Q: My personal belief on the Pens' potential move is this: The main reason Mario Lemieux took the team off the market is because, one way or another, he will have a new arena next season (Kansas City) or in two years (Pittsburgh). Either way, he will get what he has been wanting for the past seven years and, in the end, I don't think this franchise is leaving.
Chris Katica, Elizabeth, N.J.
MOLINARI: That the Penguins will be playing in an up-to-date facility sometime in the next few years has been evident for quite a while; the question always has been where that will happen. Lemieux getting "what he has been wanting for the past seven years," as you put it, had nothing to do with ownership's decision to take the team off the market last month.
The simple reality is that a number of factors -- including the league's need to know by early spring where the Penguins will be based in 2007-08, so it can begin to work on next season's schedule -- make it all but impossible for a change of ownership to be completed before the team would change hands. There's a lot more to selling the team than simply agreeing on a price, including a league investigation of the individual or group looking to take control of a franchise.
That all takes time, and there's very little of that to spare now. Which is why it makes sense for Lemieux -- who never has wanted to own a team -- and his partners to retain control of the franchise until after its base of operations for the future has been determined, then sell it to someone interested in operating it in that location.
That might scare off some prospective buyers who would be interested only if they could transplant the franchise to the city/region of their choice -- and cost the Lemieux group some money, in the process -- but the small window available for arena negotiations makes it the only realistic course of action.
Q: For the purposes of my question, assume that Jordan Staal will stick around for the remainder of the season. While his even-strength offensive production has been predictably slow to develop, his short-handed and defensive skills have been better than solid. Has a player his age ever been a Selke Trophy candidate or winner, and do you see him being in the mix?
MOLINARI: There are very few players Staal's age -- remember, he just turned 18 Sept. 10 -- who even make it into the NHL, let alone contend for any league-wide trophy, except perhaps for the Calder as rookie of the year.
And impressive as Staal has been, particularly while killing penalties, he has not staked out a place among the league's top defensive forwards, and does not project as a factor in the Selke balloting. That would be a monumental feat for any rookie, regardless of his age, because the Selke is one of those trophies often won by a guy a year or so after he first is worthy of it. That presumably is because the nature of their duties is such that defensive forwards -- compounded by the lack of statistics to provide tangible evidence of his effectiveness -- do not tend to command attention the way a spectacular goal-scorer or set-up man would.
Q: The Penguins' winning percentage seems to be exponentially higher when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play on the same line for the entire game. I know the team wants to have two amazing lines and wants to split them, but a win is a win. Get the points, and make the playoffs.
Ken Blum, Worcester, Mass.
MOLINARI: That Crosby and Malkin are capable of making magic -- to say nothing of a lot of scoring chances -- when they are on the ice together is obvious to anyone who has watched them work on the same line, as they have for the past few games.
The real issue, though, is not what they can do as linemates, but how the team's long-term interests are best-served. For while making the playoffs this season is a legitimate objective -- and would be a remarkable accomplishment for a team that has been buried in the overall standings since 2002 -- the ultimate goal is to assemble a Stanley Cup contender, and having Malkin at center, not on left wing, is part of the blueprint.
Every game he's on Crosby's flank is one Malkin doesn't spend at his natural position, learning its finer points and gaining experience that could come in handy in future seasons. Intoxicating as the instant gratification that comes from winning games now has to be, it would be foolish for the Penguins to risk sacrificing their primary goal for the sake of a short-term achievement.
Q: A year ago, Ziggy Pallfy "retired" from the Pens for "personal reasons," despite compiling nearly a point a game before his departure. Assuming he is now mentally and physically sound and motivated, convince me that that the Pens couldn't utilize his world-class skills to complement Crosby or Malkin. At 34, Ziggy, couldn't be seriously considered over the hill. Does the coaching staff consider him a quitter and his tenure as a Pen over, or might there be discussions initiated to secure his scoring prowess for the rest of the season?
