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CRASH THE NET: PENGUINS Q&A WITH BOB GROVE

Wednesday, 04.05.2006 / 12:00 AM / Pittsburgh Penguins
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CRASH THE NET: PENGUINS Q&A WITH BOB GROVE

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing Wednesdays on pittsburghpenguins.com.  Click here to submit a question.

QUESTION: What is going to happen to Jocelyn Thibault next season? Can we trade him next year for anything good?

Steve Parise of North Hills

BOB GROVE: Jocelyn Thibault is under contract for next season at $1.5 million. He will not have much trade value around the league. His last two seasons have been ruined by injuries; he has played in 30 games over the last three calendar years; and his play when healthy this season was not up to his usual standards. The Penguins could consider a buyout, which would cost them $1 million, with $500,000 counting against the cap in each of the next two years (if I understand the CBA correctly).

Marc-Andre Fleury is due a new contract this summer, and Sebastien Caron has another season left on his. Next season, Thibault, Caron and Fleury must all clear waivers to be sent to the AHL, and all three will not stay here in Pittsburgh. So something has to give. If the Penguins do not offer to buy out Thibault, they'll either keep him or trade him. If it's the latter, I wouldn't expect anything more than a mid-round draft pick.

QUESTION: As I was sitting in the massive traffic jab at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels, I was listening to Mr. Grove and his callers. The one that sparked my interest was the one about the "Propaganda". While this was a poor choice of a word, what the gentleman was trying to say was a bit correct. For a minute, let's assume that both the Harrah's and the Isle of Capri (IOC) plans will bring in the same amount of revenue from slots. The IOC's plan is to siphon off money from slots gambling to fund a new arena and develop the Lower Hill directly impacting their profits from slots. Harrah's, on the other hand, getting the same slots revenue as IOC, will take all of the money that IOC would spend as additional profits. This is like a Billion Dollars. Why is IOC doing this? Are they nice guys? Or do they believe that the only way to get a license is to enter into a plan like this. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth but please step back and look at this objectively. Why is IOC willing to give up to a Billion Dollars of profit?

Joe Dykta of North Huntingdon

BOB GROVE: Sorry you got caught in the traffic jam. Thanks for your support of amateur hockey as a parent and coach and your support of the Penguins as a season-ticket holder. Now, on the anti-Penguins caller. . .

When someone calls the show and begins by labeling the remarks of a Penguins' executive as "propaganda," Joe, you can't expect things to go smoothly. It's fine to have another point of view, but if the caller wants to ignore the facts and rip the Penguins for trying to save NHL hockey in Pittsburgh, then perhaps he should call the Forest City talk show in Cleveland. In my book, "propoganda" is another word for "lie," and not one word of what David Morehouse had to say was a lie.

The caller then proceeded to say that the Penguins' plan did not include a new arena. Did that make sense to you? He was trying to play up the fact the Penguins were not paying for the building. Isle of Capri, Inc. has pledged to pay for the arena, and along with Nationwide Realty they are part of the Pittsburgh First group that has been assembled by the Penguins. The Penguins, as an organization, will not redevelop the Lower Hill; Nationwide will do that. But Nationwide is part of the Pittsburgh First group which, again, was put together by the Penguins. Trying to make these kinds of distinctions is ludicrous. It's like saying the Steelers didn't score the touchdown -- Jerome Bettis did.

He then proceeded to say that the Penguins should put together a backup plan. Why? What's wrong with their plan as outlined to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board? It's like saying the Penguins should go out this summer and spend $10 million on a No. 1 center when they've got Sidney Crosby already in the lineup. There's no need to reinvent the wheel here. The Penguins have invested a lot of time and money in coming up with a plan that not only delivers a new building to the region at no cost -- and protects jobs, maintains tax revenues to the city and county and makes a huge cultural investment in the region -- but also reconnects the Lower Hill with Pittsburgh's Central Business District.

Why is the Isle of Capri doing this, Joe? They're in the gaming business to make money, and they've joined the Penguins and Nationwide Realty as partners in a plan they believe will make them successful in Pittsburgh. What they're saying is that they can afford to pay $290 million for a new arena and the $50 million slots license fee, make a profit and be part of a group that makes our community better with a redevelopment project that otherwise won't happen.

By the way, Isle of Capri is not funding the redevelopment project; that is being done by Nationwide Realty. So Isle of Capri is not giving up $1 billion in profits -- the figure is $290 million. And I'm sure Isle of Capri would characterize that as the cost of doing business. They're spending money to make money, like all good businesses do.

Joe, remember that Harrah's never fails to portray themselves as the biggest gaming company in the nation. They are, in fact, much bigger than Isle of Capri, Inc. So the better question is this: if the little guy can afford to pay $290 million, why can't Harrah's? Who's more concerned with their profit margin? Harrah's won't even commit to spend $210 million over 30 years as part of Governor Rendell's Plan B. Perhaps they've already made a business decision of their own -- to ignore the needs and wishes of the region and put together the plan that makes them the most money.

