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Crash The Net - Pens Q&A

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

QUESTION: Do you think this is a make or break year for Ryan Malone with the Pens? He was a star for them during his rookie season, often times scoring highlight type goals. He put up very solid numbers (22-21-43) for a rookie and go-to guy on what was a very bad team. His goal production has not improved since. Do you think that is because he is not that star of the team, or has he just simply plateaued? It seems like he has all the makings to be at least a 30-40 goal guy on the first line.
-Del in Savannah, Ga

Ryan Malone
BOB GROVE: Ryan Malone will earn $1.45 million this season, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent. Because of his pending free agency, it's certainly conceivable that this could be his last season with the Penguins.

Malone burst onto the scene in 2003-04 with 22 goals, a total he matched in 2005-06 before falling to just 16 goals last season, when he missed 18 games due to injury (broken wrist). Malone has the size and skill to contribute more offensively and could become an even better penalty killer. He just hasn't displayed the consistency needed to reach those goals, and often the reason seems to be an outgrowth of his skating. When he's energized and skating hard, things happen for him -- and the team. But some nights he doesn't seem to have much jump.

All in all, Malone remains a bit of a mystery. I don't see him playing on the top line this season, and his power-play time figures to be very limited. Remember he got plenty of ice time in his rookie season, and that was a factor in reaching 20 goals. With more ice time, and more consistency and determination, he could be a 30-goal man in the NHL. I'm just not sure if that will happen -- here or elsewhere.

We should note that Malone's wrist injury last season came during an October fight with Columbus' Rostislav Klesla, who had just knocked down Sidney Crosby. That was a tough break for Malone, who was already off to a slow start, but he earned big points for sticking up for his teammate. You can never have enough of that on a team.

QUESTION: I was very disappointed that the Pens didnt appear to pursue Sheldon Souray. I believe that he would be the piece of the puzzle that would take the Pens to new level. Was he asking too much money to even be considered? Im tired of the Pens spending so much money on forwards. I like the old statement that, in most sports, "Offense wins games, defense wins championships".
-Dan in Petersburg, Ohio

BOB GROVE: Souray landed a five-year, $27 million contract from Edmonton earlier this month, a contract that will pay him an average of $5.4 million per season. The Penguins signed Petr Sykora and Darryl Sydor to two-year contracts that will cost the team about $5 million per season for both players. For the same amount of money that Souray received, GM Ray Shero was able to fill what he considered two areas of need: defensive depth and offensive punch from the wing.

The Penguins have two of the league's top offensive defensemen in Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, and both are already signed to long (and lucrative) contracts. There simply was no need to add Souray.

QUESTION: On opening day, now that the Penguins have signed Ty Conklin, Who will be

backing up Marc-Andre Fleury? Dany Sabourin or Conklin?
-Bryce in Winkler, Manitoba

BOB GROVE: Dany Sabourin signed a one-way contract with the Penguins, which means he will earn his $500,000 whether he's playing in the NHL or the AHL. Conklin's contract is a two-way deal, giving him $500,000 at the NHL level and considerably less (reportedly $100,000) in the AHL. Under those circumstances, it's Sabourin's job to lose. On opening night, barring an injury to Sabourin, Conklin will be in the AHL.

It should be noted that Conklin has only 76 NHL games to his credit and Sabourin 14. So both guys have something to prove at this level.

QUESTION: Was there a game way back when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr each scored their 50th goal of the season? Also, didn't each assist on each other's goal - and it was their 66th and 68th career assist to each other respectively?
-Russ in Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Lemieux and Jagr both scored 50 goals in the same season only once, that coming during the 1995-96 season. And both of them hit the 50-goal plateau in the same game, a 5-4 home win over Hartford on February 23. Lemieux tied the game, 4-4, at 5:37 of the third period on the power play, and Jagr scored the game-winner, also on the power play, 3:46 later at 9:23.

Lemieux assisted on a Jagr goal for the 66th time on March 31, 1997, a 4-3 home win over Florida. In the same game, Jagr assisted for the 66th time on a Lemieux goal.

QUESTION: Will the Penguins be changing their uniforms this year to Reebok's new style?
-Scott in New York, NY

BOB GROVE: We've gotten a lot of questions about the streamlined new Reebok Edge uniforms, the tapered style of which will be the same for every NHL team this season, including the Penguins. The uniforms, which debuted at the 2007 NHL All-Star Game, use lighter materials and moisture-repellent technology that also promotes range of motion and ventilation. The pants will offer enhanced hip protection as well.

QUESTION: Will the Pens sign Marc-Andre Fleury to a contract extension before the season starts?
-Tony in Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Marc-Andre Fleury has one year remaining on his contract, which calls for him to earn $1.6 million this coming season. He will be a restricted free agent on July 1, 2008. GM Ray Shero talked to Fleury's agent about an extension in mid-July, so both sides have at least begun to explore the idea.

While the Penguins would have the right to match any offers Fleury would receive after July 1, 2008, signing him to an extension now -- if both sides can agree on the salary and length -- would put off for at least a while the worry about another team signing Fleury to an offer sheet.

While Buffalo had the money and motivation to re-sign Thomas Vanek earlier this summer, you can bet the Sabres weren't happy about the terms of that deal being set by Edmonton, which offered Vanek $50 million over seven years. No one can rule out another team trying to push the Penguins beyond their budget by making Fleury -- or Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Staal in the summer of 2009 -- a huge offer. Offer sheets have been few and far between in recent NHL history, but the Penguins' core of young stars makes them a potential target in the near future.

Signing Fleury to an extension won't be cheap, but it will be more cost efficient than matching an offer sheet later should one come about. Just keep in mind that terms of the extension have to appeal to the player, too.

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

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