new teammates. 

Michael Traeger (@DXTraeger)

In 2003, Marc-Andre Fleury became Pittsburgh's first #1 overall draft pick since Mario Lemieux, thus making him the franchise's hockey equivalence of "Star Wars: A New Hope" for Penguins fans.

Even when the team was mired with a horrible roster (Rico Fata, WOOF), Penguin supporters were angry that management kept denying Fleury the opportunity to stay up with the big club.

Of course, ownership was doing Fleury a favor: he had little to gain by playing behind that horrible roster other than bruises from facing an onslaught of opponent fire with little chance of a reprieve.

But when the Penguins started to amass other pieces– Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal– suddenly Pittsburgh had something going, and that "something" resulted in back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, and ultimately, the 2009 Cup Championship.

Fleury was part folk-hero at that point, and his noted playoff struggles in the next five post-seasons clearly bothered him, and even his most vocal supporters (like me), were frustrated with his play.

The low point for Fleury came in 2013 when the Pens replaced the shell-shocked Flower with Tomas Vokoun.  Vokoun played extremely well in relief, further cementing the idea that Marc-Andre Fleury had the playoff yips and could not be counted on in spring.

So when it was #29 that sprinted onto the ice before Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets this spring, you can understand the consternation that many fans experienced, believing that things were over before they started.

Instead, Fleury wrote his own final chapter, playing at a Conn Smythe-level through the first two rounds and propelling the Penguins into the Eastern Conference Finals where, in cruel fashion, he was removed from the net following a total team collapse against the Ottawa Senators.

Fleury would not reclaim his crease, and was on the bench as presumptive franchise goalie Matt Murray finished off the Nashville Predators for Pittsburgh's second straight Stanley Cup Championship.

Still, Fleury hoisted the Cup before handing it off to Murray, a symbolic changing of the guard and acknowledgement that the goaltending duo had worked as a singular unit to win.

Fleury's legacy will be that of a consummate teammate, well-mannered on and off the ice, whose playful style and demeanor resonated with fans.  My greatest Fleury regret will be that he never managed to score that empty-netter.  I wish he had scored that goal, because the Mellon/Consol/PPG Paints Arena roar would have been greater than any other in team history.

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Roster Roulette: How I Would Draft the Las Vegas Golden Knights by @DXTraeger

1:51:00 AM 4
Welcome to "Roster Roulette," a series where the Pens Initiative crew gives their opinions on the Las Vegas Golden Knight's expansion draft.  Feel free to voice your own drafts and thoughts in either the comments section below or via Twitter!

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

The NHL Releases Lists of Protected Players

10:39:00 AM 1
Photo Credit: Getty Images
At 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning (for some unholy reason they announced at 9:59 that it was pushed back half an hour), the protected player lists for each team was released to the public. While some teams opted to release their lists on Saturday, the majority were revealed Sunday morning. The Vegas Golden Knights will have until 10 a.m. on June 21 to submit their selection list to the league. Their choices will be announced at the NHL Awards that evening (hosted by Pittsburgh's own Joe Manganiello).

Here are your protected Pittsburgh Penguins:

Sidney Crosby (F)
Patric Hornqvist (F)
Phil Kessel (F)
Evgeni Malkin (F)
Brian Dumoulin (D)
Kris Letang (D)
Olli Maatta (D)
Justin Schultz (D)
Matt Murray (G)


Josh Archibald (F)
Nick Bonino (F)
Matt Cullen (F)
Jean-Sebastien Dea (F)
Carl Hagelin (F)
Tom Kuhnhackl (F)
Chris Kunitz (F)
Kevin Porter (F)
Bryan Rust (F)
Tom Sestito (F)
Oskar Sundqvist (F)
Dominik Uher (F)
Garrett Wilson (F)
Scott Wilson (F)

Ian Cole (D)
Frank Corrado (D)
Trevor Daley (D)
Tim Erixon (D)
Cameron Gaunce (D)
Ron Hainsey (D)
Stuart Percy (D)
Derrick Pouliot (D)
Chad Ruhwedel (D)
Mark Streit (D)
David Warsofsky (D)

Marc-Andre Fleury (G)

The complete list of the league's protected players can be viewed here.

What are your thoughts? Anyone freaking out about Rust or Hagelin? Or (one of my favorites) Ian Cole? Or scratching your head over Olli Maatta? Or we all largely unfazed because the writing's on the wall for Fleury? Sound off in the comments!

