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Penguins Can Contend For Stanley Cup, Burke says

Team president impressed by recent success, admits upgrade could be difficult before NHL Trade Deadline

Brian Burke said he has seen enough from the Pittsburgh Penguins to be convinced they can compete for the Stanley Cup, but the team president admitted an upgrade prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 21 will be difficult.

“Do we believe we are a contender? Yes, we do, and we (Burke and general manager Ron Hextall) have since we got here,” Burke told NHL Network Radio on Sunday. “Can we add with our cap situation if we decide to? We are pretty limited with the salary cap restrictions that we are under, so making a big deal probably would be difficult to do. But we would look, certainly.”

The Penguins (20-9-5) won an NHL season-high 10 games in a row before a 3-2 loss at the Dallas Stars on Saturday. They currently hold the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They have their first-round pick in each of the next three NHL Drafts, but Burke said he is reluctant to continue borrowing against the future to add to the present.

“What assets are we going to give up to add? The answer is not many,” Burke said. “It’s time for this team to stop the steady, and this will come out as a negative and I don’t want it to because I love (former Penguins president and general manager) Jim (Rutherford), but stop the trend where we are going to give away a lot for a 20 percent chance at winning. You get close, you add, and Jim did what he was supposed to do. But we have to stop that trend at some point.”

The Penguins’ ability to stay in playoff contention has been even more impressive when considering they have been without numerous key players for significant periods of time. Center Evgeni Malkin, who had knee surgery June 4, has yet to play this season. Center Sidney Crosby missed the first seven games recovering from wrist surgery, then another five games while in NHL COVID-19 protocol. Forward Bryan Rust has missed 19 games this season, forward Jake Guentzel six and defenseman Kris Letang four.

Burke said coach Mike Sullivan deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Penguins competitive.

“Mike Sullivan has done a [heck] of a job, he’s a good coach,” Burke said. “Our focus to maintain the level of play and level of intensity that we have maintained from day one with significant injuries and COVID outbreaks,” Burke said. “Like we are not just missing Brian Burke-type players, we’re missing important players. We had three of our six defensemen out with COVID at the same time (Brian Dumoulin , Marcus Pettersson, Chad Ruhwedel), and these guys just keep showing up and putting up points.

“Coaches usually fall under one of two categories; there’s real boss-type men who order people to do things, and then guys who convince people to do things. In order to be a truly great coach, you have to have a little of both of that. This is a guy, Sullivan, who is a thinking player, played over 700 games in the NHL despite not being a great talent but made it work and figured it out. (He) figured out how to be smarter and better than other people and then he brings that commanding sense to him as well.

“You have to be a general, there’s lots of colonels. You look at the hierarchy of the U.S. army, for every general, there’s 20 colonels, probably higher. This guy is a general.”

Burke also said Crosby, who has scored 22 points (four goals, 18 assist) in his past 15 games, has elevated his play at a critical juncture of the season. Pittsburgh is 11-3-1 during the stretch.

“We have a captain here that empowers a lot of things, that makes everyone work harder, makes everyone follow the game plan, makes everyone better, makes everyone listen and his name is Sid and that helps,” Burke said.

Rookie Watch: Sharks lead NHL in games by first-year players

The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2021-22 season. Each week, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, a look at the top five NHL teams with most games played by rookies (ranked by total games played by rookies):

1. San Jose Sharks
Total games played by rookies: 186 (14 players)

Players: Forwards Jonathan Dahlen, Jasper Weatherby, William Eklund, Lane Pederson, Jonah Gadjovich, Jeffrey Viel, Jayden Halbgewachs, Scott Reedy; defensemen Jacob Middleton, Ryan Merkley, Nicolas Meloche, Santeri Hatakka, Artemi Kniazev; goalie Zach Sawchenko.

Rookies to watch: The Sharks have plenty to get excited about when it comes to their rookie class and those having the biggest impact are Dahlen and Middleton. Dahlen (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) ranks 10th among NHL rookies with 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 31 games while averaging 14:55 in ice time. Middleton (6-3, 219) is third on San Jose with 47 blocked shots and sixth with 50 hits while averaging 18:24 of ice time in 28 games. Eklund (5-11, 181), the No. 7 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, had four assists and averaged 14:20 in nine games before being returned to Djurgardens (five assists in nine games) of the Swedish Hockey League.

2. Washington Capitals
Total games played by rookies: 146 (11 players)

Players: Forwards Connor McMichael, Brett Leason, Aliaksei Protas, Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon, Hendrix Lapierre, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Joe Snively; defensemen Martin Fehervary, Lucas Johansen, Alexander Alexeyev.

Rookies to watch: McMichael (6-0, 180) leads Capitals rookies with 10 points (five goals, five assists). He has 62 shots on goal and averages 11:01 in ice time. Fehervary (6-2, 199) has been a big surprise and will continue to be a foundational piece at defenseman for Washington. The 22-year-old has averaged 18:59 of ice time while earning top-pair minutes with John Carlson. He’s second among NHL rookies with 85 hits, fourth with 48 blocked shots and tied for seventh among rookie defensemen with six points (three goals, three assists) in 33 games.

3. Nashville Predators
Total games played by rookies: 131 (7 players)

Players: Forwards Tanner Jeannot, Philip Tomasino, Thomas Novak, Kole Sherwood, Cole Smith; defenseman Alexandre Carrier; goalie Connor Ingram.

