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Penguins Q & A: Rob Rossi answers your questions

Penguins/NHL Videos

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tribune-Review Penguins writer Rob Rossi answers questions about the Pittsburgh Penguins. Read older questions in the archives .

Be sure to check out the revamped " Chipped Ice " (updated when possible during the off-season) with links to stories making news in enemy territory and around the NHL. As always, questions for the Pens Q & A can be sent by via e-mail .

Q: My wife is a huge Ryan Malone fan. She wonders why Malone cannot give the old "hometown discount." If he will be offered a $4.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent and the Penguins are offering $3 million - why can't he just be happy with that money in Pittsburgh• Doesn't he understand he can trade big bucks elsewhere to stay on a team with a lot of talent from his hometown city?

-- Brian Goodwin of Tremont

A: My e-mail inbox is flooded with dear readers' comments on left wing Ryan Malone's decision to test the free-agent market. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and Malone told me late Tuesday he will not talk with any team until that date. Technically, he can only talk to the Penguins until that date, but that isn't going to happen.

The truth about Malone's situation is that he is not happy with any of the offers made to him by the Penguins over the past calendar year. He feels he is worth more than the latest offer, which I'm told has been bumped to about $3 million. Whether you agree or disagree with that assessment, there is no denying that several teams would probably pay Malone considerably more than $3 million annually on the open market.

Neither Malone nor his representatives have told me what dollar figure might convince him to stay in Pittsburgh. He is a native of our city, but I'm not sure that means anything in this situation. He lives in Minnesota. His wife is from Wisconsin. His father, Greg, is no longer a Penguins employee. Basically, there is nothing pulling Malone toward playing in Pittsburgh, other than his clear want to stay with the Penguins, the only NHL team he knows and one that figures to contend for future championships.

Let's look at the numbers here (they always tell the real story): If Malone can make at least $1.5 million annually somewhere else - say Columbus, Vancouver or Minnesota - than he would in Pittsburgh, and the length of his new contract is five years - well, what person in his right mind would not take a guaranteed $7.5 million. NHL contracts are fairly iron-clad. Malone is 28 and this is likely his one great chance to cash in and set up his family for many generations. He is a young father, and no family man would advise turning down an opportunity to provide for his children, their children and their children's children.

The so-called "hometown discount" is never more than about $500,000, or so I'm told by many players. Occasionally a player will take considerably less to stay in a situation where he is comfortable (Sidney Crosby), but those players are few and far between. Plus, Crosby is 20 and will be 25 when his contract expires. He has a few more big paydays ahead of him, if he stays healthy.

Malone probably has only this shot to make big money. He wants to take it. Nobody should blame him for that.

I believe he will not be easily replaced by the Penguins, but the NHL's salary cap forces teams to make hard decisions.

I'll say this, though: If the Penguins retaining Malone is no longer an option, they better get right wing Marian Hossa signed. If not, they'll be down two top-six wingers, and that is no way to start defense of an Eastern Conference championship.

Q: I've heard so many trade rumors lately, and I know many are garbage. But what you have you heard about Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik going to Columbus• I've also heard Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins are talking about a long-term deal. What will that mean for Jordan Staal• I don't believe he is ever going to be a second-line center on this team. Is he a wing in-the-making?

- Jim Duron of Prairieville, La.

A: Seemingly, the dear readers have spent much of their post Cup final time browsing the World Wide Web for every and any rumor regarding the Penguins. We've been through this before, but perhaps it is time for a reminder: Ninety-five percent of rumors about which you read on the internet or hear on the radio are blatant falsehoods. Anybody can conceive of a potential deal or speculate about a possible contract. Here is the truth: There are reputable media outlets that engage in the old-school journalistic method of talking to sources and reporting what they know. Even these media outlets can be led astray when it comes to facts, but at least their reports are based off gathered information as opposed to - well, adding 2 and 2 together to somehow get 7, if you catch my drift.

