Q: Mellon Arena's poor ice conditions on March 27 were obvious to anyone who watched the bouncing pucks and general slowdown of offensive rushes. Given that this is likely to be worse with higher temperatures in April or May than in March, do you think the offensive-minded Penguins are starting to question (the value of) home ice advantage?
Barry Davis, Felton, Pa.
MOLINARI: Not at all, for a number of reasons.
First, Mellon Arena hardly is the only facility in the league that suffers from sub-par ice conditions at various points of the year. And even though rising heat and humidity levels obviously will make it more difficult to maintain a playing surface about which players will not complain, Western Pennsylvania isn't the only region that's moving into spring, so ice-maintenance crews all across the continent will be forced to deal with new, weather-related challenges.
Second, and more important, the actual ice surface is not the major, let alone only, component of home ice advantage. Other range from intangibles such as crowd support -- Penguins players and coaches routinely volunteer how the backing they get from fans at Mellon Arena has a positive impact on performances -- to practical issues things like being able to make the final personnel change before faceoffs.
All of that tends to balance out over the first six games -- or at least, it should -- but on those occasions when a series becomes a best-of-one, you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy who would honestly (and that's the key word) say that he would rather play it on the road.
Finally, while no one will suggest that the ice at Mellon Arena is going to be mistaken for, say, that found at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton during the 1980s, a major part of the problem on the 27th was that scenes for a movie were filmed during the game. Consequently, some arena doors were open for much of the day as crews prepared for the filming, which meant the ice was subjected to warmth and humidity from outside the building, and that's never a good thing.
Q: With Ryan Whitney's inconsistent play all year, would he not be a perfect candidate to be traded in the offseason? The organization has several offensive-minded defenseman already but no shutdown (defenseman). With that being a glaring weakness and with Whitney's reputation, albeit overrated, wouldn't the Penguins be better off pursuing a deal such as this?
Dave Holley, Philadelphia
MOLINARI: Whitney probably doesn't qualify as an untouchable for the Penguins, but he isn't a guy you should expect them to aggressively market after this season, either. Situations change, of course, but the fact that the Penguins worked out a six-year, $24 million contract with him last summer makes it pretty clear that he was viewed as a significant piece of their long-term plans, and there's no real reason to believe that has changed appreciably.
Clearly, Whitney has had a disappointing season (although a productive playoff run would go a long way toward negating that), and there are elements of his game -- like how he doesn't play the physical game befitting a man of his size -- that frustrate a lot of people. Nonetheless, he has excellent offensive abilities and, at 25, probably is still a few years away from entering the most productive stage of his career.
Also, while the Penguins appear to have a surplus of left-shooting defensemen, Alex Goligoski still hasn't proven that he can be productive in the NHL, and there's no guarantee that the Penguins will want -- or will be able to afford -- to keep Sergei Gonchar when his contract expires after two more seasons. If Goligoski's development plateaus (unlikely as that appears to be at this point), and Gonchar leaves, dumping a defenseman with Whitney's offensive pedigree will look like a serious error in judgment by the front office.
Be assured, though, that if management decides he is expendable, for whatever reason, there will be not shortage of teams interested in acquiring him. Today's game puts a premium on being able to move the puck, and Whitney can do it a lot better than most defensemen.