Joe, step back and look at this objectively. Please tell me how Harrah's plan is better.

QUESTION: Who are some of the viable options in free agency next season for the Penguins? Who is available, and who would fit well with the Penguins?

-Paul from Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: We've been getting a lot of questions about unrestricted free agents this summer. The official list doesn't come out until July 1, but there are many big names headed for unrestricted free agency -- unless they re-sign with their current teams before July 1.

Among the forwards expected to be available are Joe Sakic, Doug Weight, Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, Brendan Shanahan, Teemu Selanne, Sergei Samsonov, Mark Parrish, Anson Carter, Michael Peca, Peter Bondra, Marc Savard, Viktor Kozlov, Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, Jeff Halpern, Alyn McCauley, Martin Straka, Petr Sykora and Martin Rucinsky. But remember that Selanne has expressed an interest in remaining in Anaheim, and Lindros is always an injury risk.

Among the defensemen, look for Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Rob Blake, Ed Jovanovski, Marek Zidlicky, Bryan McCabe, Jay McKee, Willie Mitchell, Pavel Kubina, Ruslan Salei, Teppo Numminen, Frantisek Kaberle, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill, Joe Corvo, Filip Kuba, Francis Bouillon, Danny Markov, Brian Pothier, Kim Johnsson, Brendan Witt and Nolan Baumgartner to become unrestricted free agents.

As far as who would fit well with the Penguins, I think they'll go into this summer looking for proven goal scorers on either wing and one or two responsible, quick-skating defensemen. Elias, Sykora and Samsonov (also an injury-prone player) would look good, and Willie Mitchell and Francis Bouillon might also be good fits on defense.

But there will be plenty more names available when we get to this summer, so that's just some of the bigger names.

QUESTION: During the period breaks at the Pens games, the younger leagues get a chance to play. What are the "STOP" patches on the back of their jerseys for?

Jenny Luptak of Sewickly

BOB GROVE: The placement of the "Stop" patches on the backs of youth hockey jerseys was part of a recent national initiative to prevent dangerous hits from behind. The idea was to teach young hockey players that when they see the "Stop" sign, they should not hit an opponent. Hits from behind are very dangerous, especially when players are a few feet from the boards.

QUESTION: If the Baby Pens are so good in the AHL and might win the Calder Cup, Why can't the players from down there make a difference in Pittsburgh?

-Chris Edmundoeicz of Allison Park

BOB GROVE: The level of play in the National Hockey League is superior to that of the American Hockey League, so not all the players in the AHL would be able to make an impact at the NHL level. Of the current players on the Baby Penguins' roster, only a handful would be able to contribute at this level right now: Noah Welch, Maxime Talbot, Erik Christensen, Alain Nasreddine and Krys Kolanos. Together, the guys on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster are good enough to be one of the top teams in the AHL, but most of those guys -- right now -- could not displace the players on the Penguins' roster.

Remember, too, that many of the players who were major factors in the Baby Penguins' great start this season were later called up to the NHL and have made a difference there: Ryan Whitney, Colby Armstrong, Marc-Andre Fleury, Michel Ouellet and Tomas Surovy.

QUESTION: I think we should all strongly endorse Governor Rendell's "Plan B" for the Penguins. While it does not guarantee a free ride so to speak, it does guarantee something more important...The Pens will stay in Pittsburgh. The Isle of Capri deal would be great, but there is no guarantee that they will get the license, and even if they do it won't be decided for months and by that time it may be too late. Let's get behind plan B and keep our Pens right here where they belong.

-TJ Salonick of Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: As the Penguins have said since the day Plan B was announced, it's great to have elected officials actually working on plans to keep the team in Pittsburgh. But we can't "all strongly endorse" Plan B for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, it's unclear whether several elements of Plan B are actually workable. Governor Rendell said the other slots applicants had agreed to pay $7.5 million per year for 30 years toward a new arena, but neither applicant verified that once the plan was made public. Forest City, in fact, said it wanted the Penguins to commit to the plan first, which would be a little difficult since the Penguins and the Isle of Capri have every hope that their slots proposal will be selected. It's unclear why the Penguins would embrace a backup plan before they know whether or not their slots proposal was successful.

In addition, several lawmakers believe the portion of Governor Rendell's plan dedicating $7 million per year from the slots development fund is not permissable without further legislative action in Harrisburg. At any rate, under the plan, that fund would send $210 million toward the debt service on a new arena -- $210 million that can be used for other projects across the state.

And remember that Pittsburgh First's plan also includes the redevelopment of the Lower Hill District, which would not occur under Plan B.

The timing of the slots announcement, still expected to come in mid-December, will not come too late to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. It's a lot longer than anybody wants to wait, but we've got to give the Gaming Control Board time to do its job efficiently.

In short, TJ, your sentiments are right -- let's keep the Penguins where they belong. But right now the Pittsburgh First plan represents the best chance for that.

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing Wednesdays on pittsburghpenguins.com.  Click here to submit a question.

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