A personal note: During my time covering the Penguins' arena saga, I was burned twice by so-called sources. I am still reminded and often haunted by it. That experience has changed the way I do business. I now print what I know from conversations with players, team officials and league personnel, and I attribute that information as often as possible. Even then I get bad information, but at least I can sleep at night.

If rumor and speculation is what a dear reader is after, I suggest finding another forum. (By the way, I'm not knocking rumor and speculation, because rumor and speculation are fun for fans.) But most dear readers know the difference between the reputable hockey Web sites, bloggers and media personalities and the "others." I would suggest keeping that difference in mind before losing sleep over rumor and speculation.

Check the Chipped Ice blog for a rundown of my off-season reporting. There I will address issues concerning Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal and Marian Hossa.

As for various reports that the Penguins might trade the rights to Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik to Columbus for the Blue Jacket's late first-round pick. I've heard rumblings, but I need to do more digging before I can report anything with certainty. The possibility is intriguing for many reasons, but I'll address those reasons only when I've learned more information.

Keep the questions coming, dear readers.

Q: Was that a fun ride or what?

-- Bennett Daykon of Jeanette

A: I get that question a lot -- at least, the "or what?" part -- and I'm never sure how to answer. What is the "or what"?

Poorly conceived jokes aside -- yeah, the Penguins run to get within two wins of the Stanley Cup was fun for me to cover, and I'm sure fans had fun watching over the past two months and I believe that the players will eventually look back fondly upon everything. But they are hurting right now, and they should be. Detroit was the better team, and that was evident throughout the series. However, the Penguins really gave them a series after the first two games at Joe Louis Arena, and had they scored on two 5-on-3 chances -- one in Game 4, the other in Game 6 -- I honestly believe they would have hoisting the Stanley Cup late Wednesday night.

I honestly believe they will hoist that Cup sooner rather than later.

But we have all summer to discuss that and other Penguins- and NHL-related topics.

I thank all the dear readers for their questions since September. Please keep them coming over the new few months. There is never a so-called off-season in the NHL, and the Penguins figure to have a busy summer. I am erasing the Q&A in-box today and starting anew tomorrow with questions moving forward. As always, the best of the bunch will be addressed in the still-unnamed (somebody gets this forum a sponsor!) but wildly popular Pens Q&A.

To borrow from the Rolling Stones: 'Till the next time that we say goodbye, I'll be thinking of you...

Q: Why is Jordan Stall receiving the lion's share of ice time that players such as Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa should be getting• Staal is a darn good player for his age, but he's dead wood in terms of making things happen in the playoffs. Hockey sense is something you can't buy. You either have it or you don't, and he's too inexperienced to have it.

-- Sean Germanowski of "Parts Unknown," Ohio

A: So, a guy at my favorite South Side tavern -- Smokin' Joe's Saloon -- asked me once, "Rob, do you like it when readers email you?" I said, "Actually, it's my favorite part of the job." He responded, "Really, because I would imagine you get a lot of ridiculous emails from fans." I said, "Not really, only a few have ever made me just shake my head in disbelief."

This rates among the few -- figures it originated from Ohio.

Allow me to recap a recent conversation with an NHL executive, who shall remain nameless at his request:

RR: Forget Sidney Crosby. He stays. If you could pick one player off the Penguins to add to your team, who would you pick?

NHL guy: Jordan Staal.

RR: That was quick.

NHL guy: What have other guys said?

RR: You're the first one I've asked.

NHL guy: I bet a lot of them say Staal.

RR: Not Evgeni Malkin or Marc-Andre Fleury?

NHL guy: The Penguins have a few kids anybody would take. I'd want Staal. Have you seen him during the playoffs• His game translates to winning playoff games. He's a winner. You win with Jordan Staal. And he's only 19. He has -- what• -- (nine) playoff goals before his 20th birthday• He's a big, strong center that will grow into 30-goal scorer, and he'll be a plus-20 player for about 12 years. His performance against the Flyers, after his grandfather died, was as good as it gets. And he's been really good against Detroit, too. Numbers don't tell you how good Jordan Staal has been.

