Penguins have right to sign elsewhere

Penguins fans expect the team's free agents to stay in Pittsburgh for a discount, but Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik have every right to look and sign elsewhere

It's not yet July, but there's already a strong contender for the dumbest, most irrational Pittsburgh sports sentiment of the year.

If the Penguins had a dollar for every time one of their fans said it, they could pay Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin in cash.

What's wrong with Hossa, Malone and Orpik? Are they that greedy or what? Don't they realize what they'll give up if they leave here? Don't they know how good they have it playing with Sid? If they were smart, they would sign with the Penguins for less money because they can win the Cup here.


What a crock.

First of all, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik owe nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to the Penguins. Certainly, they don't owe the team any kind of discount in their next contract. It's nice that Sidney Crosby gave the Penguins a big break when he did his new deal last summer. He could afford to do it because of all of the jack he'll make in endorsements as the face of the NHL. It's also great that Malkin appears willing to do the same thing. I'm not sure why and I won't fully believe it until he signs, but every player has to do what's right for him.

But it's preposterous -- not to mention blatantly unfair to Hossa, Malone and Orpik -- to expect them to sign for less to stay with the Penguins. They fulfilled their contracts with the team admirably. Hossa was the Penguins' second-leading scorer on their postseason run to the Stanley Cup final with 12 goals and 26 points in 20 games. Getting him at the trade deadline in February was worth everything general manager Ray Shero had to give up. Malone was a force all over the ice all season, scoring goals, setting up in front of the net on the power play, killing penalties. There aren't too many better power forwards in the NHL. Orpik tolerated what many felt were motivational indignities from coach Michel Therrien to become a top-two defenseman. He was the Penguins' only physical defenseman.

The system says the players will become unrestricted free agents Tuesday.

They would be foolish not to explore every option out there.

The notion that Crosby is the only great teammate and the Penguins the only legitimate Cup contender also is ludicrous. Do you really think it would be so bad playing with Henrik Zetterberg? I'm not 100 percent sure, but I believe his Red Wings -- not the Penguins -- won the Cup. Would it be so bad playing with Alexander Ovechkin? Jarome Iginla? Joe Thornton? Ilya Kovalchuk?

Crosby might be the NHL's best player, but the league is loaded with great talents.

And you don't really believe the Penguins are the only team with a chance to win the Cup next season, do you? There are 30 NHL clubs. All 30 will go to training camp in September believing they have a shot. Anywhere between 10 and 15 will be justified to have that belief.

I can guarantee you what Hossa, Malone and Orpik will be thinking when -- OK, if -- they sign with other teams. Like all world-class athletes, they have egos. Each will be convinced that he'll make a difference with his new club and be the player to push it over the top.

Hey, I'd love to see Hossa, Malone and Orpik stay, too. They're great players and great guys. They made enormous contributions here, right to the bitter end. Who will ever forget Hossa desperately trying to score the tying goal in the final seconds of Game 6 against Detroit, the puck creeping slowly and harmlessly through goaltender Chris Osgood's crease? Or Malone playing against the Red Wings with gauze stuffed up his broken nose? Or Orpik lighting up four Red Wings in 15 seconds with ferocious hits during the most impressive shift of the playoffs, the shift of his career?

I'll never forget.

But I just don't see even one of the players staying, not now when they're so close to free agency, not when there's so much money out there to be had.

You might blame the three if they sell themselves to the highest bidder.

I won't.

I'll shake their hand, applaud them and wish them well.

Ron Cook can be reached at . First Published June 29, 2008 4:00 AM


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