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Penguins Penguins trying to trade Kasparaitis, hope to keep Boughner

Club weighing defensive options

Thursday, June 28, 2001

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Penguins are trying to trade Darius Kasparaitis, partly because they want to keep another physical defenseman.

General Manager Craig Patrick is working to deal Kasparaitis -- possibly within the next week -- to free room on the team's payroll. And one reason he is eager to trim costs is to keep Bob Boughner from leaving as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Kasparaitis, 29, made $1.6 million last season and is a restricted free agent, meaning the Penguins retain his rights and can match any offer from another team. He is expected to command a salary in excess of $2 million next season.

Darius Kasparaitis

That's more than the Penguins are willing to pay, which is why Patrick is shopping him around the league.

Mark Gandler, Kasparaitis' agent, believes the New York Islanders top the list of teams seeking his client. Kasparaitis played his first five NHL seasons on Long Island before coming to Pittsburgh in 1996, and General Manager Mike Milbury long has regretted trading Kasparaitis to the Penguins. A source in New York's front office yesterday confirmed the team is interested in reacquiring him.

Boughner, 30, is free to offer his services on the open market when free agency begins Sunday.

Patrick yesterday tendered him a qualifying offer with the mandatory 10 percent raise on his $950,000 salary of last season to ensure the Penguins will receive a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another team.

Boughner will not accept that qualifying offer, opting to wait to see what he is worth on the open market, which could be as much as $2 million a year. But that doesn't mean the Penguins have no shot at keeping him.

"We'll be able to talk to any team come Sunday, but Bob's interest clearly is staying with the Penguins," said Pat Morris, Boughner's agent. "He likes Pittsburgh. His family likes Pittsburgh. And it's not exactly like he's trying to get away from a bad hockey club. In his best-case scenario, he would stay."

If Boughner does re-sign with the Penguins, it's unlikely to happen before mid-July at the earliest. He plans to give the Penguins a crack at keeping him, but not before he has a chance to test his market value.

Morris said he expects the Penguins to lose Boughner or Kasparaitis this summer, but not both.

"Imagine if Bob signs with another team and the Penguins trade Kasparaitis," Morris said. "You'd have to think they'd be taking a step backward."

Boughner had one goal, three assists, 147 penalty minutes and a plus-18 rating in 58 games this past season. He was one of the Penguins' few defensemen who provided a punishing presence on the blue line.

Kasparaitis was another. Famous for his crunching checks, he is coming off the best season of his career, netting three goals, 16 assists, 111 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating in 77 games. He also scored the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Penguins' second-round playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Penguins are committed to a $34 million payroll next season, up about $3 million from last season. And, even if they are successful in dealing right winger Jaromir Jagr's $10 million salary, most of those savings are projected to go toward achieving new contracts with their most prominent restricted free agents, including center Robert Lang, right winger Alexei Kovalev and left winger Martin Straka.

NOTES -- Five members of the Penguins yesterday were named to the Czech national team for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. They are Jagr, Straka, Lang and Josef Beranek at forward and Frantisek Kucera on defense. Also on the club is former Penguins defenseman Jiri Slegr, now with the Atlanta Thrashers. Penguins Coach Ivan Hlinka is the Czech team's general manager.

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