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

.@Nick422 Talks Pens with @jablamhockey

2:05:00 PM 0
Your Pittsburgh Penguins are, once again, champions.  People want to talk about them and our Nick Case obliged the good people at Jablam Hockey.

On this episode, Nick joins hosts Peter and Paul to talk the repeat, Marc-Andre Fleury, Phil Kessel, and the future of the Penguins.

Click here to access the entire show.

For Nick's interview, click here under Team Iso.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Pittsburgh Penguins Primer: Expansion Draft and Free Agency by @alfaM1keFoxtrot

2:30:00 PM 0
Here are my thoughts on how the expansion draft and free agency will play out:

The following information has been compiled from websites like capfriendly.com, hockey-reference.com, and hockeydatabase.com.

The Protected:


  1.  Sidney Crosby: No movement clause - No explanation needed.....His world, we're all just living in it.
  2.  Evgeni Malkin: No movement clause - Again no explanation needed...He is score...and he has 3 cups.
  3.  Phil Kessel: No movement clause -  Plus he's nearly a point per game player ANY time of year.
  4.  Patric Hornqvist: The importance of this man's on ice personality and production may trail only Sullivan, #87 and #71.
  5.  Bryan Rust: Because you don't expose a 25-year-old forward who can play in the top six, is making less than 1 million, and has a habit scoring big goals.
  6.  Scott Wilson: Redundant...but "you don't expose a 25-year-old forward who can play in the top six and is making less than 1 million....at least not for this expansion draft.
  7.  I left a spot open here in case a trade is made for another forward.


   1.  Kris Letang: No movement clause - Almost no explanation needed because he is Norris Trophy caliber.
   2.  Justin Schultz: RFA who needs re-signed but is a "light" version of the unicorn right-handed defenseman that every franchise is after....(insert Kris Letang here). PLUS he's only 26, so as a defenseman, his prime has just started.

Below are a list of comparable seasons from the last three years in which points and TOI (time on ice) were priorities. Based on this information, my goal would be to sign Schultz to a 4 or 6 year contract averaging 4.25 million so he feels fairly compensated. Also, so he does not become an UFA the same offseason as Letang. The tough part here is Schultz's lack of a track record. It's a bit of a gamble but similar continued production could make it pay off in spades.

    3.  Brian Dumoulin: Another RFA who needs re-signed. However at 6'4" 207 lbs and playing 22 minutes a night during this past playoff run on a bad back, you don't let him go.

As with Schultz, below are a list of comparable seasons from the last three years in which points and TOI were priorities. Dumoulin's case is a bit simpler as there is consistency to his production over the last two years. However the larger variance in comparable contracts makes a bridge deal more useful here. Because of this I'm going to lean toward the lower end of the spectrum with a 2 year deal at 2.25 million.


Matt Murray: No explanation needed - Really. There are just too many reasons and too little time.

The Exempt
  1. Conor Sheary: Doesn't meet the requirements in terms of professional years. However Sheary is a RFA with a bunch of variables that play into a new contract. As I stated in a previous article. Sheary's comparables to this year are expensive high-end players, BUT they all had track records of production before their current deals were signed.
Therefore, I'd use a bridge deal with Sheary just as I did with Dumoulin. The Penguins can hedge their bets. Two years at 3.25 is a reasonable step contract while the team assesses whether Sheary can consistently replicate the production from this season.

     2.  Jake Guentzel: Doesn't meet the requirements in terms of professional years.
     3.  Carter Rowney: Doesn't meet the requirements in terms of professional years - even at age 28.
     4.  Josh Archibald: RFA - needs re-signed - borderline to stay in the NHL - two way deal.
     5.  Oskar Sundqvist: RFA - needs re-signed - borderline to stay in the NHL - two way deal.
     6.  Derrick Pouliot: RFA - needs re-signed - Not yet willing to give up on a 23-year-old kid with focus issues. $800,000 on a two-way is reasonable. The talent is there.
     7.  Tristan Jarry: Doesn't meet the requirements in terms of professional years.

Other UFAs worth resigning

    1.  Chris Kunitz or Matt Cullen: Tying up money in multiple forwards over the age of 38 and not named Jagr doesn't make a whole lot of sense: Matt Cullen would be my choice because of versatility and the Penguins needs at center within the bottom 6.
    2.  Chad Ruhwedel: He is actually a perfect bottom-pairing defenseman and he is right-handed. He's probably comparable Chris to Wideman in Ottawa.

