There aren't many more amiable guys than Tony Granato in this game.
His smile is warm and easy, his tone genuine.
Those would be admirable traits for just about anyone, but especially a guy who admittedly built his 13-season NHL playing career on a single, simple quality: hatred.
Manufactured, at least some of the time, but hatred, nonetheless.
"My way of trying to play the game the way I had to play was to try to find some reason to hate the other team," said Granato, a Penguins assistant coach who accumulated 248 goals and 244 assists in 774 games with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles and San Jose.
"If I played a game where I went out and didn't mind the other team ... not that it was ever going to be a friendly game, because if you went into a game friendly, you were the one who was going to be on the wrong end of it, but you always try to find that way to get a little bit of hatred toward something on the other team."
That wouldn't have been much of a challenge against some opponents -- think a Penguin has trouble getting motivated to play Philadelphia or that a guy from Washington struggles to get up for a game against the Penguins? But it's conceivable that it could have been a little tougher against some others, such as clubs from the other conference Granato didn't see much.
Not really, he said, even if it meant digging through his mental archives to find some incentive. Whatever it took, Granato always came up with something.
"Maybe it was something in the organization," he said. "Or something that happened previously."
Only later did he consider that another approach might have worked for him, too.
"I probably should have tried the other way," he said, smiling. "Find something I liked about the other team."
General manager Ray Shero has done a nice job of getting the core of his team tied up on long-term contracts.
Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal are signed through 2012-13, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang through 2013-14 and Marc-Andre Fleury, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek through 2014-15.
That doesn't mean Shero can expect an uneventful offseason next summer. Especially when he has yet to decide which of his own free agents he'll try to retain, let alone open negotiations with them.
"We haven't had those discussions with anybody at this point," Shero said.
Penguins regulars who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency if not re-signed by July 1 (and their current salary-cap hits) include:
W Pascal Dupuis $1.4 million
F Max Talbot $1.05 million
W Mike Rupp $825,000
W Eric Godard $750,000
W Arron Asham $700,000
F Craig Adams $550,000
W Chris Conner $550,000
F Mike Comrie $500,000
D Deryk Engelland $500,000
Shero also will have to deal with restricted free agents-to-be Tyler Kennedy ($725,000) and Mark Letestu ($500,000), as well as a number of players not currently on the NHL roster.
For now, though, he sees no reason to rush into anything.
"This is something we talk about [as a staff]," Shero said. "It's a matter of timing and fit. You're always [projecting] what the salary cap may be next year, and based on performance as well -- both the player and the team -- [before deciding who to try to keep]."
Monday: New Jersey ... Remember when Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to the Devils and all those outsiders said they couldn't imagine a worse fit of a player with a team? Suffice to say, they're not second-guessing their criticism.
Wednesday: Toronto ... The Maple Leafs might be one of the Eastern Conference's bottom feeders, but they've played .500 or better in Pittsburgh in nine of 10 seasons -- including this one, thanks to a 4-3 victory Oct. 13 at Consol Energy Center.
Saturday: at Buffalo ... Penguins didn't have to deal with world-class goalie Ryan Miller in their 1-0 victory at HSBC Arena Nov. 24 because he had a groin injury. Almost didn't matter, though, because Jhonas Enroth was every bit as good as Miller usually is.
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org .