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Penguins Trade talk not new to Kasparaitis, Lang

Monday, March 04, 2002

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Sometime during the Penguins' game at Nassau Coliseum tonight, defenseman Darius Kasparaitis will find himself in position to block a shot by one of the New York Islanders.

Defenseman Darius Kasparaitis can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Maybe with his foot. Maybe with his stomach. Maybe with his face.

And Kasparaitis will do it. Without hesitation.

Mostly because that's the only way he knows how to do his job. Even if he has no idea who he will be doing it for a few weeks from now.

"If I have to block a shot, I block the shot, because it's in me," Kasparaitis said. "It's my nature. I can't change my style."

Nobody would ask him to, anyway. Kasparaitis' willingness to sacrifice for his team is the primary reason he is one of the most coveted players in the NHL as the March 19 trading deadline approaches.

And while some members of Penguins management contend that a technicality involving the contract offer Kasparaitis accepted last summer will prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season, that perspective doesn't appear to be widely held around the league.

 
 
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Penguins Report: 3/4/02

   
 

Consequently, Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick can expect to field more than a few trade proposals for Kasparaitis in coming days. And he can count on getting almost as many for veteran center Robert Lang, an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

With the chances of the Penguins making a serious run at the playoffs appearing to fall somewhere between nominal and nil, trading Kasparaitis and Lang before the deadline, rather than running the risk of losing them for nothing in a few months, looks like the logical thing to do.

Patrick, though, seemed downright incredulous when asked if the likelihood that Kasparaitis and Lang will be traded has had any visible impact on how they do their jobs.

"I don't know why they'd have any reason to believe that," he said. "But I can't control [what people think]."

Well, perhaps sometime over the next few days Patrick will get a sense of why so many people expect Kasparaitis and Lang to change teams in the foreseeable future.

The league's general managers will be meeting in Naples, Fla., and it's hardly out of the question that some deals will be struck there. Or, at the very least, that the groundwork will be laid for trades to be completed before the 19th.

This much, at least, is certain: Patrick won't be able to take more than a couple of steps without bumping into a colleague interested in acquiring Kasparaitis and/or Lang for the stretch drive and playoffs.

The list of teams that would like to graft Kasparaitis onto their roster probably is longer than the one of those who wouldn't clear a spot for him. Detroit covets him, as do the Islanders, Philadelphia and Colorado, among others.

Lang, meanwhile, figures to be only slightly less popular. St. Louis has been showing interest since No. 1 center Doug Weight sustained an injury last week. Colorado sees him as a potential replacement for Peter Forsberg, who missed the entire season with a variety of maladies. And Washington still seems to feel that reuniting Jaromir Jagr with Lang would help Jagr produce to his enormous potential.

Because Patrick can be excruciatingly patient -- just ask any agent who has tried to negotiate a contract with him -- he isn't likely to trade Kasparaitis, Lang or anyone else in haste.

Especially when, with assets like Kasparaitis and Lang to give, the Penguins have an opportunity to acquire prospects and draft picks who could help to solidify the franchise's future.

Not that there aren't short-term needs that could be addressed, too. The Penguins could use at least one more defensemen who plays tough in front of the net, especially if Kasparaitis is sent away, as well as one who can handle and shoot the puck.

One obvious candidate in the latter category is Edmonton's Tom Poti, whose downside includes severe food allergies and a reputation for occasional errors in judgment and execution.

Picking up a decent power forward wouldn't hurt, either, and there's room for a goal-scoring winger and at least one more good faceoff man.

Speculation about deals that would bring in any -- or all -- of those will be rampant in coming days, and Lang and Kasparaitis fully expect to be prominent in most of that talk, unfounded or otherwise.

"I've been in the rumors every year," Lang said. "Obviously, this year it's more [prominent] because I'm a free agent after the year. It's out of my hands. It's totally up to Craig and what he decides to do.

"Rumors always are going to be there. I've always found that the guys who are in the rumors are the last ones to go. Hopefully, that will be the case this year again. You hear so many things, from so many sources."

Kehoe praised the professionalism Kasparaitis and Lang have shown -- "They come to play every night. There's not a problem with those guys" -- and Patrick pointed out that it is in the players' long-term interest to perform well.

"I don't think they want to let themselves down, take a step back and not produce," he said. "They're working toward their future paychecks."

Even if they don't know where they'll be cashing them next season. Or next week, for that matter.

"Guys ask me every day, 'Are you still here?'"Kasparaitis said. "But that's just part of being a hockey player. You hear rumors. Sometimes they happen, sometimes they don't. But I have to play hockey."

And do it the only way he knows.

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