Q: With Marc-Andre Fleury set to return soon, what do you think about the trade value of Dany Sabourin or Ty Conklin, especially with the fairly reasonable possibility that Sabourin would not clear waivers if the Penguins would send him down?
Eric Gettemy, Valparaiso, Ind.
MOLINARI: Conklin, despite his outstanding work while Fleury has recovered from his high ankle sprain, is 31, but never has established himself as a No. 1 goalie in the NHL for an extended period, and Sabourin's only experience in being a go-to guy at this level came shortly after Fleury was hurt, and he struggled enough that the Penguins turned to Conklin.
Consequently, it's reasonable to assume that neither would bring a significant return in a trade, so their value to the Penguins probably is greatest by keeping them on the payroll. That doesn't mean all three goalies should stay on the major-league roster after Fleury settles in -- having three goalies doesn't usually work in a sport that uses two nets -- but Fleury's extended absence underscored the value of having a couple of backups who can perform capably at this level.
The Penguins could return Conklin to Wilkes-Barre without putting him through waivers if they do it in conjunction with Fleury's return to active duty, but the prevailing sentiment seems to be that his performance in the past two months has cemented his place in the NHL. That means Sabourin, who must go through waivers and has a year remaining on his contract, is a heavy favorite to go to the Baby Penguins. There is an obvious danger of him being claimed by a team looking to add a capable goalie for the stretch drive or playoffs, but Conklin simply has done too much to keep the Penguins afloat to justify demoting him.
Q: Every year, I hear the term "rental player." Do the players traded have some sort of language in their contract to be returned to their previous team after the season?
Brian Bahorik, Summerhill, Pa.
MOLINARI: A rental player is one a team acquires at or near the trade deadline with the expectation of having him only for the stretch drive and playoffs, generally because he will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. That doesn't preclude the player signing with the team that traded for him -- Gary Roberts of the Penguins is proof of that -- but as a rule, it is strictly a short-term arrangement.
While a team that trades a player can have an informal understanding that it will bring him back for the following season, that isn't part of a contract. (Remember, the player's contract usually expires after the season, so anything in it is meaningless, anyway. And if the contract doesn't expire, the player still belongs to the club that traded for him.)
The Penguins seemed to have such an arrangement with right winger Mark Recchi when he was traded to Carolina two years ago; Recchi won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes, but they declined to exercise an option to extend his contract and Recchi wound up returning to the Penguins for the same salary he would have gotten if Carolina had used its option.