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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: A follow-up to last week's question about Sidney Crosby's ice time:  when are we going to see him on the penalty kill? He'd be an absolute threat to score shorthanded, similar to Vinny LeCavalier.  I know the argument is that the added ice time may increase the risk of Sid wearing down, but I don't accept that rationale.  After all, the greats have all done it: Wayne, Mario, Stevie Y...when is it Sid's turn?

Sidney Crosby
-Tony in South Side, PA

BOB GROVE: There's no problem with increasing Crosby's ice time, which probably will go up a bit in coming seasons. The recent question on the topic, however, supported increasing it to 24-26 minutes a night, which is over the top and would represent a risk. Everything in moderation, right?

That said, I agree it would be good to see Crosby do some penalty killing. I don't see him joining the small group of forwards who see regular duty on the PK, but I think he could be effective if spotted here and there -- especially late in penalties when opposing power play units might be more tired and vulnerable. I would also consider using him late in games in which the Penguins trail. One thing to remember, too, is that forwards who kill penalties are more prone to being struck with shots from the point. We'll have to see if Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo make any changes to their approach on the subject.

QUESTION: I have been hearing rumors about an agreement between the NHL and ESPN for brodcasting rights. Is there any truth to this rumor?
-Dustin in Pittsburgh, PA

BOB GROVE: This subject was given some new life late last month when SportsBusiness Journal reported the NHL and ESPN have begun preliminary talks about the league's return to ESPN and its 92 million homes as early as the 2008-09 season. There have been no confirmations of the report, which cited multiple unnamed sources.

Such a move can't happen unless Versus, the current cable rightsholder, agrees to forfeit the cable exclusivity it enjoys with the NHL through 2010-11. The story suggested Versus might consider doing so if 1) it can strike a cross-promotional deal with ESPN in which each network touts upcoming games on either network and/or 2) it can renegotiate its rights fee, show more compelling games or land a contract extension. Further, the report traces ESPN's possible renewed interest in hockey to the more bullish NHL attitude of Executive VP of Content John Skipper.

The moment it ceased to be a business partner, the NHL began to receive deplorable treatment from ESPN, which this spring would virtually ignore hockey news while force-feeding its audience NASCAR features and highlights from the Arena Football League, in which it is an investor. SportsCenter's journalism credentials took a beating every time it demonstrated this kind of "it's-only-news-if-we-say-so" approach.

That said, given the network's reach, it will always make sense for the NHL to get back on ESPN. No one at ESPN imagined the NHL would emerge from the lockout the way it did -- in terms of attendance, revenue and style of game. Now, perhaps, the folks in Bristol are watching all those Sidney Crosby highlights and thinking it might be nice to have one of the most dynamic performers in all of sports on their schedule.

In the business world, anything is possible. So, sure, the NHL could be headed back to ESPN. And if it happens, you can bet Crosby and the Penguins -- a young team that would play right into the heart of the ESPN demographic -- will be regulars in the spotlight.

Tom Barrasso
QUESTION: What goaltender has the record for most points in a season?

-Russ in East Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Edmonton's Grant Fuhr recorded 14 points during the 1983-84 season, still the single-season NHL record for a goaltender. By the way, former Penguin Tom Barrasso holds the NHL career record for points by a goaltender at 48 -- two more than Fuhr managed while playing 91 more games than Barrasso.

QUESTION: I've been a fan of Jarkko Ruutu for many years now and I've watched what happens when coaches show their confidence in him by giving him increased ice time and increased roles. Do you think Ruutu has a chance for more ice time?
-Trish in Queen Charlotte, BC Canada

BOB GROVE: Ruutu's ice time last season dropped about 2:30 per game from what he was receiving in Vancouver during the 2005-06 season, and he was rarely used as a penalty killer by the Penguins. It's conceivable he could play more this season, but he's also going to have to demonstrate a bit more consistency than he did last winter.

Ruutu is not a top six forward, and there's only so much even-strength ice time to go around for guys on the third and fourth line. So I'd say his best chance would be to earn his way into more time as a penalty killer. With the Penguins' top four PK forwards all coming back -- Max Talbot, Colby Armstrong, Jordan Staal and Ryan Malone -- it won't be easy. Especially if Sidney Crosby is given more of a chance to kill penalties.

QUESTION: I am from Belgium, and big fan of the Penguins. My question is about team depth with the addition of Darryl Sydor and Petr Sykora. With Sykora replacing Michel Ouellet on offense comparing their plus-minus I don't see ann improvement. What is your take on it?
-Stefaan in Dendermonde, Belgium

BOB GROVE: Thanks for supporting the team from Belgium, and consider yourself part of a growing number of fans outside North America who love the Pens.

Petr Sykora
The addition of Sydor on defense, along with the likely emergence of Kris Letang as an NHL regular, will improve the Penguins' blue line depth. Those two could essentially replace Josef Melichar and Rob Scuderi, with Letang possibly pushing Scuderi to seventh on the depth chart. Training camp will determine that.

Adding Sykora should enhance Pittsburgh's attack. Michel Ouellet, now with Tampa Bay, has scored 35 goals in his NHL career. Sykora, who is six years older, has 247 career goals -- and 26 goals in 88 career playoff games. That experience, which included a Stanley Cup with New Jersey and a trip to the Finals with Anaheim, is critical for this young team. Remember, too, that Sykora has produced 20 or more goals in eight consecutive seasons. That's the kind of consistency for which Ouellet is still searching.

As far as plus-minus, don't get too caught up in those numbers. Sykora was -20 on a poor Edmonton team last season but still is +57 for his career -- a number that no doubt reflects his seven seasons with the stingy Devils.

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