Q: What happens to Darryl Sydor? The top six defensemen are playing very well, but one of your alternate captains is in the press box. He can't be happy about the situation. Is Sydor gone after the season? What is his contract status?
Max McGrath, Monroeville
MOLINARI: The Penguins brought in Sydor as a free agent last July, in part, because of the experience and leadership he could provide for a young team during the playoffs. And, in a rather unexpected way, Sydor has been doing just that during the past few weeks.
There's no question Sydor isn't happy about spending game nights in street clothes this spring. He's too proud, and still too capable, to not be bothered by being cast as a spare part. Nonetheless, he has not made a public issue of being a healthy scratch -- even when fellow defenseman Ryan Whitney went through some difficult games -- and that drives home the point that he understand the playoffs are not about Darryl Sydor, but about the team. That regardless of how he feels about the way he is being used, he will not do anything to cause a distraction or become a divisive figure in the locker room.
Sydor obviously would prefer to set an example by, say, sacrificing his body to block a shot or by absorbing a hit to execute a lead pass to a teammate breaking through the neutral zone, but he has been around long enough to understand that teams generally need more than six defensemen if they go on a fairly lengthy playoff run. If the Penguins remain alive long enough, it's possible that Mark Eaton, who is recovering from knee surgery, will be back in the mix on defense, but at least for now, Sydor is the guy on call if a spot opens because of an injury or coaching decision.
Sydor has a year left on his contract and, while it's hard to predict what personnel moves the Penguins will consider this summer because of salary-cap issues, there's little reason to believe he won't spend it here. For starters, he has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means he would have to approve any deal general manager Ray Shero would work out. What's more, because the Penguins could lose Brooks Orpik and Eaton, both of whom will be unrestricted this summer, before next season, having a capable guy like Sydor on the payroll is an obvious plus.
Q: Does the NHL have anything similar to the "Larry Bird Exception" in the NBA, which allows teams to sign their own free agents and stay under the cap? If not, is this something that we may see in the future?
Marc Ware, Centennial, Colo.
MOLINARI: No, the NHL doesn't have such a feature -- or any other significant loophole that anyone has turned up in nearly three years -- in its collective bargaining agreement. If it did, Shero wouldn't be looking at the possibility of gulping down six-packs of antacid for lunch in the weeks leading up to the start of free agency July 1.
Whether there is any such exemption in future labor deals is an issue that will have to be dealt with in negotiations between the league and its Players' Association. However, as has been noted in the Q&A numerous times, allowing teams to spend above the cap maximum, whatever the reason, would undermine the objective of giving all 30 franchises a chance to be competitive if they're able to identify and develop talent well.
Sure, it would be great for the Penguins if they could lock up Evgeni Malkin or Marc-Andre Fleury or any of their other core players without having it count against the cap, but that probably wouldn't be in the best interest of the league. While the Penguins clearly are one of the NHL's "Haves" now -- especially with the prospect of moving into a new arena in two years -- they can't forget that, just a few years ago, they were one of the "Have-Nots." And that teams in a number of other markets still qualify as such.