Q: I was wondering about the status of Gary Roberts. I seem to recall March being the target for his return, yet I haven't heard anything about him joining the team in practice.
Robert Schultz, North Hills
MOLINARI: You haven't heard much news about Roberts, who has been out since breaking his fibula Dec. 29, lately because there simply hasn't been any.
Roberts is skating occasionally, although not every day, and has yet to practice with his teammates. He also has not set a target date for returning to the lineup.
Q: Do you believe the NHL will ever change the current playoff format, which gives the top three seeds in each conference to the division winners? While the Western Conference looks legit, with the division leaders being the best teams in the conference, the current leader of the Southeast Division (Carolina) would be in ninth place in the East (going into last night's games), based on points. Couldn't the NHL come up with a system which guarantees the winner of each division a playoff spot, but wouldn't reward a mediocre team with such a high position and home-ice advantage in the first round?
Jason Heptner, Johnstown
MOLINARI: Yes, the current format will change at some point. It always does. The real questions are when it will happen, and what the next format will be like.
A lot of Penguins fans are unhappy that whoever wins the Southeast will end up with no worse (and, almost certainly, no better) than the No. 3 seed for the conference playoffs. Their distress is understandable, but it's hard to argue with the intent of the format, which was to assure that teams are not punished for playing in a particularly strong division. Guaranteeing the division winners the top three seeds seemed like a good way to do that.
Trouble is, this season's Southeast winner will be rewarded for playing in a weak division, not penalized for competing in a tough one. Three-quarters of the way through the season, there's not much reason to believe that any Southeast club would be able to seriously challenge for the top spot in the Atlantic or Northeast Division, but the winner there is assured of home ice for the opening round and, if it survives that test, the second.
If there's any consolation for fans of teams in the other two divisions, it's that while getting an unduly high seed might work to the Southeast winner's favor for a while, teams don't win Cups without beating quality opponents, and a high seed will be nothing more than a temporary reprieve if a team doesn't have the personnel to compete with such clubs.
Q: How many players can a team scratch per game? I don't see why the Pens can't keep three goalies on the roster and just scratch one every game, like they do with forwards and defensemen. Why the pressing need to trade or send one to the minors?
MOLINARI: Teams can have up to 23 players on their active roster until the trade deadline, after which the roster limit is lifted. Those 23 can include as many goalies as the team wants to carry.
The reason clubs don't like to carry three goalies is that there is not enough work, in practices or games, to keep more than two sharp and happy. (Consider the math: Two nets, three goalies. That means that, during practices, there always is one goalie standing around, unable to do much more than stretch and watch. And maybe seethe.)
Over the years, a lot of teams have tried to carry three goalies on their major-league roster. There might have been an instance when it worked out to the satisfaction of all concerned, but the moderator of this forum can't think of one.
It won't be surprising to see the Penguins try it when Marc-Andre Fleury is officially added to the mix -- they aren't eager to risk losing Dany Sabourin on waivers by sending him to the farm team in Wilkes-Barre, and Ty Conklin's play has rendered any thoughts of demoting him moot -- but no one should be surprised if they eventually conclude that keeping more than two goalies simply isn't workable.