Pittsburgh, PA
June 25, 2018
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Pirates Q&A
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  Sports >  Columnists Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Madden: Not trading Lang is the better idea

Saturday, March 09, 2002

With the NHL's March 19 trade deadline approaching, Robert Lang did the Penguins no favor when his left hand was broken Tuesday. Lang, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, severely diminished his trade value. Lang will return this season, but no one seems to know when. And who knows how effective his hand will allow him to be?

The Penguins are almost certain to trade Lang and Darius Kasparaitis, who also will be an unrestricted free agent. The team is nowhere near being a Stanley Cup contender, so there's no reason to keep either player for the stretch run, then let him skate away with no compensation.

I agree with trading Kasparaitis, who is more bluster than results. But I disagree with trading Lang, especially now that his exchange rate has been devalued because of injury. Even though the two sides aren't talking, the Penguins and Lang should get together and hammer out a new contract.

Lang is making $2.9 million this season. That figure likely sticks in the craw of General Manager Craig Patrick, who reportedly feels Lang is worth nowhere near it. But Lang will likely get $4 million per season when he signs his next deal. If Patrick doesn't like Lang making $2.9 million, $4 million might make the Penguins' mild-mannered general manager reach for a gun.

Although Lang is no superstar, he's not chopped liver, either. At 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, Lang isn't a big hitter, but he uses his size well. He's the Penguins' No. 2 scorer with 18 goals and 32 assists in 61 games, and he has displayed a degree of offensive consistency for four years running. He doesn't go in front of the opposition net as much as he could, but he goes there occasionally, which is more than most of his teammates can say. Lang is a solid, skilled, experienced forward on a team that doesn't have many.

If the Penguins have to pay Lang $4 million per season, they should do it. They shouldn't trade him for minimal value now, nor should they let him leave in the off-season without fetching anything back. The Penguins could always trade Lang next season, when a healthy hand would make him more marketable.

Lang might take a bit less than $4 million a year to stay in Pittsburgh. He should, anyway. He fits in perfectly with the Penguins, and they're the only team to give him a fair chance in his nine-year, three-team NHL career. Los Angeles and Boston acted as if playing Lang would cause a leprosy epidemic.

What might seem like too much money at the time can wind up being a bargain eventually. Remember when Ron Francis signed a four-year contract with Carolina in 1998 at $5 million per year? That appeared excessive then. But is there any team that wouldn't take Francis at that figure now?

Lang at $4 million per year would be expensive now. But give Lang a long-term deal at that price and, with hockey salaries escalating all the time, he might be relatively inexpensive by 2004 when a labor dispute shuts down the NHL for good anyway.

In principle, Lang isn't worth $4 million per year. But in reality, that's what he's going to get. The Penguins need to deal with reality.

The Penguins have a budget that must be adhered to. But I can't believe that signing Lang would have dire financial consequences. At any rate, the Penguins have no one to replace Lang. To remain competitive, the Penguins have got to sign players such as Lang or develop able replacements from within. Milan Kraft is not an able replacement, not yet, and not unless the NHL starts awarding goals for mindlessly and repeatedly banking the puck off the back of the net to yourself.

It's hard to rip the Penguins this season. Considering all the injuries, you almost have to give them a mulligan. If Martin Straka were typing this column, he would have broken a finger by now.

Speaking of this column, it's only fair to tell you that it's been all baloney up to this point. The Penguins won't keep Lang. It's a safe bet that they will trade Lang just before the deadline, with the quality of the return depending on his grip strength at the time.

As always, the trade deadline will be an interesting time for the Penguins, especially if they continue to fade in the playoff chase. Patrick usually has reason to go for short-term fixes when he makes his deadline deals. I wonder what kind of trades he'll chase if a short-term fix is useless?

More than anything, the Penguins need an offensive defenseman. Not necessarily a guy who piles up a lot of points, but a player who can break the puck out with skill, speed and precision and operate with the same qualities at the point on the power play. When everyone is healthy, the Penguins have a fair amount of talented forwards. But their talent gets somewhat diluted when they have to catch breakout passes flat-footed, when their defensemen can't put the puck on their stick as they move through the neutral zone with speed. If I were Patrick, Edmonton's Tom Poti and the New York Islanders' Roman Hamrlik would be at the top of my shopping list. Both are reportedly available.

Mark Madden is the host of a talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections