Pens to Break Ties with Morozov, Kraft, possibly others

According to articles in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, not only does the Penguins ability to bring Malkin over to the NHL this season seem all but lost but the team have decided against re-signing both Milan Kraft and Alexei Morozov, with trading their rights the next step in their NHL careers.

http://www.postgazette.com/pg/05236/558853.stm

http://www.postgazette.com/pg/05235/558245.stm

http://www.postgazette.com/pg/05235/558245.stm

Kraft, a 6-3 center who can play wing, and former 1st round pick from 98 finally began to perform at the end of the last season racking up 40 points (19g and 21a) in 66 games mostly playing with checking line players Matt Bradley and Kelly Buchberger and averaging only 15 minutes a game. While not a great skater, Kraft has improved two way play, faceoff abilities and still has a quick hard accurate shot.

Morozov, 28, a 6-1 winger and former first round pick in 95 may not ever be the player who was labeled the “best player not in the NHL” when he was drafted, but his offensive ability finally started to come around the last 3 seasons put up 124 points in his last 174 games. Plus during the lockout he was one of the Russian Elite league leading scorers, out scoring every other NHL player including Kovalchuk Datsyuk, and Kovalev among others.

Either of these players would help out many teams in the league, Washington and St.Louis with their lack of talent, Toronto with their lack of scoring wingers, Atlanta given how well morozov gelled with Kovalchuk in russia could all be possible homes for these two players.

Also Dick Tarnstrom is headed for arbitration on Fri with no deal in sight. Tarnstrom, 30, was the Penguins’ leading scorer in 2003-04, when he put up 16 goals and 36 assists in 80 games to ranked 6th among NHL defensemen. And with rules changes designed to put a renewed emphasis on offense set to take effect this season, he could put up even bigger numbers in the future.

Tarnstroms agent places his client among “an elite group of guys,” adding that “Offensive defensemen are at a premium now.”

With Gonchars signing making Tarnstrom possibly expendable, the idea of a trade after the arbitration hearing has been floating around Pittsburgh as of late. Buffalo, Washington, La and Florida could all benefit from a player of Tarnstroms ability.

Also it seems that the Pens are playing hardball with a couple of key younger players. Brooks Orpik 24, a 6-2 230 pound physical defensmen and Ryan Malone 25, a 6-4 220 pound left wing/center who lead the team in goal scoring with 22and was among early candidates for the Calder last season are both RFAs and have not signed their qualifying offers in hopes of landing raises after being two of the few bright points during a dismal season.

Both players could be signed to offer sheets by another team at this point, and given their expected value the most a team stands to lose is a 2nd round pick, this fact along with the fact that they are both good and young, and have long term value to any team, it wouldn’t surprise me if another team tried to poach either of them, if they remain unsigned for very much longer.

I bring up these players because in the event that any or all of these players do not return next season the additions of Recchi, Leclair, Palffy, and Gonchar are no longer as High Impact as they once were. At first glance these moves were pushing younger, yet somewhat skilled players into depth positions creating the illusion of a stacked team. These moves can no longer be seen as additions to the team, but as replacements for the last years best players.

The offensive burden will fall onto the brittle shoulders of Mario Leclair and Palffy along with the steady Recchi and unproven Crosby. Without the depth that having players like Kraft, Morozov and Malone on the roster creates, this team could quickly suffer the same fate as the 2001-2002 team when a rotating cast of injured scorers quickly dashed the playoff hopes of a team that looked good on paper.

The reality of the situation is that the Pens may have made some strong additions, but due to the exodus of some of last seasons better players they are a team with much less depth than originally thought.


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