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Ron Cook always has questions. He's not unlike my two-year old ("Because why?" "What's it doing?" "May I have some cheese?"), but it's the only way he can churn out 850 word columns, so cut him some slack. In Monday's column, Cook asks 13 questions about the Penguins' offseason and eats up couple of column inches just by writing, "So many questions...." two times. Fortunately, we have answers. Here we go.
So many questions ...
1. Will Sidney Crosby be ready for the start of the season?
Nobody knows. We think this ground has been covered pretty extensively, but we are nothing if not patient with Ron Cook.
2. Will he be the same player?
I don't know, Ron, we hope so. Some people say he'll never be symptom-free again. But again, nobody knows. It's a pretty safe bet that no team in any sport has ever taken a concussion as seriously as the Penguins are taking this one. I'd also wager that no concussion in the history of human heads has ever been as closely scrutinized as this one. Add to that the fact that - as we keep hearing - no two of these injuries are the same, and I'm confident that no one should be talking about this issue with any sense of certainty. That won't stop them. You know the news anchors who spent an hour Sunday night saying the President had a major announcement coming at 10:30, but they shouldn't speculate as to what it might be? Ladies and gentlemen, that's your entire 2011 Pittsburgh Penguins offseason.
3. Will he and we spend the rest of his career wondering if the next hit he takes will finish him as a world-class athlete?
4. If Crosby is healthy, who will be his linemates?
James Neal for certain. We'll have to see how the rest of the lineup shakes out.
5. Do the Penguins consider playing Crosby with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis again?
No. Maybe Kunitz, but not Dupes.
6. Who plays with Evgeni Malkin?
Put it this way, whoever it is, Malkin is getting an upgrade. I see the Big Dog Eric Tangradi sticking in training camp, if he can get a little stronger on the puck and sustain his shift-by-shift intensity. That's a possibility. Bylsma may also want to bookend Geno with Kunitz and Dupuis. Given the emergence of Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey as viable third-line centers - and I want Jeffrey to get a real shot in that role - we may go with the Staal-Malkin pairing Bylsma envisioned in training camp. Here's the thing. If there's one notion that was reinforced for the Penguins this playoff season, it's that Jordan Staal is most effective not as a scorer, but as Joel Otto 7.0 - a dominant shut-down center who can always come up with a big goal in a big game. That's the slot we want him in, and we all just need to pray that we once again have the luxury of keeping him there.
7. Do the Penguins start that way [with Staal on Malkin's line] again in October?
Ron, why ask two questions when one will do?
8. Or do they put Neal with Malkin and drop Staal to third-line center with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, a unit that has been highly successful?
This is like talking to a wall.
9. What free agents does Shero keep?
Easy, Ron. Let's see what the salary cap looks like. The new TV deal pretty much ensures it'll go up, but you don't break the bank for any of the UFA's. Craig Adams is a virtual certainty to come back. He'll come relatively cheap and is 4th line and penalty killing gold. Max Talbot? Hate to say it, but he's probably gone. Somebody will pay him too much money, and he should take it. Dupuis, Mike Rupp, and Arron Asham? Let's see if they're willing to sign short-term deals at something very close to their current salaries. All could demand modest raises, but if I'm Ray Shero and Arron Asham asks me for $1 million? I say, look man, nice of you to show up for the playoffs, but this is a full-time job. Shero likes having a real enforcer like Eric Godard around, and so do the players. But not for more than $750K. Chris Conner can stay if he'll take a $600K two-way deal, but I'd walk if I were he. Mike Comrie? Do you need to ask?
10. And the others?
Ron, come on. Try to keep up.
11. When do the Penguins make room for their young players?
When they are better than the older players.
12. Does Shero consider trading a couple -- defensemen are prized commodities in the NHL -- for a scoring winger for Malkin or Crosby?
Not at this juncture.
So many questions ...
13. But the other questions?
That's enough for now, Ronnie. Daddy's tired.
We're still working on GTOG's Season Recap report card for the forwards, and that should be posted at some point Tuesday. Sorry for the delay, but you may have noticed that the Pens used a lot of them this season. In case you missed it, you can see the Defense Report Card here.