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Analysis on Sykora, cap and Kovalchuk



Per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, former Penguin RW Petr Sykira is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

A couple of weeks back, I tossed out the suggestion of Sykora returning to the Penguins, with whom he scored 25 goals last season. He tallied only twice in 16 games with the Minnesota Wild, who used him mostly as a fourth-line winger. Misplaced, I’d say. If Sykora cannot be a scoring winger in this league, he cannot play. He’d be the first to say that.

Even if the Penguins were interested — and I’ve not heard from one organizational source that they are — fitting Sykora under the salary cap would be a problem, even at a prorated deal. As noted today, the Penguins are not in a great cap spot, though neither are more top contending teams.

Something to keep in mind about the salary cap: The Penguins must save as much money on a daily basis now as possible — another reason for the up-and-down ways of their AHL players — because upon the return from the Olympic break they will play what feels like an every-other-day schedule until the playoffs. Their Olympians that figure to see a lot of ice-time in Vancouver  — Cs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Ds Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik — may need a blow for games in the final six weeks of the NHL season; the Penguins cannot waste money against the cap now and risk not having the call-up option for March-April.


Full disclosure: Few reporters were as surprised as I when the Penguins swung a deal at the 2008 Trade Deadline to land RW Marian Hossa. However, it is important to remember that they had considerable cap space — and the blessing of ownership to use it — for that trade, which also netted RW Pascal Dupuis.

Assistant general manager Jason Botterill scouted the Atlanta-Anaheim game on Tuesday, but nobody should jump to a conclusion that the Penguins are in the market for Thrashers LW Ilya Kovalchuk. Landing him would require a major roster shakeup because a hefty salary would need to be moved; also, count on Atlanta asking for the sky in return, because it clearly did not win the Hossa deal, which was the last time the Thrashers traded a star winger in the last year of his contract.

Over the past few weeks I’ve conversed with reporters far more familiar with the Kovalchuk saga than I; they insist that he will not re-sign with whatever team lands him before or at the March 3 trade deadline. He wants to test the UFA market.

So, aside from not having the cap space to deal for Kovalchuk without giving up a considerable return, the Penguins also know he will likely test the market on July 1, as Hossa did. The smart money is not on Shero wanting to experience an offseason similar to his 2008, when he eventually pulled out of extracted talks to keep Hossa. That summer he was working on deals to keep G Marc-Andre Fleury and Orpik, plus an extension for Malkin. This summer he might have new contracts for Gonchar and D Kris Letang on his plate, not to mention a hunt for wingers to potentially replace LWs Matt Cooke and Ruslan Fedotenko, and RW Bill Guerin.

I’ve been shocked once before by a Shero move at the deadline. Still, the numbers and logic don’t add up to the Penguins snagging Kovalchuk.




Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

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