Thursday, February 26, 2009

Penguins get 2 points, but play leaves little doubt season is over

Thursday, February 26, 2009
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

They probably do not play ice hockey at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind, but if they did, it would probably resemble last night's first period between the Penguins and the New York Islanders.

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Petr Sykora snaps the only goal of the night past Islanders goalie Yann Danis with less than three minutes to play last night at Mellon Arena.

Passes went vaguely in the direction of people with their backs turned, shots were fanned on, nets that yawned open went repeatedly ignored, the ice, by definition, proved very slippery.

The second period wasn't as crisp.

When this game started, the Penguins were within three hours of next year, because anything other than a win against the wretched Islanders -- the same wretched Islanders against whom they'd lost a shootout nine days before to celebrate the arrival of new coach Dan Bylsma -- and this team would be, to borrow a phrase from the infrastructure stimulus, shovel ready.

And not in a good way.

It looked briefly as if the weird science that is this Islanders-Penguins chemistry would yield something different last night, especially when the suspicion arose that the Islanders had given up shots for Lent, or at least had given up shooting the hockey puck. Alas, New York finally slid one into the vicinity of Marc-Andre Fleury with 12:25 left in the first period. The Penguins, by that point, had shot seven times without presenting any evidence that shooting the puck had anything to do with the business of scoring goals.

If the Penguins can't crush the Islanders like a bug on home ice, what chance do they have of returning from an impending five-game road grind featuring four foes with winning records with the postseason still on the table?


Through 40 minutes of scoreless hockey against the worst team in the NHL, the Penguins further demonstrated that being on the power play has no known relation to scoring either. The Penguins appear to run two kinds of power plays: The kind where they don't score and the kind where they don't even shoot. The Islanders only run the second kind.

New York's top scorer, Mark Streit, does not have half the points of Evgeni Malkin. New York's win total was four fewer than any team in the league when the game started. New York did the Penguins the favor of starting the backup goalie, Yann Danis, and still the Penguins showed no particular interest in keeping their season alive, even for another 48 hours.

Sidney Crosby sat this one out with an ouchy groin. Ryan Whitney went home to New England on a personal matter. But it wasn't as simple as no Crosby, no Whitney, no winny.

By the time an equally desultory third period was half over, all this mess lacked was a real signature moment, a memorable freeze frame that might somehow encapsulate the fecklessness and timidity of two bad hockey teams. Fortunately, Christopher Minard provided one.

Flying down the slot behind the New York defense in a 0-0 game, Minard sized up Danis, flashed mentally through his shot options, and ... (what?!) ... floated a drop pass into traffic.

Minard was not about to disrupt the perfect awfulness of this, a night to disremember.

Someone else was going to have to take on that responsibility, and with only 2:28 remaining in the game, someone finally did.

Using the revolutionary offensive concept sometimes called whipping the puck at the net with the idea that even if it doesn't go in, a nearby teammate might run into a rebound, Sergei Gonchar did exactly that from behind a Malkin screen. The rebound got swept across the line by Petr Sykora, and the Penguins had the only goal in a long night of terrible hockey.

"I thought we had good chances against [Danis] we just couldn't put it in," said defenseman Brooks Orpik in a less than exuberant dressing room. "As frustrating as it was not getting any goals for the first two periods, not getting any until the final two minutes, I thought we stayed patient.
"I thought we kept our composure pretty well."

Is that what that was, composure?

Smelled like a noxious mix of disinterest and incompetence.

"Most of their shots in the third period came on the power play and it wasn't so much great plays by them," said Islanders coach Scott Gordon. "It was our inability to get the puck down the ice when we had opportunities, and they got chances off of those."

The Penguins can fool themselves to whatever extent they please that they earned two points that were absolutely indispensable last night, but the way they've played the Islanders over the past 125 minutes of ice time plus a shootout has left little doubt that they've kissed this season good-bye.

Gene Collier can be reached at More articles by this author
First published on February 26, 2009 at 12:00 am

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Caps-Pens a rivalry that ought to thrive

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) exchanges words with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb., 22, 2009, in Washington. Capital won 5-2. (AP)

Suddenly, Capitals vs. Penguins is about much more than Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby or Ovechkin vs. Evgeni Malkin.

"There's a lot of tension between these two teams," Pens defenseman Hal Gill said after the latest installment, a 5-2 Capitals victory Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.

That tension could be attributed to what was once perceived to be bad blood between Ovechkin and Malkin.

And it may have escalated after Capitals winger Alexander Semin was quoted early this season in an online translation wondering "what's so special about (Crosby)?"

Still, what really makes these games as tense as they are compelling is the young talent on both sides.

As justifiable as it remains to argue that Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin are the three best players in the world — the pecking order is subject to change from game to game — they're not the only headline-worthy combatants butting heads when the Pens and Caps get together.

Semin scored his 22nd goal and registered his 30th assist on Sunday against the Penguins.

Mike Green had just one point, an assist. But a stick he had used during his streak of scoring a goal in eight consecutive games from Jan. 27 to Feb. 14 — an NHL record for defensemen — made its way through the media room at the Verizon Center on its way to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

And center Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, which resulted in Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau offering the following critique: "He's gonna be great. I don't know if I'd throw him there yet. When he's 23, 24-years-old, he's going to be the whole package. He's a special player."

Backstrom is 21, Green and Ovechkin are 23 and Semin is about to turn 25.

On the Penguins side are Crosby (21), Malkin (22), goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (24), center Jordan Staal (20), defenseman Kris Letang (21) and defenseman Ryan Whitney (26).

Letang was scratched Sunday, Staal and Whitney were kept off the score sheet and Crosby and Malkin were held to an assist each. It was Malkin's career-high 60th assist of the season and his NHL-leading 87th point.

So Round 3 went to the Capitals, as had rounds 1 and 2 at Mellon Arena.

The final regular-season meeting is March 8, but the Capitals are already thinking beyond that one, which no doubt contributed to Sunday's tension, intensity and verbiage.

"We always want to beat those guys," winger Donald Brashear said. "We might face them down the road in the playoffs, so we want to put in their minds that they can't beat us."

Failing to beat the Caps on Sunday left the Pens with 64 points and significant work still to do before they can contemplate a postseason rendezvous with Washington.

But they ought to be aware by now that the tension, tenacity and apparent mutual contempt that characterizes these games is destined to maintain levels previously reserved for the likes of Philadelphia.

"It's good," Gill said of the developing Pens-Caps dynamic. "We have to rise up and be better with it."

Rivals tend to demand as much from one another, or else.

Steelers' Super memories caught on DVD by NFL

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

John Heller/Post-Gazette

Fans line up inside the AMC Loews Waterfront 22 cinema in West Homestead as linebacker James Harrison signs autographs before the debut of the NFL Films DVD documenting the Steelers' season.

With a show business sense of preparation, NFL Films had outfitted Santonio Holmes with a microphone for the Super Bowl.

And as the Steelers were taking the field for their winning drive, Holmes could be heard telling quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: "I want the ball."

That line played prominently in the premiere of Super Bowl XLIII Champions, which opened to an overflow crowd last night and is now available on DVD at various outlets.

Holmes and several teammates attended a special screening at the AMC Loews Waterfront before heading out to Best Buy in Bethel Park to autograph the first copies that went on sale.

"We're going to have this moment to share for the rest of our lives," said Holmes, who has been on a whirlwind tour of celebrity ever since his MVP catch lifted the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl title. "All of it has been great."

The drama has long-since played out, and the ending is etched in the collective memory. But the story, available from Warner Home Video and NFL Films for $24.98, apparently never gets old.

"It'll be a collector's item," said Hines Ward, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XL and is on the ring committee designing the new bling. "You get to watch the Super Bowl from a different level."

Ward will be signing copies from 1 to 3 p.m. today at the West Mifflin Wal-Mart, and LaMarr Woodley will attach his signature to purchased copies from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Giant Eagle in the Robinson Town Center.

John Heller/Post-Gazette

Hines Ward signs autographs before the debut of the NFL Films documentary on the Steelers' super season yesterday at the AMC Lowes Waterfront.

In addition to the highlights leading up to the team's sixth Super Bowl title, the DVD includes bonus material and features that fans can savor through the winter.

Narration is provided by Harry Kalas, the Hall of Fame baseball announcer with the Philadelphia Phillies who has been a longtime contributor to NFL Films.

Given unrestricted access, NFL Films has a way of eavesdropping on conversations and showing just the right angles -- set to music -- to stir the emotions again and again.

