Rutherford giving Kessel 'a fresh start' - 07-01-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford spoke with Pittsburgh media this afternoon at Consol Energy Center. He discussed the blockbuster trade he made today involving right winger Phil Kessel, center prospect Tyler Biggs, defensive prospect Tim Erixon, and conditional draft picks in exchange for right winger prospect Kasperi Kapanen, center Nick Spaling, defensive prospect Scott Harrington, a 2016 third-round draft pick and other conditional draft picks.

Rutherford also touched base on Russian free agent forward Sergei Plotnikov signing with the team as well as a few other subjects.

Opening statement:

"We acquired Kessel, Biggs and Erixon today. We also signed Plotinkov from Russia. … I'm very excited about what happened today. We worked on this signing for a month or over a month. It got a little bit of legs on draft day but it really heated up last night and we were able to complete the deal today. We set out this offseason to bring in more skill on the wing and some more speed. And we certainly covered that by adding Phil Kessel. We'd also like to add some consistency of wingers for [centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby]. I believe [head coach Mike Johnston] should be able to do that for now."

How key was it to not give up a defensive prospect like Derrick Pouliot or Olli Maatta?

"I get asked about them a lot. It's hard to find guys like Pouliot. He's a guy, as he matures, is going to be an important guy on our power play. He's a guy that we didn't want to let go."

Is there any concern over how Kessel would impact the chemistry of the room, dealing with the media or any other off-ice aspect which allegedly weren't ideal for him in Toronto?

"I don't have any concerns. Everybody gets a fresh start in a new place. You hear stories about different people in different situations. But I feel very comfortable with getting Phil. I've done a lot of homework on this and I've talked to a lot of people. I do believe a fresh start … getting out of Toronto where he went there under the microscope from day one. He was always the guy. He was the guy that was blamed when things weren't going well. He doesn't have to be the guy here. We have a bunch of them. I believe he's going to fit in very well here."

How do you see Kessel fitting on a line with centers Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?

"That's going to be up to [Johnston] and how that all fits at [training] camp. The one thing we know is we have Kessel and [right winger Patric] Hornqvist. We have two guys that the coach can figure out who goes with who and try to keep them with them on a regular basis instead of moving them around. [Crosby and Malkin] can get comfortable with their wingers. As far as looking at more top-six wingers, no. We feel Plotnikov can go in the top-six. We've got to get him over here and actually see him in our group. But he's a real good player. Whether he can play in our top-six or not, we'll find out. But he'll certainly be one of our forwards and believe can help our team."

On Biggs and Erixon:

"They're both first round picks. Biggs hasn't really got going as he should have since being a first-round pick since he turned pro. He's a big body and he has some things to offer if he can develop a little more. In Erixon's case, he's a first-round pick and he's a guy that can come in and make our team."

There have been suggestions Kessel isn't in good shape yet he has played every game since 2010-11.

"Maybe we're on to something. We'll just have to see. But if in fact, what you're saying is accurate, he's a pretty damn good player based on those circumstances and if he needs to get himself in a little better shape, he'll be even a better player. But being around our players and the kind of condition and and how hard they work will rub off on anybody. But I was partly kidding about [being] on to something. I do think guys that are in too good a shape are more vulnerable to getting hurt. And this is a guy that plays every game."

Is there any personal satisfaction that you could pull off this deal without trading Pouiot or Maatta?

"The personal satisfaction I feel is I believe we've improved our team. It's hard to score goals in this league. We play a lot of one-goal games and when you can get a pure goal scorer, that's going to give you a better chance to win games. You can never know with trades. It's over time is really how you judge trades. We got the best player in the trade right now. It usually works out for the team that gets the best player. We gave up Spaling off our team. That was a good, solid player for us but not at the level of Phil Kessel. And we gave up prospects. And you don't know how they're going to turn out. But to not take a lot of off our team and add Phil Kessel, at this point in time, that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction."

What does this trade mean for left winger Chris Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis who have been virtually entrenched on Crosby's line for the past five years?

