|Tuesday, March 11
Phoenix gives up three prospects for Hrdina, Leroux
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins shed six more veteran players and their salaries in a dizzying series of trading deadline deals made Tuesday by general manager Craig Patrick to assure the team's short-term financial stability.
"We're in a survival mode,'' said Patrick, who only last month traded All-Star forward Alexei Kovalev in a salary-shedding move.
In the feature trade Tuesday, left wing Jan Hrdina went to Phoenix with defenseman Francois Leroux for forwards Ramzi Abid and Guillaume Lefebvre and defenseman Dan Focht. Hrdina once was a key component of the Penguins' now-depleted Czech collection that included Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang.
Also dealt were center Wayne Primeau to San Jose for right wing Matt Bradley, defenseman Ian Moran to Boston for a fourth-round draft pick, defenseman Marc Bergevin to Tampa Bay for forward Brian Holzinger and right wing Shean Donovan to Calgary for defenseman Micki DuPont and center Mathias Johansson.
The moves are expected to leave Pittsburgh with one of the lowest payrolls in pro sports next season -- around $25 million, even less than it was 10 years ago.
With such a low salary base, the Penguins essentially are adopting their own salary cap as they await a new NHL collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires in September 2004.
"It's all about cost certainty,'' said Patrick, adopting a favorite term of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. "We're primarily looking to the future. We can't afford to lose money.''
Most of the new acquisitions are young and relatively low-paid -- Lefebvre is 21, Abid and DuPont are 22, Bradley is 24 and Focht is 25.
If the new CBA includes salary restraints, Patrick said the Penguins can compete on equal terms beginning in the 2004-05 season because "we'll have way more (young) depth -- in the 19-to-23-year old range'' than any other NHL team.
But even if Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux returns -- and he hasn't said if he will -- the Penguins won't be a contender next season.
"We're definitely in a rebuilding mode,'' Patrick said. "We want to make it as smooth a transition as possible. We might have to suffer the rest of this year and next, but we'll have a grind-it-out, bang some people and go-to-the-net team. And it will be entertaining.''
About the only high-priced player to escape the salary dumping was forward Martin Straka, injured much of the last two seasons. His $4 million salary is topped on the club only by Lemieux's $5.5 million.
The five NHL players dealt make a combined $3.8 million. None of those acquired makes more than $475,000, except Holzinger, and the Lightning apparently will pay part of his $1.25 million salary next season.
The Penguins began the season with seven players making $1 million or more, but have since dealt two -- Kovalev ($4.6 million) and Hrdina ($1.25 million). Primeau ($825,000), Moran ($750,000) and Donovan ($684,500) were also in the upper half of their payroll. Bergevin, one of Lemieux's closest friends, makes $400,000.
None of those traded was having a particularly good season for a team that has lost nine in a row and is about to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1987-88.
Hrdina scored 24 goals last season, but has only 14 goals and 25 assists in 57 games. He has missed 11 of the last 13 games with an injured groin.
The 37-year-old Bergevin has two goals in 69 games. Donovan, 28, had four goals and five assists in 52 games. Primeau, 26, had nine goals in 131 games with Pittsburgh and hasn't scored a goal in 25 games.
Of the players acquired, Abid seems the most ready to contribute immediately. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 30 games.
Lefebvre, who has only 17 games of NHL experience, was traded for the second time in as many days. On Monday, the Coyotes acquired him and two draft picks from the Flyers for forward Tony Amonte.
The 6-foot-6, 234-pound Focht is a big defenseman, something the Penguins badly need.
Bradley is on the injured list with a broken bone in his wrist. He has two goals and three assists in 46 games after having an excellent rookie season a year ago.
All of the players acquired will join the Penguins, except DuPont, who was assigned to Wilkes-Barre of the AHL.