ON THE TRADE FRONT
— The Penguins have spoken with Columbus about LW Raffi Torres, which isn’t exactly news. However, the Blue Jackets are asking for at least a second-round pick in the upcoming draft, which the Penguins don’t have to offer because they traded theirs to Florida on Monday for D Jordan Leopold.
— Ds Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski are not untouchable, but an inquiring team must make a significant offer to pry either from Penguins GM Ray Shero. I’ve not heard of any significant offer being made, which strikes me as a possible indication of an overinflated perceived value of Letang. I’m not sold that the Penguins won’t let him test the RFA market on July 1 because I’m not convinced they are positive he will receive a big-money offer sheet.
ON THE CONTRACT FRONT
— Word that talks between the Penguins and D Sergei Gonchar have been put on hiatus until after the season does not mean that they want to lose him, only that the sides are not close on the two key elements for any contract extension — term and average annual salary. The puck, really, is on Gonchar’s stick, because the Penguins prefer to keep him in their mix — especially because talks with Letang have not proven fruitful toward an extension.
Gonchar has not said he will take less than his perceived market value to remain with the Penguins. He’ll need to if he wants a multi-year deal with the Penguins, who are now about $300,000 under the NHL’s $56.8 million salary cap.
This situation reminds me to some extent of two years ago when a push by the Penguins to keep LW Ryan Malone was not successful. Talks on an extension were delayed until after the season, and because Malone refused to take less money to stay in Pittsburgh — as C Sidney Crosby did in 2007 on a five-year extension — the Penguins decided to trade his rights to Tampa Bay before July 1. Malone got paid by the Lightning and the Penguins landed a second-round draft pick.
There is a harsh reality in a salary-cap world: Teams can’t keep everybody they want to keep. That was true with Malone for the Penguins, as it was in a sense RW Marian Hossa. For it to not prove true with Gonchar … well, that will be up to him and how he prioritizes what he has in Pittsburgh.
ON THE BEAT ROAD: SIDNEY CROSBY
Big Daddy Canada, or Crosby as you may know him, returned to the Penguins dressing room along with D Brooks Orpik, and I had a chance to exchange pleasantries with each Olympian on Tuesday morning.
Orpik jokingly apologized for “not giving (me) another picture” — a reference to a photo taken of me and several unabashed USA Hockey fans after Team USA’s 5-3 preliminary-round win over Canada during the Olympics. Like Crosby, Orpik’s eyes suggested a bleary state of being after a long trip from Vancouver to cap a long two weeks.
I can’t imagine why Orpik looked so fatigued. I mean, it’s not like he hit EVERYBODY in Vancouver. I’m pretty sure he pulled up short on the Canadian Prime Minister, though I can’t confirm that to be true.
For those of you that were wondering: Yes, I did congratulate Big Daddy Canada for his gold-medal winner — and it was heartfelt, if bittersweet. Crosby was well aware that I badly wanted a Team USA victory, so when I joshed him about ruining my Olympic moment with his goal, he offered a smile and a friendly handshake.
A friend of mine, Lisa Vellky, suggested that Crosby will one day “punch me in the face” for my constant pestering of him. She was joking… I think. Still, this led me to recall a story from some of my first conversations with Crosby after I took over the Penguins beat for the Trib.
One was from a May afternoon day in 2007 and he had just spoken to the press about being named the youngest team captain in NHL history. As team employees were congratulating him, I approached for a one-on-one interview. Crosby had seen me around the team the previous year, as I’d helped out former Trib Penguins reporter Karen Price on and off, but we hardly knew each other.
Or so I thought.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Well, you’re the captain now and that’s kind of a big deal, so I figured I’d write something about it,” I responded in full-sarcasm mode.
Crosby stepped aside from a crowd. I followed.
“No, I mean, why are you still here?” he continued. “Aren’t you buying a house today?”
Indeed, I was closing on my first house that afternoon.
“That’s a big deal, you should be looking forward to that — not worrying about this,” he said. “Seriously, Rob, that’s a big deal. Congratulations.”
My mind was blown. I doubted he had known my name, and I’m not sure how he knew about my future living arrangements.
A few weeks later Crosby called me after signing his extension with the Penguins, and I was equally blown away that he chose to call the local beat reporters after already agreeing to a conference call with the national media earlier in that day. I asked him about that decision.
“Well, I know you guys,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right not to talk to you guys in Pittsburgh. That’s where I play.”
Crosby is the world’s most popular hockey player. As somebody who has seen him almost daily for the past three years I can say that the world doesn’t know half of it when it comes to Crosby. He’s as good a person as he is a player, and that is pretty special.