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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

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


QUESTION: Do you agree that it is a mistake to not name a captain this season? I think this is something that was really missing last season after Mario announced he was through. A team needs a solid leader for the rest of the team to look up to, and I think the club is doing a disservice to the rest of the team by not giving someone the "C".

-Tom Sullivan of Allison Park, PA

BOB GROVE: I, too, would have named a captain, but it is far too early to say Michel Therrien's decision to go with alternate captains is a mistake. Let's also remember that Therrien did not rule out naming a captain at some point later in the season.

To me, this is Sidney Crosby's team. At 19 he is already demonstrating leadership not only on the ice but by working hard in the off-season to improve his speed and strength. This kid takes nothing for granted, gives everything to win hockey games and approaches the game with model intensity. Given that he would have been the youngest captain in NHL history, however, I can certainly understand there are reservations about putting that burden on him now -- despite his maturity.

While having the "C" on your sweater is a huge honor for hockey players, those with leadership abilities aren't likely to ignore them if they aren't named captain. Crosby is still going to be a leader in his way, just as Mark Recchi will and Sergei Gonchar will. I don't think anyone can make a case that the team will be without leadership because no one has been named captain. I would have been in favor of formalizing Crosby's status, but since Therrien is closer to this team and knows more about coaching in the NHL than any of us, I think we have to give his approach time.

QUESTION: Whatever happened to Lyle Odelein? He just seemed to disappear. He did sustain some injury last year, i believe, but other than that, I have heard nothing else about him.

-Phil in Templeton, PA

BOB GROVE: The 38-year-old Odelein, who missed most of the second half of last season with a knee injury, remains an unsigned free agent.

QUESTION: How do you feel about the Penguins' playoff chances if Evgeni Malkin's injury is too serious to play for several months?

-Jimmy in Tarentum, PA

BOB GROVE: Certainly the Penguins' playoff chances will be damaged should Evgeni Malkin be forced to miss a major portion of the season. Conceivably, that could be the difference between making or missing the post-season. Malkin's presence will help the power play, which was one of the league's best last season without him, and will give Pittsburgh balance across its top two lines, forcing opponents to formulate game plans around defending both he and Sidney Crosby.

That said, let's remember a few other things. The biggest factor in the Penguins' push to make the playoffs will be their defensive play and ability to reduce the number of goals they allow. Their penalty killing and goaltending will be major factors in that effort. And Jordan Staal, whose immediate future in the NHL could be determined by Malkin's health, has been impressive thus far in camp and could step in and help reduce the impact of any long-term Malkin absence.

QUESTION: Have the Penguins spent enough in payroll to meet the salary cap requirements? I remember reading that the cap minimum is $28 million, and according to the website, they have only spent a little over $27 million. Was this done in order to leave room for performance bonuses for Crosby and Malkin?

-Matthew Green in St. Clairsville, OH

BOB GROVE: The Penguins will be above the NHL minimum. TSN's salary info, culled from the NHL Players Association, comes with this disclaimer:

"It does not include players signed to 2-way deals (contracts with AHL implications) who are unlikely to make the big club. The salary listed in the chart is the actual amount the player will be paid this season (source: Salary cap figures are usually slightly different depending on the length and structure of the contract, details which are usually not disclosed, and cannot therefore not be reported accurately. Though exact salary cap figures are not available on a player-by-player basis, this chart should give you a good idea of the team's cap situation."

For instance, TSN's Penguins chart does not include Noah Welch or the unsigned Jordan Staal, who could make the team. And it does not include players who will spend the season in the AHL but whose salaries count against Pittsburgh's cap. Remember, too, that while Gonchar is slated to make $4.5 million this season, he counts $5 million against the Penguins' cap -- his average salary over the course of his five-year deal.

