Penguins Free Agency: Hossa still one of top targets

Status still unclear; others are in limbo

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Ten days ago, Marian Hossa informed the Penguins that he wanted to explore unrestricted free agency.

And perhaps he will.

But the Penguins have been tenacious about trying to get his name on a new contract before the free-agent market opens for business today at noon, which is why it's still not out of the question that he will stay on their depth chart.

It also is why so many of their other free agents-to-be remain in limbo, not knowing if the Penguins will have the salary-cap space -- or the inclination -- to keep them if they are able to lure Hossa back.

The Penguins are believed to have a five-year offer worth $7 million per season on the table for Hossa. That's less than he will command if he ventures into free agency, but as of last night, he still had not rejected it.

While the Penguins would have preferred to have Hossa's answer long before this, there's reason to think they might not close the door on re-signing him even if he hasn't committed to return by midday.

Under such a scenario, general manager Ray Shero could formulate a contract proposal for a free agent he sees as a possible replacement for Hossa, but not submit it to that player until he has given Hossa a final opportunity to accept the Penguins' offer.

Shero could not be reached for comment last night.

The outlook for the second-most prominent of the Penguins' 10 unrestricted free agents, defenseman Brooks Orpik, remains as hazy as that of Hossa.

Orpik, the most consistent and punishing hitter on the Penguins' blue line, could be in line for offers of $4 million or more per season if he makes himself available to other clubs. That's more than the Penguins are believed to be willing to pay.

Hossa is generally considered the top forward in the free agent Class of 2008, and his performance on Sidney Crosby's right wing in the Stanley Cup playoffs makes it easy to understand why the Penguins are intent on trying to keep him.

Hossa, acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline, finished the postseason with 12 goals and 14 assists in 20 games.

Being turned down by Hossa would, of course, be disappointing for the Penguins. The Penguins hold exclusive rights to negotiate with their free agents until noon, but are not barred from talking with them after that. And there's a pretty good chance that will happen,

Shero is believed to have laid the groundwork that would make it possible to bring back at least some of his free agents -- Jarkko Ruutu, Pascal Dupuis and Adam Hall appear to be on that list -- if circumstances allow it.

Allan Walsh, who represents Dupuis, said last night that, "we are talking" about a contract, but did not elaborate on the status of the negotiations.

Hall plans to gauge the league-wide level of interest in him, although his agent, Rick Curran, was adamant that Hall remains very much interested in staying with the Penguins.

"We certainly haven't closed the door," Curran said. "We had some very productive conversations with Ray, but it got to a point where Adam had to make a decision [about whether to venture into free agency]. It wasn't an easy one."

NOTES -- Right winger Georges Laraque, widely regarded as the NHL's top enforcer, does not appear to be close to agreement on a contract and seems certain to begin listening to offers from around the league this afternoon. ... Announcement of a new contract for center Evgeni Malkin is expected soon. Malkin's new deal, which will not kick in until the 2009-10 season, figures to pay him about $8.5 million per season over five years. Sidney Crosby accepted a five-year deal worth an average of $8.7 million last July. The Penguins are expected to try to work out a new contract for center Jordan Staal this summer, although Shero has focused more in recent weeks on deals for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Malkin.

Dave Molinari can be reached at .


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