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Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Flashback: Mario... is... BACK!

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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 it's Mario's return from retirement December 27th, 2000.

The word slowly leaked out in December.  Mario was in the best shape of his life and had been skating with a trainer.  The whispers were that he was coming back but in the pre-internet age it was hard to really confirm this.

Slowly the news built before the press conference.  Mario was ending his retirement to play for (literally) his Penguins.  It was a move born as much of a desire to improve ticket sales as a desire to play and have his son, Austin, see him play.

Finally the night came and he did not disappoint.  Assisting on a Jaromir Jagr goal early in the game, he would compile one goal and two assists, looking to never have missed a beat in his return that lived up to every bit of the hype.

His return would vault the Penguins all the way in to a cinderella Eastern Conference Finals bid before losing to the New Jersey Devils.  He would stay around for several more years, bridging the gap between the Jagr and Crosby years.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Transformation Tuesday: Brian Dumoulin

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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.  Today's player: Brian Dumoulin

"Dumo" was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes (by Jim Rutherford!) in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.  He made his way to Pittsburgh via the Jordan Staal deal and the rest has been history.

Man, look at that swag.

Join us next week for Transformation Tuesday.
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Monday, July 24, 2017

Pens and Dumoulin Agree to Terms on New Contract

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General Manager Jim Rutherford announced early this morning that the Penguins and defenseman Brian Dumoulin have agreed to the terms on a new contract.

The six-year deal with an average annual value of $4.1 million will go into effect this year and carry through the 2022-23 season.

For more information on the signing and the official announcement from the organization, click here.

The question now turns to what implications this new contract could have when it comes to re-signing forward Conor Sheary (who is scheduled to go into arbitration regarding his contract) and potentially obtaining a third-line center for next season.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Flashback: Five Goals, Five Ways

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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.  Today we look at the time Mario scored five goals in five different ways.

New Year's Eve 1988 started out normal.  Penguins were set to take on the New Jersey Devils at the Civic Arena.  Little did the over 16,000 plus in attendance that night know they were going to be witnessing one of the most magical acts in a magical career for Mario Lemieux.

It started with one goal.  A regular even strength goal.  Then came the hard ones.  Soon followed were a shorthanded goal then the power play goal.  The hat trick was his and all three goals had been scored in different ways.  That wasn't the end.

Next up?  A penalty shot.  Like there was any doubt he would connect.  Finally, thanks to the 1980s style of play, with one second remaining he potted the empty netter.  A five goal game for Mario.  One of only 44 players to this day to do so.  His?  Unique and historic.

To this day Mario's the only person to accomplish this five goals in five different ways feat.  Quite frankly this is one record which will probably never be touched again.

Join us again next week for Friday Flashback.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Transformation Tuesday: Ian Cole

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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.  Now it's everyone's favorite ginger beard: Ian Cole

Taken 17th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues, Ian Cole would later end up with the Penguins via a trade and go on to be a two time Cup winner from there.  Funny how that works out!

Look at that baby face!  Please never shave, Ian.

Join us next week for Transformation Tuesday.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Phil's Alright by @Nick422

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It's the offseason so that means there's trouble abound in any fan base.  You'd think that would be hard for the team that just won two Stanley Cups in a row but here we are trying to chase Phil Kessel out of town.  And why?

Multiple (dubious) sources are out here saying that Phil Kessel is a coach killer.  He doesn't get along with the staff, beats to his own drum, and with Rick Tocchet gone he'll become a nuisance in the locker room.

This franchise clearly has no experience in dealing with any players like this hypothetical Phil Kessel.

Is Phil unorthodox?  There's no doubt about that.  His physical game isn't good, eh?  On a team built on speed and chipping away at the opposition it's easy to see how that's in contrast with the wishes of team personnel.  However being good for over 20 goals per year makes up for that.

Can he be opinionated?  It sure seems like it.  We all remember this moment from the playoffs:

Animated, demonstrative, and emotive on the bench.  Largely ignored (you can see Chris Kunitz laughing at Phil) it seemed to work for Kessel as he would go on to score the only goal that game and win it for the Penguins.

You'll note that Kunitz is the first to greet Kessel with a hug after the goal.

Any rumors of tension in the locker room?  Seems ridiculous given what we see on and off the ice.

All empirical evidence suggests that Phil's pretty beloved in the room.