Unprotected or Trade Bait

  1.  Carl Hagelin: He was injured and is making too much for Vegas to take him. If he leaves in a trade at least the Penguinss get something in return.
  2.  Tom Kuhnhackl: Solid bottom 6 contributor but can't stay in the lineup. Not worth protecting
  3.  Ian Cole: This isn't easy, but there are other Ian Cole type players.
  4.  Olli Maatta: This is a tough decision as Maatta is young but is probably the Penguins' best movable bargaining chip. The bottom line is that the previously mentioned defenders, who are being protected, are all better.

Players to Let Go:

    1.  Nick Bonino: A to be 29-year-old UFA coming off back to back cups in a very weak center market, Bonino could probably command between 4 and 5.5 million. Not on the Penguins though.
    2.  Trevor Daley: A 33-year-old UFA with great transition ability but struggles to drive play. I'll pass.
    3.  Ron Hainsey: A 36-year-old who at times looked a lot like Rob Scuderi. No thank you.
    4.  Mark Streit: A 39-year-old that was probably under-utilized but is still 39. I wish him the best.

Biggest Area of Concern - Bottom Six Centers

Nick Bonino's probable departure:  The Penguins can't spend what the market will offer him and I wouldn't. I would wish him the best if he wants anything over 3 million from them.

Matt Cullen's probable retirement: This may be the biggest loss going into next season as finding a veteran center that will put up over 30 points a year, can play multiple positions up and down the lineup, and cost you 1 million or less is basically unheard of.

If Rowney or Sundqvist are slated to fill the 4th line center role, the Penguins may need to trade for a higher-end center as their 3rd line center to make up for what they are losing.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Phil - The Sophomore Season Book by @ryank_119

The Phil - 039 May This Flower Never Wilt by @ryank_119

4:05:00 PM 0

Players' lockers are being cleaned out today and guys are going their separate ways. We've probably seen the last of Flower and we hope he fares well wherever he goes.
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Revenge: Better Late Than Never by @disgruntledbill

3:00:00 PM 0

What do these guys have to do with anything? Read on...
Injuries always play a key role in determining the success of any team in the Stanley Cup Playoff. The Penguins lead the way with the Kris Letang injury, but the Nashville Predators had their fair share of injuries too. The name Ryan Johansen might right a bell.

These injuries necessitate callups. In the Penguins case, those callups come from WBS. For the Predators, their callups come from a team called the Milwaukee Admirals, the other Ads team (Norfolk will always be the Ads to me).

Five players from the Ads this season went on to play for the Predators: Juuse Saros, Frederick Gaudreau, Austin Watson, Pontus Aberg and Matt Irwin.

For most Penguins fans, this is an obscure Pierre McGuire level piece of trivia.  An AHL team in Wisconsin is probably something that most Penguins fans are largely ambivalent towards, like the Predators until 2017.

The WBS Pens and the Ads have beef.  It’s old beef, but beef nonetheless. I loathe the Ads, and their fans, and by extension the Nashville Predators.  The Milwaukee Admirals occupy a special place in the WBS Hall of Playoff Horrors. I, for one, couldn’t be happier that their fans were not able to see their callups help the Preds win a Stanley Cup. Remember 2004?

The 2003-2004 WBS Penguins were a special team.  They had all three individual players received from the Jagr trade to Washington (Ross Lupaschuk, Kris Beech, and Michal Sivek). Try as they might could not equal a gestault Jagr.  

Lupaschuk + Beech + Sivek =/= Jagr

They had skill up front from proven AHL talent like Toby Petersen and Tom Kostopoulos and NHL bound forwards like Tomas Surovy and Colby Armstrong.

It seems like only yesterday Armstrong was lighting it up in WBS and not a studio man.

Future defensive stallwarts Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik patrolled the blueline.

Orpik, before he was corrupted by the dark side. 

In net they had Andy Chiodo who was having a career year and carried the team at times on his back into the Final backed up by some scrub named Marc-Andre Fleury who played quite a bit in the Final.

So what happened? In case you weren’t around for these games or have managed to erase the terrible memories of their last playoff match-up, let me go through the (low) highlights. The Penguins had made it to the Calder Cup Final for the second time in team history. Instead of a hard fought competitive series, the Pens were straight up curb stomped by the Ads in 4 games. 

2004 was a long time ago, a time when the Milwaikee Admiral had not yet died and turned into a skeleton monster that haunts dreams.

