Q: What exactly does it say about Brooks Orpik's place in the organization when they ask him to play forward? Is there any more insight or evidence as to why it appears he's fallen out of favor
Joe Berret, Alexandria, Va.
MOLINARI: While coach Michel Therrien's decision to use Orpik on left wing, a position he said he never had played at any level, in New Jersey Tuesday doesn't necessarily reflect the way Orpik is viewed by everyone in the organization -- general manager Ray Shero makes a point of not getting involved in game-day personnel decisions -- it's hard to misinterpret the message it sends about Therrien's feelings on him.
Therrien went out of his way before the Devils game to talk about his respect for Orpik, and to suggest that his strong skating and physical play made him a logical choice to fill the left-wing niche on the fourth line when the Penguins found themselves with just 11 healthy forwards. What can't be ignored, though, is that Orpik is a defenseman, and Therrien's actions made it clear he had six others he preferred to use at that position.
Precisely why Therrien has lost confidence in Orpik isn't clear, but it obviously casts serious doubt on Orpik's future with the Penguins. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and, as the only physical presence on their blue line, would seem to be a valuable piece of their defensive puzzle. He isn't used that way, however, and despite Orpik's insistence that his preference is to re-sign with the Penguins, it's hard to believe he won't be tempted to leave if another club comes along with not only an attractive salary offer, but a promise of a role that's a major upgrade from the one he has under Therrien.
Q: As the Penguins cope with all these injuries, why don't they consider bringing up Angelo Esposito for a 10-game stint? If he plays well, keep him around. If he's not ready, no worries, send him back. But it seems like an easy way to add some potential power to the offense without sacrificing anything in a trade.
Jeff Kraus, Richmond, Va.
MOLINARI: Whether Esposito has progressed to a point where he'd actually have a chance to contribute at this level is for the scouts who have watched him regularly to decide, but as a practical matter, there's almost no way he'll play in the NHL this season, thanks to the agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella group for the three major-junior leagues. Certainly, not until his junior season is over, anyway.
Because Esposito still is unsigned, the Penguins could add him to their lineup only if the NHL would grant them permission to sign him to a one-game amateur tryout, and that would only happen if extraordinary circumstances exist. The Penguins would have to have a personnel crisis, for example, with no reasonable way of getting a replacement in from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre for the game in which they'd like to use Esposito.
If Esposito were under contract, it would be easier for the Penguins to bring him up, although it still would not be something that could be done on a whim. They could put him on the NHL roster once they were down three forwards from the normal complement of 12.