The Penguins signed former Wild defenseman Martin Skoula yesterday to a one-year contract.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The group of players who skate at Southpointe this morning will have a different look from the 23 who practiced there yesterday after the Penguins finalized their roster for the regular season.
Three days before they open at home against the New York Rangers, the Penguins set their roster at 21 players. The group features the minimum 12 forwards -- including star center Sidney Crosby, who returned to practice and reported improvement in his sore groin -- and a seventh defenseman who never has skated with the club.
The Penguins signed veteran Martin Skoula, a reliable, mobile defenseman who will join the team today. Also expected to practice is the club's other top center, Evgeni Malkin, who sat out yesterday for what coach Dan Bylsma called a "maintenance day."
Placed on waivers with the intent being assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League were forwards Ryan Bayda, Paul Bissonnette and Chris Conner and defensemen Deryk Engelland and Nate Guenin. Other teams have until noon today to claim them.
Bylsma revealed that Bayda, who came to camp on a tryout and signed a one-year, two-way contract Monday, has been dealing with injuries to both groins for about a week.
It was thought that Bayda, Bissonnette and Conner were competing for an extra forward spot, but general manager Ray Shero said he had no qualms about opening the season with 12 forwards.
Not among the dozen is Max Talbot, who is starting the season on injured reserve after having left shoulder surgery July 7. He skated on his own for the first time yesterday.
On defense, Guenin or Engelland seemed on the verge of grabbing the seventh spot, but Shero opted for more experience with Skoula.
"I explained to Guenin and Engelland that they both did a very good job and opened some eyes, but it's a long year and a long grind," Shero said.
In August, Shero attempted to re-sign veteran Philippe Boucher, who served as the team's seventh defenseman during their Stanley Cup run, but Boucher chose to retire. Skoula, 29, was available after he had tryouts this preseason with Florida and Columbus but was released. He signed for one year.
"He can move the puck well, and he'll be ready to play since he was in a couple camps, so it's just adding more experience to our group," Shero said.
Skoula, 6 feet 3 and 226 pounds, has 185 points in 724 NHL games and has played a minimum of 78 games each of his nine seasons. He won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001 and played with the Avalanche under Tony Granato, now a Penguins assistant.
The NHL allows up to 23 players during the regular season, but salary-cap considerations and the notion that prospects can be better served by playing in the AHL than being healthy NHL scratches persuaded Shero to stick with 21.
Bylsma said that, for him and his staff, training camp ended after a 4-1 loss Sunday at Detroit -- which left the Penguins 1-4-1 in exhibition games -- and, that after a day off Monday the regular season started yesterday.
"In terms of practice and work and pace of practice, our team was very, very good," Bylsma said. "Winning one time is not a great feeling, but practice-wise, detail-wise, system-wise and work-wise, our players were very, very good."
The team's six regular defensemen are Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski and Jay McKee.
In addition to Crosby and Malkin, the forwards are Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Mike Rupp and Eric Godard.
Brent Johnson will back up goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The only players among the 21 who were not on the Stanley Cup team last season are McKee, Skoula, Rupp and Johnson.
Crosby, who left a preseason game Friday at Columbus because of groin soreness, had been skating on his own before lasting the hour-plus practice yesterday.
"I feel better," Crosby said. "I'm not where I want to be, but it's progressing and, hopefully, by Friday it's something I won't have to worry about."
Talbot was on the ice a half-hour before practice. He skated with light stick-handling and shooting.
"I feel great, mentally more than physically, to be out there, touch the ice and feel the puck," he said.
"I still need to be careful. It's a slow process. I still have a lot of time in front of me."
Talbot said he is considered to be on schedule, meaning he could return in November or December.