RR: I'm not sure a lot of people in Pittsburgh even appreciate him.

NHL guy: He's not flashy. He doesn't stick out unless you watch with an eye toward what wins. He makes the smart play every time. He has great instincts, and he might be the best young defensive forward in a decade. His stick is long and quick, he can win physical battles and he can skate. How many times have you seen his line cycle low and keep the puck• It happens all the time.

RR: Some people think he took a step back this year.

NHL guy: He's 19! He'll be one of the most coveted players in the NHL if he hits restricted free agency on July 1 (2009). I know a lot of GMs that would make him their No. 1 center for the next 10 years. He's not Crosby. He's not Malkin. But he's damn good, and he's going to be a big reason his team wins a lot of Cups.

Translation: Sorry, Mr. Germanowski, but you are way off-base on this one.

Q: Where is the love for Brooks Orpik?

-- Dan Cordle of Pittsburgh

A: Right here, man.

Dear readers will find no greater supporter of defenseman Brooks Orpik in the Pittsburgh media than yours truly. If Sidney Crosby is the heart of the Penguins, Orpik is the soul. He has developed into not only a very good defenseman that provides a physical presence without sacrificing positioning, but he is a valued component in the dressing room. More than any player on this team, Orpik appreciates this Stanley Cup run. Remember, his first full season with the Penguins was 2003-04 -- arguably the worst in franchise history since Mario Lemieux was drafted in 1984.

As one Detroit writer told me Saturday. "I thought coming into the series, 'The Penguins' defensemen... no way.' But the defense is a lot better than I thought, and Orpik has been great."


In a perfect world, the Penguins would lock-up Orpik -- an unrestricted free agent on July 1 -- to a long-term deal and pair him with Sergei Gonchar for two years, then pair him with Ryan Whitney for the foreseeable future. Of course, the hockey world is not perfect -- otherwise, this Stanley Cup final would have been played in early-May, not into June -- and Orpik is not likely to be a Penguin next season. There are many reasons for that likelihood, including Orpik's oft-frosty relationship with coach Michel Therrien and the probability that he will command a price on the market the Penguins, for long-term salary cap reasons, cannot afford.

That is the way of the new NHL. A salary cap allows small-market clubs such as the Penguins to remain competitive, but it also costs all successful clubs valued players such as Orpik.

Still, now is a perfect time to appreciate just what he has become -- one of the Penguins' best players. The Penguins would be wise to win the Cup with Orpik, because it will be a lot harder to do it without him.

Q: How can the Penguins put Evgeni Malkin totally out of position on the power play• This guy kills the puck from the top of the circle. He makes thing happen beneath the circle. I thought when the original power-play adjustment was made -- Malkin on the left point -- that it would eventually cost the Penguins a playoff series. Malkin was an MVP candidate playing near the circle. Now, he has been taken out of his comfort zone. I don't get it. Put him on the second power-play unit and let him rip at the next from where he feels comfortable. Let a defenseman play the left point so Malkin can do what he does best -- score goals!

-- Barry Guy of Latrobe

A: I am fairly sure is not possible for me to agree more with this dear reader. Evgeni Malkin does not belong at the left point on the Penguins' first power-play unit.

The decision to keep him there after he admitted he was not comfortable with that responsibility is puzzling. But it does not surprise me. All season, the answers from coach Michel Therrien regarding any problem facing the Penguins involved phrases such as "work ethic" and "effort." He says those words enough to make me wonder if strategic adjustments are ever an option. I am not the only person in the Penguins dressing room on a daily basis that wonders as much. Those people, Penguins fans and I will apparently find out in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final if Therrien is willing to alter his strategy, because the system -- so successful through three playoff rounds - has failed against the Red Wings in this Cup final, and both the power play and Malkin are way off.

