Rumblings: Pens test backup; Contract talk for Lundqvist, Thornton, Sedins

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
6:23
PM ET
The loss of Tomas Vokoun for 3 to 6 months leaves the Penguins having to turn to Jeff Zatkoff as their backup goalie behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Zatkoff, who has never played an NHL game, is a 26-year-old former Kings draft pick who has played in the AHL the past four full seasons.

The Penguins signed him as a free agent on July 1, 2012.

"We’re going to go with the goaltenders that we have, we’re going to go with Marc-Andre and Zatkoff, going to give Jeff an opportunity at the NHL level,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com Thursday. "He’s been a good goaltender at the AHL level for four years. He played behind [Jonathan] Quick and [Jonathan] Bernier in L.A., pretty tough to crack that lineup there. He had an outstanding year for us last season in Wilkes-Barre. He deserves an opportunity. You got to find out about these guys. We’ll see where it goes."

It wouldn’t surprise me if Shero adds a veteran No. 3 to the organization as insurance.

But really, this is less about Zatkoff and more about Fleury when it comes to addressing the real crux of the concern in Pittsburgh. If Fleury doesn’t have a bounceback season, there’s trouble.

In the meantime, my sense is Shero will ride this out with the Fleury-Zatkoff tandem and circle back 20 to 25 games into the season to take stock of their performance before deciding whether or not he needs to act.

Lundqvist talks

Henrik Lundqvist told reporters Wednesday that he’s withdrawing himself from contract talks, leaving it in the hands of his agent, Don Meehan, not wanting any further distraction.

The lines of communication remain open between Meehan and the Rangers’ front office, so talks will continue into the season.

The Rangers know Lundqvist will be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL and the highest-paid Ranger when all is said and done. That’s a guarantee. So I don’t think salary, in the end, will be the last hurdle in a deal.

The biggest issue is term. Lundqvist is 31, still with lots of great hockey in front of him, no question. But a maximum term deal of eight years makes the Rangers uncomfortable, I’m guessing, given that he’d be 40 when that deal expired.

So the trick here is to find something term-wise that works for both sides. Six years? Seven years?

Lundqvist is in the last year of a deal that carries a $6.875-million cap hit. Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask have the highest cap hit in the league for goalies right now at $7 million. My guess is Lundqvist will make north of $8 million in his new deal.

Drouin demoted

I think it’s safe to say that the most surprising cut of training camp was Jonathan Drouin.

Unless you talk to scouts who saw him play in preseason. They’ll tell you that he wasn’t terribly impressive; the chief issue being he didn’t play with enough pace and tried to beat too many players standing still.

Now, let’s not get confused here. Drouin will still be a stud forward in the NHL, a franchise player; it’s just that another year in junior will benefit him greatly. The Tampa Bay Lightning are deep up front. I don’t think they needed to force the issue with him just because he was the third overall pick in June.

Just two years ago, another Florida team sent back its third overall pick to junior in Jonathan Huberdeau. He came back the next season and won the Calder Trophy.

I believe the Bolts made the right call here with Drouin. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready.

Ducks' D-man search

Word is the Ducks are looking for blue-line help with Luca Sbisa and Sheldon Souray out.

My sense is Anaheim would be looking for a young defenseman and would be willing to move a forward in return.

Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Toronto are among the clubs with depth on defense, something to keep an eye on.

Thornton's future

Phil Kessel imposed a deadline on talks with the Maple Leafs regarding his extension, saying it had to get done before puck drop for the season and it got done just under the wire.

But there is no such deadline in San Jose from captain Joe Thornton, who enters the final year of a contract paying him $7 million.

Word is the Thornton camp will reach out to the Sharks shortly to get talks going, but there are really no time constraints here. It’ll get done when it gets one. The sense is Thornton doesn’t believe it will be a distraction this season, regardless.

At 34, term will be the issue both sides stick-handle around, not the salary. Thornton remains a real productive player, putting up 40 points (7-33) in 48 games last season and having another strong playoff with 10 points (2-8) in 11 games. He also remains durable, missing only five regular-season games since coming over to San Jose in November 2005.

Thornton's situation is tied in some ways to what happens with Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, also UFAs after the season. The Sharks want all three back but it has to fit with what they're doing cap-wise as well as make sense term-wise.

Sedin twins

Staying with potential UFAs, the Sedin twins enter the season without extensions signed. There was hope that deals might get done before the season started, but nothing yet on that front. It's a priority for the Canucks to get this done as soon as possible.

Having said that, the twins' camp and the Canucks negotiated throughout the season five years ago and it didn't affect their performance on the ice. So the sense is that it shouldn't be too much of a distraction.

I'd say I agree with that premise as long as the good ship Canucks doesn't get off to a slow start and the circus starts in Van City. Then suddenly their lack of an extension would warrant more media spotlight.

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