Not much is out of bounds. The DVD includes Tunch Ilkin noting that a James Harrison snap almost ended up in the Ohio River; Casey Hampton chuckling over a touchdown run by Byron Leftwich; Tennessee's LenDale White stomping on the Terrible Towel; and Limas Sweed getting an attitude adjustment from Hines Ward before throwing a memorable block.

There are several segments that provide insights into coach Mike Tomlin. But in a Super Bowl that produced more big plays than any other, the Steelers provide enchantment.

Before the dramatic winning drive, a resolute Max Starks is overheard saying: "We got this. We are built for this. We are built for this!"

The Steelers came back for a 27-23 win, climaxed by a tiptoe touchdown catch that fans will be talking about for years.

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at
First published on February 24, 2009 at 12:00 am

Steelers enjoy premiere of Super Bowl video

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes didn't have to wait to watch the end of Monday night's VIP screening of the official Super Bowl XLIII video.

Holmes, the Super Bowl MVP who caught the winning touchdown pass in the final minute, knows the ending by heart — the good guys win.

But he watched anyway.

Holmes was joined by teammates James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Hines Ward and Willie Parker, who gathered at the AMC Loews Waterfront 22 theater in Homestead for the red-carpet event.

Woodley made Holmes' 6-yard touchdown catch from Ben Roethlisbeger hold up when he forced Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner to fumble while attempting a desperation pass. The Steelers recovered, enabling the clock to run out in their 27-23 victory.

"I kind of miss working out," said Woodley, who, like many of his teammates, has been on the television and radio circuit following the Super Bowl. "I'm going to start back training (in March)."

While his teammates dressed casually for the event, Ward wore a stylish suit without a tie. He also sported a pair of sunglasses.

"I thought winning the first Super Bowl was good. But winning the second one feels extra special because of all the stuff we had to go through," said Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL. "We had the hardest schedule before the season started. Overcoming a lot of different things with injuries and what-not and still staying the course and being able to come together as a team and win the Super Bowl."

As for his choice of clothing, Ward replied, "I've got to teach some of the younger guys what the red carpet is. We're the first ones on our team to watch the premiere."

Ward wasn't wearing sunglasses to make a fashion statement. He said he suffered a broken blood vessel in his eye resulting from a negative reaction following offseason surgery for a torn rotator cuff he suffered in the second week of the season.

Steelers running back Willie Parker signs autographs before walking to a screening of the team's official championship DVD Monday in Homestead.
Andrew Russell/Tribune-Review

"I'm wearing shades because I busted a blood vessel while I was throwing up (because) of the anesthesia during surgery. It was pretty bad," Ward said. "Any time you go under the knife, it's a big deal.

"Shoulder injuries are the worst. I had my knee 'scoped a couple of times; I can get over that. I thought the shoulder wouldn't be as bad. They put a couple of screws in it to make sure it heals properly. I'm supposed to be in a sling, but it doesn't look cool to be on the red carpet in a sling."

Ward attributed his emotional response immediately following the Super Bowl win to playing in the game despite a painful knee injury.

"A lot of people were concerned about the knee. I had a six-week injury but played in two weeks," he said. "That's why I was very emotional about the game because I put so much into it."

Woodley plans to ask some of the veterans who played in Super Bowl XL about the best way to prepare for next season. The Steelers finished 8-8 the year after winning their last Super Bowl.

"There's definitely going to be some of those questions coming up. Just the things we can do to get better," Woodley said.

"Week to week, every team we play is going to give us their best shot. Every team wants to beat the Pittsbugh Steelers. They feel like if they beat the Steelers, they're on top. Our job is to take care of business like we've been doing."

The Super Bowl XLIII DVD arrives in stores today. Ward, Holmes and Woodley will be signing copies of the DVD this week at selected area locations.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bittersweet moment for Steelers' Rooney brothers

With the restructuring of team's ownership on track for March closing, the brothers reflect on final Super Bowl

Monday, February 23, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Kay Rooney

Pat, John, Tim and Art Jr. at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.

The photo, taken moments after Super Bowl XLIII ended, shows four Rooney brothers posing on the confetti-covered field in Tampa, Fla., after the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals.

Six rings all around for Pat, John, Tim and Art Rooney Jr., who collectively own 64 percent of the team their father founded.

There is only one thing missing from that photo: smiles.

"It was a great way for the end, as my dad left the team," Art Rooney Jr. said, "with all of us being on the field and Dan at the podium taking the Super Bowl trophy."

The four brothers were happy in that photo, Art insists, but sad at the same time, which is probably why none is smiling.

"We realized -- all four of us -- that it was the end as dad left it to us. Nobody talked about it, though. It's a nice picture, although with no smiles. We still had our game faces on."

Two of those four Rooneys will sell all of their stock in the team when the closing takes place, and the other two will sell about half of what they have owned since their father, Art Sr., died in 1988.

That closing is on schedule to occur by the end of March, sources on both sides told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That is the timetable their brother, Dan Rooney, and his son, Art II, gave the National Football League when league owners unanimously approved the restructuring of the franchise in December. No complications developed nor are any expected before the deal closes, although they are working on minor details.

Brothers John and Art Rooney Jr. will maintain about half of their previous 16 percent ownership stake each. Brothers Pat and Tim Rooney will sell all of their 16 percent each and remain in the racing and casino businesses.

A requirement by the NFL that the Rooneys either divest themselves of their interest in the casinos or the team prompted the restructuring. Also, the league requires that each team have a partner who owns at least 30 percent. In the restructuring of the Steelers, the league has approved a joint 30 percent ownership by Dan and his son.

As part of the new ownership, at least three new major partners are buying into the team at unspecified amounts. They are Thomas Tull, a film producer based in Los Angeles; James Haslam III, president of Pilot Travel Centers; and the Paul family of Pittsburgh. Other minor investors also might surface.

J.B. Smith, a venture capitalist from Detroit who announced early this month that he was talking to the Rooneys about becoming a fourth major investor, is not part of the deal. Sources say there never were negotiations between him and the Rooneys.

The McGinley family of Pittsburgh, which has owned 20 percent of the team, also is selling some of its shares in the restructuring.

The photo of four Rooney brothers on the field after winning their sixth Super Bowl not only will be the last under those circumstances, it was the first. Art Rooney Jr. said they never went onto the field after the previous five Super Bowl victories.

"We were lucky to get into the inner circle after the game, but it worked out well," he said. "It was bittersweet, but what a way to say goodbye!"

Ed Bouchette can be reached at
First published on February 23, 2009 at 12:00 am

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Alvarez's power, work ethic thrill Pirates

By Rob Biertempfel, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez eyes up a ball during fielding drills Friday at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As he watched third baseman Pedro Alvarez take batting practice Friday morning, Manny Sanguillen saw the ghost of an old friend.

"He reminds me of Willie Stargell," Sanguillen said, as Alvarez settled in at the plate. "He's going to be something very special for a very long time. He's gonna be something else."

Sanguillen, a special instructor in spring training camp, played with Stargell during the Pirates' glory days in the 1970s. Alvarez's left-handed batting stance -- feet spread, a one-handed windmill, bat cocked behind his head, eyes focused with murderous intent -- is similar to Stargell's.

There is another attribute Alvarez shares with the Pirates' all-time home run king.

"Loud, hard contact," hitting coach Don Long said.

Even with a stiff, cold wind blowing in, Alvarez launched ball after ball over the right-field fence. One blast crashed halfway up the giant green batter's eye behind center field.

"Look at that!" Sanguillen marveled. "By this time next year, he's going to be hitting them over that wall, just like Willie."

Stargell's uniform number was 8, which the Pirates retired in 1987. This spring, Alvarez is wearing No. 53.

Five plus three equals ... eight, of course. Fate?

"Fifty-three just seemed like a good number," said equipment manager Scott Bonnett, who usually assigns numbers to rookies and other new arrivals. "It wasn't too high, wasn't too low."

Sort of like Alvarez's disposition. He arrived at camp with all the hype that comes with being the second overall draft pick and a future cleanup hitter. Yet, he made a rapid, smooth transition from nervous newbie to calm professional.

"I was a little nervous a few days ago, when everybody was out there," Alvarez said. "It's a little bit overwhelming. But the guys here are very welcoming, very accepting, and they've made it easy on me to come in and feel comfortable from the start."

Sanguillen is impressed to see Alvarez arrive first for practically every team meeting. Long likes the way Alvarez approaches each workout.

"When he goes into the cage, he has a plan for what he wants to do, what he needs to do and how he'll get it done," Long said.

That work ethic was honed at Vanderbilt, where Alvarez blossomed as the top college hitter in the country. Vandy also produced Tampa Bay left-hander David Price, one of the game's top pitching prospects.

