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Analysis: A new Cup formula brewing for Penguins

Sunday, June 27, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Don't give up on the Penguins finding a winger to play with center Sidney Crosby.

Don't fall in love with the idea, though.

Events that transpired the past two days at the NHL Entry Draft confirmed a couple of points about general manager Ray Shero's plan to keep the Penguins in Stanley Cup contention for the next several seasons:

No. 1: The wingers potentially available via a trade or when the free-agent market opens Thursday at noon haven't left him weak at the knees.

No. 2: Ideally, Pittsburgh will become known as "Big D" in NHL circles.

The Penguins have several plans to attack this offseason, but the one they prefer is loading up on the blue line.

They want to keep defenseman Sergei Gonchar and new acquisition Dan Hamhuis, whose rights were acquired Friday night from Philadelphia for a 2011 third-round pick.

If neither player returns, the Penguins will look to add a couple of top-end defensemen in a free-agent class deep at the position. If only one player returns, they will seek a high-quality defenseman on the open market.

Make no mistake, though; the Penguins have assessed what prevented them from advancing past the second round last season, and they've resolved to be better on the blue line next season and beyond.

This is why Shero spoke personally with Gonchar on Saturday, to let him know that perception isn't reality. Landing Hamhuis, 27, and a potential long-term fit on defense, doesn't mean the Penguins don't want their "Sarge" to keep running the power play.

They would prefer he do it for two years at around $5 million annually, but they do prefer he still do it.

With about $10 million in available salary-cap space, the Penguins are going for another gear on defense and banking on their ballyhooed three centers to carry a bulk of the offensive load.

Crosby can't do better than 51 goals and 109 points, especially without a sharp-shooting wing on his line. He can do that again, though; and with a return to health and form by center Evgeni Malkin and a big-step offensive season by pivot Jordan Staal, the Penguins could anticipate 25 more goals and 40 more points than Malkin and Staal's combined 49 and 126 from last season.

A popular criticism of Shero is that there is no defense for his failure to surround his centers, especially Crosby, with upper echelon wingers.

The reality is that centers such as the Penguins' collection are superior to any in the NHL, and Final appearances in 2008 and 2009 proved that point.

Scoring isn't a problem. Malkin missed 15 games last season and the Penguins still scored the fifth-most goals.

They rated 20th in goals allowed, and there would be no defending Shero's attempts to mask that defensive deficiency with the addition of a flashy forward this offseason.

Shero is prepping for an A-plus offseason by shooting for Ds.




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