As far as his play, should there be some signs of warning going forward?  Perhaps so.  He's still playing every game but his shot per game totals were as low as they'd been in almost a decade.  His 23 goals were as low as he'd been since that same time frame (all adjusting for the lockout shortened 2012-13 season).  Despite that he still managed to have one of his highest point producing seasons in the past half decade.

Looking at the playoffs, too, shows him ranked first overall in production on many boards over the past two seasons, including leading both playoff years in power play goals.  Even in rough regular season years Kessel has always excelled in playoff/tournament formats.

A game built on speed with fewer shots as he's getting older may not be the recipe for a long term success when it comes to the $6 million plus the Penguins are paying Phil Kessel, especially coming off a year when he posted his worst possession numbers in years.  However Phil Kessel was brought on board for the win-now Penguins.  On that he's a resounding 2-for-2.

Is it conceivable that Phil Kessel will be traded at some point down the line?  Absolutely.  If there's still a tenable window and Kessel hasn't held up his end of the bargain in goal scoring or playmaking (with a deeper Penguins team, his shift to a playmaker and no longer a sniper may not be too far off) it would hardly be a shock.

For now he's loved in the locker room, he's producing at a star's pace, and there's really no harm in letting him continue to play his own game.  By all accounts Mark Recchi has a solid relationship with Kessel and if there truly could be issues behind the bench, it should even it all out.

However all parties are professionals and want to win.  Mike Sullivan is smart enough to overlook some potential concerns as long as Phil contributes.  For the near future, none of that should be a problem.  Which makes all of those saying Phil should be shipped out of town just as bad a Phil's breath.

The Phil's alright and he'll be a Penguin for the near future.  Anyone saying otherwise is just looking for clicks.
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Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Flashback: The Winter Classic

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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.  We cool off with the original Winter Classic.

Outdoor games are passé these days.  It's an oversaturated market and the Penguins have now played in four (with a probable fifth on the way next year in Philly) making them rather ho-hum now.  Despite the unrivaled atmosphere at the event, it's a spectacle that's lost novelty.

In 2008, specifically on January 1st 2008, the Winter Classic hadn't had 10 years of fatigue.  Instead if had a brand new feel and spectacle.  As snow fell in Buffalo, the NHL's newest sensation was born and the Penguins were a huge part.

Since then the Penguins have played in Pittsburgh twice (though we try to forget the first one) and once in Chicago.  Back then, though, it was idyllic and near perfection.  Perhaps that's how it should have stayed but it's how we'll always remember this Winter Classic.

Join us next week for Friday Flashback. 
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Injury Gnomes Demo by @ryank_119

Looking Ahead: WBS Pens Game of the Month

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The start of the 2017-2018 hockey season is unfortunately still months away. However, the AHL schedule has just been released. Now is the time to bust out your google calendar and let me convince you which games are worth checking out.

Wilkes-Barre isn’t that bad of a drive from Pittsburgh (~5 hours) and is so worth a trip. Tickets are cheap, the local food is great, and the team is fantastic.  If you’re planning a trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in my fair city here are you best bets for each month of which game to check out:

Friday October 13th home versus the Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Samuel Morin about to trip over the blue line. 

This is easily the game of the month for October, plus Pittsburgh isn’t playing that evening. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are the Flyers AHL team and the Pens/Flyers blood feud has been flowing steadily at the AHL level since 1999 when the Penguins first broke into the league, and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were the Philadelphia Phantoms.  Chose a reason to hate the Phantoms: they have a hulking 6’7 cheap shot artist named  Samuel Morin on defense,  they won the Calder Cup in the lockout year,  or simply the fact that they wear orange and ARE the Flyers.  If the Pens win, drive down to Allentown Saturday October 14th to rub it in and watch the Pens play them again, or if the Pens lose drive down to Allentown Saturday October 14th to seek revenge.

Sunday November 5th home versus the Hershey Bears

Look at their smug nondescript banners, gross. 

 The Penguins biggest rival is the Hershey Bears, the primary affiliate of the Washington Capitals. The Hershey Bears have enjoyed unprecedented success in the AHL and have won a disgusting amount of Calder Cups (11) versus the 0 that WBS has won. In many ways the WBS Pens are the Capitals of the AHL, especially after posting the best record in the league last season and being eliminated in the 2nd round. This rivalry is hostile on the ice and in the stands. This is a must see game.  Also, face off is Sunday at 3pm. Pittsburgh will be traveling back from a Western Canada road trip and your schedule will certainly be wide open for this.