"It means we're getting more balance and more depth in our forwards. And it means in or lineup, 1-through-12 in our forwards. We have a much better team. I will caution everybody as I cautioned Pascal, for all intents and purposes, he's missed two years and to expect him to jump right back in on the top line is asking a lot. If he works his way there over the first month or two of the season, that would be great. The good thing about him is he can play both wings. By adding another right winger, it doesn't affect him. In Chris Kunitz's case, it's going to depend on where he fits. Obviously, one of those two guys won't be on the top line."

Did Spaling have to be traded for financial reasons and was Kessel at the top of your list with regard to any other potential trades?

"In Spaling's case, he's a very useful player and I like him. It was to make the money work. I would have been happy to keep him. As far as players that were out there, we were in most deals. We're talking about different players. I'm sure you're referring to the last two deals that were made in the league, one in Buffalo [with center Ryan O'Reilly] and one in Columbus [involving left winger Brandon Saad]. But Kessel was our main target. When you look at his goal-scoring ability and his speed, that was really the ideal player we were looking for."

How involved were you in pursuing Saad?

"We're always poking around on all deals. So the answer is, yeah. We were poking around. We were in that deal. We like that player a lot. It turns out Chicago felt they got a better player than they got from us."

Kessel had a modified no-trade clause in his deal. Did you have to talk to him or his agent directly to agree to this trade?

"We were on his list [of teams he would accept a trade to] so we didn't have to get permission to [talk to him]. He's excited to come here."

(Photo: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)


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No Kong for Keaton, busy with Minions, Kroc and lots of projects

Written by Barbara Vancheri on .


Michael Keaton will not be in "Kong: Skull Island." And neither will J.K. Simmons, recent Oscar winner for "Whiplash." 
It turns out they have scheduling conflicts that will prevent them from being part of the Legendary Pictures project, reports. The movie is expected in theaters, in 3-D and IMAX 3-D, in March 2017.
The website says the production will start a little later than originally planned which spelled problems for Keaton, who is among the voice talent in "Minions," is filming "The Founder" in which he plays McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc and has the Catholic Church child-abuse drama, "Spolight," still to come. 
And the Hollywood Reporter recently said he is attached to star and produce "Imagine Agents," an adaptation of a Boom! comic set up at Fox. The story taps into the notion that the imaginary friends of children are real and centers on an organization,  I.M.A.G.I.N.E., which handles things when these figments get out of control.
And we know Keaton was recently at a couple of Pirates games, home and away and tweeted that he had posted beautiful photos of Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski on Instagram. 
Photos: Keaton recording his lines in a photo by Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.
In a scene from the movie, Bob (center) hitches a ride to Villain-Con from the Nelson family (left to right) of Madge (voice of Allison Janney), Walter Jr. (Michael Beattie), Binky, Walter (Keaton) and Tina (Katy Mixon) in “Minions.” 


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Penguins swing blockbuster trade for Kessel - 07-01-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

On the first day of the free agent signing period, the Penguins made a blockbuster trade.

The Penguins acquired all-star right winger Phil Kessel, center prospect Tyler Biggs, defensive prospect Tim Erixon, and conditional draft picks in exchange for right winger prospect Kasperi Kapanen, center Nick Spaling, defensive prospect Scott Harrington, a 2016 third-round draft pick and other conditional draft picks.

One of the NHL's best goal-scorers, Kessel has seven-years remaining on a contract with a salary cap hit of $8 million. The Maple Leafs will retain $1.25 million of the cap hit as a provision of trade. Kessel, 27, appeared in 82 games last season and scored 61 points (25 goals, 36 assists).

A first-round pick in 2011 (No. 21 overall) Biggs has two years remaining on a entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $832,500. Biggs, 22, appeared in 47 games with the AHL's Toronto Marlies and scored five points (two goals, three assists).

A first-round pick of the Flames in 2009, Erixon is signed to a one-year deal worth $600,000. Erixon, 24, appeared in 42 games last season split between the Blue Jackets, Blackhawks as well as Maple Leafs and scored seven points (one goal, six assists).

Kapanen, the Penguins' first-round pick (No. 22 overall) last year, has yet to activate the first year of a three-year entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $894,166. Kapanen, 18, appeared in 41 games last season for KalPa of Finland's Liiga and scored 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists). Kapanen appeared in four regular season games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and scored two points (one goal, one assists). In seven postseason games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Kapanen had five points (three goals, two assists).

