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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Crash the Net is a new weekly web feature appearing Wednesdays on Click here to submit a question.

QUESTION: I was reading on one of the hockey blogs that Ziggy Palffy may play for the L.A. Kings next year. Being that he signed a three year contract with the Pens, is this possible?

Bev Ottaviani of Beaver Falls, PA

BOB GROVE: I knew this question would come up sooner or later, and I'll be glad to clarify the situation.                                                                                                                                                     

As you mention, Palffy signed a three-year contract with the Penguins last summer. If he wants to resume his NHL career sometime in that time span, he must do so with the Penguins. The only way he can avoid that is by having the Penguins trade his rights. In a hypothetical situation where Palffy would want to play again but do so elsewhere, you can bet the Penguins would be able to dictate a nice return in any such trade. They would be holding all the cards, able to keep him out of the league unless they like the terms of the deal.

Palffy turns 34 this May, and he would be 36 if he had to put off his NHL return until after his current contract with the Penguins expired. It's hard to believe a guy his age would sacrifice the kind of money he's throwing away just to change teams in such a convoluted and unusual way.

QUESTION: What are the chances of the Pen's getting the #1 pick in the draft this year.  Even a better question what are the chances of the Pen's being able to afford to keep another top draft pick?

Laura Singo of Connellsville, PA

BOB GROVE: Heading into Wednesday's home game against Boston, the Penguins were last in the NHL standings. Should they stay there until season's end -- and that is hardly inconceivable -- they will have a 48.2 percent chance of landing the first overall pick when the NHL Draft Lottery is held.

Here's how it works:

All 14 non-playoff teams enter the NHL Draft Lottery, which is weighted in favor of the worst teams. No team can move up more than four spots, and no team can be bumped down more than one spot. Only the teams with the five worst records, then, are eligible to get the first pick.

The league puts 14 balls, numbered 1 through 14, into a lottery machine, which then expels four balls. There are 1,001 possible combinations of those four balls, and all 14 non-playoff teams have been assigned a percentage of those combinations, with the highest percentage (25) given to the last-place team and the lowest percentage (.5) given to the team with the 14th-worst record. The team which matches the picked sequence wins the lottery.                  

While the last-place team has only a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, it has a 48.2 percent chance of landing the first pick. That's because any team from sixth to 14th that wins the lottery cannot move up more than four spots and therefore cannot bump the team with the worst record from the first pick.

As far as being able to afford another No. 1 choice, remember that first-year NHL salaries are capped much more aggressively under the new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association. Excluding bonuses, Sidney Crosby is earning the maximum of just $850,000 this season.

The two top-rated prospects for the 2006 draft to be held this June in Vancouver are defenseman Erik Johnson, currently playing in the U.S. National Under-18 developmental program, and University of Minnesota freshman center Phil Kessel. It is unlikely either one will turn pro next season, so affording them does not promise to be a pressing issue this summer.

QUESTION: Why in the world does a good hearted, grinder hustler like Maxime Talbot get send down once again? Talbot gives the team  all that he has-  and thats speed and hustle.

DJ Tindall of New Castle, PA

BOB GROVE: Coach Michel Therrien told reporters at the time of Talbot's latest reassignment that it was being done so that he can continue to play during the NHL Olympic break. Thus the Penguins really have Talbot's long-term development in mind in making this move.

NHL rules prohibit certain waiver-exempt players (those under their first NHL contracts) from being assigned to the AHL or ECHL during the break. Specifically, any such player who has been on an NHL roster for at least 75 percent of the season (based on days, not games) through Jan. 31 is not eligible to be reassigned during the break. When he was reassigned Jan. 29, Talbot had been on the Penguins' roster for all but two weeks; thus he would not have been eligible for reassignment had the Penguins waited.                                                                

Now Talbot can play for the Baby Pens instead of getting 17 days off from competitive hockey -- not the best schedule for a young, healthy player at his developmental stage.

There's little question that Talbot's efforts this season make him one of the few overachievers on this 2005-06 team, and I fully expect him to be recalled before the Penguins begin their post-Olympic schedule with a home game against Ottawa March 1.

QUESTION: Why has Ric Jackman all of a sudden been put back in the lineup? Could the Pens be trying to showcase his talents a little to increase his trade value?

Casey Shea of Dayton, ME

BOB GROVE: While it's true that Jackman's trade value will go up if he plays well, by extension it's also true that his value will dip if he plays poorly once inserted back into the lineup. Jackman should be a known quantity among NHL GMs. His play without the puck has not been as consistent this season as it was two seasons ago, but he can help a team that needs an offensive defenseman.

My thoughts are that Michel Therrien just believed it was time to give Jackman another chance to help the team, and why not use him against an Islanders team that was ranked 29th in the league in penalty killing at the time? Jackman responded with a power-play assist and the power-play goal that forced overtime in a 5-4 shootout loss.

Given the fact the Pittsburgh defensive corps has been the subject of some intense criticism from Therrien, it's unrealistic to believe any defenseman being scratched won't be given another chance. Now we'll have to see how Jackman does with this one; he was on the ice for both of Ottawa's first two goals Monday.

Crash the Net is a new weekly web feature appearing Wednesdays on Click here to submit a question.

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