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Vacation post - 08-08-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-Happy 65th birthday to former Penguins all-star forward Greg Polis (right). A first-round pick in 1970, Polis spent parts of four seasons with the Penguins. As a rookie in 1970-71, Polis appeared in 61 games and scored 33 points. In 1971-72, Polis led the team with 30 goals,  recorded 49 points and was selected to his second all-star game. Polis' third season in 1972-73 once again saw him score 49 points and once again get selected to the all-star game. He would score two goals in that contest and become the first player in Penguins history to win an all-star game MVP award. After 41 games and 27 points in 1973-74, Polis was traded to the rival Blues along with Bryan Watson and a draft pick in exchange for Steve Durbano, Ab DeMarco Jr. and Bob Kelly. In 256 games with the Penguins, Polis scored 158 points, 53rd-most in franchise history.

Happy 59th birthday to former Penguins forward Gary Rissling. Acquired midway through the 1980-81 season in a deal which sent a draft pick to the Capitals, Rissling, one of the top antagonists in team history, spent parts of five seasons in Pittsburgh. Rissling appeared in 25 games in 1980-81 and recorded one assist as well as 143 penalty minutes. In just 16 games in 1981-82, Rissling failed to record a point but did amass 55 penalty minutes. The 1982-83 season saw Rissling dress for 40 games, score nine points and record 128 penalty minutes. During the dreadful 1983-84 season, Rissling played in 47 games, scored 17 points and led the team with 297 penalty minutes, a mark which is the fourth-most in franchise history. His final season in the NHL was 1984-85. He set a career high in games (56) and points (19) while recording 209 penalty minutes. After spending two more seasons with the Baltimore Skipjacks, the Penguins' AHL affiliate, Rissling was released in the 1987 offseason. In 184 games with the Penguins, Rissling scored 46 points and compiled 832 penalty minutes, seventh-most in franchise history.

-Happy 35th birthday to former Penguins forward Steve MacIntyre. A free agent signing in 2011, MacIntyre has spent parts of the past two seasons with the Penguins. MacIntyre appeared in 12 games during the 2011-12 campaign and recorded no points. In 2012-13, he played in one game and did not record a point. He was claimed off waivers by the Oilers during the 2013-14 preseason. In 13 career games with the Penguins, MacIntyre had no points.

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2015 Training Camp Preview: Defensive line

Written by Sam Werner on .

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In the days leading up to Pitt's first training camp under new coach Pat Narduzzi, we'll go over each position to look at where the Panthers sit going into 2015. Up today: The defensive line...

Projected depth chart
Defensive end
1. Rori Blair (So; 6-4, 240)
2. Allen Edwards (Jr; 6-4, 235)
3. Zach Poker (RS So; 6-4, 235)
4. Reggie Green (RS So; 6-2, 230)

Defensive tackle
1. Darryl Render (Sr; 6-2, 300)
2. Jeremiah Taleni (RS So; 6-2, 295)
3. Justin Moody (RS So; 6-3, 280)

Nose tackle
1. K.K. Mosley-Smith (RS Sr; 6-0, 305)
2. Tyrique Jarrett (Jr; 6-3, 335)
3. Connor Dintino (RS Fr; 6-3, 310)

Defensive end
1. Ejuan Price (RS Sr; 6-0, 250)
2. Shakir Soto (Jr; 6-3, 265)
3. Shane Roy (RS Fr; 6-4, 245)
4. Hez Trahan (RS Fr; 6-4, 260)

There's no real way around it: the defensive line is a concern for Pitt heading into this season. Specifically, the defensive ends. Soto and Blair are the only returning ends who played last year, and they combined for just 45 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. That's not a lot of disruption in the opposing backfield from a position that's supposed to do just that. Soto was a bit of a disappointment in that regard last season, with just one TFL and no sacks after a promising freshman campaign in 2013.

