Cook: Penguins winger Dupuis best bargain in NHL

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Print Email Read Later bills itself as the definitive source for NHL salary information. Go to it and you will see that Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis ranks 18th on the team's salary-cap hit list this season at $1.5 million. The site doesn't call him the best bargain in hockey, but I will. He might just be the best bargain in professional sports.

"I'm glad when people think I deserve more," Dupuis said Sunday after the Penguins' practice at Consol Energy Center. "That means I must be doing a good job."

Dupuis has been better than good. He and linemate Sidney Crosby were the NHL's goal-scoring leaders with seven through the playoff games Saturday. You would expect that of Crosby, the world's best player. But Dupuis? He doesn't even get power-play time.

Dupuis has put himself in a fabulous spot. He skates on the top line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz on a team that is scoring goals at a historic pace and looks to be on an inexorable march to the Stanley Cup, although the Boston Bruins -- the next opponent -- plan on having something to say about that. Dupuis then will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. ranks him as the second-most attractive free agent-to-be behind Washington's Mike Ribeiro. Dupuis could be looking at the contract of a lifetime.

"I think it could happen here," Dupuis said. "I want it to be here."

Dupuis doesn't just say those words. He lives them. He took less money to stay in Pittsburgh when he signed his two-year, $3 million contract after the 2010-11 season. He's from Laval, Quebec, Canada -- just north of Montreal -- but continued to live here during the NHL lockout last fall.

"Every day, I grocery shop," Dupuis said. "I go to Starbucks. I take my kids to the park. I go to their hockey and gymnastics and cheerleading practices. We have great friends here away from hockey. We love it here."

The problem is the Penguins might not be able to afford Dupuis. Or, at 34, he might have to take a year or two less in his next contract to stay. The Penguins couldn't match the Los Angeles Kings' four-year, $13.6 million offer to defenseman Rob Scuderi after they won the Cup in 2009. No one in the organization begrudged his decision to leave for Los Angeles, where he won another Cup last season and could win a second with the Kings this season. No one will begrudge Dupuis if it comes to that for him.

"I'm a guy who always has believed you only need so much money in life," Dupuis said. "At the same time, you want to be paid your fair value. I'm not going to worry about it now. My mind is clear every time I come to the rink. That will be a good situation to be in after we hoist the Cup."

Dupuis is right.

He can't lose.

Dupuis is a big reason the Penguins are averaging 4.27 goals per game in these playoffs. They are trying to become the first team since the 1992-93 Penguins to average better than four goals a game.

Dupuis' evolution into a goal-scorer is remarkable. He always was a high-energy, speed guy with a defensive conscience, which has made him a terrific penalty-killer who has scored two short-handed playoff goals this spring. But he's so much more now. He scored 20 goals in 48 games in the lockout-shortened season after getting a career-high 25 in 82 games in 2011-12.

"My goals five or six years ago mostly were slap shots coming down the wing where I would just blast away," Dupuis said. "Now, it's more rebounds in the crease. It's charging hard to the net and having someone find my stick. It's winning battles in really tight quarters. I know those goals are there. I want them."

That's one of the reasons Crosby loves playing with Dupuis. For years, people have been saying Crosby needs better wings. It's instructive that he never said it. To the contrary, when he came back from his broken jaw after missing the first playoff game against the New York Islanders, he said he preferred playing with Dupuis and Kunitz, no offense to future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.

"If there's one guy who has believed in me the most during my career, it's No. 87," Dupuis said.

This is the deepest the Penguins have gone in the playoffs since their Cup season in 2009. Dupuis was on that team, but he hardly was a big factor. New coach Dan Bylsma hardly seemed impressed with him. Dupuis was a healthy scratch in eight of the 24 postseason games. He didn't have a point in the other 16 and was a minus-5.

"It was tough," Dupuis said. "You have your pride. You want to be the best teammate possible, but you also want to help by being on the ice. But I probably wouldn't be the player I am now if I hadn't gone through what I did in [2009]. Just the motivation. The little chip on my shoulder."

Dupuis has carried it a long way, but the journey this season is only half-finished. Eight playoff wins down, eight to go.

"It's an unbelievable team," Dupuis said, looking around the Penguins room. "Every game, we scratch good players. Then when those guys get a chance to play, they contribute. It's a great group."

No one has put his hand in the pile and contributed more than Dupuis.

Not on a per-contract-dollar basis, anyway.

"I must be doing something right," he said, grinning.

Just about everything, actually.

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Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published May 27, 2013 4:00 AM


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