Posts Tagged ‘Team Core’

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby recognizes the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs could be the last opportunity for his club’s longtime core to chase a championship.

Teammates Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are set for unrestricted free agency this summer.

“As much as you don’t want to think about it, it’s something that you understand could be a possibility,” Crosby told NHL.com’s Wes Crosby. “I think you just try to enjoy it as much as you can, and try to take it all in because you know it’s something that’s not going to last forever, whether it’s this year or down the road a little bit more.

“You only get to play for so long, so I think just trying to enjoy it and be grateful for the opportunity that we have to do it again.”

Crosby (34 years old), Malkin (35), and Letang (35) have been teammates for the past 16 seasons, qualifying for the playoffs each year and winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016, and 2017. The only campaign Crosby’s Penguins failed to reach the postseason was his rookie year in 2005-06, before Malkin and Letang debuted in the NHL.

Although they’re well into their 30s, the trio is still the engine that drives the Penguins.

2021-22 stats

PLAYERGPPTSATOI
Crosby688420:01
Malkin404018:25
Letang776725:48

Malkin currently carries a $9.5-million average annual value, while Letang earns $7.25 million per season. Both high-profile players could command big-ticket contracts on the open market, but the Penguins could attempt to retain the pair of superstars. Pittsburgh has more than $29 million in projected cap space this offseason, according to CapFriendly.

Crosby is signed through 2024-25 at a yearly cap hit of $8.7 million.

The Penguins currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and one game remaining. The Washington Capitals are hot in pursuit of their archrivals with 100 points of their own and a game in hand.

Maple Leafs legend Mats Sundin believes Toronto’s future is bright despite a slew of early exits in the postseason.

“The playoff success is going to come. Let these players mature and also lose a couple times in the playoffs,” the Hall of Famer said on Sportsnet’s “The FAN Morning Show” Thursday. “They’ll learn how to be successful and start winning in the postseason as well.”

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, when Sundin still played for the club. The squad ousted the Ottawa Senators in a seven-game series that year before being eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semifinals.

Toronto has gotten chances to break the cold spell as of late, but the team has failed to make it past the first round in its last six postseason appearances. The Leafs didn’t even touch the opening round in the 2020 playoff bubble after the Columbus Blue Jackets eliminated them in the qualifying round.

Sundin, who captained the Leafs from 1997-2008, understands the harsh spotlight of playing in Toronto and the pressure fans put on players to succeed, but he isn’t pushing the panic button on the team.

“I wouldn’t trade the core of the Toronto Maple Leafs for any other core around the league,” he said. “The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have chances to win a championship in the next 10 years, 15 years by (continuing to) keep building and keep improving.”

He added, “I’m very, very optimistic of what management of the Toronto Maple Leafs has done to build this young core of great players.”

Sundin also noted the Maple Leafs’ depth has a certain championship pedigree.

“It’s fantastic to see Auston (Matthews) and Mitch Marner and (John) Tavares and (William) Nylander,” he said. “Toronto has what all great franchises that have won championships in the past (had). There’s a great balance in the roster.”

Sundin is still the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 420 goals in 981 games, but the 51-year-old said he’s rooting for Matthews to break his record “as soon as possible.” The reigning Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner has 231 goals in 377 career contests.

The Maple Leafs currently sit in third place in the throes of a strong Atlantic Division with a 31-12-3 record.

With the dust settled on another first-round exit, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas remains all-in on the roster he’s built.

“For better or worse, I believe in this group and I believe that they are going to get it done and I believe that they’re going to win,” Dubas said Thursday, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “I understand that comes with certain doubt because of the fact that we have not broken through in the playoffs, but it’s my belief that they will.

“I believe in them as players, I believe in them as people, and I know that decision lies on me and what the risk is for me. We’re going ahead that way. So I’m comfortable with it. I believe that we’re going to see the best version of this group next season that we’ve seen yet and I’m willing to bet everything on that.”

The Maple Leafs faced plenty of criticism earlier this summer after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens. It marked the current core’s fifth consecutive opening-round loss, and extended the franchise’s streak to 17 years without winning a series.

Superstar forwards Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews combined for just a single goal against the underdog Habs, but Dubas and president Brendan Shanahan both think the team as constructed is capable of getting it done.

At his end-of-season press conference in June, Shanahan said the Leafs lack a “killer instinct” that needs to be addressed.

Though Toronto’s superstars appear locked into their roles, the Maple Leafs are bound to look different around the edges for the 2021-22 season. Top-six staple Zach Hyman appears to be on the verge of leaving in free agency, and the club has approximately $10 million in cap space to fill holes up front and in net.

Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams has provided some insight into what his club will look like in the future.

“I think it’s building. I think that’s the right way to say it. We have a lot of young players that are talented,” Adams said to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.

“Sometimes, when players come into the league at a really young age, some people feel like maybe they’re older than they are. But guys like (Rasmus) Dahlin, (Dylan) Cozens, (Casey) Mittelstadt, these are very, very young players. So, we want to build.

“And I’ve been energized about this young core of Sabres we have that are hungry, and they want to be part of the solution. … These guys are proud to be Buffalo Sabres, they want to fix this and get this right, they want to move forward together. So that’s the young core that we’re working to build around.”

Adams didn’t mention captain Jack Eichel as part of the young core amid reported trade talks surrounding the star. In May, Eichel told reporters there was a “disconnect” between him and the franchise following a disagreement over how to treat his neck injury.

The 24-year-old has five years remaining on his contract with an average annual value of $10 million. Buffalo selected him with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft.

The Sabres have had several lottery picks since picking Eichel. The club grabbed Mittelstadt with the eighth pick in 2017, Dahlin first overall in 2018, and Cozens at No. 7 in 2019. All three are under the age of 22 and played extremely well under new head coach Don Granato last season.

With a plethora of youthful talent, Adams has made it clear that his goal is to surround the budding trio with players that can help turn Buffalo back into a contender.

“We need to do a lot of building, we need to surround those young players with the right people, the right culture every day, with players who truly love being a Buffalo Sabre and want to get this right,” Adams said.

Once again, the Sabres have the first overall pick in the upcoming draft and will add another fresh player to the mix. The team also selected Jack Quinn with the eighth pick in last year’s draft, but he has yet to make his NHL debut.

Despite a second-round loss to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey still believes in Philadelphia’s core of Joel EmbiidTobias Harris, and Ben Simmons.

“I would say we have an extremely good trio,” Morey told reporters Tuesday, according to The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. “You don’t get the (East’s) 1-seed without having extremely strong top-end players. … We’re gonna figure out how to make the team better.”

Morey added, “We’re committed to this group. This is a really good group that played at a very high level. … I mean, really, 25 or 26 (teams) in this league would love to be in our position. … We’ve got a good foundation, we just have to do better.”

Philadelphia posted a 49-23 regular-season record to finish atop the Eastern Conference standings. However, the 76ers fell short of the conference finals once again and haven’t reached the NBA’s final four since their run to the league’s championship round 20 years ago.

It was a particularly trying postseason for Simmons, whose free-throw shooting woes and lack of a jumper were issues once again.

The former No. 1 overall pick is reportedly unlikely to join Australia for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and intends to spend the offseason working on his game.

Head coach Doc Rivers said Monday that the team will work with Simmons to improve his shooting.

“My understanding is that Ben, just like all our players, is all in on the organization. … I believe and we expect for the players to do whatever is necessary,” Morey said, according to Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.

The Los Angeles Lakers face an uncertain offseason in the wake of an early playoff exit, but according to team vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, the main goal is to keep the core group intact.

“I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team,” Pelinka told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin during Friday’s exit interviews.

“So the goal is to try to keep that core group together.”

It’s not entirely clear what Pelinka views as the Lakers’ “core,” though two things are certain: the organization has committed more than $100 million to LeBron JamesAnthony DavisKyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for next season, and they have a slew of players entering free agency.

Alex CarusoTalen Horton-TuckerWesley MatthewsMarkieff MorrisBen McLemoreKostas AntetokounmpoDennis Schroder, and Jared Dudley are all eligible for free agency, and Montrezl Harrell‘s contract includes a $9.7-million player option for next season. Andre Drummond‘s short-term deal also expires in the summer.

Morris and Schroder were among those who spoke to the media Friday and expressed interest in returning for the 2021-22 season, while Harrell admitted he hasn’t made a decision yet, saying: “I can’t give you that answer right now, brother.”

The Lakers aren’t exactly blessed with a bevy of tradable draft picks or coveted young players who could be packaged for upgrades, only adding to a litany of offseason predicaments for Pelinka and Co.

Even with a roster that underperformed against the Suns, Pelinka says there should be no shortage of incentive entering next season.

“I think when you fall short of the goal that you set, it has to drive you,” Pelinka said. “It has to be the fuel that drives your passion, and I think us falling short as a team, that in some sense is going to be part of our motivation and putting in the work to getting back at it, and start training camp next year with a strong roster.”