QUESTION: With the trade deadline coming up right after the olympic break, do you see the Pens being part of any blockbuster trades?
Michael Biron of Montreal, PQ
BOB GROVE: Yours was just one of many e-mails over the past week or so asking questions about the trading deadline and how active the Penguins might be.
The deadline is 3 p.m. March 9, and while I do expect the Penguins to be involved, I'm not expecting any blockbusters. The most obvious trade candidates are veterans Mark Recchi and John LeClair, both of whom were productive offensively in the games leading up to the Olympic break, which will help their marketability. Recchi was 8-9-17 in his last 11 games, in large part because of his ice time on the point of the power play; LeClair was 5-5-10 in his last 10 games. Both players have one year remaining on their Pittsburgh contracts, but they could be of interest to playoff-bound teams that need some veteran help.
Defenseman Ric Jackman, who requested a trade recently, could help a team if put in the right situations. I can't see Sergei Gonchar being traded, given his struggles here and in Italy (he had the worst plus-minus mark at -2 on the Russian Olympic team heading into the quarterfinals) and given his salary.
In the end, however, I don't see the Penguins being among the most active teams. This is still the best time to make trades, but the Penguins don't have a lot of guys who are hot commodities right now -- unless you count their young players, who should be off-limits.
But, let's face it, the trading deadline can bring some unexpected things. So stay tuned. . .
QUESTION: If Pittsburgh does get a new rink will it be able to change size from standerd NHL to Olympic size? Anyone I have ever talked to about rink size always says the main thing that makes Olympic hockey so good is the larger rink.
Jason Burgess of Philadelphia, PA
BOB GROVE: Always good to hear from a Penguins fan in Philadelphia.
I don't expect any new rink in Pittsburgh to be designed to accommodate the larger international ice surface of 200 feet by 100 feet (standard NHL rinks are 200 X 85). There's just no call for it. I'm not aware that any current NHL rink can quickly be adapted to the larger surface, although GM Place in Vancouver will be modified for the 2010 Games and Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome was fitted with an international surface for the 1988 Games. It can be done, but not without a major capital expenditure, and an event like the Olympics is the only reason one could justify such spending.
I'm not sure why rinks in Europe evolved to the bigger size, but certainly one could argue that the differences in rink size correspond to the differences in philosophies: the Europeans play a game with more flow, more skating and more emphasis on puck possession at all costs, while the North Americans play a more physical game where a player's size and grit along the boards is much more important. The Europeans hang onto the puck, look for open ice and make pass after pass seeking the pretty scoring chance close to the goal; North Americans are taught to get open, get the puck to the net and crash the net for rebounds.
I don't think it's the larger ice surface that makes Olympic hockey so good. I think it's the pride the players take in representing their countries that fuels the emotion that fuels the play. No other major sports league in North America (and I'm leaving out soccer) has the international flavor of the NHL, and the Olympics are the perfect showcase for that.
By the way, when Duquesne Gardens opened here in 1899, its ice surface was 249 feet long.
QUESTION: Although it has never happend before, is it possible to have a dual rookie of the year presentation?
Alex Cross of New Cumberland, PA
BOB GROVE: The Calder Trophy winners are selected in balloting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which designates members in each NHL city as voters. Each voter will select his top three choices, and voting is tabulated on a points system based on how many first-, second- and third-place votes a player receives. It is highly unlikely that this process would result in a tie, especially in a year when so many candidates will be receiving votes. Consider that, in addition to Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, voters will also be considering Marek Svatos, Dion Phaneuf, Petr Prucha and Henrik Lundqvist, among others. The more crowded the field, the more likely it is that either Ovechkin or Crosby could be pushed to third on some ballots, and that could be a factor in the final count.
Just in case, however, there is a tie-breaking criteria -- most first-place votes. Consider this: when Jose Theodore won the Vezina and Hart Trophies in 2002, it marked the first time in league history that the tie-breaker was needed. Theodore finished in a tie with Patrick Roy in the Vezina balloting and with Jarome Iginla in the Hart balloting but walked away with both trophies because he had more first-place votes in both cases.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea why the slots license decision process is expected to take 10 more months? Since the public opinion process is going to take a full two days in April, what else could possibly take that long?
Will B.Butler of Charlotte, NC
BOB GROVE: The Gaming Control Board has a lot on its plate. It is responsible for overseeing the implementation of 14 slots casinos throughout the state: seven at racetracks, five at stand-alone locations (like the one in Pittsburgh) and two others at resorts. In addition to the hearings here in Pittsbugh April 18-19, hearings are also scheduled in Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Erie, the Poconos, Lehigh Valley, Uniontown and Somerset.
The board has more to do than just conduct hearings and award licenses, and that isn't supposed to begin until late summer for the racetracks and late this year or early 2007 for the other sites. It is also charged with regulating the purchase and distribution of the slots machines themselves, has just finished working on an ethics policy for members of the board and has to do its due diligence with the boxes and boxes of documents submitted by each applicant, among other things.
So there's a huge workload, and the process is sure to drag on given the amount of scrutiny it is coming under. That said, let's also remember this simple fact: it's a political process, and it benefits a great many elected officials to have the stand-alone and resort decisions made after the November elections. You and I both know the Penguins' proposal is the best for Pittsburgh and the region, but don't expect a decision for another 10-11 months.