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Penguins fill two front-office positions

| Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Upon deciding three years ago to attend Michigan as a finance graduate student, Jason Botterill had every reason to believe his dreams of contributing to a Stanley Cup contender were behind him.

After all, despite a prolific, four-year college hockey career at Michigan that included a 1996 national championship, Botterill appeared in only 88 NHL games over eight professional seasons.

Returning to his alma mater for additional higher education seemed like a smart career move. History might prove it was exactly that.

Botterill was hired Tuesday as Penguins director of hockey administration.

He was joined in the front office by director of player development Tom Fitzgerald, a former Penguins nemesis who twice helped halt playoff runs in the 1990s while playing for the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers.

Fitzgerald, who played in the NHL for 17 seasons, is infamous in Pittsburgh for his goal from the neutral zone that allowed Florida to upset the favored Penguins during Game 7 of the 1996 Eastern Conference final. He also was part of the Islanders team that stunned the Penguins' President Cup-winning squad in the 1993 Patrick Division finals.

He will now attempt to win the favor of Penguins fans by transforming drafted prospects into NHL-caliber players.

Any success in that department would make easier Botterill's job, which essentially is to serve as general manager Ray Shero's point man on salary-cap matters.

"It's new to so many people," Botterill said of the cap, which is slated at $50.3 million this season. "With this cap, you have to have younger players coming up through the ranks.

"The days of the New York Rangers having a $100 million payroll are gone. You have to have players in the system."

Botterill was a scout with Dallas last season. Before that, he worked with the league's central registry, making him privy to the cap's flexibility.

"We have a great core of young players," Botterill said. "The question that Ray is going to face is, 'How do we keep them?'

"What I am so excited about coming to this job is that there is a (dialogue) going on as to how to keep this team together when we move into the new building three years from now."

The Penguins will open Mellon Arena's replacement venue in 2010.

They already have assured that captain Sidney Crosby and defenseman Ryan Whitney will be around for the new arena's first game. They also would like to keep goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and prized forwards Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

To do that, though, Botterill says the organization will "have to understand what the salary cap is."

"The big thing is to make sure that as the team grows, everything is in compliance with the salary cap," Botterill said. "And working at central registry, I was given an education in that very subject."

The Penguins are confident Botterill's real-world and classroom-based education will give them an advantage when it comes to assessing, say, how much a long-term contract for Fleury should cost them in terms of an annual cap number.

Fleury is a restricted free agent after this season. Shero said there's no immediate rush to discuss a new deal.

However, having Botterill at his disposal will at least provide a starting point.

"What you saw happen with Buffalo is important," Botterill said. "I am coming on board right now, and Ray and I agree that you have to be proactive with these things. The biggest thing you have to realize is that you have to go after these players."

Note : Veteran minor-league right wing Dennis Bonvie agreed to a one-year contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins' AHL affiliate. Bonvie, the AHL's all-time penalty minutes leader with 4,290, spent the past two season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

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