As far as bonuses are concerned, the CBA permits teams a cap "cushion" of 7.5 percent times the league maximum team salary limit to account for performance bonuses earned in any one season. But if a team goes, say, 3 percent over the cap limit because of bonuses, its salary cap for the following season will be reduced by the same amount.

QUESTION: What happened to Andy Chiodo?

-Jake in Greensurg, PA

BOB GROVE: Chiodo is playing for Karpat in the Finnish Elite League this season.

QUESTION: What is known about some of the Pens players that seemed ready to be in the NHL that weren't signed and are now in Europe, Koltsov, Kraft, etc.? Also, are the Pens going to roll 3 or 4 lines this year?

-Vince in Youngstown, OH

BOB GROVE: The Penguins retain the rights to Milan Kraft, whose skills are not really suited to the new NHL. Koltsov was an unrestricted free agent when he signed recently with Salavat Yulaev of the Russian Super League.

The Penguins are well stocked at center with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Maxime Talbot, Dominic Moore, Erik Christensen, Ryan Stone and Stephen Dixon. Do not expect the Penguins to roll their lines this season. It works well for some teams, but I would not want the five-on-five ice time of Crosby or Malkin to equal that of Jarkku Ruutu.

QUESTION: Last year, teams like Buffalo and Edmonton were just like the Penguins are now. Not alot of big names and alot of young players. Seeing what success young talent can bring in this new league, do you think the Pens can match the success of Edmonton and Buffalo during the 05-06 season this year?

-Zach Hanzar in Oakdale, PA

BOB GROVE: I think the Penguins have more big names than Buffalo did last season, but the Sabres and Oilers had more defensive depth than Pittsburgh does. As it turned out, many of us set the bar too high for the Penguins last season. Staying in the playoff hunt all season, and perhaps reaching the post-season, is probably more realistic right now. But you're right about the youth of the team and how quickly things can turn around. In fact, here's what Sidney Crosby told me last week:

"The refreshing thing for us is to see a team like Edmonton, who just gets in the playoffs and gets to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. With each year, it’s a breath of fresh air and you have to erase the year before. Because every team is changing. If you look around the league, there’s a lot of trades, a lot of signings. There’s a lot of new looks to teams, and there’s definitely space for other teams to jump in and fill that void and make the playoffs."

QUESTION: Last year Andy Hilbert performed well and looked like a solid winger, having good offensive and defensive skills. Krys Kolanos hit the ice skating and scoring for the Baby Penguins, often being one of the three stars for the games he played there. Matt Murley, before he got injured, looked to have tremendous skating and defensive skills and had demonstrated a scoring touch in the AHL. In contrast, Jani Rita and Niklas Nordgren looked completely overmatched on nearly every shift. So why did Ray Shero not re-sign Hilbert, Kolanos, and Murley, and instead sign Rita and Nordgren?

-David Palmer in Pittsburgh, PA

BOB GROVE: Let's start with Niklas Nordgren and Jani Rita. The Penguins did not re-sign those players; Shero made offers to them, thus maintaining their NHL rights, and they chose to sign with European teams. It cost the Penguins nothing, and should those players attract the interest of other NHL teams, Pittsburgh would be in a position to get something for their rights -- even if it's a late draft pick. At this point it's probably a long shot, but again, it doesn't cost a dime.

As for the others, only Hilbert was a major surprise to me. I really liked his play with the Penguins last season, and he signed with the New York Islanders for just $450,000, so money couldn't have been too big a concern. But GM Ray Shero's off-season plan involved reducing the number of players with arbitration rights and one-way contracts, and Hilbert has the former and wanted the latter. The acquisition of Nils Ekman, however, means losing Hilbert won't hurt in the short term.

Kolanos played very well offensively in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after being acquired but was not effective in the playoffs, where he had two points in 11 games. Murley never really translated his skills to production in the NHL. Also at work here is the fact Shero wanted to give himself some room to maneuver as far as his 50-man roster. If you've got 49 players under contract in October, it limits your trading options later in the season.

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

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