Spaling (right), 26, has one year remaining on a contract with a salary cap hit of $2.2 million. Appearing in all 82 games last season, Spaling scored 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists). Spaling and right winger Patric Hornqvist were acquired from the Predators last offseason in a deal which sent left winger James Neal to the Predators.

Harrington, 22, was a second-round pick (No. 54 overall) in 2011. He has two years remaining on an entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $589,166. Harrington appeared in 10 NHL games last season and had no points. In 48 AHL games, he had 12 points (two goals, 10 assists).

The 2016 third-round pick the Penguins dealt will be a pick originally held by the Devils. The Penguins acquired the pick as compensation for former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes taking the Devils' heading coaching job.

There are a number of conditions on the other draft picks the Penguins acquired. From the Penguins' press release:

-If Pittsburgh qualifies for the 2016 postseason, Toronto will receive the Penguins’ 2016 first-round draft pick; and the Penguins will receive Toronto’s 2016 second-round selection. The second-round pick would be the one Toronto originally acquired from Pittsburgh for [center] Daniel Winnik earlier this year.

-Should Pittsburgh miss the 2016 playoffs, Toronto will INSTEAD receive the Penguins’ 2017 first-round pick; with Pittsburgh getting Toronto’s 2017 second-round selection in return.

-If the Penguins were to miss the postseason the next two years, Toronto would receive Pittsburgh’s 2017 second-round draft pick and Pittsburgh would not receive a draft pick.

According to General Fanager, the Penguins now have $6,418,334 of salary cap space following this deal.

-Here's a mashup of all of Kessel's goals this past season:

-EN Says: Red meat.

The Penguins have once again served up sirloin to their fans in the name of making the Penguins a Stanley Cup contender.

Having seen the Penguins struggle to generate offense down the stretch run last regular season and in their brief five-game playoff run, they went out and acquired the best pure goal scorer available on the trade market.

The fact that they got Kessel without giving up a high-end defensive prospect such as Derrick Pouliot or Olli Maatta is a victory for the Penguins. The Penguins plan on turning to youth on defense and Pouliot as well as Maatta will be major factors in that transition.

Kessel gives the Penguins a 30- to 40-goal threat off the right wing regardless if he plays with centers Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Additionally, he should provide a boost to a power play which sagged as the season wore on. Since 2010-11, Kessel has scored 44 power-play goals, 11th most in the NHL in that span.

And while he hasn't had many opportunities to see postseason action, he has been a productive playoff player. In 22 career postseason games, he has 21 points (13 goals, eight assists).

Kessel has been a durable player during his career. He has not missed a game (aside from the 2012-13 lockout) since 2009-10. For the Penguins, a team which has endured massive health woes over the past half decade, durability like that is refreshing.

Kessel's presence will have an effect on the bottom two lines as well. With Kessel, that presumably forces the Penguins to move left winger Chris Kunitz and/or Pascal Dupuis to a third-line role. The trickle-down effect will benefit the third line.

Kessel doesn't arrive without baggage. He was a major part of a toxic environment in Toronto which festered as the team plummeted in the standings last season. Additionally, the introverted Kessel did not function well in the monster media presence of Toronto.

That issue should be alleviated as the media won't be nearly as much of an issue in Pittsburgh where a large portion of the media doesn't really show up to practice until the Steelers' season is done. Additionally, with Sidney Crosby, Kessel won't be counted on to be as big of a presence in terms of serving as the team's face. Those duties are taken up by the likes of Crosby, Malkin and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

It should be noted, Kessel will not be in contention for the Selke Trophy anytime soon. He is not a strong defensive player. That said, his offensive prowess makes it easier to overlook any of his defensive lapses.

We'll have more on this trade following media availability by general manager Jim Rutherford at 4 p.m.

In addition to Kessel, the Penguins got back two mid-level prospects who have not developed quite as well as their draft positions would dictate.

