Q: Let's step back a few years. What if the Penguins would have gotten Alexander Ovechkin instead of Evgeni Malkin (in the 2004 entry draft)? Would we be a better team with Ovechkin or Malkin?
MOLINARI: Nice twist on the who's-better debate. Unfortunately, coming at the issue from a fresh angle doesn't make the answer any more apparent.
Malkin proponents can argue that he is a more complete player than Ovechkin, point out how he thrived when plugged into Sidney Crosby's niche as the Penguins' go-to forward and note that he and Ty Conklin are the two biggest reasons the Penguins are contending for a conference championship.
Those backing Ovechkin can counter that he has fueled the Capitals' unexpected run at a playoff berth and is the game's premier goal-scorer. They also might answer the question about which player would make the Penguins a better team with a question of their own: How many goals could Ovechkin score if he had Crosby feeding him pucks?
Simply put, the moderator of this forum cannot say, with any real conviction, which player would make the Penguins better. Anyone who believes they can is invited to move on to the timeless question posed during a Saturday Night Live segment decades ago: If Jesus Christ fought Superman, who would win? (Extra credit: How many goals could the winner score if he had Crosby feeding him pucks?)
Q: The Penguins have been pretty remarkable this season, considering the major injuries they have had. With Marian Hossa on board and Crosby about to get healthy (along with a couple of other casualties), it appears they have as good a chance of winning the Stanley Cup as anyone else in the East, based on their offensive talent. The million-dollar question is, do you feel they will be able to play well enough defensively to make a run to the conference final, or possibly bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh?
Jeff Patton, Bentonville, Ark.
MOLINARI: There are countless variables -- everything from injuries to matchups to problems stemming from games being scheduled for maximum TV exposure -- that influence the kind of playoff run a team has, so the perils of trying to predict how things will play out over a two-month period are obvious.
Still, if the Penguins have their lineup reasonably intact (anyone who's followed them this season can appreciate that that is far from guaranteed) they are, on paper, as good as any team in the Eastern Conference. There certainly are clubs that tend to give them fits -- Ottawa comes immediately to mind -- but it would not be considered a major upset at this point if the Penguins were to come out of the conference this spring.
It is difficult, however, to see how any Eastern team, at least at this point, would be favored to win the Cup over a Western club such as Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose or Dallas. All have a few flaws and question marks, to be sure, but the same is true of everyone in this salary-cap era. The best hope for the Penguins, or anyone else who might survive three rounds in the East, might be that the Western representative in the Cup final is beaten up and emotionally drained when it finally gets there.
Q: If a player is suspended, he loses a pro-rated portion of his salary. What happens to that money? Does the team keep it?
Tom Cordis, Trafford
MOLINARI: Things might get pretty interesting if teams were allowed to keep the money players forfeit when their suspended. If that were the case, you might have a club lobbying for the league to come down hard on one of its own players if the guy happened to be overpaid or underachieving.
In reality, the money is goes into something called the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund, which aids former players who are experiencing financial difficulties. When Georges Laraque was assessed his three-game suspension last week, he turned over $20,855.61 in earnings to the fund.