The Penguins cannot win this series without Malkin playing like the Malkin that roared through the opening two rounds of these playoffs. They cannot win if the power play does not kick it up a notch. Yeah, 22 percent -- their advantage rate entering the Cup final -- is good, but the power play needs to be great against Detroit. It is 0-for-9 entering Game 3 -- a far cry from great, to be sure.

Malkin clearly is not on the same page as he was through the opening rounds, when he recorded 17 points in 10 games. He has two points over his past six contests, and frankly he looks lost.

Therrien needs to figure out how the old Malkin can be found.

The issue of Malkin on the left point is puzzling, too, because there is a presumption among many media types that captain Sidney Crosby demanded a "stacked" power play upon his return from a right high ankle sprain late in the season. That is not the case. From what I have been told recently, Crosby never asked Therrien or assistant coach Mike Yeo, who runs the power play, to load up the first unit to include he, Malkin, right wing Marian Hossa, left wing Ryan Malone and defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Had the coaches approached him with a power play design that would have split him and Malkin, essentially providing each superstar center his own power play unit, Crosby would not have objected.

I have been told I "don't get it" when it comes to Therrien's view of what makes the Penguins work. Maybe that is true. But maybe what ailed this team in the past was never its "work ethic" or "effort." And maybe the easiest way to break out of an offensive slump in this Stanley Cup final is to fix a power-play problem that is a self-creation.

The Penguins have two superstars -- Crosby and Malkin. They need both of them to produce as only they can. That hasn't happened in the Cup final, and it's not because those players aren't trying. Whatever worked before isn't working, and it's time for the Penguins to adjust.

That much everybody gets.

Q: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury let in seven rather embarrassing goals in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final. Would coach Michel Therrien consider replacing him with Ty Conklin• The defense has been sloppy. Would Therrien switch defensive pairings or perhaps play veteran Darryl Sydor• What can he do to change momentum in Game 3?

-- Danielle Cagliuso of Sewickley

A: Dare I even suggest that the Penguins are not finished yet?

Yes, I dare. But the likelihood of them winning four of five against Detroit to claim the Stanley Cup is, well, not very good.

But, hey, if Hillary Clinton is sticking in the Democratic presidential race, why shouldn't the Penguins play out the Stanley Cup final despite being down, 0-2?

I don't think this dear reader is actually suggesting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury be yanked. I also don't think coach Michel Therrien would consider that move. Has Fleury been great in the Cup final• Not even close. But his defense has been suspect -- at best -- and there are far too many Red Wings skating in front of him while their teammates are shooting at will from any spot on the ice.

Detroit is intentionally taking poor shoots to create rebounds, which has Fleury thinking too much. He has been so strong since returning from a right high ankle sprain in late-February because he wasn't thinking, just playing. Now the Red Wings are in his head, and his crease, and that's a problem.

If I were Therrien, I would be really tempted to call upon defenseman Darryl Sydor, a four-time Cup finalist and two-time Cup winner. Hal Gill has been great since his arrival at the NHL trade deadline and Rob Scuderi has been splendid all season, but one of those defenseman has been on the ice for four of Detroit's seven goals.

I'm not sure if Sydor would prove an upgrade -- especially considering he has not dressed since March 31 -- but if the Penguins don't find that out now, then when?

Leaving any stone unturned is not wise at this point in the season, with the Stanley Cup on the line.

As for Ty Conklin, who was remarkable for the Penguins in Fleury's three-month injury absence - but hey, I'm not sure he or the second-coming of Patrick Roy could stop the Red Wings' offense right now. Fleury has been far from brilliant in the Cup final; he will need to be just that to steal Game 3 at Mellon Arena on Wednesday and get the Penguins into this series.

A move I would make immediately -- again, were I Therrien -- would be to split the pairing of Ryan Whitney and Kris Letang, and move Whitney to play with Scuderi and Letang with Gill. The Penguins' need to generate some offense from the blue line, and their best chance to do that is to have one offensive-minded defenseman on the ice at all times. That is not the case now with the Gill and Scuderi pairing, so that pairing has to go.




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