The bright spot there was Blair, who was responsible for 5.5 TFLs (five of them sacks) as a true freshman. He's a bit undersized at the position, and played pretty much exclusively in passing situations last season. The coaches were optimistic in the spring that Blair would be able to be an every-down player at the field end position*.

*Quick note: Narduzzi's defense has two different end positions: the boundary end and the field (or "Flash") end. The boundary end is typically bigger and used to stop the run to that side, while the field end is a bit smaller and better in space.

The complicating factor there is that Blair will be suspended for the opener against Youngstown State after offseason DUI charges, so Pitt will have to make due without him in the opener. I suspect they'll flip Price over to the other side and have Price and Soto as the starters that day, with Blair and Price as the two starters once Blair returns.

Speaking of Price, he could be a big factor in the ends picking up their production in 2015. He had 27 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and four sacks as a freshman in 2011, but then missed all of 2012 with a pectoral injury, missed the final seven games of 2013 with a back injury and missed all of 2014 with another chest injury. Simply put, if he can stay healthy, he's got a chance to be productive, but that's a major "if" at this point in his career. But as a kid who's had some bad luck, you'd like to hope he can put together one solid season on the field.

One other thing to note on Price is that, since he lost two full seasons to injury, he could be a candidate to get a sixth year in 2016. That's a process that wouldn't even start until after this season, so it's by no means a sure thing, but it could be an option for him.

Those three — Blair, Price and Soto — are going to be the main rotation guys in 2014. Beyond them, I would expect JUCO transfer Allen Edwards to see the field this year, mostly just because Pitt needs some numbers at the position. Poker played in six games last year, but missed the end of the season due to a shoulder injury. He's also another guy who will likely get at least a few snaps a game.

Moving over to defensive tackle, the Panthers are in better shape there. Render put on 25 pounds this offseason, and will likely be one of the leaders for Pitt on that defense, as well. He had 32 tackles, 6 TFLs and two sacks last year, and could build on those numbers this season.

Next to him, it'll likely be a rotation between Mosley-Smith and Jarrett, who was one of the star performers in spring practices this season. Jarrett used the coaching change as a fresh start, and it seems to have made a difference. Now, the question is whether he will have been able to keep up his work and conditioning in the summer months when there weren't coaches around to get on him. If he can get into training camp and pick up where he left off in April, he'll certainly be a factor this season.

Render, Mosley-Smith and Jarrett will likely get most of the snaps in the middle, but I also think Moody and Taleni have done enough on the field to show that they're at least serviceable options, and it's also possible one or both of them take a step forward this season. There probably aren't enough snaps for Dintino to really work himself into the rotation, but you never know.

TOMORROW: Linebackers

 

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Sutter: 'It's not a lot of fun being traded' - 08-07-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Brandon Sutter wasn't caught off guard this time.

When general manager Jim Rutherford traded him from the Hurricanes to the Penguins in 2012, Sutter was caught off guard by the deal and needed a day or two to shake off the shock of it.

When Rutherford, now the Penguins' general manager, traded Sutter to the Canucks last week, he was expecting the deal.

Sutter and a 2016 third-round pick were moved to the Canucks last Tuesday in a deal which brought forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Adam Clendening and a 2016 third-round pick to the Penguins. With Sutter entering the final year of a two-year contract with a salary cap hit of $3.3 million, the Canucks signed him to a five-year contract extension with a salary cap hit of $4.375 million earlier this week.

Following the trade, Canucks general manager Jim Benning referred to Sutter as a "foundation piece" for his team.

Last night, Sutter spoke by phone about the trade, his future with the Canucks, his past with the Penguins.

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You were in Europe when you heard about the trade?

"I was in the Netherlands. I was visiting some of my fiance's family over there. It was kind of a funny time."

If Jim Rutherford ever calls you in the future, do you just let the call go to voice mail?