"Pedro's very advanced and a very smart hitter," said Price, who is a year older than Alvarez. "He trusts his hands, uses the whole field. He can hit the ball everywhere. He's just special."

Price got an idea of Alvarez's potential two year ago, when they squared off in an intrasquad scrimmage at Vandy.

"It was one of the last times I pitched against him, and until then he hadn't gotten a hit -- ever -- off me," Price said. "I fed him a good slider, and he just crushed it, center field, line-drive single.

"His next at-bat, I threw him a fastball. He just turned on it and hit it out of the park. I was just like, 'Wow.' I was very upset."

Price is expected to win a spot in Rays' rotation this year. Alvarez will begin the season in the minors, but is not considered to be far from major-league ready.

The Pirates and Rays will play each other five times during the Grapefruit League season. Price is eager to see his friend ... but not on the field.

"I don't really want to face Pedro, to be honest," Price said. "I love facing lefties, but I don't want to face him. He's good -- very good."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jury still out on Bylsma

Friday, February 20, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Dan Bylsma, left, earned his first win as the Penguins' coach

There's absolutely no truth to the rumor that Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma went home after the team's horrid loss Monday to the New York Islanders, locked the door, sat in the dark, popped a cold beverage and asked the hockey gods, "What the heck have I got myself into?"

Some of the rest of us asked that question on Bylsma's behalf, though.

How could you not make the inquiry after that lost holiday weekend in Toronto and on Long Island?

Everyone in the organization said they were embarrassed by the Penguins' 6-2 loss Saturday night to Toronto. It truly was dreadful; the Penguins blew a 2-0 lead against one of the NHL's worst clubs by giving up six unanswered goals. It proved to be too much to take for general manager Ray Shero, who fired coach Michel Therrien the next day in a desperate attempt to save the season and get the team back in the playoff picture.

But the 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders in Bylsma's first game might have been worse. A team is supposed to get an emotional boost -- at least temporarily -- when it makes a coaching change. The Penguins appeared to get nothing from Bylsma's hiring. The Islanders are, by far, the league's worst team. Never did the playoffs seem so far away as when the Islanders skated off with their rare win.

That's why the 5-4 win last night against the Montreal Canadiens had to feel so darn good to Bylsma. He knew it was coming, of course. He just had to be hoping it would come before, say, April.

"This was more important for the guys in that room than it was for me," Bylsma said moments after forward Matt Cooke handed him a game puck as a cherished souvenir.

The man wasn't kidding.

"I didn't want to say it before, but we needed a positive result," Bylsma said.

Since taking the job, Bylsma has preached about the Penguins' need to play a faster, more aggressive game than they did under Therrien, whose style, it should be noted, was good enough to get the club to the Stanley Cup final last spring. Bylsma is talking about faster to the offensive zone, sure, but also faster to loose pucks and faster back on defense.

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Evgeni Malkin scores against Canadiens goaltender Carey Price in the third period last night at Mellon Arena.

Bylsma said beating the Canadiens "gives us a seed that this is what we can do. ...

"I think the players were energized and focused, ready to go. I think they had a clear understanding of what was at stake and how we wanted to play. I think we sent a message loud and clear that this is a team that can go and play aggressive. It was a great message."

I'm not so sure.

Not to dump freezing rain on Bylsma's parade.

I just want to see more.

A lot more, actually.

Don't get the wrong idea. It was nice to get a win against one of the teams the Penguins are chasing in the Eastern Conference. After the way the weekend went, any win is terrific.

But the Penguins didn't look much different in the first two periods than they did under Therrien. Play opened up in the third period with mixed results for the home team. It scored two goals in 2:31 to take a 4-2 lead, then gave up two goals in 3:18 for a 4-4 tie. Thankfully, defenseman Sergei Gonchar -- remember him and that shot of his? -- scored the winning goal with a wicked slapper.

But before you start thinking Cup, know this about the Canadiens: They came into the old building in a 3-10-1 slide, had played the night before in Washington and also were carrying the extra baggage from the Alex Kovalev fiasco. Management is so down on Kovalev that it told him to stay away from the team for a few days, prompting Montreal legend Guy Lafleur to rip general manager Bob Gainey and coach Guy Carbonneau in the Montreal Gazette yesterday for their handling of the situation.

And we think the club here is having problems because of Therrien's firing.

The competition gets much tougher for the Penguins this weekend, just when they're at the point of the season where they need to win just about every game. They'll play tomorrow in Philadelphia and Sunday in Washington -- the start of a brutal stretch that has them playing seven of the next nine games on the road.

Good luck with that.

The Penguins are 1-7-2 in their past 10 away games.

Beyond that, they haven't won more than two games in a row of any kind since mid-November.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

That the seed Bylsma planted had better grow quickly?

Ron Cook can be reached at
First published on February 20, 2009 at 12:00 am

Thursday, February 19, 2009

McLouth's contract caps Pirates' internal goal

Center fielder gets 15.75 million, as team retains rights into 2012

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

John Bazemore/AP

Nate McLouth, Pirates' newest millionaire.

The Pirates surely have not made a splash in acquiring outside talent this offseason, but the three-year, $15.75 million contract they signed yesterday with center fielder Nate McLouth buoyantly capped management's goal of securing all three of its identified core players -- along with pitcher Paul Maholm and catcher Ryan Doumit -- into what would have been their free-agency years.

Total commitment: $41.75 million.

Total commitment if all club options are exercised: $75.15 million.

Total years of control between the three players: 13.

"The long-term commitments we have made to core players developed here, both this year and last year, reflect our commitment to build a strong core from within our system," team president Frank Coonelly said from Phoenix, where the Pirates and McLouth avoided an arbitration hearing that was to take place there yesterday. "Ryan, Paul and Nate all dedicated themselves to becoming championship-caliber players, and all three demonstrated a strong desire to play integral roles in this organization's turnaround."

The most surprising of the signings, given all that led to it, was McLouth's.

He and the team agreed in the wee hours of yesterday morning on three guaranteed years plus a club option for 2012, with the following breakdown:

• $1.5 million signing bonus.

• Salaries of $2 million this season, $4.5 million next season and $6.5 million in 2011.

• Club option worth $10.65 million for 2012, with a buyout of $1.25 million.

• Escalator clauses that increase McLouth's salary the season after he makes any of three achievements: $200,000 for an All-Star appearance this year and next, $300,000 for one in 2011; $200,000 for a Gold Glove this year and next, $300,000 for one in 2011; $100,000 for a Silver Slugger this year and next, $150,000 for one in 2011.

Maximum value of the contract is $26.9 million and, unlike most of its kind, the bonuses appear reasonably attainable: McLouth, 27, is coming off a breakout 2008 in which he played in the All-Star Game, won a Gold Glove and batted .276 with 26 home runs, 94 RBIs and 23 steals.

McLouth was not available for comment because he was traveling from Phoenix to Bradenton, Fla., where he will rejoin the team this morning for spring training.

Finding common ground was not easy.

The Pirates initially approached McLouth and agent Mike Nicotera about a multiyear contract in November, but those talks disintegrated by the first week of December to the point that Coonelly publicly declared the prospects "close to dead." Nicotera concurred.

The goal turned toward a one-year contract simply to avoid arbitration, but even that made little progress: The sides filed numbers more than $1 million apart -- the player at $3.8 million, the team at $2.75 million -- and seemed set for the hearing yesterday before a three-member panel that would have chosen one or the other.

Things shifted last week, by all accounts, when Coonelly became directly involved, joining Larry Silverman, the Pirates' chief legal counsel. Coonelly raised several fresh scenarios, including a term as long as five years, in an attempt to start anew.

"Give Frank the credit," Nicotera said. "It was at his urging that we went back to a multiyear. We didn't come out here expecting that."

All parties, including McLouth, flew to Phoenix on Monday for the hearing, but Coonelly called for a dinner-time meeting at a downtown hotel, and his objective was a settlement that involved multiyear terms. Six hours later, at 3:20 a.m. Eastern time, hands were shaken in the lobby.

"While we hit several roadblocks during the course of the discussions, no one was willing to quit on the process or draw lines in the sand," Coonelly said.

The Pirates would have retained McLouth's rights the next three years through arbitration, with or without the extension. The keys, as are stressed so often by management types, are cost certainty in that span, as well as gaining those club options on free-agency years.

The plan is modeled after the one Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington's previous boss -- has used for years with the Indians: Identify core young players, sign most of them early and hope that many more pan out than fail.

Since Coonelly and Huntington took over in late 2007, their list of multiyear extensions in this category are Maholm (three years plus an option, $14.5 million guaranteed), Doumit (three years plus two options, $11.5 million), starter Ian Snell (three years plus two options, $8.6 million), closer Matt Capps (two years, $3.05 million), and now McLouth.

