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Insider Only Morning Pens Buzz: Penguins prepared to lose Niskanen, expected to keep Kris Letang

letang1-388x396 Three days out until the NHL draft and the Pittsburgh Penguins have no plans to shop Kris Letang at the draft, team sources say. GM Jim Rutherford has no mandate from ownership to move Letang, whose generous 8 year – $58 million contract kicks in this up coming season along with his no trade clause in July.
The Penguins don’t have some master plan to move a Letang or Paul Martin and clear money for Matt Niskanen. The organization consensus on Niskanen has been determined to replace his production with a short term fit or replace him with an in-house option.
GM Jim Rutherford told the Tribune-Review Monday that he expects Niskanen and forward Jussi Jokinen to sign elsewhere. “It’s time for them to hit free agency and get their big contracts,” Rutherford told Josh Yohe of the Trib. “With that being said, we’ll see what happens leading up to free agency,” Rutherford added.
Niskanen had authorized his agent Neil Sheehy not to engage in contract negotiations with the Penguins until a new coach is hired. The two sides have yet to talk money but the Penguins don’t have the stomach to make Niskanen a $5+ million a year defenseman.
Despite all that talk from ownership about wanting to get younger and draft better on the day Ray Shero was fired, there’s truly no sense of that from Rutherford who is here for the short-term. Rutherford made it known today the Penguins first round pick, No. 22 overall, and their only selection in the top-100, is in play for an NHL roster player who can help the Penguins immediately. “We will trade that pick if it can help us get a player who can help us immediately,” Rutherford said via the Tribune-Review.
That mindset is also believed to be the case when it comes to James Neal as the Penguins are listening to inquires but haven’t put him out there in trade talks. Any Neal trade would have to involve immediate help and not be one centered around prospects, draft picks.
Sources say Rutherford really likes this current roster and feels they’re just a few tweaks and some better coaching away from being a Stanley Cup team. Pittsburgh could be treading into dangerous waters here.
With Jim Rutherford resuming his coaching search Monday, the Penguins GM has spoken to at least four new candidates, two of them being AHL coach Todd Nelson and Junior coach Mike Johnston, two sources say.
As a few candidates have taken other jobs and the Penguins have eliminated some others, things are shaping up where the Penguins new coach is likely to be one who wasn’t among the first eight interviewed last week.
Among those no longer in the mix:

Bill Peters out, Willie Desjardins out, Marc Crawford out, Doug McLean out (was never strongly considered), John Hynes believed to be out, Ron Wilson still a discussion, Ulf Samuelsson?
Rutherford’s quote here to the Trib sure got the rumor mill buzzing Monday that Guy Boucher might now be a candidate. “I had a couple of guys that I considered top candidates who did not interview originally,” Rutherford said. “The reason was because I believed they were committed elsewhere and weren’t available. Since then, I’ve contacted them to see if they have that commitment. Those are guys I’m going to be talking to.”
There’s been no confirmation to this point on Boucher. Some are also still throwing Mike Keenan’s name out there as those in Keenan’s inner circle insist Rutherford and Keenan spoke in New York during the Cup Finals. Keenan has one more year left on his deal in KHL.

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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