Friday December 1st home versus the Milwaukee Admirals

This will get you banned from WBS ice for 10 years. 

Rather than watch Pittsburgh play an AHL game team tonight (The Buffalo Sabres) check out the Ads first appearance in WBS in over 10 years. The Ads are the AHL Affiliate of the Nashville Predators so this will be billed as the AHL Stanley Cup Final rematch. Deep down, die hards know it really is the 2004 Calder Cup Final Rematch. For more details on how that went(hint BADLY is an understatement).

Saturday January 27th. home versus the Binghamton  Senators Devils

Won't miss this creep. 

 Sure it’s the same day as the NHL All Star Game Skills Competition, but let’s be honest that’s still super boring to watch. The Binghamton Devils are a brand new AHL team. Binghamton used to have the Senators,  but they have since moved on to better pastures in Belleville, Ontario. Binghamton is high on the WBS Pens rival list, and the Devils suck making this new AHL team tops  of the garbage pile and worthy of your hatred in person.  

Sunday February 25th home versus the Hershey Bears

Tom Sestito talking to some mutants. 

Pittsburgh is off. There is hockey on at 3 pm on a Sunday, and the Pens are playing their biggest rival for the umpteenth time this season. Tempers will flair and fans will be angry. These games are always a must see.

Sunday March 18th home versus the Hershey Bears

Par for the course. 

Pittsburgh is off again. Luckily there is another Sunday game at 3 pm against the Bears. If you have never seen the WBS Pens play the Hershey Bears you haven’t lived and I’m quite certain you’re actively avoiding them at this point.

Saturday April 7th home versus the Binghamton Devils

Better than the Sens logo, but still painfully dull. 

 The NHL regular season is over. This is the last home game for the WBS Penguins. Likely the WBS Pens will have secured a playoff spot. Equally likely is that the Devils will be out a playoff spot. There is nothing like pouring salt into the wounds of rivals.  Plus there is a solid chance you’ll win a jersey or other prize thanks to the end of the year give away night. What’s not to like?

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Penguins Promote Gonchar to Assistant Coach

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On the heels of yesterday's promotion of Mark Recchi following the departure of Rick Tocchet, the Penguins have added another former star to their bench in Sergei Gonchar.

Gonchar will be joining Recchi and goaltending coach Mike Buckley as the new faces in town behind Mike Sullivan, joining Mike Sullivan and Jacques Martin as full time coaching staff.

Gonchar re-joined the Penguins in October 2015 as defensive development coach, working with the Penguins defensemen at the NHL level.  Gonchar is a noted as a large reason behind the career turn around of Justin Schultz and has been a part of the Penguins back-to-back Cup winners.

 Gonchar is coaching now after a possible hall of fame career that started with the Washington Capitals.  Drafted 14th overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, Gonchar spent his first 10 seasons in the NHL with the Capitals where he forged his reputation as one of the top offensive defensemen in the game.

Following a trade deadline deal to Boston in 2003-04, he spent the lock out in Russia with Mellalurg Magnitogorsk where he served as teammate of a young Evgeni Malkin.  This may have aided in is post-lockout signing with the Penguins.  He became a vital part of Penguins lore, serving as the power play anchor and personal mentor to Malkin en route to two Cup appearances and one win.

Stops in Ottawa, Dallas and Montreal followed before he hung up his skates for good following the 2014-15 season.  He ended his NHL career with 220 goals, 591 assists for 811 points in 1301 games.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tocchet Next Coyotes Coach, Recchi Promoted

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As we first last week based on numerous reports it's become official: Rick Tocchet will be leaving the Penguins bench for that of the Arizona Coyotes.

Tocchet has agreed to a four year deal with the Coyotes to become their next head coach following the departure of long time coach Dave Tippet.

The Coyotes have made a number of large moves this summer, parting ways with the old guard to bring in the new.  Acquiring players like Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson while jettisoning long time figures Shane Doan and Mike Smith.

Tocchet will be leaving the Penguins, where his duties focused on offense, to return to the Arizona/Phoenix/Winnipeg franchise where played for three seasons and served as assistant coach under Wayne Gretzky, even acting as interim head coach while Gretzky was away for a family loss.