"We definitely feel like we're heading in the right direction," Huntington said yesterday in Bradenton. "You look at the players, you look at the bodies ... you look at the talent on the field, and everybody feels more familiar."

The other two offseason signings spoke optimistically of the franchise's future.

"Now, we have the core guys who are going to be around for a while," Maholm said. "We need to kind of take it upon ourselves to make sure things are done right and to turn it around and start winning."

"There's a lot of talent here," Doumit said. "When we turn it around, we want to be part of that. They made a commitment to us. Now, it's our duty to reward them."

The Pirates have 13 players signed toward the 2009 season, with a salary total of $44.25 million. The final 12 on the opening day roster are expected to have salaries in the $400,000-$600,000 range, either because they lack three years in the majors or or attending spring training on minor league contracts.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at

Post-Gazette sports writer Chuck Finder contributed to this report from Bradenton.

First published on February 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bylsma wants Penguins to play more aggressively, higher tempo

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

Dan Bylsma faced another round of questions as the team came home off the road sans Michel Therrien.

In training camp, Dan Bylsma was on the ice with the Penguins during practice and drills and behind the bench twice during preseason games.

Starting this morning, he will be directing the NHL cast in his first practice as the top man, not offering spot coaching advice as he did when his main responsibility was guiding the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins.

"My practices will be a lot like games -- fast-paced, north-south, executing at a high tempo and a high pace," the interim coach said yesterday in an introductory session with the Pittsburgh media. "They will be drills that have a definite purpose in what we're trying to do going forward with our game plan and how we want to play as a team."

Given that the Penguins will have to make up some ground just to qualify for the playoffs with 24 games remaining, Bylsma does not have the luxury of time.

But, as one who made it to the NHL as an unsung penalty-killer for the Los Angeles Kings, he never was much for luxury. The Los Angeles Times once said he looked like a wire-rimmed computer software salesman. But it also noted that he played for six minor league teams in six seasons, and in his 429 NHL games spanning nine seasons, he never once minded playing short-handed.

"To play in this league is a privilege," Bylsma said in the 1997 article. "To not work as hard as you can on the ice, that goes against the game."

He has been riding the whirlwind since Sunday when he got the call that he was replacing Michel Therrien.

Without the benefit of a full practice, he was behind the bench for a shootout loss to the Islanders Monday.

"One more point would have made the day a lot better," he said.

And now, Bylsma must rally the Penguins on the fly.

"I said to the players when I met them for the first time that we don't have the benefit of a training camp and 82 games," Bylsma said. "We don't have the building of a trust and relationship that we would go through for the first 20 games and build and build and build as a team. It's got to happen now."

If he didn't believe he could pull it off, Ray Shero would not have turned to him.

"It's well within our abilities, it's well within our reach, to turn this thing around right now," Bylsma said.

John Dunn/Associated Press

Game 1 vs. the Islanders came so fast in a whirlwind that Bylsma didn't have time to be nervous.

One immediate change will be additional responsibilities for Tom Fitzgerald, the organization's director of player development. A veteran of 17 NHL seasons and a former captain of the Nashville Predators, Fitzgerald will be behind the bench to help Bylsma with the penalty kill. While there were no comments about Therrien's methods, Fitzgerald also is charged with building relationships between the players and the coaching staff to "get us pointed in the right direction," Bylsma said.

"That plays into Tom's strengths. He established those relationships before. He's looked guys in the eye and challenged them and held them accountable. He's done it in a way, that at the end of the day, they respect. I love his passion, energy and experience in the game."

Passion and energy are popular words with Bylsma, along with being aggressive and playing an attacking style. If the Penguins don't play with all those qualities against the Montreal Canadiens at Mellon Arena tomorrow night, Bylsma will be the most-disappointed person in the house.

"To me, the game is won by playing in the offensive end," Bylsma said. "We're going to play with speed. We're going to play north-south. We're going to take more chances. [We'll be] more aggressive, attacking, to get there with speed and with numbers."

At 38, Bylsma is not far removed from his playing days. He and Petr Sykora were teammates on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks team that made the Stanley Cup final in 2003.

A standout golfer and baseball player during his high school days in Michigan, Bylsma has written four books, including what it takes to make it in the NHL. He runs a hockey camp in Michigan, the details of which are available at

He has been influenced by coaches such as Andy Murray, who knew when to push a guy, when to pat him on the back and when to give him a kick in the backside. He also learned what makes players respond to coaching messages from former teammate Paul Kariya.

"There will be expectations. There will be demands," Bylsma said.

His immediate priority is "to provide an environment and atmosphere for our players to get better, for our team to get better, and [provide] a chance to become the team I think we can become."

That work starts in earnest at his first full practice as the coach. What dividends it pays will be known in about two months.

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at
First published on February 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

Sunday, February 15, 2009

GM Shero hopes coaching shift will spark Penguins but don't count on it

Monday, February 16, 2009
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Michel Therrien

So here's your big move, your bold gambit, your urgent deadline deal, perhaps even your last best drastic alteration to the wobbly march of the 2008-09 Penguins.

Waiting on a huge trade? Here it is:

Head coach Michel Therrien dealt into Penguins history for Dan Bylsma, until yesterday the hockey coach of your Baby Penguins.

Months in the rumor stage, Penguins general manager Ray Shero finally pulled the trigger on this one yesterday with the hangover from the Penguins' desultory 6-2 loss in Toronto the night before still buzzing around his skull.

That probably means that Therrien, who shepherded this team to within a couple of wins of the franchise's third Stanley Cup just eight months ago, would still be the coach this morning had the Penguins found a way to protect a multi-goal lead in the latter stages of the second period Saturday night against the Maple Leafs.

Watching them allow six consecutive Toronto goals instead was apparently more than Shero could take.

"It wasn't so much the outcome as the way the game was played," Shero insisted last night on a hurriedly arranged conference call with hockey journalists. "It's not always so much the score. It's just the direction we were going."

I asked Shero point blank if a player or players came to him with the suggestion that the club could execute a quick U-turn if only Therrien weren't at the wheel, even if reports that the Penguins' locker room has devolved into factions could not be confirmed.

"Absolutely not," said the GM. "Never happened."

That's good to hear. That's grand. Especially since Therrien didn't deserve this. Especially since I'd hate to see him disposed of via the long-standing Penguins tradition whereby the players run off the coach regardless of competence or pedigree.

That would be just too Pittsburgh, wouldn't it?

It's an igloo tradition that the Penguins barely tolerate the coach in the best of circumstances.

Bob Johnson got grudging respect at best until people started skating around with Lord Stanley's bling over their heads, and Scotty Bowman, only the greatest hockey coach who ever lived, was essentially hounded away from practice.

Shero knows as well as anyone the treacherous politics of NHL hierarchy. His father, Fred, won 390 games and two Stanley Cups in 10 seasons coaching the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, and once said famously, "Athletes don't like to think. You use distractions and surprise to hold their interest."

How interested the Penguins become in showing up for the postseason in the way they've failed to show up to this point will perhaps be on display this afternoon on Long Island, where Dan Bylsma's team takes on the perfectly miserable New York Islanders as a potential first step back toward competence.

"This is the big move," Shero said last night. "This organization, from a player personnel standpoint, probably won't change significantly. The coach of this hockey team is going to see where this is going to take us. Dan Bylsma knows our organization and knows our players. I'd rather do it this way at this point [than hire an experienced NHL coach]. The message to the players is that we're all accountable. We talk to the players about their passion for the game, about their work ethic, their accountability. We've got 25 games left in which to make progress and get into the playoffs."

None of the key players in this souring Penguins drama did Therrien any favors, and Shero's "we're all accountable" is a clear indication that he knows he's among them. Faced with the financial defections of Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa from last year's Eastern Conference champions, Shero's replacements for Therrien's offense -- Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedetenko -- have come up almost comically short, especially on critical shifts in critical games.

But Shero's culpability pales in comparison to Therrien's players.

Marc-Andre Fleury let him down like few others with his squishy goal tending, and superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for all their individual brilliance, have not become the kind of vocal leaders necessary to replace the intangibles brought to this mission by relatively pedestrian and departed talents such as Colby Armstrong and Jarkko Ruutu.

You can posit that this team's energy and motivation are the responsibility of the head coach, and ultimately that's merely undeniable, but Michel Therrien isn't the first great hockey guy to lose control of the Penguins.

"You hear that in pro sports," Shero said. "The coach has lost the team. I don't want to pinpoint that. It was just a feeling that the time was right. Things were just not going the way I wanted them to go."