Rookies to watch: Jeannot (6-2, 208), who was undrafted, leads NHL rookies with 114 hits and is eighth with 30 blocked shots in 36 games. The 24-year-old is fourth on the Predators with 11 goals, sixth with 22 points and third with 12 penalties drawn while averaging 15:37 of ice time in 36 games. Carrier (5-11, 174), a right-handed defenseman, has scored 12 points (two goals, 10 assists), is tied for second among NHL rookies with 50 blocked shots and fourth with 17 takeaways while averaging 20:25 of ice time in 33 games.

4. Anaheim Ducks
Total games played by rookies: 120 (7 players)

Players: Forwards Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Bryce Kindopp, Jacob Perreault; defensemen Jamie Drysdale, Simon Benoit.

Rookies to watch: Zegras and Drysdale have each lived up to expectations in their first full season with the Ducks. Zegras is second among rookies with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) while averaging 17:05 of ice time in 31 games. Drysdale ranks second among rookie defensemen with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) while averaging 19:52 in 37 games. McTavish, selected No. 3 in the 2021 NHL Draft, scored three points (two goals, one assist) in nine games for the Ducks before he was returned to Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League. The 18-year-old center scored five points (three goals, two assists) while averaging 17:17 of ice time in two games for Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship before the tournament was canceled Dec. 29.

5. Detroit Red Wings
Total games played by rookies: 113 (4 players)

Players: Forwards Lucas Raymond, Joe Veleno; defenseman Moritz Seider; goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

Rookies to watch: The Red Wings might be the only NHL team with a first-year player making big contributions at each position. Raymond (5-11, 182) leads NHL rookies with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 35 games. Seider (6-4, 197) is first among rookie defensemen in assists (19) and points (22) and leads all rookies in power-play points (eight), blocked shots (61), and average ice time (22:24) in 35 games. He’s tied for third among rookies in points. Nedeljkovic (6-0, 203), acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on July 22, 2021, leads rookie goalies in wins (10-9-3) and has a 2.86 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

Kane placed on waivers by Sharks with intent to terminate contract

Evander Kane was placed on unconditional waivers by the San Jose Sharks on Saturday with the intention of terminating his contract.

The Sharks said in a statement that they informed Kane they were terminating his contract “for breach of his NHL standard player contract and for violation of the AHL COVID-19 protocols.”

Kane is in the fourth season of a seven-year contract he signed May 24, 2018.

The 30-year-old forward cleared waivers and was assigned to San Jose of the American Hockey League on Nov. 29. He scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in five AHL games but has not played since entering AHL COVID-19 protocol Dec. 22.

The NHL Players’ Association said in a statement on its Twitter account, “We are aware of the San Jose Sharks’ stated intent to terminate Evander Kane’s contract. The NHLPA intends to challenge any such action by filing a grievance.”

Kane’s agent, Dan Milstein, tweeted, “We are aware of the Sharks’ decision to put Evander on waivers for contract termination. If he clears, we will file a grievance. The Sharks do not have sufficient grounds for taking this action.”

Kane has not played for the Sharks this season after being suspended by the NHL for 21 games on Oct. 18 for violating NHL COVID-19 protocol.

“I would like to apologize to my teammates, the San Jose Sharks organization, and all Sharks fans for violating the NHL COVID protocols,” Kane said in a statement Oct 18. “I made a mistake, one I sincerely regret and take responsibility for. During my suspension, I will continue to participate in counseling to help me make better decisions in the future. When my suspension is over, I plan to return to the ice with great effort, determination, and love for the game of hockey.”

After Kane completed his suspension, San Jose assistant general manager Joe Will said the team explored all options and decided “the best thing at this time is for him to continue to play hockey and the best option for that right now is the [AHL].”

Will, who is running hockey operations for the Sharks while general manager Doug Wilson is on medical leave, said at the time that trading Kane was an option.

Asked if the Sharks placing Kane on waivers brings a sense of closure, coach Bob Boughner said, “I think we’ve done that a long time ago. I think we understood that the players that we’re going to have on our roster this year and the guys that we’re going to use and we’ve been good at keeping that focus. We’ve just been kind concentrating on winning hockey games and hopefully developing the young guys as they’re here. And just to keep that team culture and identity, and really unless you’re with us on our roster, then nothing else really is a concern of ours.”

As for whether he felt disappointment over the Kane situation, Boughner said, “For a head coach would you want maybe your best offensive player in the lineup? Of course. But I understand the situation. Am I disappointed for him personally? Yeah, it would be like that for anybody. For me it’s just business as usual. I can’t focus on it, I can’t dwell on it and [I] concentrate on what we have, not what we don’t have.”

Kane was the subject of two investigations prior to his suspension. The NHL announced Oct. 18 allegations of domestic abuse by Kane’s estranged wife, Deanna, could not be substantiated, after announcing Sept. 22 it found no evidence to support allegations he gambled on NHL games or tried to negatively impact Sharks games.

Selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 4 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Kane has scored 506 points (264 goals, 242 assists) in 769 regular-season games with the Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres and Sharks, and 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 29 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

San Jose (19-16-1) is tied for fourth with the Los Angeles Kings in the eight-team Pacific Division after a 3-2 overtime win at the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

NHL.com deputy managing editor Adam Kimelman contributed to this report

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