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Penguins end brief off-season, prepare to open camp Wednesday

PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins were back together Tuesday, even though it seemed as if they left town only a few weeks ago.

That's because they did. "It was a short summer," captain Sidney Crosby said.

The shortest off-season in Penguins history - it was little more than three months ago they lost Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final at home to Detroit - will be followed by their shortest training camp. They begin practising Wednesday, will play their first exhibition game on Saturday and, in 10 days, will leave for Europe and their final pre-season game and two games in Stockholm to open the season.

Many players began off-season workouts a few weeks after that loss to Detroit, so it almost feels as if one continuous season to them. The Penguins now will test the theory that reaching the Stanley Cup finals one season makes it even more difficult to get back because of the wear and tear endured during a six-month season and two months of playoffs, especially when other NHL players are resting once the season ends in April.

"We have to move on a little bit," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It's a new season and there's new games we have to focus on. But every guy knows that we missed it not by a whole lot, so everybody wants to go again."

Not everybody, and that might be the Penguins' biggest worry as the new season nears: replacing Marian Hossa.

Hossa proved to be the missing piece the Penguins needed to become a Stanley Cup finalist, the reliable shooter they could never seem to find for Crosby's line. Hossa was the third-leading scorer in the playoffs (Crosby was second), with 12 goals and 14 points in 20 games.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who so coveted Hossa that he gave up four players at the trading deadline to acquire him and forward Pascal Dupuis, lobbied hard to keep Hossa and offered him a US$49-million, seven-year deal - one that rivalled the money the team is paying stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Edmonton offered even more, possibly as much as $70 million over eight seasons.

Hossa, despite saying after the playoffs ended that he would take less money to stay in Pittsburgh, instead signed a $7.45 million, one-year deal with Detroit - in effect, telling the Penguins he had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings than with them.

Hossa's departure angered Pittsburgh's fans and stung the Penguins, who again find themselves with a raft of talented centres but not as many proven scorers to go with them. They signed forwards Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko, both of whom have considerable playoff experience, but losing Hossa was a major setback.

"I kind of wish he would have stayed and tried to get back at them (the Red Wings) this year, but that's his choice, he went with them," Fleury said.

Hossa also suggested to Crosby once the playoffs ended that he wanted to return.

"When I had seen him before the free agency started, I was pretty sure he was coming back. It didn't work out that way and honestly, it's way behind us," Crosby said. "It's over and done with. It's really been put behind us and we're going to move on."

The Penguins may move centre Jordan Staal to Crosby's line to compensate for Hossa's missing production, but they also must replace forward Ryan Malone, who had 16 points in the playoffs. Malone, the son of one-time Penguins player and executive Greg Malone, signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent.

"I think everyone was surprised by it (Hossa's departure), but I've heard people saying they are going to boo him and stuff like that, which is probably the dumbest thing I have ever heard," defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "It's a tough decision. ... He takes the one-year deal and says he wants to win. I think everyone was disappointed by it, but it's his decision and you've just got to respect it."

The Penguins will also be without defenceman Ryan Whitney until mid-season, and possibly later, after he needed surgery a month ago to correct a chronic problem with his left foot. Alex Goligoski, a second-round draft pick in 2004 who was called up for three games last season, is a possible replacement.

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