Tough task ahead for Pens

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's first trip to the Stanley Cup final is not expected to be his last.

But the world is about to get very complicated for Ray Shero, general manager, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has a bevy of internal issues he must deal with after the Stanley Cup is presented.

For one thing, there is a brewing problem between coach Michel Therrien and some of his players -- a number of them despise playing for him.

No one will choose the Stanley Cup final as a forum to call out their coach but there are far too many whispers out there that too many players can't stand working for -- or with-- Therrien.

If that isn't an issue to be dealt with immediately, it is certainly something that will grow with time. Brooks Orpik, the free agent defenceman who will be coveted by many teams after July 1, has told people he will not re-sign in Pittsburgh if Therrien is the coach. Jordan Staal, the terrific young player who lives in the shadow of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- but is poised to bust out as one of the most complete centres in hockey -- is another Therrien complainer.

If there are more, Shero may have a difficult decision to make. Add to that the belief that part-owner Mario Lemieux hasn't been impressed with Therrien's work in the playoffs and that's another problem for Shero.

As if he needed more issues: Almost half his roster is unsigned for next season. He paid heavily to bring in Marian Hossa at the trade deadline. The trade has paid off -- at least in the short term. Hossa has dispelled any beliefs that he isn't a playoff performer.

But Hossa is a free agent, and it's hard to imagine Pittsburgh has the money to sign him when it has to find a way to sign Evgeny Malkin and Staal (after next season) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, a restricted free agent. With Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury and defencemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney potentially signed for the long-term, it doesn't give Shero much room for salary manipulation in the future.

Hossa and Ryan Malone, possibly the best wingers on the Pens, are both free agents come July 1. Orpik, one half of the No. 1 defence pairing, is also free as are many of the character players such as Gary Roberts, Pasqual Dupuis, Jarkko Ruutu, Adam Hall and Georges Laraque.

In addition, the Pens have Darryl Sydor signed for next season at $2.5 million US, a contract they may buy out for the part-time defenceman.

Which means what for Shero, who won't discuss many of these issues publicly? He needs to find a way to make Malkin and Staal happy, find a way to settle his coaching situation and find a way to fill out almost half his roster while losing some of his most significant leaders and role players along the way.

The challenge is immense.


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