PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh Penguins accepted the $1.6 million salary awarded defenseman Dick Tarnstrom in arbitration and signed their leading scorer from the 2003-04 season to the one-year deal on Monday.

By re-signing Tarnstrom, the Penguins chose not to trade him or walk away from the arbitration award and allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. They considered both moves after learning Saturday the NHL’s arbitrator haad ruled for Tarnstrom.

The Penguins had until Monday to accept the award or reject it. If his contract is not extended, Tarnstrom will become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The Penguins still have the option of trading Tarnstrom, who figures to be the seventh highest-paid player on the team. He trails Sergei Gonchar and Zigmund Palffy ($3.5 million each), Mark Recchi ($2,228,000) and John LeClair ($2.1 million), plus owner-player Mario Lemieux and No. 1 draft pick Sidney Crosby.

Lemieux’s salary has not yet been set, but he made about $5 million while missing all but 10 games with a hip injury in 2003-04. Crosby’s compensation has not been finalized, but he will make more than $1.6 million based on his $850,000 base salary, the maximum a first-year player can make, and bonus money.

Because the Penguins still have some flexibility in their projected $31 million to $32 million payroll, the Tarnstrom award should not substantially upset their budget. But it could prevent them from signing a lower-priced veteran player, such as a defense-minded defenseman.

Also, with the high-scoring Gonchar now on the team, Tarnstrom’s role could change. The Penguins now have four defensemen known primarily for their scoring rather than their defending – Gonchar, Ric Jackman, Tarnstrom and rookie Ryan Whitney – and they may decide that’s too many even with the NHL rule changes designed to create more scoring.

The 30-year-old Tarnstrom became the first defenseman in Penguins history to lead the team in scoring when he had 16 goals and 36 assists for 52 points in 80 games in 2003-04. All but 14 points came as a point man on the power play, with 12 goals and 26 assists in power-play situations.

During the NHL shutdown last winter, Tarnstrom played in the Swedish Elite League, getting seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 50 games and was second on his team, Sodertalje SK, in scoring and first among defensemen.

The Penguins claimed Tarnstrom off waivers from the New York Islanders before the 2002-03 season and has 93 points (23 goals, 70 assists) in 141 games with them.

AP-ES-08-29-05 1505EDT

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