While with the Coyotes, in 2006, Tocchet was charged and pleaded guilty to being the head man in a nationwide gambling circuit out of New Jersey that also involved Janet Gretzky, Wayne's wife.  He served two years probation for his role in the gambling ring.

When he returned to hockey he was named the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning following the termination of Barry Melrose.  In a season and a half as coach the Lightning went 53-69-26, missing the playoffs in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 season before his termination.

He returned to coaching with the Penguins in 2014 when he was named a part of the incoming coaching staff's assistants, no matter who was hired.  It caused some internal strife as several candidates balked at being told who they had to hire instead of bringing on their own people.

As we first reported it was the reason Bill Peters and Willie Dejardins turned down the Penguins before they settled on Mike Johnston.  Tocchet would survive Johnston to become key to the Penguins back-to-back championships.

Working with the offense, and by many accounts being the one that calmed things between Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan, he leaves a hole the Penguins will look to fill as soon as possible.  Names such as Mark Recchi and Joe Mullen have already been tied to the vacancy.

We'll have more as it develops.

UPDATE: The Penguins waste no time filling that void, naming Mark Recchi as the new assistant coach.

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Transformation Tuesday: Sidney Crosby

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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.  Today we tackle the easy one: Sidney Crosby

For those who don't know (where have you been?) Sidney Crosby was taken #1 overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins.  You already knew that so why did I type that out?

Of course we had to add the prom pose.

Join us next week for Transformation Tuesday.
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Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday Flashback: Sid's Return 11/21/11

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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: Sid's return from concussions on 11/21/2011.

You know the story: Sidelines by concussions since the start of the calendar year, Sidney Crosby finally returned from concussions nearly a year later to a stunned New York Islanders team.  Didn't see it?  Relieve it below.

Sid would go on to register four points (2g, 2a) to an Islanders team that just was not ready for the atmosphere inside of then CONSOL Energy Center.  The Penguins would win 5-0.

Join us next week for Friday Flashback.
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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rick Tocchet Likely Coyotes Next Head Coach

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Just when you thought the off season couldn't get any more interesting, Elliotte Friedman is reporting that Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet is in talks to become the next head coach of the Arizona Coyotes.

The talks are so far along that the Coyotes are discussing term length with Tocchet and his camp, per Friedman:

Tocchet was brought on board as Penguins assistant coach as part of the Mike Johnston era in June of 2014.  His inclusion was forced upon Johnston by the higher ups in the Penguins organization, a story first broken by Pens Initiative.  From there he helped coach the offense and power play for two coaches in Johnston and later Mike Sullivan.

If Tocchet were to take the Coyotes job it would be his second stint as head coach in the NHL.  His previous stop was the Tampa Bay Lightning where he went 53-69-26 over two seasons with the Lightning from 2008-09 to 2009-10 after taking over for Barry Melrose into the 2008-09 season.  He also briefly serves as interim head coach of the Coyotes in 2005 while then head coach Wayne Gretzky was on a leave of absence.

We'll have more as it develops.
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Penguins Sign Undrafted Free Agent Adam Johnson

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(Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Penguin's Twitter)
 Adam Johnson, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, must have that special sparkle. It was announced early afternoon on Thursday July 6 that he and the Pittsburgh Penguins have inked a two-year entry level deal. This deal comes just days after Johnson participated in the Penguins prospect development camp.

Johnson (6-foot, 174 lbs) scored 18 goals with UM-D with an amassed 37 points over 42 games in his sophomore season. He finished second within the club for both goals scored and points. He is impressively versatile, having played all forward positions, as well as slotting in on defense, during his 2016-17 college season.

Here is a small glimpse at the playing ability Johnson possesses taken from 2017 Pens development camp:

For a more in depth look at the Penguins newest signing, check out the  official press announcement.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Transformation Tuesday: Phil Kessel

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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.  With it being America's birthday it only makes sense to look at everyone's favorite American Penguin: Phil Kessel

Taken by the Boston Bruins 5th overall in the 2006 Draft, Phil looks like every guy that worked at Abercrombie and Fitch in the mid-2000s with his shaggy hair and self confident smirk (I may have been one of those, except it was American Eagle).  The mid-2000s were a weird time and Phil sums that up nicely.

Just us next week for the next Transformation Tuesday.
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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Free Agency: Penguins Ink Schultz for Three Years

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The biggest move the Penguins wanted to move in this free agency season was lock down Justin Schultz.  The team announced recently that they've accomplished this task with a three year, $5.5 million per year deal.

