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Crash The Net - Penguins Q&A

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Crash the Net is a weekly web Q&A on Click here to submit a question.

QUESTION: How soon will the 2007-2008 season schedule be announced?  With all the great accomplishments that Sidney Crosby has had these past 2 seasons, we are looking forward to seeing him play.

-Gary in Elmira, NY

BOB GROVE: The NHL typically releases its schedule in mid-July. Last summer it was released on July 12, so your best bet is to check this website every day beginning next week. I hope you are able to see Crosby and the Penguins in person.

QUESTION: The Penguins continue to sign young goaltender after young goaltender. Is this
Marc-Andre Fleury (AP Photo/Tom Hanson,CP)
a sign that Ray Shero is going to release Marc-Andre Fluery when his contract expires in order to afford the contracts for Crosby, Malkin, and Staal?

-Shane in Traverse City, Michigan

Marc-Andre Fleury isn't going anywhere. In fact, he's a critical piece of the Penguins' effort to assemble a championship team.

The Penguins have signed two goaltenders: Danny Sabourin, 26, and David Brown, 22. That's because Jocelyn Thibault, who backed up Fleury last season, and the Baby Penguins' goaltenders from last season, Andrew Penner and Nolan Schaefer, were all unrestricted free agents as of July 1. Schaefer has since been signed by Minnesota, while Thibault signed Thursday with Buffalo.

QUESTION: I read that the Penguins are meeting with Alex Goligoski. I heard that he was impressive all year at the University of Minnesota. Is he a possibility to make the team as the 7th defenseman?

-Kody from Freedom, PA

BOB GROVE: Kody, University of Minnesota defenseman Alex Goligoski, a second-round 2004 draft pick, is one of the best offensive defensemen in college hockey. He scored 39 points last season as a junior and was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Year. He is expected to inform the Penguins very soon whether he will be returning for his senior season or turning pro.

But even if the right-handed shooting Goligoski turns pro, do not expect him to make the Penguins out of training camp. He'll need some adjustment time in the American Hockey League, and with Kris Letang expected to join Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney in the lineup this season, the Penguins aren't in need of another offensive defenseman.

By the way, Goligoski was drafted with a pick the Penguins acquired from Vancouver in the trade that sent Johan Hedberg to the Canucks.

QUESTION: Can the Penguins support (physically pay) Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for
the next 6-8 years?  We are all hungry for the cup!

-Craig in Indiana, PA

BOB GROVE: Well, Craig, it’s not completely up to Ray Shero. His ability to sign those three players – and Marc-Andre Fleury – is really dependent upon a number of factors: the budget he is given by ownership, the growth or lack thereof in the salary cap in the near future, the salary demands of his best players and, yes, his own skill in juggling the potentially large salaries of a special group of young players that clearly is unmatched in the NHL.

The Penguins’ payroll was about $36 million last season, and when the arena deal was announced in mid-March, owner Mario Lemieux said the payroll would be growing. Of course, the revenue streams associated with the new arena won't be realized for another three years. The NHL salary cap, which started at $39 million after the lockout and rose to
$44 million last season, is at $50.3 million for the 2007-08 season based on increased league-wide revenues. Remember that no player can earn more than 20 percent of the cap ceiling, which means Crosby could potentially sign a new contract this summer (if he and the Penguins renegotiate one year early) worth $10 million per season.

Whitney, who earned $900,000 last season, has signed a six-year, $24 million contract after finishing as the sixth-highest scoring defenseman in the league. Fleury’s contract expires in the summer of 2008, and Malkin and Staal will need new contracts in the summer of 2009. It’s not unrealistic to think that if all five players are still in Pittsburgh when the team hits training camp in the fall of 2009, they could take up $30 million or more – almost certainly more than half the salary cap limit. At that point the question would become this: is it possible to put together a solid, deep team when five players command that much of your payroll?

Remember, too, that next summer the age of unrestricted free agency will drop to 27 and that Crosby and Staal, having entered the league at 18, will be unrestricted free agents at the age of 25. It’s a bit complicated, very expensive and a little scary for fans.

While I think it's unrealistic to expect this group of exceptional players to stay together for next six to eight years, I also believe that doesn't in any way preclude the Penguins from achieving Shero's goal of being a playoff team for a long, long time. That’s why I keep telling fans to enjoy this team's development in the next few years and try to leave the worrying about money to management.

QUESTION: I've been hearing a lot out of the Columbus front on Nikolai Zherdev wanting out. Is there any truth to this? and if so would you not like to see him in a Penguins uniform on the wing with fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin?

-Zach in Indiana, PA

BOB GROVE: At 22, Zach, Zherdev has become a handful for the Jackets. He's comingoff a season in which his goal production dropped from 27 to 10 -- right on the heels of a nasty contract dispute with Columbus. He's had an attitude problem on and off the ice and certainly can't be expected to last long under coach Ken Hitchcock. You can take the optimistic approach and point to his age and conclude that he simply has to grow up. Or you can be the pessimist and paint him as a problem that may move around the league but one that never will be solved. From the outside looking in, I don't see Zherdev as a personality that would fit in the Pittsburgh dressing room. Remember, too, that he's a former first-round pick of the Jackets and has two seasons remaining on his contract. The Jackets might not mind losing him, but they won't give him away.

Crash the Net is a weekly web Q&A on Click here to submit a question.
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