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Move to Pittsburgh paying off for Guerin, Pens

Thursday, 03.19.2009 / 10:23 AM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By Chuck Gormley - NHL.com Correspondent

"Without a doubt I feel young again. It's a great feeling to be here and I feel rejuvenated. To be in a playoff race like this is just what I needed."
-- Bill Guerin

In the hours leading up to the March 4 trade deadline, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero knew the hand he was holding, but could only guess at the other 29 hands being held around the rest of North America.

Overseeing a ship rapidly taking on water, Shero needed a leader who could point his team in a new direction. He spotted Bill Guerin stranded somewhere off the coast of Long Island.

Problem was, so did 29 other NHL general managers. That's when Shero got creative. The Penguins GM came up with a formula that would be mutually beneficial to the Penguins and Islanders. The Pens would send the Isles a conditional draft choice.

If the Penguins missed the playoffs with Guerin, the Islanders would get a fifth-round pick. If they made the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round, the Isles would get a fourth-round pick. And if they advanced beyond the conference quarterfinals the Isles would be rewarded with a third-rounder.

No matter how it was sliced, it was a low-risk, high-reward deal for the Penguins, who were not only getting the Islanders' leading goal scorer, but an emotional leader who has won a Stanley Cup, a World Cup and an Olympic silver medal.

Guerin and the new-look Penguins will be on display Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET) against the Philadelphia Flyers on the NHL Game of the Week.

"I think it's worth a chance with a Billy Guerin, that playing with good players he will be able to score goals," Shero said shortly after completing the deal. "I'm hoping he can re-energize his career here in Pittsburgh. I think it's a good move for both (teams)."

Prophetic words.

Upon Guerin's arrival, interim coach Dan Bylsma placed him on the right side of center Sidney Crosby and left wing Chris Kunitz and -- voila -- a dominant scoring line was created. In their first eight games, Crosby, Guerin and Kunitz combined for 8 goals and 17 assists and the Penguins went 6-0-2, catapulting from 10th in the Eastern Conference standings to fifth.

"It's a work in progress, as everything is," Bylsma recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said. "But I think I like what I see."

The chemistry Crosby was unable to find with summer acquisitions Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko has been almost instant with Guerin and Kunitz, who was acquired from the Ducks on Feb. 26 in the package that sent defenseman Ryan Whitney to Anaheim.

"We're two grinding wingers playing with a heads-up center who is also one of the premier players in the league," Guerin told NHL.com. "It's a great opportunity for me."

Guerin, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, is an immovable object in front of the net and is deadly from 15 feet.

"Billy is a big-time scorer, a big-time slot guy," Crosby said. "He finds those open areas. He knows where to go."

Kunitz, a sturdy 6-foot, 193-pounder, is a straight-line player who can win puck battles along the wall and crash the net.

And then there's Crosby.

"Before, I knew he was a good player and a competitor," Guerin said. "Now, I see how good he really is on a daily basis and what he puts into it. There's no doubt he's talented, but I'm seeing the work he puts into it."

Guerin said the beauty of the suddenly productive Crosby line is in its simplicity. He said it reminds him of the success he had in Edmonton when he played on a line with creative center Doug Weight and grinder/finisher Ryan Smyth.

Kunitz agrees, saying Crosby's unpredictability makes him almost as difficult to play with as he is to defend.

"Defensive people don't know where he's going, so it's tough to learn to read off him," Kunitz said.

At 38, Guerin says playing on a line with the 29-year-old Kunitz and the 21-year-old Crosby, a unit spanning 17 years, has rekindled his love for the game.

"Without a doubt I feel young again," said Guerin, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. "It's a great feeling to be here and I feel rejuvenated. To be in a playoff race like this is just what I needed.

"The people here are super nice. Pittsburgh has always been a great sports town with great fans and a great sports history."

Guerin said he enjoys playing for Bylsma, a former opponent who lined up against him as a left wing for the Kings and Ducks.

"I think he's excellent," Guerin said. "He's got a good grasp of the system he wants to play and he understands the personalities of his players and how to get his message across. He's very effective."

As for his time with the Islanders, Guerin said he will look back fondly on his stay on Long Island, even though the Isles took a step back this season after clinching a spot in the playoffs on the final day of last season.
"Billy is a big-time scorer, a big-time slot guy. He finds those open areas. He knows where to go." -- Sidney Crosby
"I enjoyed playing for the Islanders," he said. "I liked the organization and my family (a wife and four children) like living on Long Island. It's just the way things were going the past two years, we were going in different directions. The team was trying to get younger and I'm getting older and I want to win.

"I understand fully what they're trying to do (in Uniondale).  They have a good nucleus of young players and they're trying to build a foundation to be good for a long time."

Guerin, who waived his no-trade clause to accept the trade to the Penguins, says the idea that he chose Pittsburgh over another city is untrue.

"People always think you have a choice," he said. "The teams are the ones that have a choice and they make the decisions for you."
Guerin said his four children, ages 11, 9, 7 and 6, will remain on Long Island through the remainder of the school year and will schedule trips to see him over long weekends and spring breaks.

He said he is unsure where his career will take him next but he is certain he wants to play beyond this spring.

"Oh, yeah!" he said. "I love the game and as long as I'm playing at a competitive level I'll keep playing. When the game stops being fun and I can't contribute on a nightly basis I'll walk away. But I don't see that being anytime soon."
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