If Bylsma finds that U-turn lane in a hurry, Shero's big move will be the fulcrum of a new Penguins history. I wouldn't count on it.

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.
First published on February 16, 2009 at 12:00 am

Penguins part ways with coach Therrien

By Rob Rossi and Mike Prisuta, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, February 16, 2009

Players were as surprised as anybody that Michel Therrien was relieved of his coaching duties by the Penguins late Sunday.

"We were shocked," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said from a hotel in the New York area; the Penguins will face the Islanders at 2 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum.

"The mood at practice was pretty down (following a 6-2 loss at Toronto on Saturday), but nobody thought this was coming. We had our usual meetings about that game. Really, nobody that I talked to expected this."

Therrien, who did not return phone calls, was replaced on an interim basis by Dan Bylsma, who was in his first season as a professional head coach with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

Five games shy of surpassing Ed Johnston's franchise-best 276 consecutive games as Penguins coach, Therrien took the fall for an underachieving club. The Penguins (27-25-5, 59 points) were 10th in the Eastern Conference as of yesterday, five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

General manager Ray Shero said everybody associated with the Penguins is accountable for the club's struggles after a 12-4-3 start.

Their 15-21-2 record since Nov. 22 — not the loss Saturday at Toronto, in which the Penguins blew a 2-0 lead to finish the season series 1-3-0 against the lowly Maple Leafs — convinced Shero that firing Therrien was his only option.

"I didn't particularly like the direction the team was headed (in)," Shero said. "I've watched for a number of weeks. I didn't feel comfortable."

Therrien was the only coach Shero had known since replacing former general manager Craig Patrick on May 25, 2006. He also was one of the most successful bench bosses in team history, with a 135-105-32 overall record after replacing Eddie Olczyk on Dec. 15, 2005.

A Jack Adams Award finalist as the NHL's top coach for the 2006-07 season, his first full season with the Penguins, Therrien returned playoff hockey to Pittsburgh after a seven-year absence with a 47-point turnaround — the fourth-best single-season improvement in NHL history.

Under Therrien, Sidney Crosby transformed from a heralded rookie to the youngest captain in league history at 20 prior to last season. The Penguins also made the playoffs twice, going 15-10 and coming within two wins of the Stanley Cup last season, losing a six-game final to Detroit.

Shero signed Therrien to a three-year contract this past summer, agreeing to pay him around $1 million annually.

In an interview with the Tribune-Review last month, Shero said Therrien deserved the chance to get the Penguins through "tough times."

"Every time we've gone through it, we've found our way through," Shero said Jan. 22. "That's what I go on. That's what I know. I've got to give the coaching staff some credit. They've found a way the past couple of years.

"I believe we're in the process of finding a way through some tough times again."

The Penguins went 4-4-1 after Shero's quasi-vote of confidence.

Players know this move was made with one objective.

"We were told to try and rediscover the fun and enjoy the game," forward Miroslav Satan said of the message Bylsma delivered at a 10 p.m. meeting last night. "Time will tell if this move works. It's up to us. We all know missing the playoffs is not an option, but I believe we have the team to make the playoffs.

"We can be a great team."

Right wing Petr Sykora said the Penguins have seemed "a little step behind" all season.

"It kind of feels like the team hasn't had the same fire that we did last year," Sykora said. "We're all kind of searching for answers."

Sykora said Therrien's firing is an indication that either those answers will be found, or ...

"Nobody should be surprised if something else happens," he said. "It's all about winning in this league. I wouldn't be surprised at anything. Management is going to do what's best for this team to be successful - and successful for us is the playoffs."

The Penguins are engaged in trade talks with several teams. The trade deadline is March 4.

Bylsma, who was 35-16-1-2 with the AHL Penguins this season, was hired by Shero as an AHL assistant for the 2006-07 season.

He knows many of the players he will coach, and he knows what he wants to see from them.

"I want other teams to deal with our speed and skill," said Bylsma, whom Shero called an "up-and-coming coach in the game."

Assistant Mike Yeo and goalie coach Gilles Meloche were retained by the Penguins to work with Bylsma. Andre Savard, an assistant who worked with the defense, was re-assigned to an unspecified role in the organization.

Director of player personnel Tom Fitzgerald will join Bylsma's staff as an assistant.

Therrien's time

Penguins regular-season coaching record: 135-105-32

Penguins postseason coaching record: 15-10

Career highlights

Dec. 15, 2005 — Therrien replaces Eddie Olczyk as coach. Under his guidance, the Penguins go 14-29-8, but finish the season 22-46-14 overall and last in the Eastern Conference.

Dec. 29, 2006 — Penguins begin a 14-0-2 streak that propels them into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season.

April 19, 2007 — Penguins lose their opening round Stanley Cup playoff series to Ottawa, 4-1.

April 6, 2008 — Therrien leads the Penguins to a 47-27-8 regular-season record and their first Atlantic Division title. It was the team's first division title of any kind since winning the Northeast Division under Kevin Constantine in the 1997-98 season.

June 4, 2008 — Penguins lose the Stanley Cup Finals, 4-2, to the Detroit Red Wings.

July 18, 2008 — The Penguins and general manager Ray Shero announce they agree to a three-year contract extension with Therrien to keep him as coach through the 2010-11 season at a salary approaching $1 million annually.

Feb. 15, 2009 — After a 27-25-5 start to the 2008-09 season, Therrien is fired and replaced on an interim basis by Dan Bylsma.

Malkin stepping into the limelight

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The size 11.5 boots belong to a reserved 22-year-old who has produced more points than any NHL player over the past two seasons, a gentle giant one teammate labeled "a complete clown" for his behind-closed-doors behavior and the man a former league MVP and scoring champion identified as "the most talented player in the world."

Those are some big skates Penguins center Evgeni "Geno" Malkin has to fill.

Of course, nothing about Malkin's transformation from hockey's best and quietest rookie in 2006 to one of its most talked-about, if not talkative, players today has proven easy.

"He just makes it look that way," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's easy to watch what he's doing this year, last year and since he came here and forget that he left everything he knew three years ago - his entire world in Russia, his family, friends and life — to play in North America, where the game is played on a smaller rink. It's a different style, really.

"All that, and he's one of the best players on the planet every night. I don't think people mention that enough. I get the feeling a lot of people take for granted how tough it was and probably is at times still for him. The people that know Geno best know what he's gone though to get where he is right now."

Right now, Malkin is the NHL scoring leader, a Penguins leader as alternate captain and, according to San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, "probably the best player in the world."

"He can do it all," said Thornton, the 2006 MVP and scoring champion. "He can shoot as well as anybody. He can pass as well as anybody. He makes big plays when his team needs it. He uses his size to his advantage, and he's such a strong skater, with that next-gear burst.

"When you have that size and that skill — hey, Malkin's the most talented player in the world. I think he's also the best."

Magnificient, They Dare Say

Malkin's skill is a marvel to teammates and opponents.

At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he is a tall pivot with a lanky frame that he uses to shield the puck from opposing players.

"He's kind of a physical freak," Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "You can't get the puck off him when he really wants to keep it. I've seen a lot of guys try, and they've all failed."

Blessed with deceptive speed, a hard and accurate shot, hawk-like vision, inherent awareness and climb on my back, boys game-changing flair - he recently scored twice and set up a goal in the third period of a 4-3 overtime home win against Tampa Bay - Malkin has drawn a particular comparison that no player would invite.

No player that wears a skating penguin crest, anyway.

"Maybe," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said of Malkin, "he's a little bit like Mario."

No faint praise, considering it comes from the NHL's all-time leading scorer and refers to a fellow Hall of Famer, current Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux.

Even the most conservative evaluations of Malkin, who had averaged a league-best 1.35 points in his past 138 games prior to Saturday, turn effusive after a few seconds.

"He's definitely one of the best five forwards in the league, no question," Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said, adding that Malkin stands out because of his physicality.

"He's so strong on his skates. He can beat you one-on-one. He's not just a goal-scorer. He's a shooter and a passer, and he's really good at drawing attention and finding the open guy."

Malkin's teammates, including 2007 MVP and scoring champion Sidney Crosby, do not dispute these assessments. Of course, what the Penguins like best about Malkin is the stuff most people miss because, as center Max Talbot noted, "people tend to treat him differently."

"Only the (Pittsburgh) media talks to him, mostly, and a lot of fans - look, they love Geno, they go crazy for him, but he doesn't get approached like you might think. It's like people have heard or read he doesn't speak English, so his personality isn't really out there because nobody outside of our team has taken time to know what he's really like."

