Q: What are the possibilities of the Penguins being able to re-sign Marian Hossa and give Evgeni Malkin his new contract? A lot of people are saying it's a foregone conclusion that Hossa is just a rental. Will the new arena help the Penguins to get both signed?
Tim Miller, Philadelphia
MOLINARI: A few relevant facts that should be understood right up front:
1) Hossa is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, at which time he will be able to sign with any team that makes him an offer, even if the Penguins are willing to give him more money. If Hossa doesn't want to stay, for whatever reason, there's no way they can make him do so.
2) Even if Malkin signs a new contract July 1, the first day the Penguins are allowed to open negotiations on one, it won't take effect until the 2009-10 season (just as the one Sidney Crosby agreed to last July doesn't kick in until next season). That means Malkin's next salary won't have an immediate impact on the Penguins' payroll or salary-cap considerations. The same is true if they work out a new deal with Jordan Staal this summer.
While a lot of variables (like the salary-cap ceiling, in a given season) will determine precisely which of their players the Penguins will be able to retain, the big-picture view at this point is that they will do everything possible to keep players they deem to be part of their core group, while the supporting cast will undergo frequent changes as the front office brings in lower-priced role players to replace those who have priced themselves out of town.
General manager Ray Shero has been doing projections and evaluations of the Penguins' financial and salary-cap situations since shortly after he took the job nearly two years ago, and most meaningful personnel moves he's made have been with at least one eye on preserving resources and salary-cap space for the time when the Penguins really need it, which seems to be just about here.
He also can't be surprised that he had to bring in a goal-scorer like Hossa in a trade, since the Penguins didn't have anyone to fill that niche in their organization. Consequently, Shero had to realize that whoever he acquired would command a huge salary, even if he didn't -- and probably still doesn't -- know exactly just how large it will be.
Assuming Hossa is interested in staying, the Penguins will have to decide after watching him for a few months if he's the fit they were seeking and, if so, how much they'll be willing to spend to keep him. If they like what they've seen -- and if Hossa is happy with the niche he fills here -- there's reason to believe they'll be able to work out an agreement to keep him for an extended period.
Hossa won't come cheap, even if he's so content here that he accepts a bit less money than he might receive elsewhere, but the Penguins should have the cap space to accommodate him. (As well as Malkin, Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury, for that matter.)
One thing that won't be an issue in any of the negotiations is having the actual resources to pay those guys, and for that the Penguins can thank the city's new multi-purpose arena. They won't actually start to benefit from the enhanced revenue streams that building will provide for a couple more years, but with a deep-pockets co-owner like Ron Burkle and the lines of credit they have in place, they can spend more money than they take in for the next two seasons without it causing a major problem because they know there will be more coming their way in a few years.
Q: What's up with Hal Gill? He looks slower than a snail. Is it the new system or a bad pick-up?
Mario Mazziotti, Philadelphia
MOLINARI: Gill, who is 6 foot 7, 250 pounds, is no slower today than he was when he played in Boston or Toronto. He's always had good reach (befitting a man his size), a willingness to play tough in front of his net and the foot speed of a tortoise with a sprained ankle.
While having to adapt to a new system complicates things for Gill -- getting to where he's supposed to be is enough of a challenge, without him having to stop and think about exactly where that is -- his lack of mobility will be an issue for as long as he's in the league.
It's worth noting that Gill's skating issues aren't exactly a trade secret, and Shero surely was well aware of them years before he decided to send Toronto a second- and fifth-round draft choice for Gill last week. Clearly, whether he is proven to be correct or not, Shero believes that Gill's assets outweigh the negatives rooted in his skating.