"[Laughs] I've had that question quite a few times in the last few weeks here. It's obviously quite a coincidence that he's had to trade to me twice and I think both times were kind of a situation where his hands were tied a bit and that's just the way it goes. It is a business and unfortunately he's had to do it twice to me but I don't really hold anything against him for it."

When you were traded from Carolina in 2012, you were shocked by the trade. What was the reaction to this trade?

"I think it was a little different than the last time. When I came to Pittsburgh, like you said, I was very surprised and shocked by it. I didn't see it coming at all. This [trade last week], just kind of throughout the summer, you could get a feeling that something might happen. I kind of had that feeling for a while. It was just a matter of time. A little bit different. I was definitely more ready for it and a different feel than last time."

You say you sensed a trade would happen. Was it just a matter of the math with the Penguins carrying so many other long-term contracts with limited movement clauses or was there just a sense of something coming after the way last season ended?

"I think it was definitely a combination of things. Obviously, it is a business and in the salary cap world, in order to fill your team, you have to be careful with what is going to happen. Starting at the draft [in late June] and from there on, talking to my agent, he said there's a chance that something might happen. 'They don't think they're going to re-sign you.' Obviously, they brought in [right winger Phil] Kessel too who is another big contract. You look at some of the guys on the team, there's a lot of big contracts, a lot of good players. Unfortunately, there's only room for so many. I really enjoyed my time there and I wish it would have gone longer. But again, it's business and I was kind of waiting for something to happen."

You were traded in 2012 and there were a number of trade rumors involving your name the last two years. Is it nice to have some long-term stability with regards to the contract you signed with the Canucks?

"Yeah, for sure. It's not a lot of fun being traded and I've been through it a couple times the last three years or so. I kind of said to myself once I hit this age or hit unrestricted free agency I kind of decided to myself the next contract I wasn't going to really accept anything that didn't have a no-trade clause or something to give you a little bit of security. That's something I really wanted and Vancouver is very accepting of that. Like I said, It's tough getting traded. No one wants to go through it. Unfortunately I have to go through it now but hopefully it's the last time."

You did get a no-trade clause in your new contract?

"Yeah, I guess the first three years of it and the last two [years] are modified."

How important was it to find that stability in Western Canada? You grew up in Alberta.

"I don't think in this league or this business ... I don't think there's any bad places to go. I think there's a lot of nice cities and places to live and a lot of good people. I don't think you're really too picky about where you go. But it is nice to be a little closer to home. A little easier of a drive and easier for family and friends to come visit. It's always nice but at the end of the day, you're in that city to play hockey and you're there to work. You can't really think too much about the recreation but it is nicer to be closer for sure."

Benning talked about you potentially being used as a second-line center. Training camp is still more than a month away but do you have any sense of how you'll be used by the Canucks?

"It is an opportunity for me to hopefully have an increased role. And whether that's more minutes in a game or the leadership part of it, they have a good group of older guys that have been there for a while. Hopefully I can join in on that. Then they have a group of really young players, probably five or six players that sound like they're going to be cracking the lineup the next year or two here. They're all good young forwards and I want to be a bit of a leader and I guess somewhat a mentor for some of those kids too. It's a bit of a different situation than in Pittsburgh where it's obviously an older team there and a lot more experience. So that's a big part of it for me. But like you said, it's maybe an opportunity to play more and have an increased role and be used more in match-up situations. I've always kind of thought I can be a good defensive player and have a chance to play against the team's better lines more often is something that I guess is pretty exciting for me."

You talk about match-ups. The Pacific Division is full of big power forwards like Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim, Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles and Joe Thornton in San Jose. What do you anticipate life in the Pacific Division will be like?

"It's hard to say. Like you said, the size for sure. Anaheim and [Los Angeles] and San Jose, they've always been big [teams] probably for 10 years running now. They just play a heavy game. But I think about even in Pittsburgh playing in our division, we always have physical games with the Islanders and Philadelphia and Columbus. I think the physicality is pretty much spread throughout the league. But like you said, the size is what you notice out west with the big teams. Maybe a bit of a different game style and hopefully one that suits me more."

