Penguins Notebook: Olympic preview for seven players?

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- For several of the Penguins, the trip here might have been a preview of February 2010. That's when the Winter Olympics come to Vancouver, with GM Place serving as the main hockey venue.

Not including a couple young players who could develop into top talents, the Penguins have seven players who would seem to have a good shot to be invited to play for their countries -- center Sidney Crosby for Canada, forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar for Russia, Petr Sykora for the Czech Republic, forward Ryan Malone and defenseman Ryan Whitney for the United States, and winger Jarkko Ruutu for Finland.

Malkin, Gonchar, Sykora and Ruutu have played in the Olympics before.

Crosby is as much of a lock as there can be for 2010.

"I would love to. It would be nice to be part of it," said Crosby, who, in what was probably a mistake, was left off the 2006 Team Canada squad.

Whichever Penguins players participate in the 2010 Olympics, they might need to savor the experience.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said late last month that the NHL might skip the 2014 games.

"It's a strain on the players, on the [NHL] schedule and on our fans here," Bettman told the Reuters news service. "It has an impact on the momentum of the season and the benefits we get tend to be greater when the Olympics are in North America than when they're in a distant time zone."

The 2002 Winter Games were in Salt Lake City. In 2006, they were in Turin, Italy, a 10-hour time difference for those players traveling from the West Coast of North America.

One Penguins player who would be greatly disappointed if the NHL skipped the 2014 games is Gonchar. That's because the Olympics that year are scheduled for Sochi, Russia.

"For us, for Russia, it's going to be huge," Gonchar said. "We love hockey in our country. To not have our best players over there, it's going to be a big blow. We still have time. Hopefully, they're going to change their mind."

There is some thought that Bettman's talk of pulling out of the Sochi Games has a political overtone because Russia has refused to sign the International Ice Hockey Federation transfer agreement. Penguins fans remember that Malkin had a difficult time leaving Russia because of that.

Gonchar doesn't have any inside information, but doesn't like the implications of the NHL barring its players from the 2014 Olympics.

"There would be more strain in the relationship," he said.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who serves on an advisory committee for USA Hockey, said he's too focused on this NHL season and the 2010 Olympics to have thought a great deal about 2014, but he can see Bettman's point.

"To shut down the league for that amount of time and go over to Russia, that's a long way to go," Shero said.

"In the end, was [going to Turin] that beneficial to the league? Salt Lake was good. Vancouver will be good. We'll see."

Win-win deal

Penguins general manager Ray Shero considered it a win-win situation when the Atlanta Thrashers yesterday claimed Mark Recchi off re-entry waivers.

The move gave the veteran NHL winger new life after the Penguins decided he no longer fit their youth movement plans.

"The end result was good for both, and I hope it's a real good fit for him," Shero said.

Recchi, 39, was not signed by another team when he was put on waivers Tuesday. He was then assigned to the Penguins' minor-league club as a means to put him through re-entry waivers when he was recalled Thursday.

The Thrashers will be responsible for paying Recchi at a rate of half his $1.75 million salary for the rest of the season, with the Penguins picking up the balance. If a club had claimed Recchi on regular waivers, it would have been responsible for his full salary the balance of the season.

Recchi, who has played more than 1,350 games and scored more than 500 goals, served three stints with the Penguins. He won a Stanley Cup with them in 1991 and another with Carolina in 2005.

"He's been training hard and staying ready," said the Penguins' Gary Roberts, another veteran winger and a good friend of Recchi. "We're all very happy for him that he's getting an opportunity to play. We know he still can play and wants to play.

"He left his mark here. What he brought to the rink every day, a lot of young guys are taking that to the game. He's the ultimate team guy."

The Penguins play the Thrashers Jan. 12 in Atlanta.

Long-distant call
Ty Conklin

was glad to get the call to join the Penguins from their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor-league team on an emergency basis to back up Dany Sabourin.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins' No. 1 goaltender, is out with an ankle injury.

The call came, though, with the Penguins about as far from Wilkes-Barre as they could get, so Conklin spent all day and night traveling with stops in Toronto and Calgary before arriving in Vancouver yesterday in time for the morning skate.

"I had no idea where I was," Conklin said.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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