Penguins' talks with Gonchar, Cooke heat up next week

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Penguins general manager Ray Shero is headed back to the Stanley Cup final.

This time, though, he will not have a vested interest in the outcome.

Shero will join his fellow general managers today in Philadelphia, where Game 3 of the Cup final between the Flyers and Chicago will be played tonight, for a meeting held during the championship round each year.

One major topic will be the salary-cap ceiling for 2010-11. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has projected a $2 million increase over the $56.8 million figure for the season now winding down, and that figures to have an impact on how Shero approaches negotiations with players who are eligible for unrestricted free agency if not re-signed by July 1.

Those talks with the agents representing guys such as Sergei Gonchar and Matt Cooke likely will begin in earnest next week, according to Shero and several agents.

"We've talked about some parameters [for contracts], but there's nothing concrete at this point," Shero said. "Most likely next week, we'll get into [negotiations with] a few of our free agents."

Specifically, he said talks with the Cooke camp are "not too far along," and reiterated that he had a general conversation with Gonchar's agent, J.P. Barry, during the NHL draft combine in Toronto last week.

"I'm not close on anything now," Shero said.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik, however, is getting closer to undergoing the surgery needed to repair an abdominal injury that bothered him for the second half of the season.

Shero said the operation is scheduled for around the middle of this month, and that Orpik will be able to start training "two or three weeks" after it is performed.

What the chances are of Orpik having Johan Fransson of Sweden alongside him on the Penguins' blue line next season remains to be seen.

The Penguins thought enough of Fransson to discuss a conditional trade for his rights with Los Angeles, but his status at the moment is cloudy, at best.

Although the Kings apparently failed to sign him by the June 1 deadline, which would make Fransson an unrestricted free agent in the NHL, he has a contract with Lulea in Sweden's Elitserien, and there are conflicting reports about whether he also has a deal in place with Dynamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

If Fransson, 25, is free of his ties to Los Angeles and is not legally bound to the KHL, the Penguins will at least explore the possibility of working out a contract to bring him to North America.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at . Dave Molinari: .


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