Biggs (right) is a power-forward with a little bit of size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) who has a mean streak and can kill penalties. But the results have not been there. The Maple Leafs, under former executive Brian Burke, traded a first-rounder (no. 30) and a second rounder (No. 39) to the Ducks in order to move up in the draft to select Biggs. Considering he spent some time in the ECHL this past season, it's safe to say Biggs has not lived up to expectations. Perhaps a chance in scenery can benefit him.

Erixon, the son of former Rangers forward and Penguins pest Jan Erixon, has bounced around the NHL like a warm puck on soft ice. Drafted by the Flames, he was dealt to the Rangers in a 2011 trade featuring prospects and draft picks. had a cup of coffee with the Rangers before being dealt to Columbus as part of the blockbuster trade which sent left winger Rick Nash to Manhattan in the 2012 offseason. After failing to nail down a regular role with the Blue Jackets, he was dealt to the Blackhawks this past December for left winger Jeremy Morin. After eight games in Chicago, the Maple Leafs claimed him off waivers in March. Toronto re-signed him as a restricted free agent last month.

Both players are reclamation projects. They have the skill. They just need results. They seem poised to get an opportunity, at least at the AHL level, with the Penguins.

The primary return for the Maple Leafs is Kapanen. The Penguins' first draft pick under Rutherford, he's a slick skilled waterbug of a winger. He was poised to get a chance to earn a spot on the Penguins' top-two lines next season. That said, he's lean on experience. He was occasionally a healthy scratch during his brief time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. He still needs to adjust to the North American game, but the Finn, who grew up in North America around his father, former NHLer Sami Kapanen, is more than used to being around NHL arenas.

Spaling leaves the Penguins after one steady but unspectacular season. Capable of playing either center or win, Spaling was used in a variety of roles last season ranging from first-line left winger to fourth-line center. With all the health woes the Penguins dealt with last season, Spaling was forced to wear many hats. But at a salary cap hit of $2.2 million, the Penguins needed to clear him off the roster to create some cap space. He will presumably take on a bottom-six role in Toronto.

Harrington was one of the Penguins defensive prospects the franchise often touted. But he had fallen behind Maatta, Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin on the organization's depth chart. A defensive player capable of taking on a shut-down role, Harrington is an NHL-caliber talent. He just got caught up in the ample numbers the Penguins have on the blue line. He will get a better chance to reach the NHL with Toronto.

The really intriguing aspect of this deal is the number of conditions on the draft picks involved. After getting a scare with the first-rounder they dealt to the Oilers for left winger David Perron last season, the Penguins wanted some insurance in the event of the 2016 or 2017 first-rounders they potential surrender end up being lottery picks. The Penguins nearly gave up a lottery pick to the Oilers for Perron and did not want to run that risk again.

We'll transcribe some quotes in a little while, but general manager Jim Rutherford said discussions on this trade went on for approximately a month. Coupling that with the somewhat light package of assets the Penguins gave up, it's a pretty clear illustration of how badly the Maple Leafs wanted to get rid of Kessel.

The Penguins took full advantage of the Maple Leafs' determination to jettison Kessel and made their NHL roster much, much more dangerous. Additionally, they didn't have to give up that much in return while also avoiding the full brunt of Kessel's salary cap hit.

(Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, Daniel Kubus/Getty Images and Elsa/Getty Images)

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Antonio Crawford enrolled at West Virginia

Written by Craig Meyer on .

(Photo: Miami Herald)

Cornerback Antonio Crawford, a transfer from Miami, is officially enrolled at West Virginia, a team spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

In accordance with NCAA rules, Crawford will sit out next season before becoming eligible for the Mountaineers' 2016 campaign.

In late April, Crawford announced that he was headed to Morgantown after leaving Miami in late February.

A former three-star recruit, Crawford started two games in his three seasons with the Hurricanes, both of which came in 2013. Last season, he had 19 tackles and no interceptions.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Free agency chat - 07-01-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The NHL's free agency signing period opens at noon (EDT) today. We will be hosting a chat for it beginning at approximately 11:50 a.m.

Feel free to participate in the chat below:

Live Blog NHL free agency chat

Note: In the event of the Penguins holding any sort of media availability, we will cut the chat short.

(Photo:Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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