Rumblings on Pens blueline for shorten season; Lemieux not expected to try to play a big role in CBA talks & more buzz


50-54 Game Season Still Likely?: CBA talks remain at a standstill following last night’s meeting which according to those involved from both sides, has been regarded as a waste of time. The two sides will be getting back together on Wednesday morning.
Despite the doom and gloom, I still strongly believe we’re going to have hockey this season but the mystery is when there’s going to be some type of breakthrough. There will be one when there becomes an urgency from the players to get a deal done and decide it’s time make the economic concessions that they are eventually going to have to make.
My sense of the situation is that Don Fehr will decide to hold things back for a few more weeks but a breakthrough in talks begins to happen at somepoint in early/mid-December and the NHL season begins around January 1 (give or take, week before or after) with a 50-54 game season.
Bill Daly to reporters last night on the status of talks as the NHL still wants to see a full economic proposal from the NHLPA: “We’ve never heard a full proposal from them,” Daly said. “They have given us a variation of the same proposal on economics a couple of times and there was no change in that position. They are still suggesting that they are moving in our direction on economics, but until we know exactly what their position is on economics now, we think it’s all tied together and would like to hear it all together. It’s our position that we’ve made a couple comprehensive proposals in a row. We’d like to know where they are on all of the issues. We asked that they put together a comprehensive proposal for us to consider.”
There’s been some chatter among some of the local media that Mario Lemieux could become a voice of reason in CBA talks and become more involved behind the scenes but sources close to Lemieux tell me not to expect it, citing doubts that Lemieux has any intentions to suddenly try to play a big role in CBA talks. The Penguins ownership group remains fully committed to Gary Bettman’s direction of talks and The Lemieux Group is strongly in favor of a 50-50 revenue split. The Penguins were great beneficiaries of the past CBA but the Penguins ownership group wants to see a more favorable one. For a mid-market team, the Penguins do business the right way and it’s costly from a financial standpoint. While the worth of the franchise has increased with the new arena, bringing in a profit on a year to year basis has been a struggle for the ownership group and has been troublesome for some investors.
With the lockout, Pens management and the coaching staff have been able to scout Wilkes Barre/Scranton extensively in the past two months. It’s given GM Ray Shero and the Penguins coaching staff a good idea of what they want to do on the blueline for the event of a shorten season.
The vibe I’m getting from team sources with knowledge of the Penguins thinking process is that the plan likely does not include Simon Despres starting the season in Pittsburgh but the team still has plans for Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Strait in the top-7.
Potential D-Pairs I’d like to see based on rumblings of the likely top-7
Paul Martin – Kris Letang (Martin getting an extended look with Letang has been floated around since the summer. What I hear is the Penguins staff wants to see if this pairing can work before looking at other options, such as giving Simon Despres a full time role. Despres play has been up and down in Wilkes Barre and some feel he will still benefit from a top pairing role in Wilkes Barre.

Brooks Orpik – Robert Bortuzzo (It’s became known since the summer that the coaching staff would like to seperate Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang and who could be a great fit with Brooks Orpik? Robert Bortuzzo. A possible pairing of Orpik and Bortuzzo has been discussed and viewed as a physically imposing pair but the bet here is that while Bylsma might explore the option, the pair won’t be good enough in Bylsma’s eyes in the transition game to work with a scoring line. As one former Penguins player joked to me over the summer, Dan Bylsma’s version of more defense is more offense. However, Bortuzzo is no slouch in the puck moving department and skates well where I feel this pair would be adequate enough in the transition game. Whether Bylsma see’s that remains to be seen. A more ideal No. 2 pairing from the coaching staff’s perspective is likely to be Orpik and Matt Niskanen but if Bortuzzo can prove himself in the transition game, this is an option being floated around, team sources contend. Bortuzzo is a unique defenseman in the sense that he plays the type of game (Physical in D-zone) along with the size he has that the Penguins have lacked on the blueline for years.)
Brian Strait/Deryk Engelland – Matt Niskanen (Matt Niskanen has solidified his spot in the top-6 and the Penguins are confident of him playing a No. 2 pairing role if needed but Niskanen is an ideal third pairing defenseman and he fits best there to anchor a pairing with Deryk Engelland or Brian Strait. Like Bortuzzo, the Penguins have planned for Strait to be in the top-7 to open the season. There’s no indication those plans have changed.)
Where does Ben Lovejoy fall into the picture? He’s gone from the Penguins No. 5 defenseman in the 2011 post-season to arguably fallen to No. 9 on the organizational depth chart. One chance for Lovejoy to stick around is if Pittsburgh does indeed decide to keep Simon Despres in the minors and carry 13 forwards and 8 defenseman to start the season as the staff see’s how Bortuzzo and Strait adjust full-time to the NHL game.

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William DePaoli

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

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