An Unspoken Arrangement

Crosby is the Penguins' captain, has spent much of the season as the NHL's second-leading scorer and the majority of his career as the face of the league. The Nova Scotia native speaks more French, his second language, before one game in Montreal than Malkin talks English, his second language, over a week in Pittsburgh.

Malkin did not agree to his first English-only interview with local media until early last season. He still is rarely pressed to answer questions following Penguins' practices and games — and he admitted that "talking every day" isn't high on his priority list, hence his occasional quick escapes or ducks into the medical room.

"I'd just rather play hockey," Malkin said. "I look at Sid after practice — and it's a lot. I don't know how he can play the game like he does after doing all that. It's amazing. He does so much. Because of Sid, I can just play. That's good for me."

Crosby, who has placed phone calls to reporters upon requests through the Penguins' media relations staff, does not believe Malkin deserves criticism for occasional reluctance to answer questions in a foreign language.

Crosby admitted he was amused upon first hearing of speculation that he and Malkin had an arrangement in which Crosby would handle media responsibilities to afford Malkin time to concentrate on hockey.

"If we have an arrangement, it's to do what's in the best interest of this team," Crosby said. "For me and Geno, it's to make sure we help each other be better.

"That (media) stuff comes with being comfortable, and it will for Geno. Maybe he's not completely there with the media, but I can honestly say he's become one of the guys around us — and that's been fun to see, really fun.

"When he wasn't speaking as much, it was kind of hard to understand what kind of guy he was. We've had three years to get to know him, and what we've all learned is that he's an easy-going guy."

Malkin also has shown a comical side.

The day before the Penguins faced Detroit at home in an anticipated rematch of the Stanley Cup Final, Malkin was among a group of teammates first off the ice after practice. When the dressing room opened to the media, Malkin, smiling all the while, waved reporters and cameramen toward teammate Matt Cooke.

"Detroit is easy," Malkin said in a sarcastic tone. "Cookie will get a hat trick."

Cooke, an agitator, not a goal-scorer, rolled his eyes.

Malkin did likewise before adding: "Matt Cooke, hat trick, write it down ...

"Bye everybody."

For Russia, With Love

Orpik, one of Malkin's earliest and closest friends among the Penguins, described him as "a proud guy who cares more than anybody knows."

A list of what Malkin said he cares about: winning the Stanley Cup ("my dream"); family ("wonderful"); teammates ("great guys"); his new suburban Pittsburgh house ("nice, sometimes dirty"); post-game massages ("they really help"); and his mother's borscht ("so good").

He said money — he signed a five-year extension worth $43.5 million in July — is of no concern. He also will not lose a minute of sleep if he fails to hold off Crosby or Washington forward Alex Ovechkin for the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer.

"I don't think about it," Malkin said. "Nobody believes me, though."

On the subject of Ovechkin, his Russian rival and the only player selected ahead of Malkin in the 2004 entry draft: Their two-year feud, which during Penguins-Capitals games turned nasty, was laid to rest last month in Montreal at the All-Star Game.

Their sudden shift from foes to friends occurred for one reason.

"Russia, all of that for Russia," Malkin said, acknowledging that a fellow countryman, Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk, spoke to him and Ovechkin and urged them to reconcile for the benefit of Russia's chance for gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"We went to dinner and had a good talk," Malkin said. "(Kovalchuk) is a good guy. He said, 'You guys (were) friends, be friends again for Russia.' After that, it was all good."

Kovalchuk — who said the confidence Malkin has gained from NHL success should give the Russian hockey team an advantage in Vancouver — is not surprised that Malkin put aside personal differences with Ovechkin in the name of patriotism.

"He's proud to be Russian and proud to be on the national team," Kovalchuk said. "It's everything. It's a huge honor. Hockey is everything in Russia."

Resisting Transformation

His Russian heritage is everything to Malkin. He spends summers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, hoping to soak up as much of those cities' histories as he can before training sessions, which begin in early July.

Malkin carries two cell phones, one for texting in Russian. The movies he watches he first views versions with Russian overdubs.

"When we ordered movies on the road, he'd only let me order ones he had seen already — the Russian versions," Talbot said. "I think that is how he started to learn English, by watching two versions of every movie that came out, like 'Transformers.'"

Orpik said Malkin has denied taking English lessons last summer, but suspects he did so begrudgingly.

"Like a lot of Russian players, he's proud of where he comes from and himself for coming this far," Orpik said. "It's just the type of people they are. They have a tremendous sense of self pride, and Geno isn't any different.

"It's not an easy situation for him to work here, spend most of the year here and get about two months in Russia to reconnect with everything. It's almost like there is going to be two sides of him for as long as he's playing in the NHL.

"The thing is, there's a great hockey player no matter what side you see."


Penguins star Evgeni Malkin granted the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review an exclusive 15-minute interview in English on Tuesday. Here is an excerpt:

TR: How are you different today than when you arrived in Pittsburgh in 2006 as a 20-year-old from Russia?

EM: It's not too much different. I feel comfortable now in my career. My English is a little bit better. Everything is going good.

Now I understand how to play in the NHL. The first year was hard. The second was only good. Now, it's a little bit easy — the hockey. (Laughs) Maybe I shouldn't say that.

TR: The North American hockey media often refers to you as "shy" and "uncomfortable." Does that bother you?

EM: I don't care if people think that way. I care what my teammates (think). I care about playing hockey, helping the Penguins win.

TR: Do you wish people would speak to you more often in English, maybe get to know you better?

EM: Yeah. (Laughs) But not like with Sid.

On the Steelers: SB XLIII ... Truths, lies & misconceptions

Mike Tomlin, Santonio Holmes and things you thought you knew about the game

Sunday, February 15, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette
A lot ... but 350,000?

Gleaned from the NFL Network's abridged version of the Super Bowl was a telling one-way conversation between Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on the sideline as the Steelers invaded the Arizona 1 for the second time in the game. They had to settle for a field goal after a first down at the 1 on their first series.

"Let's get this thing into the end zone," Tomlin said to Arians. "How about that? That would be good."

Indeed, Gary Russell scored from the 1 on third down.

One more comment from that NFL Network replay. Tackle Max Starks, as the Steelers' offense was about to take the field for the final time, trailing by three: "We got this. We are built for this. We are built for this."

Officially, it was a bad performance

Some observations on penalties called, penalties not called and other points of controversy after watching two replays of the game:

• John Madden's call for James Harrison to be thrown out of the game for "punching" Arizona safety Aaron Francisco after a punt was over the top. First of all, Harrison did not punch him; he pushed him down with an open hand. Also, Harrison reacted because Francisco had tried to cut him by throwing a block below his knees. He's lucky Harrison responded in such a restrained manner.

• Likewise, Ike Taylor did not just start throwing punches along the Arizona sideline because someone said something to him. Running back Tim Hightower, perched on the sideline, grabbed Taylor's facemask as the play entered the Cardinals' sideline, prompting Taylor to react.

Tomlin would say that it still does not excuse either player for his reaction because it cost penalties on each occasion, although Harrison's was just 1 yard.

More than a few bad calls

The officiating in the Super Bowl was as horrid as many in a long line of bad games by them in 2008. But not all the calls went against the Arizona Cardinals:

• The holding call on center Justin Hartwig in the end zone for a safety was a joke. Hartwig was engaged with his right hand on a Cardinals defender to his right when he was run over. Hartwig did not pull the defender down.

• Perhaps Kurt Warner's fumble on his last play was legitimate, perhaps they did do a quick review up in the booth, but on such a play in the Super Bowl, could they not have taken two minutes to look at it more closely? They took longer than that to overturn a meaningless touchdown by Troy Polamalu on the last play of a regular-season game against San Diego (only to get it wrong).

• Yes, Santonio Holmes should have gotten flagged for whatever it was he did after catching the winning touchdown. Yes, the Steelers should have had to kick off from their 15, and, yes, it might have helped the Cardinals get 15 yards closer. But Warner fumbled on the Steelers' 44, not the 15, and he needed a touchdown, not a field goal. It's a stretch to assume Arizona would have scored a touchdown merely because the Cardinals would have been 15 yards closer.

• If you're going to count the non-call on Holmes' excessive celebration, you have to count the non-calls on the two blocks in the back by the Cardinals on the subsequent kickoff.

• Referee Terry McAulay overturned a Warner fumble on the first series of the second half, ruling it was an incomplete pass on a challenge by Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt. OK, but someone other than Whisenhunt should have thrown a flag on the play as it happened because if that was a forward pass, Warner, still in the pocket, was trying to shot-put it to one of his offensive linemen, which is illegal.

Holmes could just as easily been the goat

What was Holmes thinking? His little celebration could have turned him from Super Bowl hero to the greatest goat in Super Bowl history. All for what?

