Latest Pens Buzz: Schultz’ Emergence a Game Changer for expansion draft & Latest Trade Chatter

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Latest Penguins Buzz

1. A three year extension this week for Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan when he had a year and half left on his current contract was all about compensating him properly.

The three year contract Sullivan signed last December had him among the bottom-10 lowest paid coaches in the game. Sullivan is believed to have received a significant raise that will pay him around $2 million per season, starting next season, sources say.

With the debacle that Mike Johnston was, one of the comments that stood out from Jim Rutherford this week is that he’s come to realized that this is a difficult situation for a coach despite the top tier talent on the team. That’s what many have marveled about of the job Sullivan did last season in transforming the Penguins into such a dominant 200 ft team, while this season offensively so many players are playing up to their ability or exceeding expectations like a Justin Schultz.


2.

Shero/Bylsma | Bad & Boring Hockey Clubs |

shero— Ray Shero’s New Jersey Devils are now last in the Eastern Conference. They are a bad and boring hockey club which is the worst combination you can have. They were a boring hockey club last season but Corey Schneider’s dominant play in goal inflated their record to be better than what they are and the work ethic was there for 60 minutes that made them a tough team to play against in low scoring games.

Schneider’s play has dropped this season and this is what you get. When the Penguins found their legs in the second period, New Jersey just didn’t have the talent to play with the Penguins and that was also on display Friday night.

The last thing Shero wants to do is make a coaching change but will the criticism about the Devils lack of worth ethic eventually fall on John Hynes if things don’t turn around soon? Something will have to give.

New Jersey has won just four times in their last 20 games.

While saying Hynes is the right guy for the job, last week Shero blasted the Devils work ethic to local beat writers, and last night Schneider called out his teammates as well.

“I just didn’t see the urgency from everyone to really want to tie that game (in the third period),” Schneider said via CBS New York. “The empty-netter to make it 5-2 … could we have kept that one out of the net? Probably. We’ve got to take some pride in not giving up four or five a night and bearing down and believing we can get back in these games. We just have to just change that mindset and be better going forward. The Penguins are a great team but we can play with that team,” Schneider continued. “There was no reason we couldn’t win this game. Not to disrespect them — they’re a fantastic team — but those are the teams that should bring the best out of you, in your own building, with a good crowd. We should take pride in trying to shut that team down and winning on your ice. That’s three games now they’ve beaten us in a short amount of time and that should bother some people.”

While in Buffalo, former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is also learning things aren’t so easy when you don’t have Sidney Crosby to coach. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News had a scathing column on Bylsma and Sabres GM Tim Murray a few days ago.

Like New Jersey, Bylsma’s Sabres are bad and boring.

Everyone in Buffalo has signed up for the rebuild, including Bylsma, but the hiring of Bylsma was supposed to bring an exciting up-tempo brand of hockey.

Instead they have scored 74 goals in 34 games. The Toronto Maple Leafs are young and exciting. Buffalo should be that by now.

Bylsma’s stubbornness with his system is also gaining criticism in Buffalo to this point, the same type of complaints Penguin players had near the tail end as players must dump the puck in a certain way and it’s a system that’s especially complex for d-men in their own end.

There is just too much thinking and that’s playing out in Buffalo.

Harrington writes of Bylsma [– “Bylsma’s plodding system is flat-out unwatchable at times. Players’ instincts are stunted in place of where-should-I-be second thoughts. Zemgus Girgensons clearly can’t make heads or tails out of it. Tyler Ennis, when he was healthy, had the same problem. Many others seem baffled.” –]

The complexity for young players to pick up Bylsma’s system was a problem in Pittsburgh and has been in Buffalo. The system was even a problem for some established veterans who were acquired at the trade deadline during Bylsma’s time as Penguin coach.

The proof in Pittsburgh is that when Bylsma’s system was picked up by skaters 1-18, it was a very good to great system for high-end players that got results. But, Bylsma’s ego eventually got in his way in Pittsburgh and if he doesn’t start adjusting in Buffalo, (he’s expected to be safe for this season) his seat is going to get very warm next season.


3.

Sheary/Rust giving Penguins Cheap Labor on Top Line

Among players who have appeared in 20 games, Conor Sheary (8-12-20) is 6th in the NHL in points/60 at even strength, 2.69, second on the Penguins behind Sidney Crosby.

He’s emerged into not only a legit NHL player but it might not be long before he’s universally regarded as a top-6 winger.

A restricted free agent at seasons end, where Sheary’s next contract comes in will be interesting to watch. It’s not a stretch that if Sheary waits until the summer, he could get a short-term deal in the three million range. He’s on pace for 21 goals and 52 points.

Meanwhile, the Penguins lucked out last season in Bryan Rust signing a two year extension in March with a cap hit of $640,000 per season before his level of play took off in the playoffs and has continued this season. Rust is up to 10 goals with 16 points this season and like Sheary, is a bargain for the Penguins this season.


4.

Play of the Night

Chad Ruhwedel’s gorgeous pass to Carl Hagelin for a breakaway goal in last night’s win is the type of pass on the breakout when pressured that the Penguins rarely see from Derrick Pouliot which says everything about Pouliot’s development.


5.

Pens start process of gauging Maatta’ trade value for top-6 winger?

Justin Schultz has 16 points in December with two more games to go this month. That is good for 3rd in the NHL and he’s producing at a Kris Letang type level this month.

Schultz’ emergence has become a game changer in how the Penguins will likely attack the expansion draft in June.

Schultz is a restricted free agent at seasons end and the Penguins can start discussing an extension with him in a few days on January 1, though, his agent Wade Arnott at Newport Sports almost always recommends for his clients to not sign extensions in season.

Things are heading down the road where whether signed to an extension or not before June 20, the Penguins are going to have to protect Schultz who has been scouted frequently by Vegas this season and identified by Vegas as a candidate to be left unprotected.

Vegas must draft at least 20 players under contract, leaving them only a maximum of 10 possible spots to select unrestricted free agents or restricted agents if the 20 selected players under contract meet all the cap requirements, so there will likely be fewer than 10 spots that Vegas will be able to select UFA’s or RFA’s.

Two months ago the Penguins were looking at Schultz as player they’d be able to leave unprotected as an RFA and he’d likely not get selected. Now that mindset has totally changed from the Penguins’ brass. Even with Vegas only able to select a handful of RFA’s, Schultz is setting up to be too much of a risk to be left unprotected.

The microscope has started to zoom in on Maatta on how the organization is evaluating him, especially during this stretch with Kris Letang, Trevor Daley out.

Concerns have started to mount about the physical limitations in how he skates and clears the front of the net against power forwards that he’s never going to be the top-4 defenseman the Penguins always thought he would be.

But, is the rest of the league seeing what the Penguins’ see?

Likely not.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is said to be a big fan of Maatta’s upside, but the Penguins have some intel Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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