QUESTION: Do the Penguins still have ties with Aleksey Morozov, or is there no possibility of him playing for the Pens again?
Phil Sarachine of Templeton, PA
BOB GROVE: Technically, the Penguins still own Aleksey Morozov's rights, although he is ineligible to play here in 2005-06 because he has played in Russia after the start of the NHL season. Morozov will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, eligible to sign with any NHL team. So while it's possible he could re-sign with the Penguins, that is unlikely given the fact he could not come to contract terms with Pittsburgh in either of the previous two summers.
He probably didn't endear himself to management in the summer of 2004 by signing a contract to play in his homeland that precluded him from coming back to the Penguins if the lockout ended -- one of the few NHL players to sign a contract without such an escape clause.
Morozov was inconsistent at best during his years in Pittsburgh, and there was no better example than the 2003-04 season, his last here. He went 33 games without a goal between Nov. 15 and Jan. 31, then scored 10 goals and 25 points in his final 24 games.
QUESTION: Could you explain the details of the waiver wire? I can't understand why the Pens can't send Shane Endicott to WBS without going through waivers. I thought rookies were exempt--did his preseason injury change that? Also, can a team withdraw a player from waivers if a claim is submitted for that player--similiar to baseball's waiver rule.
Mike from Beaver, PA
BOB GROVE: Good question. Under terms of both the old and the new collective bargaining agreements between the NHL and the NHL Players Association, players signing their first NHL contracts have been required to sign three-year deals. During that time, they can be assigned to minor-league affiliates without clearing waivers. Once they sign their second contract, regardless of length, they are required to clear waivers before being assigned to minor-league affiliates. Endicott is now on his second contract.
The NHL's waiver rules do not permit teams to pull players off waivers once a claim has been submitted.
It should be noted that the new CBA includes a requirement for players beyond their first NHL contract to clear re-entry waivers when they are recalled to the NHL from a minor-league affiliate. This is how the Penguins lost Rico Fata this week, and it's also a tool with salary implications: when players are claimed on re-entry waivers, the team that loses the player must pay half his remaining salary.
QUESTION: How long is Sidney Crosby going to for sure stay in Pittsburgh?
BOB GROVE: Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association, those players who stay on NHL rosters from the age of 18 (immediately after being drafted) can qualify for unrestricted free agency at the age of 25. So the Penguins will retain Crosby's rights until that time -- at a minimum.
It should be noted that the new CBA also limits the salary of any one player to 20 percent of the league's salary cap, which this season sits at $39 million per team. That upper limit to the cap will move up and down from year to year, based on league-wide revenues. In fact, it is already anticipated that the cap will increase for next season. It is safe to assume that Crosby will earn the maximum amount possible when he signs his next contract after the 2007-08 season and that he will remain at the maximum number when he turns 25.
I point this out only to underscore the fact that Crosby, while he'll be free to go elsewhere at 25, won't be able to earn a greater salary from any other team.
QUESTION: What is the origin of the expression "hat trick"?
BOB GROVE: Hockey's hat trick, the act of scoring three goals in one game, has its origins in England. The term was first used to describe the act of a bowler in cricket who takes three wickets with three consecutive balls. According to cricket historians, this feat earned the bowler a new hat.
By the way, it was highly unusual to witness two near-hat tricks in the Penguins' 8-1 win over Washington Jan. 25. The Mellon Arena crowd fired a large number of hats on the ice at 1:04 of the third period after Mark Recchi scored what appeared to many fans to be his third goal of the game. John LeClair, however, had tipped the shot past Olaf Kolzig and was credited with his second goal of the game. Then, at 12:36 of the third period, it appeared LeClair had recorded his first hat trick as a Penguin when he scored from a scramble in front of the net. But replays showed his shot glanced off the skate of Eric Boguniecki, who was credited with the goal.
QUESTION: What's the average per game ice time that Sidney Crosby is getting?
Sandy NacDonald from Calgary, Alberta
BOB GROVE: Heading into Wednesday night's game in New York, Crosby was averaging 19:36 per game, the fourth-highest mark on the team and second-highest among forwards. Only Mark Recchi (20:51) was higher.
Among NHL rookie forwards, Crosby's ice time was second only to Washington's Alexander Ovechkin (20:57), with Toronto's Alex Steen (18:21) third. They were the only three rookie forwards averaging more than 16:00 per game.
By the way, Crosby's ice time has increased under coach Michel Therrien. Crosby played 20+ minutes eight times in 31 games under Ed Olczyk and 13 times in his first 21 games under Therrien.
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