Rift between Sykora and Bylsma refuted

| Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Veteran forward Petr Sykora will not return for a third season with the Penguins, but his departure has nothing to do with a supposed rift between he and coach Dan Bylsma, according to Bylsma and Sykora's agent, Allan Walsh.

A recent report in the Czech newspaper "Aha!" quoted Sykora as saying he did not like Bylsma when the two were teammates with the Anaheim Ducks from 2002-04. The quotes implied that Sykora believed Bylsma had it out for him when they were reunited in February, when Bylsma was hired as Penguins coach.

Walsh said the interview never happened. He said "Aha!" is a sister publication of "Blesk," a periodical Walsh compared to the National Enquirer, and often publishes its stories.

"Everybody regards 'Blesk' as a publication that makes up about 90 percent of its stories," Walsh said Monday. "Petr said he saw the story and laughed. He couldn't believe it was being talked about on all these Web sites back in the states."

Walsh added that as recently as July 10, he was having "serious discussions" with Penguins general manager Ray Shero about re-signing Sykora, an unrestricted free agent whose 28 power-play goals over the past two seasons were second on the team.

Walsh said the Penguins' salary cap constraints are the main reason Sykora will not be back, though he also said Sykora probably doesn't fit well in Bylsma's up-tempo system.

Bylsma's take: "I don't think it's about fitting the system. We are in a salary cap situation where we don't have any wiggle room."

As for his relationship with Sykora, Bylsma said that while the two were not especially close as teammates, they did socialize, sometimes playing golf or cards in the same group. He was not aware of any animosity.

"I thought Petr was a good teammate, and I respected the unique skill that Petr brought to a team and still brings to a team, which is putting the puck in the net," Bylsma said. "He does it in big situations and has done it his whole career."

Sykora was scratched for most of the playoffs after sinking into a slump that saw him score two goals in 21 games. As it turns out, according to Walsh, the 32-year-old winger had a second-degree shoulder separation.

"It made it hard for him to even hold a stick," Walsh said. "But there was no way he would take himself out of the lineup. He was extremely frustrated and very upset about being scratched."

Bylsma said he knew Sykora was battling a shoulder injury and respected his willingness to play. Sykora was put back into the lineup for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, only to sustain a broken foot blocking a shot.

Walsh said that seven teams are interested in Sykora, and he hopes to have him signed within two weeks. Walsh has several clients in the Penguins organization, including newly signed forward Michael Rupp, who already has been assigned Sykora's old No. 17, according to the roster on the team's web site.

Notes: The Penguins open prospects camp today at Southpointe. ... Bylsma, who will be at prospects camp, gets his day with the Cup on Aug. 11. ... Stanley Cup hero Max Talbot officially begins rehab today from surgery that repaired a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

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