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Tugnutt's days with Penguins due to end

Friday, June 30, 2000

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Ron Tugnutt's time in the Penguins' goal, as memorable as it has been brief, is all but finished.

"We expect to test the market," Pat Morris, Tugnutt's agent, said yesterday. "It doesn't appear that Pittsburgh is interested."

 
Ron Tugnutt (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette) 

Tugnutt, who starred in the Stanley Cup playoffs after being acquired at the NHL's March 14 trading deadline, is one of 17 Penguins whose contracts expire tonight at midnight. And he is one of seven players in that group who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency, meaning another team can sign him without paying heavy compensation.

Morris yesterday faxed a statement to the league's other 29 teams to inform them of Tugnutt's pending availability, but he doesn't expect he'll have to do much more than that to generate interest in his client.

"Ron's performance speaks for itself," Morris said. "Everybody saw what he did for Pittsburgh in the playoffs and the kind of numbers he put up. I don't think I'll have to be calling teams to let them know about Ron. I'm betting my phone will be ringing a lot this weekend."

Tugnutt, 32, was 6-5 this past postseason, shining in the Penguins' first-round upset of the Washington Capitals and in the second-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He led all playoff goaltenders with a .945 save percentage, ranked second with a 1.77 goals-against average and turned in a 70-save performance in the Penguins' 2-1, five-overtime loss in Game 4 against the Flyers.

 
   

Penguins salary chart

 
 

Tugnutt made $552,500 this past season but could quadruple that on the open market. Asked if he will seek more than the average NHL salary of $1.3 million, Morris replied that the price would be "in excess of that."

Morris and Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick have spoken several times in the past month but haven't come close to a deal. The Penguins, aware since the season's end that such an impasse was likely, have strongly hinted that they will be unable to afford Tugnutt and will look to Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 22, as their starter for next season. Patrick was unavailable for comment yesterday.

"Ron really enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh, and he'd still like to come back. But that's up to Craig," Morris said. "Even after another team makes us an offer, we'll still give the Penguins a call. But we know they have a financial situation and that they have a pretty good young goaltender ready to climb the ladder there."

Two teams are most likely to vigorously pursue Tugnutt when the bidding opens tomorrow.

One is Philadelphia, which will need to acquire a veteran this summer to back up Brian Boucher, a 23-year-old goaltender who beat Tugnutt in that marathon Game 4. A week ago, the Flyers traded veteran John Vanbiesbrouck to the New York Islanders, leaving a large hole behind Boucher.

The other likely suitor is Ottawa, the team from which the Penguins acquired Tugnutt in March. The Senators were roundly criticized in the Canadian press for trading Tugnutt and defenseman Janne Laukkanen for goaltender Tom Barrasso, and they have made it no secret that they want him back. Also, Tugnutt and his family bought a house near Ottawa last year.

The Penguins' focus today will be on the 10 players who can become restricted free agents at midnight.

To retain the rights to a restricted free agent, a team must offer a 10 percent raise on the player's salary from the previous season. The team is then empowered to match any other offer the player receives or be compensated with as many as five first-round draft picks if it loses the player. Such signings, however, are extraordinarily rare.

In the restricted category are forwards Matthew Barnaby, Josef Beranek, Rene Corbet, Robert Dome, Pat Falloon and Aleksey Morozov; defensemen Laukkanen and Sven Butenschon, and goaltenders Aubin and Tyler Moss. Of that group, the only players who stand a chance of not receiving qualifying offers are Beranek and Falloon.

In the unrestricted category, for players who are older than 30 or have met other experience qualifications, are forwards Dennis Bonvie, Rob Brown, Tom Chorske and Steve Leach; defensemen Peter Popovic and Dan Trebil, and Tugnutt.



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