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Penguins Penguins Notebook: Patrick undecided on whether to sign No. 1 pick Fleury

Saturday, September 27, 2003

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Penguins have seen nothing from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to suggest he lacks the skill to play in the NHL this season.

Whether he'll get the opportunity to do it is another question.

Fleury, who is scheduled to make his third appearance of the preseason when the Penguins face Washington at 7 p.m. today in Portland, Maine, must be signed by Oct. 6 if the Penguins plan to keep him on their roster for the 2003-04 season.

General manager Craig Patrick said last night that although he still has not opened contract talks with Fleury's agents, he expects to decide within the next few days whether to try to work out a deal.

"I purposely haven't pushed the subject with anybody yet, because I want to see [Fleury perform] this weekend," Patrick said. "And we'll talk about it next week. ... We'll sit down and hash it all out ... then decide whether or not to call the agent."

Fleury's personal stats -- a 1.51 goals-against average and .943 save percentage -- reflect the exceptional abilities that prompted the Penguins to invest the No. 1 choice in the June entry draft in him.

And although the team seems to have no concerns about his skill level and potential, Patrick said other factors could influence whether the Penguins try to sign Fleury or return him to his junior team in Cape Breton for another season.

"There's lots of factors to weigh," Patrick said. "The fact that he's 18 years old. The fact that we're not sure what kind of lineup we're going to have yet. That's something we have to discuss, too. Who's going to be here, who's not going to be here.

"And we have to weigh the fact that, if he goes back to Cape Breton, they have a great team. He could learn a lot about winning down there, because they should go all the way."

It's reasonable to believe Fleury's contract would be worth at least $4 million, with most of that money in reachable bonuses.

Patrick declined to speculate on whether negotiations would be difficult -- "I don't know what to expect at this point," he said -- but he said he's glad Fleury didn't flop, which would have made the decision to send him back to Cape Breton easy.

"We're pretty happy with what we've seen," Patrick said. "We wouldn't want it any other way right now."

Ring of Honor

The Penguins' Ring of Honor, a mural honoring members of the franchise's Millennium Team, went on public display for the first time last night.

The Ring, which is on the front surface of the press box, depicts goalies Les Binkley and Tom Barrasso, defensemen Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Dave Burrows and Ulf Samuelsson and forwards Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Rick Kehoe, Jaromir Jagr and Jean Pronovost, along with Patrick and coach Bob Johnson.

The mural is anchored by memorial logos for Johnson and Herb Brooks, two of the most celebrated hockey coaches to work in this city.

Power outage

The Penguins had scored on only 2 of 34 power plays in the preseason before facing Columbus last night, although it's worth noting that assembling top-notch man-advantage units had not been a priority in the early games.

There was more of an emphasis on being productive with the extra man last night, however, and Lemieux acknowledged that taking advantage of power plays will be critical to the team's chances of earning points.

"Of course, the power play's always a big part of the game, especially early in the season, the way they'll be calling the games [closely]," Lemieux said. "If we can take advantage of that, get a good start, get some confidence, I think we'll be OK."

The final cut

The Penguins have to make 11 personnel moves to get down to the regular-season limit, and it's not out of the question that young players such as Ryan Malone, Matt Murley and Colby Armstrong will be around until -- and perhaps after -- the final cut.

But although those three have turned in surprisingly strong showing in the preseason, other prospects were extremely disappointing.

Patrick allowed that "there are some people we expected more out of," although he declined to identify them.

Exhibit A probably is forward Michal Sivek, who has the ability to be a regular contributor in the NHL but either took his place on the Penguins' roster for granted or simply wasn't interested in working for one before being sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League earlier this season.

"I think everybody knew from day one that they had an opportunity to make the club," said Lemieux, the first-line center who doubles as the team's owner. "Especially this year, with some of the changes we made over the summer. They were told to take advantage of it. It looks like some of them did, and some of them didn't.

"There's still some jobs that are there to be filled and, hopefully, they realize that. Everybody's got a different mind-set. ... If they want to make it, they'll do whatever it takes."

Malone, who played high school hockey at Upper St. Clair, has been among the most pleasant surprises in this camp. He not only is big (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) and fairly skilled -- witness his deft backhand pass that set up a Rico Fata goal in the second period last night -- but also is able to serve in a variety of roles.

"He hasn't looked out of place at all," coach Eddie Olczyk said. "He's very smart without the puck, which is something that maybe the average fan wouldn't think is important [when] evaluating a young player.

"He has experience, because he played at St. Cloud [State]. He's a versatile guy; he can play in the middle, he can play on the [wing]. And the guy's a pretty darned good penalty-killer."

McKenna's role

Steve McKenna, a left winger for most of his pro career, was used on defense again last night. Although that is a reflection of the Penguins' modest depth on the blue line, it also says something about how McKenna sees his role on this club.

"You're not going to get many better team people than Steve McKenna, and that's really important to what we're trying to do, and what I'm trying to get across to our players," Olczyk said. "Being versatile like that certainly gives us a lot of ... different avenues to explore.

"We're going to continue to use [McKenna] on the blue line, then we'll make our decision [about whether to move him back to the wing]. Whether we carry two extra [defensemen] or one extra [defenseman] when we break camp is still to be determined. A lot has to do with the health of [Josef Melichar and Michal Rozsival]."

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