On the Penguins: This, that and Crosby

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Some Sunday morning observations on the Penguins and issues of league-wide interest:

• There is a school of thought that, regardless of when Sidney Crosby receives medical clearance to return, he should not get back in uniform until the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the logic behind such an approach is understandable -- Crosby, after all, appeared in just eight games earlier this season after returning from a concussion before being injured again -- playing hockey is not just his profession, but his passion. If the medical people charged with overseeing his recovery determine that he can resume participating in games (and Crosby, who obviously has a perspective on his condition that no one else could, agrees), there's no good reason for him to stay on the sidelines. And if the team's management doesn't have unwavering confidence in the judgment of those medical people, it should get some new ones. Immediately.

• Many parts of Paul Martin's season have been forgettable, and some other portions of it probably couldn't be forgotten without extensive therapy. Nonetheless, he's had a number of solid, or better, games lately. And if Martin can put together a strong stretch drive and playoffs, all but his most harsh critics are likely to forgive his earlier struggles. And with the Penguins' best defenseman, Kris Letang, out indefinitely because of an apparent concussion, Martin's play in coming days will affect more than just how people view his season. He's not going to make anyone overlook Letang's absence, but Martin can skate, move the puck and be effective in his own end. He won't make a late-season run at the Norris Trophy, but he definitely can make a major contribution to whatever his team accomplishes.

• Dave Tippett is one of three former Penguins players to receive the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's coach of the year -- Glen Sather and Ted Nolan are the others -- and it certainly wouldn't be an outrage if the NHL broadcasters who vote on that honor were to award him a second for his work in 2011-12. At this point, Paul MacLean of Ottawa looks to be the favorite. The turnaround he has orchestrated with the Senators clearly is Adams-worthy. But Tippett has the Coyotes making a serious run at the Pacific Division championship despite, among other things, the never-ending uncertainty about the franchise's future.

• The Penguins have their greatest organizational depth on defense, which is a good thing, considering that injuries have forced them to use 12 defensemen this season. All of those whose contracts expire this season are scheduled to be restricted free agents, which means the Penguins probably can retain any they are seriously interested in keeping. Still, the negotiations with Matt Niskanen could be interesting. Going into training camp, he was not even guaranteed a spot on the NHL roster, but has had a solid season and firmly established his credentials as a top-six guy. Niskanen has done enough to merit a raise on his $1.5 million salary, but with so many defensemen in the pipeline, the Penguins figure to have all of the leverage in talks with him. At the same time, NHL-caliber talent at that position is a precious commodity, and the Penguins can't assume that they'll need fewer defenseman next season than they did during this one.

• A popular topic of discussion in some circles has been whether the NHL's next labor agreement should include a provision giving teams a mulligan on a bad contract, to allow it to wipe a deal off the books if, in hindsight, it gave a player too much money or too many years (or both). Assuming the basic nature of the collective bargaining agreement isn't radically altered, the way it was when a salary-cap system was introduced in 2005, such an amnesty clause should not be included. It's not that players would suffer if amnesty was past of the agreement -- the ones affected by amnesty presumably would receive the money from their contract, along with whatever they could get by signing elsewhere as a free agent -- but because it would give deep-pockets franchises a competitive advantage. (And yes, the Penguins, who were among the league's most destitute clubs when the current CBA was worked out, likely would qualify as one of those now.)

Scott Wilson: No ordinary seventh-rounder

Scott Wilson wasn't one of the headliners in the Penguins' draft class of 2011.

That distinction was reserved for Joseph Morrow and Scott Harrington.

Those two went in the first and second rounds, respectively. As a seventh-rounder, Wilson was more like an afterthought.

But he is having a superb first season at UMass-Lowell, entering the River Hawks' weekend series against Providence with 15 goals and 17 assists in 30 games. His 32 points were just one off the team lead.

He has been the Hockey East freshman of the week four times and had a chance to record the most points by a first-year player at his school since 2000-01 and to be the first freshman to lead Lowell in scoring since 1993-94.

"You're always a little surprised when a freshman makes that quick of a transition," said Jason Botterill, the Penguins' assistant general manager.

"We felt he would have an impact in college hockey, right off the bat, but did we see him producing as much as he has? No. That's a testament to him."

Although Wilson is not physically imposing -- he's listed as being 6 feet, 173 pounds -- he isn't shy about throwing his body around.

"Even when he doesn't produce points, he can have an impact on the game," Botterill said. "He's actually a very good hitter for his size. He's a player who can be a well-rounded player, a power-play and penalty-killing player down the road."


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @molinaripg .


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