Q: Alex Ovechkin got a $124 million contract for 13 years with the Capitals. How much will this affect the Pens trying to resign Evgeni Malkin? Do you think we'll still have a good shot at re-signing him when the time comes?
Doug Sechler, Sewickley
MOLINARI: Ovechkin's contract, which is worth an average of just over $9.5 million per season, generated a lot of headlines across North America when it was finalized last week -- and probably almost as many groans from general managers charged with assembling, and maintaining, competitive teams within the confines of the league's salary cap.
Precedent shows that megacontracts tend to have a widespread impact -- a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats effect -- but the reality is that Ovechkin's situation (and his value) has few, if any, peers. He is extremely entertaining to watch, a goal-scorer with few equals who plays for a franchise that never has been able to really establish itself as a consistently strong presence in its city's sporting landscape. Factor in that some team almost certainly would have offered him the maximum allowed by the league's labor agreement if he'd become a restricted free agent this summer, and there was a confluence of events that made it logical for Washington to make a long-term commitment to Ovechkin.
The clear message to the Capitals' fan base, however modest it might be, was that ownership was willing to spend an enormous amount of money to keep the team's best player and top draw on the payroll for years to come; the message to the rest of the league (and especially to any players who might consider joining the team via free agency) was that Washington will do everything possible to build a contender. At least with whatever money and cap space it has left after Ovechkin is paid.
Unfortunately for Malkin, a lot of the factors that influenced the size of Ovechkin's contract won't apply to him. He isn't the face of the franchise -- it's hard to believe anyone will take that distinction from Sidney Crosby for as long as Crosby's on the payroll -- and, while he is a superb talent with the potential to become one of the top players in the league, he doesn't have the off-ice presence of a Crosby or Ovechkin, which is something that factors into a player's value to his team.
Malkin remains under contract for another season and, while the Penguins are allowed to open negotiations with him in July, it remains to be seen if he will want to talk then, or will prefer to see if he can increase his value with a third strong season in North America. One would have to think, though, that the deal Crosby signed last summer -- a five-year agreement that will pay him $8.7 million per season when it takes effect in the fall -- has set a de facto ceiling of sort for Penguins' salaries, because there simply is no player who is worth more to the franchise.
Q: What year did the Penguins have their best power play?
Tom Cordis, Greensburg
MOLINARI: That depends on how you want to quantify their success.
Their highest conversion rate came during the 1995-96 season, when they scored on 109 of 420 chances, which works out to 26 percent. The most man-advantage goals they ever got, however, was in 1988-89, when they scored a league-record 119.
At this point, the Penguins aren't a threat to erase either of those marks in 2007-08. They are scoring on 19.1 percent of their chances and have accumulated 40 man-advantage goals, which projects to 73 over an 82-game season.