When you came to Pittsburgh, you expressed an eagerness to get more power-play time and get more offensive chances than you had with the Hurricanes. Did you get those chances to a satisfactory level?

"Yeah I think so. I did get a chance while I was there to play on the second power-play unit. I think it was a situation in Carolina where I was in a spot where they didn't give you any opportunity at all. I just wanted a taste of it. In Pittsburgh, you have five or six really high-end offensive forwards that have to have those minutes and have to do that. I was just happy to get a chance behind them to play a little bit. By no means am I a power-play specialist but it's fun to kind of see both parts of the game."

How easy or difficult is it being the third-line center for the Penguins behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

"Oh there's an expectation in Pittsburgh, that's for sure. Obviously, with the way Jordan Staal played while he was there, coming in there after that, I think everyone kind of expected you to score a lot of goals and be a superstar. Where when you really look at it, Jordan moved on to sign a 10-year $60 million contract [with the Hurricanes]. I don't think there's ever been a third-line center that has come up with something like that. It just shows that he did need an increased role and he is a top-three or top-six forward. Again, I really thought I played well and played my game while I was there but the expectation is pretty sky high there. Hopefully people enjoyed having me there."

You had 21 goals last season. It was your best season in terms of goal scoring with the Penguins and it matched a career-high. What clicked for you?

"It's hard to say. I always kind of have my goal set on scoring 20 goals each year. I've done that twice. You always hope for more I guess. You always hope you create more offense, not only for yourself but your teammates too. I didn't have a great season in terms of the assist amount (12). It's fun scoring goals. The one regret I have leaving is that we didn't win the [Stanley] Cup. Scoring goals is part of the game and everyone knows in Pittsburgh scoring goals isn't always the challenge. I thought last year we made some strides to get better defensively away from the puck. I thought we did that but unfortunately we still couldn't find a way to get it done in the playoffs."

Ever since Rutherford took over the Penguins, he has placed a greater emphasis on advanced statistics. Your advanced numbers which are available to the general public did not reflect well for you. Do you think that played any role in the Penguins dealing you?

"I have no idea. I guess those statistics didn't really exist three or four years ago so I really never came into the league worrying about that stuff or thinking about it. I don't really think players put much emphasis on it. It's hard to say. I don't really know. You don't really look at those statistics to judge how you're playing or how you were on the ice. You want to be solid in both ends of the rink and I guess sometimes those stats aren't very good but I can't really comment too much on why mine struggled or why they're not as good. I've heard about it a few times but I'm not really too concerned about it."

You were one of the Penguins' leading goal scorers in the last two playoff seasons. What worked for you in the playoffs and how much do you think that added to your value as a player?

"When I came to Pittsburgh, I didn't have any experience in the playoffs. That first year [2013], going into it, that's a big change going from never playing in it to playing in it. The last two years, I thought I just played well. I really thought as the year went on, I managed to stay healthy. I thought I kept improving. Then come playoff time I thought I was playing well and ready to go. I was happy with how I played."

(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

 

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Vacation post - 08-07-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-Happy 28th birthday to the whiniest whiner in the history of whining. Or if you exist in reality, the best hockey player in the world.

-Happy 41st birthday to former Penguins goaltender Philippe DeRouville. A fifth-round pick in 1992, DeRouville made his NHL debut in 1994-95. He won his only game that season by making 24 saves on 27 shots. In 1995-96, DeRouville had an 0-2-0 record, 3.24 goals against average and .909 save percentage. Overall, DeRouville's career record with the Penguins was 1-2-0 and had a 3.16 goals against average and .903 save percentage. He was released in 1997.

(Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)

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Steel Castings: Remembering The Bus

Written by Dan Gigler on .

This week, Dan Gigler and Post-Gazette sports editor Jerry Micco and Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette discuss the career of Hall-of-Fame Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, and Bettis describes his most memorable touchdown.

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