Q: With the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaching, how is this year's deadline situation different from other years? The reason I ask is that I sense a reluctance among general managers to acquire rental players, and not just because so many teams are within striking distance of playoffs.
Pat Tracey, West Islip, N.Y.
MOLINARI: The deadline isn't until Tuesday, so it's entirely possible that the premise of your question will prove to be invalid, that a lot of big-name players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer will change teams between now and then.
It's understandable, though, if GMs continue to be wary of paying the kind of steep prices such players have commanded in the past, when there is a considerable body of evidence that suggests there won't be much of a return on that investment. Witness what transpired in 2007, when the New York Islanders (Ryan Smyth), Nashville (Peter Forsberg) and Atlanta (Keith Tkachuk) all paid exorbitant amounts to rent veterans they believed could be difference-makers in the playoffs, but none of those clubs made it past the opening round.
Those precedents aside, if impending free agents like Mats Sundin and Marian Hossa are fitted with "For Sale" signs before the deadline -- that would entail Sundin waiving his no-trade clause and Hossa breaking off contract-extension talks with Atlanta -- there will be plenty of teams eager to bid for the right to employ them for the next few months.
Q: Can a goalie enter the no-puck-play zone and, without touching the puck, box out (an attacking player) while awaiting reinforcements from his defensemen?
MOLINARI: That might not usually be a smart play, but it is a legal one. Goaltenders are allowed to go into the area adjacent to the trapezoid, like any other player; they just aren't allowed to handle the puck there. One detail worth noting is that, per Rule 28.8, a goalie actually is permitted to play the puck while standing inside that no-touch area as long as the puck is outside of it.
Q: What are the chances Sidney Crosby will go to Wilkes-Barre for conditioning, like Marc-Andre Fleury did?
Jim McGrath, Dayton Ohio
MOLINARI: Slightly less than the chances that he'll be appointed Canada's ambassador to Antarctica.
When Crosby is ready to return -- and based on the way he has looked in practice lately, that won't be terribly long from now -- he'll step right back into the NHL lineup. And the suspicion here is that Crosby will need all of a shift or two to look like he never was gone.