People still remember Leon Lett's bonehead play in Super Bowl XXVII, and his team won, 52-17! Had Holmes' showboating cost the Steelers 15 yards, had the Cardinals, with two timeouts left, raced to a touchdown to win, Holmes would never have lived it down.

Of course, if an elephant had wings it might fly, which is why Tomlin has not scolded Holmes, yet. But one day during OTAs in April or May, Tomlin will remind Holmes about it as only he can.

Math errors, at the least

Not to kill the buzz, but can those talking about a Steelers "dynasty" please put it to rest, and those estimating attendance at parades be a tad more realistic?

Two Super Bowl wins in the past four years does not make a dynasty. And six in 35 years does not cut it, either. Now, four in six years, that's a dynasty, and the Steelers had one in the 1970s, need I remind no one. They would have to win the next two Super Bowls to match it.

The New England Patriots won three in four years as did the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s.

Now, that estimate of 350,000 who watched the Steelers parade celebration looks fine in print, and it likely makes everyone civically proud. They must be using the same estimator who badly overcounted those who turned up to watch the old Pittsburgh marathons. Either that or they included the television viewers.

Having 350,000 jam their way into the Golden Triangle would be the equivalent of 5Â 1/2 Heinz Fields emptying into downtown Pittsburgh. Oh, the parking spaces!

Ed Bouchette can be reached at
First published on February 15, 2009 at 12:00 am

2009 Dapper Dan Awards: Mike Tomlin & Shavonte Zellous

Charity to honor Steelers coach, Pitt basketball star and Dick LeBeau

Sunday, February 15, 2009
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin & Shavonte Zellous

During the shared experience of a championship season, Mike Tomlin became the youngest coach to take his team to the Super Bowl, and Dick LeBeau had the distinction of being the NFL's oldest coordinator.

At the 73rd annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction presented by BNY Mellon, they'll share the spotlight along with Pitt senior basketball player Shavonte Zellous.

Tomlin has been named the 2008 sportsman of the year while LeBeau, an ageless wonder at 71, has been chosen for a lifetime achievement award. Zellous, a cornerstone in the turnaround of the women's basketball program at Pitt, is the 2008 sportswoman of the year.

The dinner will be held Thursday, April 2, beginning with a 6 p.m. reception, at the Petersen Events Center on the Pitt campus.

Tomlin, 36, joins his two immediate predecessors, both of whom coached Super Bowl winners, as Dapper Dan honorees. Chuck Noll received the award for 1972, the first time in franchise history the Steelers won a division title and won a playoff game. Bill Cowher won it in 1992, his first with the Steelers. He was honored again for the 1994 season.

But Tomlin has already earned a special niche. No other coach has won two division titles or won 22 regular-season games in his first two seasons. That, and a sixth crown for the team's trophy case, made him an obvious choice to be embraced by his new hometown.

"It's a great honor," Tomlin said.

Although he didn't hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Super Bowl night, he has since lifted the silver football and had his picture taken with it while flanked by Dan Rooney and his son, Art II. But Tomlin and his staff already are hard at work evaluating prospective draft picks ahead in advance of the NFL Combine.

"I'm always moving to new challenges," said Tomlin, who was named the 2008 Motorola coach of the year in voting by fans. "I'm a moving on kind of guy."

LeBeau, the mastermind behind the NFL's stingiest defense in 2008, joins some rare company with his award. Previous honorees for lifetime achievement were Arnold Palmer, Joe Paterno and Dan Rooney.

"That's some pretty heady company," said LeBeau, the most respected and revered coordinator in the game today. "I'm honored and humbled. It's more than I deserve. It's dizzying stuff."

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Dick LeBeau celebrates the AFC title at Heinz Field last month with one of his linebackers, Lawrence Timmons.

LeBeau just completed a half-century in pro football. A cornerback for 14 seasons for the Detroit Lions, he still holds the NFL mark of 171 consecutive games played at his position, and his 62 career interceptions rank seventh all-time. He has been a coach at various levels for various organizations since 1973.

The franchise he works for now was just four years old, and the Dapper Dan was one year old, when he was born in 1937.

When asked about his age in the run-up to the Super Bowl, LeBeau got a laugh from the media by voicing a riff from the late James Brown, the self-proclaimed hardest working man in show business.

"I don't know how you're supposed to feel at age 71," LeBeau said, "but I feel good. Da, da, da, da, da, da, dum..."

Meanwhile, with the dinner tables to be at court level for the awards banquet, Zellous will feel right at home. It is on the Peterson Events Center court that she helped Pitt qualify for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA women's tournament and then led the team to the Sweet 16 in 2008.

Lightly recruited out of Jones High School in Orlando, Fla., she has surpassed 2,000 points for her career and is averaging more than 23 points per game this season.

"I just think it's an awesome honor for Shavonte," said Pitt coach Agnus Berenato, a two-time winner of the sportswoman of the year award. "[She] stands for all the right things, and she had done so much for this university on and off the court."

Zellous got the word from her coach, and it left her searching for words.
"My mouth just dropped and a big smile hit my face," she said. "This is not just an award for me, but for our whole team, because my teammates and coaches make everything possible for me. I can't describe it really. I'm just very honored."

In addition to the individual honors, results of the "Danny Awards" for best play, best moment and breakthrough athlete of 2008 will be announced.
Voting is being done through March 15 at A celebration of the Super Bowl victory, and the distinction of being the first franchise to win six trophies, will be marked with player appearances.

The Dapper Dan is the city's oldest, largest and most prestigious sports banquet. Proceeds from the event benefit the youth sports and education programs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at Staff writer Paul Zeise contributed to this story.

First published on February 15, 2009 at 12:00 am

Dapper Dan data

• What: The 73rd annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction.

• When: 6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. dinner, will be held April 2.

• Where: Petersen Events Center.

• Tickets: All seating will be on the court level. Prices are $200 for premium seats, $150 for general seats, and $100 for courtside. Call the Dapper Dan Hotline at 412-263-3850 to purchase tickets.

• Honorees: Sportsman and Sportswoman of the year for 2008 are Mike Tomlin, coach of the Steelers, and Shavonte Zellous of the Pitt women's basketball team. In addition, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will receive the lifetime achievement award.

• Also: The Danny Awards will also be announced for best play, best moment and breakthrough athlete of 2008. To vote, go to

• Of note: The Dapper Dan was founded in 1936 by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports editor Al Abrams. The primary beneficiary since the 1990s is the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Greene one of few with six rings

By Teresa Varley
Thursday, February 12, 2009

The four diamonds that adorn the ring from Super Bowl XIV sparkled as the light reflected off of Joe Greene’s hand. He glanced down at the ring and smiled as to why he is wearing this particular ring.

“I picked this one up during the Championship run – heading to the AFC Championship game,” sad Greene. “It could have been any one of them I wore, but I had to put one on for luck. It acted as my good luck charm. That’s all I can do from the sideline is cheer and get my Terrible Towel and become a fan. The ring was a part of it.

“I kept it on since then. I wouldn’t change it. Once I started I stuck with it. I think for Super Bowl XL I had the ring from Super Bowl XIII. I couldn’t tell you any kind of logic other than it was my lucky charm.”

One thing is for sure, Greene has plenty of rings to choose from as he will soon be the owner of six Super Bowl rings, a true rarity in the NFL.

Greene was a mainstay for the Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970s, winning a ring in Super Bowl IX, X, XIII and XIV as a player. Greene just completed his fifth season with the Steelers as a special assistant/college and pro personnel, winning a ring from Super Bowl XL and now Super Bowl XLIII.

He is one of only four Steelers staff members who will be the proud owner of six rings, and while winning one as a player differs from doing it now, it’s still just as special for Greene.

“It’s quite different getting a ring now, compared to how I got my first four rings,” said Greene, “I really appreciate the work the people in this department do and how important it is. When I get my hands around that I feel pretty good that I am part of the group. But it is different. That is the best way I can explain it. It’s a different type of work, but I have an immense appreciation for this part of it. I feel very lucky to be a participant.”

Greene was in Pittsburgh since the days after the Super Bowl as the player personnel and scouting department met regarding the draft and free agency. For someone who has been a part of the NFL as a player and coach, it’s another aspect that he is really enjoying.

“I am just so happy to be here and see how much goes into it from this side of the organization,” said Greene. “Making the right decisions, the right players, helping the coaches make decisions on the right players. Ultimately that really gives you a chance to be in the ball game, having your players up to the level of play they have to be. The coaches have to coach, but you have to start with a quality player. I have a great appreciation for this position and what the scouting department plays in it. I feel good about it.”

