Mark Madden: Refreshing slices from today’s sports landscape |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: Refreshing slices from today’s sports landscape

Right wing Phil Kessel’s situation with the Penguins would become impossible if coach Mike Sullivan’s contract is not extended.

Checkmate, honey, you’re the only one who’s got to choose … whether to read refreshing sports notes. Grab yourself a slice. We’re live from fabulous Las Vegas.

• Keeping Phil Kessel would be arduous for the Penguins on many levels. But doing so while not extending coach Mike Sullivan’s contract would make the situation impossible. Sullivan, who has just the 2019-20 season left on his pact, would be the lamest of ducks in Kessel’s eyes. Kessel would think he might outlast Sullivan. (He won’t, but best to kill that illusion.)

• If Kessel is traded at this point, it would be a salary dump to open up cap space. Looks like the only possible “hockey trade” was the deal with Minnesota for Jason Zucker, and Kessel nixed that. It will be hard to change the Penguins’ culture if Kessel returns. He does what he wants, albeit in productive fashion. (Don’t be surprised if that swap with Minnesota is revisited.)

• Kessel wants to play top six. Sullivan often uses him on a third line to balance scoring, the best example being the “HBK line” phenomenon in the 2016 playoffs. Kessel liked that then, but doesn’t usually. But neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is enamored with having Kessel on his wing. If they were, it would always happen. But Kessel gives his center too much slack to pick up in certain areas.

• If the Penguins are interested in free agents Corey Perry and Wayne Simmonds, they shouldn’t be. Perry is washed up, Simmonds is beat up and the Penguins have enough right wings. Patric Hornqvist and Simmonds play the same way. You don’t need two. (The Penguins’ purported interest in Perry and Simmonds has likely been conjured by agents hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

• Agent Allan Walsh tweeted the salary cap is killing the NHL. When he spoke, you could barely see the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lips move. Or David Poile’s, the Nashville general manager. Making teams spend wisely is how the cap maintains competitive balance. The Penguins have kept their core together for over a decade. The Leafs are having trouble with theirs, and have had Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for just three years. Maybe they didn’t need to sign John Tavares for seven years and $77 million.

Dominoes had to fall after that. The first was giving Carolina a first-round pick to take Patrick Marleau’s $6.25 million cap hit. Nashville dumped P.K. Subban’s $9 million cap hit, but that’s because they want to get Matt Duchene when free agency hits Monday. Every action has a reaction. (Or pre-action.)

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has been criticized for giving defenseman Jack Johnson a five-year, $16.25 million contract. Johnson played OK last season after Dec. 1, but the deal is a bit long and a bit much. But while excoriating Rutherford, keep in mind that he gave contracts to defenseman Brian Dumoulin (six years, $24.6M) and winger Jake Guentzel (five years, $30M) that make them clear-cut bargains. No GM bats a thousand.

• Keep in mind, too, that Rutherford just got named to the Hockey Hall of Fame. That didn’t happen by accident.

• When Brooks Orpik played for the Penguins, he was a big hitter who laid out lots of foes, including four in 15 seconds during Game 3 of the ‘08 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. Then he played for Washington and laid out Olli Maatta of the Penguins in the ‘16 playoffs. Orpik took no prisoners during a 15-season NHL career that saw him win two championships and league-wide respect that was firmly rooted in his own dressing room. When he played in Pittsburgh, he was the Penguins’ conscience. As he retires, I’m reminded how valuable that was.

• Las Vegas can’t decide who’s going to win the AFC North. The New York-New York sports book has the over/under for Steelers wins at nine. It’s the same for Cleveland, and Baltimore comes in at 812. Imagine a three-way tie. Every game is going to be extremely significant, especially intra-division contests.

• Giving NBA free agent Kevin Durant a super-max contract of five years, $221 million is insane. He’s 30. He won’t play for the deal’s first year because of injury; that’s a freebie. Who knows how effective Durant will ever again be after rupturing his Achilles tendon? If Durant comes all the way back, that would be great reward. But the risk is too great. (Durant will nonetheless get a super-max.)

• Instead of recycling D’Angelo Russell, the Los Angeles Lakers would do better signing Chartiers Valley grad T.J. McConnell, now ex of Philadelphia. McConnell is a true point guard, a glue player who makes teammates better. Russell mostly wants to benefit himself. McConnell would benefit LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

• When NBA free agency hits Sunday, it will be fun to turn on ESPN over the next few days and see nearly everybody involved noisily wet their pants over what transpires. (I don’t care who goes where.)

• Speaking of ESPN, the worldwide leader (gag) has developed its share of big stars. Just not as many as they think, and none currently. But Bob Ley was the network’s conscience, and a performer of peerless credibility and quality. He’s retiring after 40 years of excellence and having been at ESPN since its inception. Even the best make viewers cringe occasionally. Ley never did.

• The NBA will no longer use the word “owner” in reference to those who are in financial control of their teams. I can’t imagine that being an issue, and to draw a racist parallel using that word is absolutely silly. No one thinks Joe Lacob owns the players on the Golden State Warriors. He owns the franchise. But isn’t it fun to be mad?

• The only basketball I’ve ever really liked is the old Big East Conference. It was big-city playground hoops. Blood and guts. Connecticut rejoining what’s left of the Big East makes me wish Pitt had never left. But football drives the bus. (Except too few show up to watch Pitt football.)

• Megan Rapinoe talks the talk. Rapinoe also walks the walk. Pressure created. Pressure addressed. Four goals in two knockout games at the Women’s World Cup is impressive. Rapinoe should run for the Democratic nomination for president. What’s one more?

• USA women’s soccer players Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are engaged. It doesn’t cause a distraction on the team, and won’t. Unless they break up and both are still on the team. Intra-team dating isn’t a good idea for that reason. A women’s basketball player told me a story about two teammates who ended a lengthy relationship: The point guard, and a forward with a high scoring average. The forward stopped getting the ball. Affairs of the heart often take over.

• MLB should suspend operations until every single spectator in attendance is guaranteed 100 percent safety. Also, don’t cross the street.

• The Pirates doubtless will (and should) join those MLB teams that install protective netting to the foul poles. But that means they’ve got to trade closer Felipe Vasquez. That netting is expensive, and it doesn’t erect itself. That money has to come from somewhere.

• Breakdancing might become an Olympic “sport.” I used to feel stupid when fellow ball hockey (dekhockey) enthusiasts suggested that game should be in the Olympics. Now, not so much.

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