Pittsburgh extends Marc-Andre Fleury; pressure ratchets up on goalie

Ryan Kennedy
Marc-Andre Fleury (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

There is always a “yeah, but” when people speak of Marc-Andre Fleury. No doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie has accomplished a lot during the regular season in his career and let’s not forget that he was the netminder of record when the Pens last won the Stanley Cup in 2009, but…he plays on a team with two of the best players on the planet and more parades were expected by this point. So with Pittsburgh signing the affable goalie to a contract extension today, things just got a little more real.

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Rumor Roundup: Could Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin get Chris Stewart out of Buffalo?

Chris Stewart

This season could be the last for defenseman Paul Martin as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 33-year-old blueliner will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, leading some observers to suggest he might not finish the season with the Penguins.

The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson notes Martin lost his power-play spot to youngster Olli Maatta, and wondered if the Penguins will bother to re-sign him or deal him before his UFA eligibility. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun also took note of Martin’s reduced role. He speculates the blueliner will be gone before the deadline, but not before Maatta returns from his upcoming surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his neck. Read more

Power Rankings: Perennially powerful Penguins perfect pick for No. 1

Ken Campbell
Pittsburgh Penguins  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Consider this: The Pittsburgh Penguins scored two power play goals in a game recently, and it brought their power play percentage down. The Penguins are the class of the league right now and the only thing keeping them from the top of the standings is the fact they’ve only played 10 games so far.

Going into a five-game road trip that starts Tuesday night in Minnesota, the Penguins have scored 15 unanswered goals and chalked up consecutive shutouts. When defenseman Olli Maatta misses Tuesday night’s game to have a tumor removed from his thyroid, it will be the first game missed by any Penguins player this season.

And that is why the Penguins find themselves at the top of thn.com’s Power Rankings this week. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)

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Marian Hossa hits 1,000 points, but is he a Hall of Famer?

Chicago Blackhawk Marian Hossa scores on the wraparound

When Marian Hossa scored the 1,000th point of his career Thursday night, my first inclination was to put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. After all, he already has two Stanley Cups (and possibly more to come) and he’s one of the best two-way players of his era.

Good enough for me. But then again, the Hall of Fame should be for the truly special players, not just the very good ones. And that’s where the decision around Hossa becomes a little more vexing.

Is Hossa a very good player, or truly a great player? As THN senior editor and Hall of Fame expert Brian Costello points out, 1,000 points is now more of a milestone than a Hall of Fame barometer. And there are currently 19 Hall of Fame eligible players who scored 1,000 points during their careers and who are not in the hall. With 466 career goals so far, Hossa is a shoo-in for the 500 mark and that’s where it starts to get a little more interesting. There are only seven players who have scored 500 who are eligible for the Hall of Fame and are not in there. Read more

Pens’ Olli Maatta diagnosed with thyroid tumor, but full recovery expected

Adam Proteau
Olli Maatta (Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins sophomore defenseman Olli Maatta heard the words nobody wants to hear at any point in their lives, let alone at barely 20 years of age: doctors discovered a tumor that could be cancerous. Fortunately for the native Finn, the overall diagnosis sounds far less ominous: he’ll have surgery next week to remove the tumor, which is on his thyroid; he’s healthy enough to play until he goes under the knife; and he’s expected to return to action within a month.

“Even if (the tumor) is found to be cancerous, we do not expect that he will need radiation or chemotherapy, and we anticipate a complete recovery,” said Penguins team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas. “In all likelihood, Olli will go on to live a healthy life and this should not affect his ability to play hockey long-term.”

Maatta didn’t seem at all fazed when he spoke with reporters after the announcement, and that’s in part because he first learned about the tumor three weeks ago. He’s already had a physical challenge after undergoing shoulder surgery in May, and although this is an altogether different type of ailment, he appeared ready at a press conference Monday afternoon to move ahead and take this one on: Read more

Neal-Hornqvist trade a win-win for Penguins, Predators

Josh Elliott
Patric Hornqvist and James Neal

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators are less than 10 games into the regular season, but the early returns are pretty clear: both sides came out winners from their big off-season swap.

The Predators acquired snarly goal scorer James Neal from Pittsburgh in the summer for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling in a rare value-for-value trade that both sides can be happy with.
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It’s feast or famine – beat them or beat it – for NHL coaches these days

Peter Laviolette (Getty Images)

The coaching business in the NHL is about to get crazier thanks to the pending free agency of Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock, who almost assuredly will set a new record for a coach’s salary whether he stays in Detroit or moves on to a new place of employment. So, that has to mean better times are ahead for all coaches, right? A whole, “rising-tide-lifts-all-boats” thing, right?

Not so fast. Because although Babcock’s pending spike in pay may very well result in higher salaries for more members of the coaching fraternity, there’s other forces at play here: the increasingly rapid turnover of coaches at the NHL level – and this year, the early success of most off-season coaching changes.

There were six such changes in hockey’s best league this summer. Let’s take a brief look at how they’re working out: In Nashville, Peter Laviolette has the Predators off to a 5-0-2 start (including a big 3-2 win over Chicago Thursday) that makes them the last team in the league without a loss in regulation. In Washington, former Predators coach Barry Trotz has steered the Capitals to a strong showing out of the gate (just one loss in regulation in six games) and his relationship with star winger Alex Ovechkin is beginning on the right foot. In Pittsburgh, Mike Johnston is working with a significantly rejigged roster, but the Penguins have points in four of their first six games and should be fine. In Vancouver, Willie Desjardins has reinvigorated a Canucks squad that had been wholly deinvigorated under John Tortorella.

Things aren’t working out that well for all the new coaches. Read more

Should the Pens re-sign Marc-Andre Fleury before the playoffs? Of course not

Adam Proteau
Marc-Andre Fleury (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

In somewhat of a surprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury’s future as goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins is secure:

“As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford said. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right. When that is, I don’t know, if it’s during the year or after the year, but I do want to re-sign him. I believe in him.”

It’s tempting to file this under the “What Do You Expect Him To Say?” category, but let’s assume Rutherford isn’t just making this bold statement as a confidence-booster for Fleury as he enters this especially pressure-packed year and may actually re-sign the 29-year-old before his contract expires. Then let’s ask the question that would be begged by such a move:

Why? Why would you recommit to a goaltender who, since he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, had four straight seasons of sub-.900 save percentages in the playoffs? Last year, Fleury’s SP improved to .915, but even then, that number is deceiving: a pair of shutouts against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal inflated his SP, but out of 13 games he played for the Pens in two rounds, Fleury posted a SP at or below the modest .900 level seven times.

And you’re telling me this is the kind of asset who deserves a vote of approval in the form of a contract extension before the playoffs even roll around? Sorry, but I don’t get it. Read more