While Greene was in Pittsburgh, he wasn’t about to go to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII. After playing in four and attending Super Bowl XL in Detroit, Greene watched the Steelers defeat the Arizona Cardinals from his home with his wife Agnes, as well as his mother, daughter and grandkids.

“It was very intense,” admitted Greene. “But, it never went into my consciousness that we weren’t going to win. I was disappointed at times when we didn’t score when I thought we should have and everyone thought we should have. I was in the frame of mind that the team is very resilient and they do what they have to do to win. It was much like the majority of the season. We won some close games. That is a yard stick of how good you are when you can win the tough, tight ball games. The ones we lost in the regular season we were in them. I was confident. No doubt ever crept into my mind that it was going to be a sad day. That never crossed my mind.”

There was one rule though in the Greene house while watching the game – no idle chit-chat while the game was going on. It was all about focusing on the game and nothing else.

“You can watch any football game and be casual about it, but when your team is involved, for me it’s like I am playing it,” said Greene. “I am right there with everything going on. I am focused. When we watch the Steelers play, we don’t talk. When the phone rings, we don’t answer it. There were seven people in the room watching the Super Bowl and the only talking was go get ‘em, stop ‘em, turnover. When James (Harrison) intercepted the ball all we were saying was turnover, turnover, turnover with all our emotions. And he made it. There is no happy talk during the game.
If it’s not about the game, don’t say it.”

Greene however doesn’t mind talking about the Steelers winning their sixth Super Bowl. He is proud of each ring that the team has earned and what the organization has accomplished and how they went about doing it.

“I am not ashamed to say yes we won six,” said Greene. “I don’t mind bragging about saying yes we won six because it’s over and we did that. If you can’t be happy about winning the Super Bowl then why do you play the game? You can’t hold it in. I am happy for all of the guys, the players and coaches, because they felt like I felt and I want everyone to feel it.

“It’s a superb feeling of satisfaction and gratification for yourself and those that went through it with you. It’s hard. It’s a job we did together. That’s the nature of the business, people working together for a common goal. A lot of people haven’t been able to do it for whatever reason. But the Pittsburgh Steelers have been doing it right, otherwise we would not have been at the threshold of the Super Bowl as many times as we have and seven times getting there and winning it six. That’s pretty good.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spring preview: Pirates' top 10 issues

Several roster spots to be claimed, but LaRoche looms largest

Friday, February 13, 2009
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Adam LaRoche, could anything mean more to the Pirates first baseman than a good start?

A new spring dawns today for the 123rd edition of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club, with pitchers and catchers required to report to Bradenton by midnight tonight. And with it will come a stated expectation -- too nebulous, too low or too optimistic, some might say -- that these Pirates will "improve" over their standard 67-win output of a year ago.

So spoke owner Bob Nutting last month, and so it was echoed down the corporate ladder.

The charge, then, for manager John Russell and his staff in the six-week camp that formally opens with a Pirate City workout tomorrow is this: Take essentially the same group that collapsed to a 17-37 finish last season -- meaning the group that was left in the aftermath of the Jason Bay/Xavier Nady trades -- and make them, somehow, better.

That, Russell is adamant, can come not only from instruction but also from natural improvement.

"We have young players, a lot of them, guys who haven't spent much time in the big leagues," Russell said. "And we have faith in them. It's a good group. And I'm excited about this season, to be honest with you."

The top 10 issues this spring ...

10. Someone, speak up!

Leadership is low on the list of priorities for franchises such as the Pirates, desperate for talent at all levels, but it certainly could contribute toward improvement in 2009. And this trait is highlighted all the more, given the offseason loss of fiery, outspoken Doug Mientkiewicz.

Paul Maholm appears to have taken the pitching staff under his wing, with John Grabow doing likewise in the bullpen. Ryan Doumit, who sat in the stall next to Mientkiewicz and had a glowing respect for him, might be prepared to step up with the group as a whole. So, too, could newcomers Eric Hinske or Ramon Vazquez, each no stranger to a Mientkiewicz-style approach.

9. The top kids

The Pirates' top two prospects have different points to prove this spring, each participating in major league camp: Andrew McCutchen wants to make the roster against all odds, and Pedro Alvarez should want to, finally, make a good impression.

McCutchen, suddenly looking like a man at age 22 with 10 new pounds of muscle this offseason, is ticketed for Class AAA Indianapolis, but no one -- not in management, not McCutchen -- is conceding that he could not blow everyone away this spring.

"My only goal," he called it.

Alvarez needs to overcome a sluggish six months and show up in better shape if he wants to get on that predicted fast track to the majors. If he is in good shape, he will start his professional career at high Class A Lynchburg. If not, he will be at low Class A West Virginia.

8. Checking the temperature

Three players enter the spring with health issues: Outfielder Brandon Moss is recovering from knee surgery but optimistic he will be ready for opening day April 6. Still, he will be slowed early in camp. The same holds true for reliever Phil Dumatrait, still working back from shoulder surgery last summer, and starter Jeff Karstens, bugged this offseason by nagging elbow trouble.

Another to watch: Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, hampered by a wonky shoulder and subpar vision most of last year, remains uncertain about both, though guardedly optimistic.

7. Building a bench

The bench will look almost completely different than last year, but its exact makeup is not yet known.

The locks are Hinske as a reserve outfielder, Vazquez for the infield. One of Jason Jaramillo or Robinzon Diaz will be the backup catcher, with early odds on Jaramillo. That leaves two spots, one for another outfielder and an infielder capable at shortstop. The former could be veteran tryout types Craig Monroe or Jeff Salazar or, with a very good spring, Steve Pearce. Bet on versatile, experienced Andy Phillips for the latter, with a push from Luis Cruz.

6. Real battle at third?

The Pirates will insist that Andy LaRoche will have competition at third base from Neil Walker, but three large factors mitigate against that: Foremost is that LaRoche is out of options. Next, he was part of the Bay trade and, thus, surely will be given every chance to show his awful showing last season was an aberration. Finally, few see Walker as ready offensively.

Look at third base this spring more from the standpoint of how much LaRoche improves.

Jeff Karstens will be healthy enough to join the starting rotation?

5. The Kerrigan factor

To hear management tell it, new pitching Joe Kerrigan could have a dramatic imprint on a staff that was the National League's worst in 2008, and there surely were encouraging signs in the January minicamp, from his vocal style to a plan that stresses first-pitch strikes to pitching inside.

Beyond a doubt, given what was seen last season, the challenge will be colossal.

4. Bullpen battles

Matt Capps will close, and John Grabow, Tyler Yates and Sean Burnett will take up three other spots ... or not. The Pirates are known to be discussing potential trades regarding Grabow and almost surely would need to replace him with a left-hander from the outside if he is dealt. One possibility is free agent Will Ohman.

Craig Hansen is another likely to make it, as he is out of options and was part of the Bay trade. A long man will be needed, and that will be Dumatrait if healthy.

That would leave one opening for Jesse Chavez, Romulo Sanchez, Evan Meek, Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck and the long-shot Rule 5 draft pick Donnie Veal.

3. Left field really set?

The Pirates sound prepared to enter the season with Nyjer Morgan in left field, but will they?

Hinske and Monroe could make more attractive options, given the team's need for power. And no one is ruling out, given all the free agents still unemployed, that general manager Neal Huntington could add another bat.

That makes this the most volatile of the everyday positions and assures that Morgan will need a good spring to keep his current status.

2. Rounding out rotation

The offseason began with management declaring that only Maholm would have a spot sewn up, but Ian Snell and Zach Duke quietly have been added to the virtual lock category.

That still makes for a legitimate competition, with three pitchers -- Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Ohlendorf and Karstens -- for two openings. Gorzelanny has drawn praise from management for a superb offseason conditioning program, and Ohlendorf has many backers, too.

1. Awakening the first baseman

Could anything mean more to these 2009 Pirates than for Adam LaRoche, their perpetually slow-starting slugger, to finally, finally have a good start?

Or even an ordinary start?

His numbers in the second halves of seasons usually are spectacular -- nearly 70 points higher than his first halves in terms of average -- and it is that level of performance that this mostly punchless lineup will need to bolster Nate McLouth and Doumit if the team is to be legitimately competitive.

"Adam LaRoche is the man," Doumit said. "And this is the year."

LaRoche has been working through the offseason with hitting coach Don Long, but the stroke never has been the issue.

"Our studies have shown that the swing path doesn't change much," Huntington said. "It's mostly, really, something Adam needs to work out mentally. We feel he will. Really, one of these years, you think it has to happen."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at
First published on February 12, 2009 at 8:06 pm