Q: I read that Detroit may not re-sign defenseman Danny Markov. He seems to be the type of defenseman the Penguins have lacked in recent years -- defensively responsible, nasty in his own end yet not prone to bad penalties, and capable of playing top-pairing minutes. Are there any indications that Ray Shero might pursue Markov come July 1?
Dave Jannes, Boothwyn, Pa.
MOLINARI: The Red Wings have not said publicly whether Markov, who made $2.5 million in 2006-07 and turns 31 July 30, is in their plans for next season. If not, it's probably more because of the salary he figures to command -- something akin to what he earned during the past season, or perhaps a bit higher -- than because the Red Wings couldn't use his talents.
Markov plays the body hard and consistently, which is at least part of the reason he's missed fewer than 10 games just once since entering the NHL a decade ago. He also is reliable defensively, which certainly would appeal to the Penguins -- and probably quite a few other clubs -- if he hits the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Markov passed through Nashville while Shero worked there, so Shero should have some first-hand impressions of him that transcend anything found in a standard scouting report. If nothing he saw soured Shero on Markov, it's easy to believe that Markov is a guy the Penguins will at least take a good look at if he's available, although it seems pretty clear they don't plan to get into bidding wars for big-ticket players.
Q: I have heard that the NHLPA is talking to Don Fehr of the MLBPA in order to create a strategy to have a better collective bargaining agreement for the players next time. In the scenario that the NHL loses its cap after this CBA, do you believe it will be detrimental to the league? I can't see the NHL, which is having a tough time becoming a mainstream sport and producing revenue, having teams spend freely again for players.
MOLINARI: Fehr is executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the strongest of the four unions in major-league sports, so it's understandable that people from the NHLPA would want to get guidance from him. On the other hand, the economics of baseball and hockey are so different that it's hard to see how the NHLPA could use baseball's labor deal as a template; that would make as much sense as for the moderator of this forum soliciting dating advice from Brad Pitt. The general idea might be the same, but the similarities don't go beyond the surface.
Although the NHLPA has the option of reopening the CBA after the 2008-09 season, it is hard to envision any scenario under which most owners would agree to abandon the cap system that has given every franchise a reasonable opportunity to be competitive -- and profitable. The owners sacrificed the 2004-05 season to get the cap, and likely would be willing to give up even more to retain it.
The hard truth is that, unlike football, baseball and basketball, the NHL apparently never will be more than a regional attraction, with the vast majority of its fan base in Canada and cold-weather regions in the U.S. Consequently, it never will have the revenues -- or the TV viewers -- of the NFL or NBA or major-league baseball. Hockey fans might be the most passionate and loyal among those following one of North America's major team sports, but there simply aren't that many of them. Just ask any of the hundreds of millions of people on the continent who ignored the Stanley Cup final.
Q: Georges Laraque was not needed in the playoffs, but I still feel he is an asset and fan attraction during the long regular season. Having the toughest fighter in the league be there every night for the Penguins' young stars would seem to make it worth the $1 million he is paid. Is there any chance he will be re-signed?
MOLINARI: Laraque has a year -- worth $1.3 million -- left on his contract, so re-signing him isn't an issue at the moment. Whether he will do enough during the 2007-08 season to convince the Penguins that he's worthy of getting a new deal next summer remains to be seen.
He clearly is one of the most respected, even feared, heavyweights in the NHL, but doesn't seem inclined to fight with any regularity anymore. His one significant bout after joining the Penguins at the trade deadline was against New York Rangers tough guy Colton Orr -- the same guy who broke Andre Roy's face the previous season -- and Laraque was a convincing winner. Trouble is, his reputation severely limits the number of opponents willing to trade punches with him, and Laraque seems intent on proving that he can do more with his hands than to just make a fist.
It's admirable that he wants to polish his playing skills, but it's his fighting prowess that got him into the league and that goes a long way toward keeping him there. It's not an easy niche to fill -- having ice bags wrapped around your bruised and swollen knuckles has to get real tired after a while -- but Laraque has made a nice living doing it. And should be able to do it effectively for several more years if he is so inclined.
