Work in Sports
ATLANTIC DIVISION |
4 Pittsburgh Penguins
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 17
By Mark Bechtel
As training camp began, the Penguins were a team Václav Havel would be proud of and a team a yippie could trust. They were not, however, a club a hockey purist could appreciate. Pittsburgh had a new coach, former Czech Republic Olympic boss Ivan Hlinka; the NHL's leading scorer, Czech right wing Jaromir Jagr; and nary a player over 30. What it didn't have for the first 21 1/2 weeks was a goalie with NHL experience.
That was rectified on Sept. 24 when Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 23, agreed to a one-year, $700,000 contract. After leading all rookie keepers in appearances (51) and wins (23) last season, Aubin lost his job to Ron Tugnutt with three games left in the regular season and didn't play a minute in the playoffs. Tugnutt led the Penguins to a first-round win over the Caps but left as a free agent. Aubin then wanted more than $1 million for a one-year contract, a request that upset owner Mario Lemieux. "To play 30, 40, 50 games in your career doesn't make you Number 1," says Lemieux. (Aubin has played in 68.) "He has the potential to be Number 1. But I'm a believer that you have to start somewhere and earn the respect of everyone around you."
Nearly everyone around Aubin seems to be Czech. Twenty-three of the 60 players in camp were from their coach's homeland, prompting Matthew Barnaby to say, "I might have to change my name to Barnabov to get some ice time." Hlinka favors a more conservative style than his predecessor, Herb Brooks, and is fond of physical forwards who can protect Jagr (96 points despite playing in only 63 games because of injuries). Keeping Jagr healthy is crucial because without him, the Penguins are short of scorers. Alexei Kovalev has been touted as a franchise player for years but has yet to tally more than last season's 26 goals.
Lemieux has promised to increase the payroll this season by at least $2 million, but that might not be enough. If Jagr gets banged up or if Aubin slips, the Penguins may end up in a place they haven't been since 1990, when their owner was playing center with very little support: out of the playoffs.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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