The Pittsburgh Penguins had until Tuesday to set their opening-day roster, but they decided to get it done Saturday.
The Penguins released 11 players for assignment to their top farm team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Matt Hussey, Michel Ouellet and Tomas Surovy; defensemen Daniel Fernholm, Ryan Lannon, Andy Schneider, Noah Welch and Ryan Whitney and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
“They are all tough decisions. Every year, it’s a tough to make decisions like that because you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and families,” Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said. “It’s tough, but we can only have 23 guys. Nobody likes it, but it’s part of the game, part of the business.”
Players remaining in Pittsburgh include: forwards Sidney Crosby, Shane Endicott, Rico Fata, Konstantin Koltsov, John LeClair, Mario Lemieux, Ryan Malone, Matt Murley, Ziggy Palffy, Lasse Pirjeta, Mark Recchi, Andre Roy, Maxime Talbot and Ryan VandenBussche; defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Ric Jackman, Josef Melichar, Lyle Odelein, Brooks Orpik, Steve Poapst, Rob Scuderi, Dick Tarnstrom and goalies Sebastien Caron and Jocelyn Thibault. That adds up to 24 players, but Endicott appears headed to injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Patrick agreed that the young players made it difficult for the Penguins’ staff to formulate a final roster.
“We’re really pleased with the camp a lot of the guys had, especially the young guys – they had really good camps,” he said. “We’re excited about that. It’s great to have that kind of depth because you’re going to need if you’re going to be successful. Even this year in the playoffs, you need depth to get anywhere.”
The biggest debate came with the goaltenders and who would stay in Pittsburgh to back up Thibault. The Penguins chose Caron over Fleury. The move was made so Fleury could be the main goaltender at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. It will allow him to play a bulk of the games instead of making spot appearances in Pittsburgh as Thibault is expected to start three-quarters of the Penguins’ games.
“A lot of factors came into it. We looked at camp and we felt that (Fleury) and Sebastien had pretty similar camps,” Patrick said. “And the role that’s going to be needed here, we feel it’s better for Marc-Andre to get a lot of games (in Wilkes-Barre). That’s a big part of it.”
However, Patrick explained that Fleury, the first-overall choice in the 2003 draft, and the rest of the team’s young players could appear in Pittsburgh at any point during the season.
“Winning is the bottom line so that will dictate who plays and who doesn’t play,” Patrick said. “It’s just the beginning of the season and it’s a long season and things change rapidly.”
The Penguins close out their preseason schedule at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Mellon Arena against the Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh opens its regular-season slate at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in New Jersey.