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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: I'm a worried Penguins fan.  Looking at the offers made by Edmonton for restricted free agents, I can see that the Pens may have a tight window of opportunity.  My question involves the nature of tender sheets for free agents.  If a team has an offer accepted, they have to give up draft picks.  What happens if a team tries to sign two big name restricted free agents?  Typically, teams only have one first round pick to give up in compensation?

-Ian in Mt. Lebanon, PA

BOB GROVE: Not to worry. A team signing a player to an offer sheet worth more than $5 million per season would owe the player's former team four first-round draft picks. But the CBA states teams "cannot acquire picks to use as compensation," making it impossible for any team to simultaneously sign two players to offer sheets worth more than $5 million per season.

Remember that the Oilers' signing of Dustin Penner this summer is the exception, not the rule. History shows that offer sheets have almost always been matched, and while that may be more difficult for some teams to do in the salary cap era, it's still going to be the norm. As discussed here before, I believe the Penguins could easily be the target of an offer sheet in the summer of 2009, when Malkin and Staal will both need new contracts -- if they do not sign extensions next summer. You can bet GM Ray Shero and his staff are already thinking of ways to mitigate the risks of that scenario.

QUESTION: Who do you think will play the points on the power play?  Gonchar and Sydor?  Whitney and Letang?  What impact do you think Sydor will make?

-Bill in North Hills, PA

Sergei Gonchar
I think we should expect to see Sergei Gonchar on the right point and Ryan Whitney on the left point of the No. 1 power play unit again this season. Why not? Gonchar finished second among NHL defensemen in scoring with 67 points, and his 48 power-play points tied Sheldon Souray for the top spot among defensemen. Meanwhile, Whitney finished sixth among defensemen in scoring with 59 points, including 33 on the power play -- tied for eighth with Nicklas Lidstrom. They were important factors in Pittsburgh leading the NHL with 94 power-play goals and finishing fifth with a 20.3 percent conversion rate.

That leaves Darryl Sydor and Kris Letang as the only legitimate candidates for the second unit, and with Letang being a right-handed shot, he could play the left point and give the Penguins one-timer potential from both points.

Sure, the Penguins could experiment a bit and begin to mix and match these four players. But given Gonchar's production and the frequent success of the back-door plays between Sidney Crosby and Whitney, it might be over-thinking the whole thing to make a change right off the bat.

I believe Sydor's experience and puck-moving ability will have a positive impact on the Penguins' ability to clear the defensive zone more quickly. Two interesting questions that will play out in camp and the preseason: will Sydor be paired with Letang at even strength? And which defensive pair will play behind Crosby's line?

QUESTION: Is there any truth to the rumor about the outdoor game between the Pens and Sabres on January 1st? And if so, how can Pittsburgh fans go about getting tickets to the game?
-Kelly in Butler, PA

BOB GROVE: The NHL has yet to make anything official as far as the reported Jan. 1 game between the Penguins and Sabres at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium. If that game is going to happen, an announcement is expected this month. At that point, or shortly thereafter, expect ticket information to be made available to all fans. And with more than 70,000 seats available, everyone who wants a ticket should be able to get one -- even with the game expected to draw fans from southern Ontario and other points in the eastern U.S.

QUESTION: Do you see Evgeni Malkin moving up to the wing on Sid's line and Jordan Staal taking the 2nd line center job, or Staal remaining at wing and Malkin centering the 2nd line?
-Roscoe in Cobb County, GA

Evgeni Malkin
All three players are natural centers, although you would have been hard-pressed last season to guess that Staal hadn't spent much of his life as a left winger. It's always possible, given Michel Therrien's constant line-juggling, that Malkin could be moved up with Crosby on a more frequent basis; those two played together quite often last season when the Penguins were behind, especially in the third period. But my sense is that Therrien would prefer to keep Crosby and Malkin on separate lines and keep Malkin at his natural spot. If that is the case this season, I would expect Staal to stay paired with Malkin. Those two worked very well together last winter.

There remain a lot of variables when it comes to arriving at line combinations. Will Petr Sykora establish a chemistry with Crosby? Will Mark Recchi play the right or left side after playing both wings last season? Will Gary Roberts be a regular left wing on the Crosby line? Will Erik Christensen fit in better on the wing than at his natural center spot? Can Jonathan Filewich make the team out of camp, and if so on what line? In one month we'll have the answers, but remember this: as much fun as it is to consider all the possibilities, Therrien's approach may mean that the opening night combinations will have meaning for about, oh, 40 minutes.

QUESTION: This year I decided to get tickets to the preseason home game against the Red Wings. I've never been to a preseason game so I want to know if I will see the first line  players on the ice and if so, how much ice time do you think they'll get?
-Geno in State College, PA

BOB GROVE: CBA rules require NHL teams to dress a minimum of eight "veteran" players for each preseason game. A "veteran" is a skater who played in 30 or more NHL games the previous season; a goaltender who dressed for 50 or more or played in 30 or more NHL games the previous season; a first-round draft choice from the most recent draft; or any player with 100 career NHL games.

Of course, it's up to the management of each team to decide how many more "veterans" to dress, but in most cases you'll see more young players early in the preseason and fewer later in the preseason -- although the mix also depends on other factors, such as how many games are scheduled on back-to-back nights.

The Detroit game is the fourth of six preseason games for the Penguins, and it comes one night after a game in Detroit. It's likely that only a few players who play in Detroit the night before will also dress for the home game. As far as ice time goes, you can expect the veterans who do play at the Arena that night to see a fairly typical amount of ice time.

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

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