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NHL Notebook: Dome tells Penguins he'd prefer overseas to minors

Sunday, August 20, 2000

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

In June 1997, Robert Dome was introduced to thousands of Pittsburghers at the Civic Arena as the Penguins' first pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

 
  Robert Dome, the Penguins top pick in 1997 NHL Entry Draft, has seven goals in three seasons. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

Three years later, he could be saying goodbye.

Dome, a restricted free agent, is balking at the Penguins' only contract offer, one which would pay him $660,000 for time spent in the NHL but only $75,000 for time spent in the minor leagues. And his opposition to a deal structured that way is so strong, agent Jiri Crha said, that Dome likely will spend the coming season in Europe.

"This isn't about money," Crha said. "This is about finding out what the Penguins' plans are for Robert, whether they're going to play him or just send him to their farm team again. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel Robert has the skill to be an NHL player."

Dome, 21, is a 6-foot, 210-pound left winger from Slovakia blessed with terrific speed and bullish checking ability. But he has had trouble mustering any significant numbers at the NHL level.

In 1997, he made the Penguins' roster out of his first camp. That was a surprise considering he was the 17th overall choice in the draft that summer and that only three other players taken in the first round that year reached the NHL. He had five goals in 30 games before being demoted to Syracuse of the AHL.

In 1998, he reported to camp overweight and was banished to the minor leagues for the entire year. In 68 games for Syracuse and Houston, he had 20 goals.

Last season, his attitude brightened considerably, and his conditioning improved with it. But he still wasn't making an impact. In 51 games with the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, he netted just 12 goals. In 22 games with the Penguins, he netted just two.

Crha blamed the Penguins for not giving Dome the ice time a first-round pick usually receives.

"For three years, they didn't give him an opportunity to show anything, always sending him to the farm team," Crha said. "I don't want Robert to go through that anymore. I don't want him to go up and down, with everybody telling him over and over why he's not playing. Just let him play. You need a chance at least to prove somebody wrong. If you play six shifts a game, you're never going to produce."

Crha said three European professional teams have called him to express interest in signing Dome. Two of them, Crha said, have promised to pay more than the Penguins are offering.

The Penguins will keep Dome's NHL rights even if he plays overseas, however, meaning that his only route to the big time still runs through Pittsburgh. It also means that General Manager Craig Patrick holds all the cards in any upcoming negotiations.

"I'm trying to get a feel from Craig right now to see if Robert can make their hockey club. I hope he can," Crha said. "But when you have an option to pay a guy a much smaller salary if he's on the farm team, he's the guy that's going to go down, not somebody else. I don't think that's fair to Robert at all. If the Penguins don't believe he's an NHL player, he'll play in Europe for a top team. I don't want to see him down there on that farm team anymore."

Aubin talks begin

Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin, the only other restricted free agent the Penguins have yet to sign, finally opened serious talks with the team this week.

No signing is imminent, but neither has there been mention of a holdout. Aubin, 23, is in line to be the starter and probably wouldn't want to jeopardize that by reporting to camp late.

"We're pretty much at the start of the process," said Jay Fee, Aubin's agent. "Right now, I expect him to be in camp. We're still two weeks away. Sometimes these things can have a way of working themselves out."

Aubin would like a three-year deal, possibly for a a salary of approximately $700,000. He made $350,000 last season.

Icy chips

Right winger Rob Brown, an unrestricted free agent, has piqued the interest of two other NHL teams but would prefer to stay put. "For sure, he'd love to finish his career in Pittsburgh," agent Steve Kotlowitz said. "It's just a matter of whether the Penguins will want him back." Patrick has yet to make him an offer. Brown, 32, had 10 goals and 13 assists in 50 games last year while making $550,000. ... Get ready for the Milan Kraft hype when camp starts. Kraft, a 6-3 center who was the Penguins' top pick in 1998, is expected to be a hit right away. "He's a special player," said Kotlowitz, who also represents Kraft. "People who saw him at the World Junior Championships said he was a man among boys." ... Jaromir Jagr told Czech reporters that his ailing shoulder, which he has worked to strengthen in the off-season, still bugs him and that he has trouble lifting heavy objects. ... Only 17 days to Southpointe.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@ post-gazette.com.



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