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Penguins Penguins try to make Kasparaitis, Lang appealing

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

ATLANTA -- It might become something of a seller’s market for the Penguins’ two high-profile trade candidates, defenseman Darius Kasparaitis and center Robert Lang, after all.

Colorado seemed to be making a strong push for Kasparaitis yesterday, while the New York Rangers are believed to have stepped up efforts to acquire Lang.

The Avalanche had expressed interest in Kasparaitis and Lang earlier, but with injured center Peter Forsberg expected to return for the playoffs, Colorado’s interest in Lang has lagged somewhat.

Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick declined to confirm any specific trade discussions he has been having, saying only that “everyone’s talking to everyone.” Many of those conversations figure to continue right up to the trading deadline at 3 p.m. today.

Patrick also said there was no evidence that the Rangers’ acquisition of Pavel Bure from Florida last evening will spark a chain reaction of transactions, as deals involving prominent players sometimes do.

While Colorado is unlikely to surrender a core player for Kasparaitis -- it is, after all, trying to fortify its lineup for a defense of the Stanley Cup -- the Avalanche seems willing to give up 24-year-old left winger Ville Nieminen, who has 10 goals and 14 assists in 53 games.

Nieminen, who is 6 feet, 200 pounds, fell into disfavor with team officials when he showed up at training camp in relatively poor shape, but has come on strong in recent weeks.

He had 14 goals and eight assists in 50 games with Colorado last season, and followed that with a strong performance in the postseason, piling up four goals and six assists in 23 playoff games.

Indications are that the Avalanche would prefer to give up Nieminen instead of other promising forward prospects like Radim Vrbata, Brian Willsie and Vaclav Nedorost.

Trading Kasparaitis would leave a major void on the Penguins’ already-marginal defense corps, but Colorado does not have any surplus defensemen. None, at least, who could be significant contributors at the NHL level.

Although Colorado has long been in the field for Kasparaitis, the front-runner until recently was Detroit. The Red Wings, though, seem to have backed off, apparently out of concerns over the Penguins’ asking price and that Kasparaitis is determined to rejoin the New York Islanders as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury repeatedly has expressed his desire to reacquire Kasparaitis but, contrary to reports swirling around Toronto last night, there’s no indication New York is in serious contention at this point. Milbury seems reluctant to tamper with his lineup, although defensive prospect Branislav Mezei might be given up if the right offer comes along.

While St. Louis has seemed like a logical destination for Lang for several weeks because of an injury to first-line center Doug Weight, the Rangers emerged yesterday as a party in the talks for him.

What kind of return the Penguins could expect for Lang isn’t clear, although odds are they want no parts of underachieving center Petr Nedved. New York is eager to dump him, but Nedved ended up in Manhattan only after a long, often-ugly contract dispute with the Penguins a few years ago.

The Rangers, like the Penguins, Carolina and the Islanders, continue to pursue Edmonton defenseman Tom Poti, who has attracted considerable interest from around the league and is a virtual lock to change teams before the deadline.

Poti has been harshly criticized by the media and public in Edmonton because of his refusal to play physically, but he is adept enough at handling and passing the puck to have been selected for Team USA at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

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