Q: The topic of bigger nets still looms among the NHL's board discussions. Are these people out of their minds?
Russ Johnsen, Redondo Beach, Calif.
MOLINARI: That's one way to put it. A better one, though, might be that well-meaning proponents of making the nets larger -- or at least of further investigating the viability of doing so -- are willing to look into radical solutions to the limited goal-scoring they view as a major problem in the NHL.
Many among us contend that it is quality scoring chances, not necessarily goals, that make for exciting games, and that great goaltending might hold down the number of pucks that enter the net, but provides excellent entertainment in its own right. There is, however, definitely a constituency for the concept of raising the goals-per-game count, no matter what it takes.
NHL general managers discussed the bigger-nets issue at their meeting during the Stanley Cup final, and the notion received only modest support, so there's no reason to believe such a dramatic change will be in the works anytime soon. But with level-headed, respected guys like Nashville GM David Poile contending that the idea deserves further exploration, at the very least, it isn't likely to disappear anytime soon.
One factor that might not -- and possibly shouldn't -- influence the ultimate decision on whether to alter the nets is the ripple effect such a change would have at every level of the game. The NHL is the industry's trend-setter and if it would switch to nets with different dimensions, leagues from minor pros to local youth operations would want to do likewise. That would carry and enormous price tag, and leave the landfills overflowing with suddenly obsolete 6-feet-by-4-feet nets.
Q: Do you think Sidney Crosby will need to gear down his game down a bit, lest he burn out sooner than later? I know he is still young and playing like every game is his first, but I feel the Pens need to use his style and drive wisely. If he continues to blaze the ice nonstop in every game, we should be prepared to see him injured more and have a shortened career.
Jack Curry, Ocean City, Md.
MOLINARI: The Penguins have any number of things about which they can worry -- although the list is considerably shorter than it was at this time a year ago -- but the intensity and effort Crosby displays on every shift isn't one of them. Good thing, too, because it isn't something they likely would be able to change, no matter how hard they try because Crosby is hard-wired to go all-out every time he goes over the boards. You'd have a better chance of selling Hugh Hefner on the merits of celibacy.
Fortunately for Crosby (and the Penguins), the effort he puts into training and conditioning might surpass the one he puts forth during games. His commitment to off-ice work has few rivals, and is an often-overlooked element in his success. His exceptional leg strength is a key part of his ability to fend off larger opponents and, while genetics might have something to do with that, his year-round workout regimen probably is a bigger factor.
Bottom line: The Penguins should concern themselves more with finding quality wingers to work with Crosby than with the zeal he displays while going about his work. In fact, they should see if there's a way to make it contagious.
Q: Is George Parros of Anaheim considered a Pittsburgh-area player in the mold of Ryan Malone or R.J. Umberger, or did he develop his hockey skills elsewhere?
MOLINARI: Parros, who has picked up a reputation as one of the league's better enforcers, is a native of Washington, Pa., but unlike Malone (Upper St. Clair) and Umberger (Plum), didn't stay in the area long enough to play at the high school level. Parros spent his formative years in Randolph, N.J. and played his high-school hockey for the Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J.
Parros, 28, played college hockey at Princeton and is the only member of the new Cup champions who has written a 99-page thesis on a West Coast longshoremen's labor dispute and its impact on the U.S. economy. He was claimed by Los Angeles in the eighth round of the 1999 entry draft, and played with the Kings and Colorado before being traded to the Ducks, who signed him to a two-year contract extension Tuesday.
Q: When was the last time a team won the Stanley Cup without having a clear-cut captain? I don't remember a time when a team received the Cup with three guys all wearing an "A" on their jerseys.
Mike Crow, Herndon, Va.
MOLINARI: Calgary didn't have three alternates when it defeated Montreal in the 1989 Stanley Cup final, but did have Jim Peplinski and Lanny McDonald serving as co-captains. The subject of a team winning a championship with three guys wearing an "A" was a popular one during some Penguins fans during the past season, when Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar and Crosby handled those duties, but is moot locally now that Crosby has been named captain and is a pretty good bet to retain the job for as long as he plays here.