In brief:

Game 1: WBS loses 2-1 in OT in Milwaukee. Close but no cigar.

Game 2: WBS collapses. 8-4 in Milwaukee. The series isn’t over until you lose a home game.

Game 3: WBS loses 2-1 in OT in WBS.  Darren Hayder (an AHL ringer if there ever was one) scoring in overtime to end Game 3 in Wilkes-Barre. Here is the clip:


Game 4: WBS loses 7-2 in WBS in a game in which Chiodo was pulled, then MAF was pulled, then Chiodo was pulled again. Sigh.

Here are the final seconds of game 4 as the Ads win in Wilkes-Barre 7-2. If you listen closely you might hear a younger collegiate me weeping in the background. 

This is a series that has stuck in my craw for a long time. Every time someone casually mentioned the Nashville callups from the Ads, I was immediately taken back to 2004 and the painful, painful memories. 

This revenge was a long time coming and the Penguins defeat of the Nashville Predators was more than suitable recompense in the eyes of this WBS fan for the 2004 Calder Cup Finals.

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A Legacy Re-Written by @Nick422

12:00:00 PM 0
When Marc-Andre Fleury was handed the Stanley Cup on June 11th, 2016 there was a sadness in his eyes.  He quickly passed it off as his expression read, "This isn't mine, I don't deserve this."  On June 11th, 2017 his expression was different.  This Cup?  This was his.

It was easy to scoff as Marc-Andre Fleury's time as a Pittsburgh Penguin.  Sure he brought them a Stanley Cup but beyond shining numbers in the regular season that saw him lead the franchise in wins, shut outs, etc, there was a strong case that he was the team's weakness in the playoffs.  It's easily argued that he was the heaviest anchor in the failed 2011-12 season when the team flamed out spectacularly against the Flyers.

Goalie coaching and head coaching changes brought about a new and improved Marc-Andre Fleury.  Mike Bales and Mike Johnston's defensive system (ugh, remember Mike Johnston?) renewed Fleury.  Better were his numbers and his confidence restored.

From there you know the story: A coaching replacement and a fluke injury led to Matt Murray's rise to instant stardom, an improbable Cup run by a goalie not even classified as a rookie, and suddenly Fleury had lost what was seemingly his for the foreseeable future, forced to watch from the sidelines as that Cup that wasn't his was passed to him and immediately passed on to someone else.

Now the back up for the Penguins, Fleury stuck with the only team he'd known and (by varying accounts both reputable and not) suffered through seeing his team wrested away by the younger Cup winner.  It was an inglorious end to the most decorated goaltending run in the 50 year history of an even more decorated franchise.

As the Penguins prepped for another chance at a Stanley Cup, Murray returned from injury in time for the post season and looked to keep Fleury on the bench again.  It was to be a sadly unfitting end to someone who had given his all to the only franchise he'd ever known.

And then, ten minutes before Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Murray re-aggrivated his groin injury.  Marc-Andre Fleury was thrown back in to the net.  And that's when he began to help erase as much of the foul taste had been left in his, and fans', mouths by previous years.

From there Fleury held down the fort for a team that ended up being outshot 11 times in 25 games.  It's no stretch to say without him setting the tone in Game 1, stopping 31 against Columbus, they have a much harder time against a game Blue Jackets.  

Without Marc-Andre Fleury there's no chance the Penguins advance past a Washington Capitals who, for six of the seven games, were decidedly the better team.  It's not without Marc-Andre Fleury's stealing three games that the Penguins move on to face the Ottawa Senators.

While the storybook that seemed to be in the process of being written ended there after Fleury was pulled for a bad period (whether or not that was necessary is a question that will now be lost in the ether of history), Fleury did all he could to change the way he's looked upon when the long and storied history of the Penguins is looked back upon.

Jim Rutherford could have traded Fleury at the deadline.  He could have made cap room and received a big trade piece with the new wiggle room.  Instead he held on to Marc-Andre Fleury and as a result allowed him to change his exit from Pittsburgh.  No longer was he a bystander.  Instead he was a key cog in the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup.

When Fleury lifted his third Stanley Cup on Sunday night, this one was different.  It was his once again, much like in 2009.  And with that, if he donned the Penguins sweater for the last time, he went out on top.  That's the memory he deserved.  When he handed that Cup, his Cup, to Matt Murray, he ended his legacy his way.  His time was done in Pittsburgh and in the end he'd won.
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