Tom Horgos, Salt Lake City
MOLINARI: Given the lack of scoring from the Penguins' wingers, it's easy to understand why some people would like to see Palffy return. Almost as easy as it is to understand why the Penguins should not -- and will not -- want anything to do with him.
Palffy quit on them last season with no warning or real explanation; his camp made references to a nagging shoulder problem, but the team's front office flatly rejected that, and Palffy never pressed the issue by trying to get an insurance settlement on the two-plus seasons that remained on his contract.
Palffy has a decidedly eccentric side -- he bolted from the ice so quickly at the end of each practice that there were suspicions he had a bonus for being the first guy back in the dressing room -- but his teammates seemed willing to live with his quirks. Forgiving and forgetting what he did last winter is an awful lot to ask, however. It's hard to believe that any of them could look at Palffy in a pressure situation without wondering if/when he was going to quit on them again.
There are occasional reports out of Slovakia that Palffy is working out and interested in returning to the NHL, and that's his prerogative. Just as it's the prerogative of the Penguins -- who are free of their contractual obligations to him, but still own his NHL rights -- to compel another club to overpay for those rights if it's interested in bringing him back to North America.
Q: Since Mario isn't selling the team but instead is shopping it to other cities, what are the chances he might move it to Cleveland? The city has a modern arena and he would have the same fan base. Plus, it would be the ultimate revenge to watch Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury raise those soon-to-come Stanley Cup banners over Cleveland instead of the city that stabbed them in the back.
Bill Ponko, Valdosta, Ga.
MOLINARI: Nice made-for-TV-movie script there, but Lemieux isn't looking for revenge; he just wants an arena deal that will make it possible for the franchise to be competitive on the ice and profitable off it. What's more, there has been no indication Cleveland is actively seeking an NHL team, let alone that it would make the kind of proposal that would tempt Lemieux and his partners to transplant the team there.
Q: In Sunday's Post-Gazette, you identified the players that you thought represent the Pens' best prospects not currently in the NHL. It was surprising to me that the list did not include Paul Bissonnette. As I recall, in the year before the lockout Bissonnette had a monster training camp as an 18-year-old and everyone was excited about his potential. Then he became a pro and sort of dropped off of the radar. What's the prognosis on him these days?
Ray Caliendo, Pittsburgh
MOLINARI: Bissonnette was one of the great training-camp stories in recent Penguins history when, in 2003, he nearly earned a spot on the NHL with an exceptionally strong showing during the preseason. He ultimately was returned to his junior team in Saginaw, Mich., however, and hasn't since lived up to the promise he showed back then.
Bissonnette is now 21, and has spent his first season-plus in pro hockey bouncing between the Penguins' American Hockey League farm team in Wilkes-Barre and their ECHL affiliate in Wheeling. That suggests he isn't a threat to turn up in the NHL anytime soon, and Bissonnette has done nothing during his stints with the Baby Penguins to indicate he's ready to play at this level.
He has good size (6 foot 3, 212 pounds), but poor decision-making has contributed to a generally lackluster showing in Wilkes-Barre. This probably is a good time to repeat one of the Q&A's favorite mantras -- that young goaltenders and defensemen must be given the time they need to develop before a final judgment is passed on them -- but the unfortunate reality is that there's no reason to believe Bissonnette will be a factor in the Penguins' plans anytime soon. If ever.
Q: If Plan B is a success, will the arena still be built in the Hill District, and will it still be designed the same way it would have if Isle Of Capri would have received the slots license?
Matt Filler, Weirton, W. Va.
MOLINARI: Land in the area around Mellon Arena already has been purchased in conjunction with plans to place a new building on the other side of Centre Avenue from the Penguins' current home, and there has been no serious talk in recent years of locating the facility anywhere else.
And while the finer points of a new arena's design would be subject to review, based on projected costs -- sometimes, you have to pass on the power windows and leather seats, no matter how much you want them -- there's been no indication to this point that the plans will be modified in any radical way.