Armstrong accepts raise from Penguins

Agrees to two-year deal, avoids arbitration

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Colby Armstrong opened the 2006-07 season by going 22 games without a goal.

In mid-January, he went through 17 games -- two of which he spent in street clothes -- without scoring one.

Along the way, he skidded from right wing on the Penguins' No. 1 line, where Sidney Crosby worked on his immediate left, to a decidedly more blue-collar role.

Nonetheless, when Armstrong agreed to a two-year contract yesterday, his salary was bumped from the $816,953 he earned in 2006-07 to $1.2 million per season.

Clearly, the Penguins believed they could put on price on what Armstrong contributes -- the ferocious forechecking, solid penalty-killing and overall grit -- even though most of those things don't come with statistics to back them up.

"I'm happy with what I got," Armstrong said. "I never thought I'd be doing as well [financially] as I've been doing in hockey. It's pretty crazy how things have gone."

He might also have been describing what has transpired with his team during the past couple of weeks, but now that Armstrong is under contract, general manager Ray Shero has dealt with just about everything on his offseason to-do list.

He still has to nail down the finer points of a contract extension for coach Michel Therrien, sign restricted free agents Tim Brent and Ryan Lannon and flesh out the roster of the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre, but the heavy negotiating is behind him.

There's the ongoing process of investigating trade possibilities, but unless such an exchange falls into place, the Penguins likely will enter training camp in two months with a group nearly identical to the one already in place.

What isn't certain is how Therrien and his staff will configure those pieces. Armstrong, who finished last season with 12 goals and 22 assists in 80 games, is one of many variables, having been plugged into a number of niches since turning pro.

"I can fit wherever they want me to play," he said. "I'm just looking forward to camp."

A lot more, it should be noted, than he was anticipating the salary-arbitration hearing for which his agent, Craig Oster, filed last week.

"I was starting to get a little nervous about that whole arbitration thing," Armstrong said. "This is the first time I'd ever been part of something like this."

Now, he'll have to wait at least a couple more years to experience that first arbitration hearing, and can turn his attention to other matters.

His daily workouts in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for example, and the phone calls he fields from teammates scattered across North America. Like one Crosby placed when word of Armstrong's new deal began to circulate.

A few days earlier, teammate Erik Christensen, at home in Kamloops, British Columbia, received a text message from Crosby while conducting an interview about his new contract. It's kind of tough to miss the trend there.

"Sid's keeping track of all the boys," Armstrong said. "He's a good team guy."

Just like his former linemate who got a new contract yesterday.

NOTES -- The Penguins signed two free-agent centers, Chris Minard and Nathan Smith, who are expected to spend the coming season in Wilkes-Barre. Minard had 32 goals, including a team-high 12 on the power play, and 17 assists in 65 games with Lowell of the American Hockey League last season. Smith had 19 goals and 21 assists in 72 games with Vancouver's AHL affiliate in Manitoba, and has played four games with the Canucks since turning pro. ... Agreement on a two-way contract with 26-year-old forward Jeff Taffe, late of Phoenix, has been all but finalized. He has 15 goals and 13 assists in 100 career games with the Coyotes and New York Rangers. While intriguing because of his size (6 foot 3, 201 pounds) and versatility, Taffe was criticized for a sporadic work ethic earlier in his career. He will earn $500,000 if he plays in the NHL.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
With Colby Armstrong, top, under contract, general manager Ray Shero has checked off just about everything on his to-do list.
Click photo for larger image.
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Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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