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CRASH THE NET: PENGUINS Q&A WITH BOB GROVE

Thursday, 06.08.2006 / 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 as a written column AND as a podcast on  pittsburghpenguins.com.  Click here to submit a question.

QUESTION: I'm a little confused about this whole Evgeni Malkin thing. If there's no agreement with Russia in place, can he still come over to play in the NHL? What would be the consequences, if any?  Also, now that Vladislav Tretiak is the new President of the RIHF, what are the chances of Russia being included in the agreement?

-Megan Merikas of Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Evgeni Malkin has a contract with his Russian Super League team, Magnitogorsk. His agent, J.P. Barry, said the original contract was extended last summer and the team has said Malkin is under contract through the 2007-08 season -- although there had been numrous reports that Malkin's  reworked agreement with Magnitogorsk would permit him to leave early. At any rate he can't legally break that contract to come to the NHL.

Malkin said he is planning to play in the NHL this fall, but realistically those plans depend upon Russia joining the transfer agreement. That agreement allows players to escape existing contracts in Europe, with their teams compensated in cash. The current agreement gives European teams $200,000 for each player they lose to the NHL. A number of teams in the Russian Super League, Magnitogorsk primary among them, want the ability to individually negotiate with NHL teams to set that price, and Magnitogorsk has publicly stated it is seeking multiple millions of dollars -- a sum it will not get from Pittsburgh or any other NHL team.

There are several things to remember about this whole scenario.

First, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel is pressing for an agreement. The World Championships are scheduled to be played in Moscow next year, and Fasel said in late May that "there is a danger that if we do not find an agreement with Gary Bettman, Russian players will not be allowed to play in Russia next year. But I am thinking positive and we will find a way." Meanwhile, sportsnet.ca is reporting that the NHL and NHL Players Association met Monday with Tretiak and other Russian hockey officials in Raleigh prior to Game 1 of the Finals as they continued to talk about getting a transfer agreement for Russian players.

If the stalemate persists, Russian players who believe they will be high NHL draft picks and who want to play in the NHL should decline to sign longer-term agreements that might keep them at home. That will cost them money in the short-term, but it's money that can be made up in the NHL. Left unsaid is what caused Malkin to take more money to extend his contract.

While on the subject of money, it's quite likely that Malkin is earning more at home than he would under an NHL contract. Barry previously said Malkin would make more this past season in Russia than he would in Pittsburgh, given the new CBA's limits on rookie salaries. But he told the Penguins Hockey Network this past spring that since Malkin was drafted in 2004 he falls under the rookie limits of the old CBA which was in place at that time -- a CBA which gave rookies larger salary limits. Barry also told us Malkin would be subject to the new limits on bonuses.

It's also prudent to note that Magnitogorsk's leverage is disappearing with every passing day. If indeed Malkin's contract runs through the 2007-08 season, Malkin would at that point be free to leave Russia and his old team would get nothing. Obvously, the Penguins don't want to wait two more seasons to get Malkin, but it's difficult to figure how Magnitogorsk reconciles asking for payments it has no chance of receiving while knowing that he'll be free to walk in two years.

As for Tretiak, now head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and a Russian politician, his presence can only help the painful process of getting Russia into the transfer agreement. He himself always wanted to play for the Montreal Canadiens, so he would understand how important the NHL dream is for talented young players who want to test themselves in the world's best league. Russian Minister of Sport Slava Fetisov, who played for years in the NHL, also understands this. But with lots of money at stake, and rich Russian companies bankrolling some teams, the process won't be easy.

QUESTION: Hi, I live in Ireland and have followed the Penguins since my first NHL match in pittsburgh March 2004. I would like to get over to a few matches next season. Could you tell me when a fixture list would be available so I can plan flights, time off work etc.

-Mark Armour of Lisburn, Ireland

BOB GROVE: Talk about going the extra mile to watch the Penguins. . . thanks for your interest in the Penguins. The 2006-07 Pittsburgh schedule should be available in July. Please check in with pittsburghpenguins.com, which will post the schedule the day it is release by the NHL. Last season, the NHL put out the schedule on July 27; the season before that it was July 16.

QUESTION: Seeing how well Sidney Crosby played with Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron of Boston on the Canadian team in the World Championships this month, why don't the Penguins try obtaining at least one of these guys to play on The Kid's line next season?  I don't know the free agency status of either, but maybe a trade would work out for someone like Koltsov?

-Ryan Hubbard of Johnstown, PA

BOB GROVE: Bergeron and Boyes were the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers, respectively, for Boston last season and will be integral parts of the Bruins' rebuilding efforts under new GM Peter Chiarelli. Bergeron last season became the youngest player in Boston history to score 30 goals. I'm sure 29 other teams would love to have either or both, but the Bruins would be crazy to part with them. And it would take much, much, much more than Koltsov to get just one of them. By the way, both are restricted free agents this summer.

QUESTION: Where do you foresee Ryan Stone, Jonathan Filewich, and Daniel Carcillo fitting into the lineup?  It seems to me that all have been dubbed, "third liners", yet all three have shown the ability to be productive offensively.  I can't imagine that anyone thought Colby Armstrong would end up playing on the top line, yet I think he has done well in this role.  Do you see Jonathan Filewich or any of the three aforementioned being given the same opportunity to fill out the second line the way Colby has on the first? 

-Harry McDermott Toms River, NJ

BOB GROVE: Stone and Filewich had terrific playoff runs with the Baby Penguins, finishing first and second, respectively, in playoff scoring for the team while skating on a line with Maxime Talbot. Stone, a second-round choice in 2003, moved from center to left wing and has the best potential to be a top six forward in the NHL. He had four goals and 11 points in 11 playoff games after scoring 14 goals and 36 points in 75 regular-season games.

Filewich, a right wing picked in the third round in 2003, had 22 goals and 36 points in 73 regular-season games and added six goals and 10 points in 11 playoff games. He had a very good first professional year and has scored some goals, firing in 42 in his final year of junior. My guess is that he projects as a borderline second/third liner.

Another third-round 2003 pick, Carcillo had 24 points in 51 regular-seaosn games with the Baby Pens while racking up 311 penalty minutes. He had one point and 47 PIM in 11 playoff games. He is not likely to play above the third line in the NHL. Everyone gives him credit for a no-holds-barred approach to the game, playing without fear and doing whatever it takes to win. But his discipline is going to remain a factor, especially since one would assume his first order of business in the NHL would be to challenge everyone. But I can't see him as a top six forward. Armstrong has some very good skills to go with his grit, certainly more skills than Carcillo has demonstrated.

I expect all of these players to be given a legitimate shot to make the Pittsburgh roster at camp this fall. With Michel Therrien here from the start and familiar with all of them, it's impossible to rule any of them out.

QUESTION: My question is about Ziggy Palffy.  If he decides to return to the NHL, does he have the option to sign with another team, or are his rights owned by the Penguins?

-Lee of Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: Ziggy Palffy left about $11.5 million on the table, $10 million over the next two seasons, when he announced his retirement last January. He's 34 years old, so it's hardly surprising to hear talk suggesting he might come back to the NHL. However, the Penguins own his rights for the next two seasons, so he'll have to 1) play for the Penguins or 2) play for a team which acquires his rights from the Penguins.

I would not want Palffy on my team after he quit on his teammates in the middle of a season. I don't think there's much question, however, that he can still be productive in this NHL, so if there's any truth to rumors that he wants to play again (and that's all they are at this point), perhaps a deal could be worked out. Palffy is going to have to convince a few people that he won't repeat his actions of this past season and that he's serious about playing.

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  pittsburghpenguins.com.  Click here to submit a question.

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