Schultz came over from the Oilers at the 2015-16 Trade Deadline in a throwaway deal.  Working heavily with Jacques Martin and Sergei Gonchar, Schultz has blossomed in to the type of offensive defenseman everyone suspected he'd be when drafted by the Anaheim Ducks.

With Schultz locked down, the starting defense for the Penguins is taking shape for the 2017-18 season.  Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumolin, and new signee Matt Hunwick look to anchor with a likely rotating cast joining the bottom pairing between Chas Ruhwedel, Derrick Pouliot, and Frank Corrado.

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Free Agency: Kunitz Bolts to Lightning

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With a glut of young wingers and a desire to keep playing top line minutes, it seemed like Chris Kunitz's departure from the Penguins was a sure thing.  The Lightning made that official singing the Honeybadger on the first day of free agency.

The move from Kunitz isn't a shock.  The Penguins have players like Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist, and Phil Kessel playing ahead of him in the depth charts.  Young players like Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese looked to make their way to the big club as well, forcing Kunitz out.  What's surprising is the short term and small money for a guy hoping for one last payday.

Kunitz came to the Penguins in a 2009 trade that saw Ryan Whitney shipped to Anaheim for his services.  He won three Cups with the Penguins to go with the one he won with the Ducks.
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Free Agency: Penguins Pro-Niemi, Sign Antti

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As we all watched Marc-Andre Fleury's emotional exit from town we wondered who would be back up to Matt Murray.  It seems we have our answer as word is out the Penguins are signing Antti Niemi.

Recently bought out by the Dallas Stars, Niemi was in competition for their starting job with Kari Lethonen.  Posting a sub-optimal .899 save percentage and a less than impressive 2.55 goals against average, Niemi racked up 12 losses to go with 12 wins.

Once a starter for the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, the 33 year old Niemi will look to rebound and rebuild his standing in Pittsburgh as he backs up Matt Murray.  We'll have more for term and money as it develops.

UPDATE: Deal is for one year, little over league minimum.  Will have more on exact amount when we get it.

UPDATE: And the team makes it official for $700,000

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Free Agency: Trevor Daley Detroit Bound

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The Penguins looked to lose key parts of their back-to-back championships and Trevor Daley was likely one of those expected to depart.  Now we have confirmation of his moving on.

An unexpected pick up from the Blackhawks for Rob Scuderi (answering many prayers), Daley turned out to be a vital puck moving defenseman on the blue line through two Cup runs.  Reviving his career, which had stalled in Chicago, he moves on to the rebuilding Red Wings where he's likely to anchor a young blue line.

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Free Agency: Pens Add D Depth with Matt Hunwick

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The Penguins were looking to add some blue line depth in free agency and have started that process, signing former Toronto Maple Leaf Matt Hunwick.

The 32 year old will join his fifth NHL in the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Previously a member of the Boston Bruins (who drafted him 224th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft), Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs where he served as assistant captain.

The 5'11", 200 lbs left hander should be counted on to eat some minutes on the third pairing and spend some time on the PK with 21 goals and 86 assists in 479 NHL games and some puck moving ability.  We'll have more as it develops.

UPDATE: Hunwick's deal looks like three years at $2.25 million per.

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Free Agency: Hainsey Heads to the Maple Leafs

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Ron Hainsey's time as a Pittsburgh Penguin was short but will always be remembered, for better or worse, as he moves on to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After never tasting the post season, Hainsey was a trade deadline acquisition for the Penguins to bolster their blue line depth.  Unexpectedly he played a large part in their run to their second Stanley Cup making Hainsey an impressive 1/1 in playoffs to Cups.  He looks to continue that trend as he heads to developing Toronto and Auston Matthews.

UPDATE: The two year deal for Hainsey will cost the Leafs $3 million per year.

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Free Agency: Bonino Bolts to Nashville

11:26:00 AM 0
We all knew Nick Bonino was on his way out of town having priced himself out with back-to-back Stanley Cups but Darren Dreger reports his new deal comes from an unexpected place.

In an unexpected move Bonino will be joining the Nashville Predators as they look to take win an extra two games in next year's playoffs.  While the money hasn't been announced, Bonino will be in Smashville for at least four years.

We will update with term as announced.

UPDATE: The Bonino deal is four years at $4 million per year.

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