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Malone to test free agency

Left wing Ryan Malone said Tuesday he plans to opt for free agency -- a significant blow to the Penguins' chances of trading him for a pick in this weekend's NHL Entry Draft.

"We will not talk to anyone until July 1," said Malone, who will become an unrestricted free agent on that date.

Talks between Malone's camp and the Penguins hit a wall last week, and the Pittsburgh-born Malone is warming to the possibility of continuing his NHL career outside of his hometown.

Penguins officials, including general manager Ray Shero, are currently preparing for the NHL Draft Friday and Saturday in Ottawa. Those preparations include conversations with several clubs about acquiring early-round picks.

Shero is not commenting on off-season dealings.

The Penguins do not pick until the fourth round. Their first-round pick was included in the package sent to the Atlanta Thrashers on Feb. 26 for right wing Marian Hossa and forward Pascal Dupuis. The acquisition that day of defenseman Hal Gill from the Toronto Maple Leafs cost the Penguins their second-round pick. And their third-round choice was shipped to the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 27, 2007, as part of a deal for right wing Georges Laraque, also set to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Penguins had hoped Malone could net them a needed early-round draft choice, perhaps from the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are known to have serious interest. The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday the Blue Jackets could strike a deal with the Penguins to acquire Malone's rights for possibly a second- or third-round draft pick.

Those plans now appear to be dashed because the Blue Jackets will not deal a draft pick to the Penguins unless Malone provides a guarantee he will sign with Columbus.

The Dispatch reported that the Jackets are willing to offer Malone a four- or five-year deal worth at least $4.5 million annually. The Penguins are not willing to go much beyond $3 million annually for Malone, who posted a career-best 27 goals and 51 points during the regular season.

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