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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  Click here to submit a question.


QUESTION: Why haven't the Penguins made a move on a big name free agent? It seems like they always take a back seat while other teams sign big names first.

-Walt in Scottdale, PA

BOB GROVE: One year ago, the Penguins were right in the middle of the free agent sweepstakes, signing Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy and John LeClair, among others. You see where that got them. So there's a lesson to be learned from last summer, and that is that simply throwing money around isn't necessarily going to fix your problems. Of course, the New York Rangers proved that for years until last season, too.

The reason the Penguins weren't out there signing players on the first two days of free agency is mostly because those days belong to the high-demand players, players who didn't fit in with the Penguins' budget. I don't believe Kim Johnsson is worth $19.4 million over four years or Martin Straka (and I like Marty) is worth $3.1 million a season, but those two signings were indicative of a little craziness in the first couple of days.

For GM Ray Shero, it's about getting the right players at a price ownership can live with. Remember that Shero said upon being hired that he's going to build this team so that it can stay a playoff team once it becomes a playoff team. That's almost exactly the opposite of the approach Craig Patrick took last summer, when he was looking for a dramatic turnaround. You can't judge Shero on his inability to sign "big name" players over the first two days. You judge him by a) what he's done at the end of the summer and b) what the team's done at the end of the season.

QUESTION: What do you think of Sergei Samsonov in a Pens uniform?  He didn't impress much in the playoffs and should be relatively cheaper than other high profile free agents.  Plus I can't help thinking he and Malkin would make a great line.

-Dave in Pittsburgh, PA

BOB GROVE: I think Samsonov, who turns 28 in October, would be a nice fit for the Penguins, a fairly consistent left winger in the 20-30 goal range who is quick and shifty. He had some injury woes in the early part of this decade but played 74 games with the Bruins and Oilers last season. He had 15 points in 24 playoff games with Edmonton, but was only eighth among Oilers forwards in playoff ice time.

It's unlikely he's going to come at an affordable rate for the Penguins, however. Samsonov made $2.7 million last season, and given the money that's already been thrown around since July 1, he seems likely to attract enough interest to stay out of the Penguins' range. Too bad, because like you I'd like to see Samsonov and Malkin on the same line.

QUESTION: Could you please explain why Jocelyn Thibault did not have his contract bought out while Sebastien Caron did?

-Jeff of Simcoe, Ontario

BOB GROVE: With Sebastien Caron and Jocelyn Thibault under contract, and Marc-Andre Fleury set to sign a new one this summer, the Penguins were looking at having three goaltenders on one-way contracts. They are not going to carry three goaltenders next season, but the Penguins would have had to pay Caron ($722,000) or Thibault ($1.5 million) at the NHL rate if either one cleared waivers on assignment to the AHL. Neither one has much trade value; Caron has been plagued by inconsistency, and Thibault hasn't played much hockey over the last three years.

So the Penguins were left to consider a buyout. Because of their age difference, Caron (26) and Thibault (31) were subject to different buyout rules; Caron could be bought out for one-third his contract value ($240,000) while Thibault could be bought out for two-thirds ($1 million). So GM Ray Shero got down to two goaltenders for $760,000 less by buying out Caron. As long as the Penguins believe Thibault can rebound from recent injuries, which they obviously do, they are simply managing their finances. In the end, the Penguins just didn't perceive a big enough difference in their abilities at this point to justify spending the extra money.

The Penguins have Dany Sabourin next on the depth chart, as Andy Chiodo was not offered a new contract. If Thibault doesn't stay healthy and improve his play -- barring another trade or free-agent signing -- Sabourin would get the chance to serve as Fleury's backup.

QUESTION: In the second round of the NHL draft, 19 year-old Mike Weber was selected 57th overall by the Buffalo Sabres. He was born in Pittsburgh and played in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires last year. Did he play High School or Amateur Hockey in Pittsburgh?

-Tom Hannon of Pittsburgh, PA

BOB GROVE: Mike Weber, a 6-2, 199-pound defensemen from Windsor, played for the Penguins' Jr. B team as a 15-year-old before leaving for the OHL. He grew up in the Seneca Valley School District.

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  Click here to submit a question.

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