Q: Can the Conn Smythe winner come from any team in the playoffs, or is it restricted to the team that wins? If not, has there been a time when the winning team did not have the Conn Smythe winner?
Nick Carter, Auckland, New Zealand
MOLINARI: Predictably, the Smythe usually goes to a member of the team that wins the Stanley Cup, but it is intended to recognize the best player in the postseason, not necessarily the top performer on the championship club.
To date, it has been won five times by the members of non-winning teams. Not surprisingly, four of those have been goalies who played a major role in getting their team to the championship round -- and keeping it competitive after it got there.
Those goaltenders were Roger Crozier (Detroit, 1966) Glenn Hall (St. Louis, 1968), Ron Hextall (Philadelphia, 1987) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Anaheim, 2003). The lone forward in the group of Smythe recipients who didn't earn a Cup ring in the process was Flyers winger Reggie Leach, who got the Smythe in 1976.
Q: Do you think Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone have cost themselves some money with their effort in the final?
Ryan Hamner, Blaine, Minn.
MOLINARI: Probably not -- not a significant amount, anyway -- because making personnel decisions (including determining how much a particular player should be paid) on the basis of a handful of games isn't wise. Disappointing as Malone and Malkin were during the first four games of the Detroit series -- the response to your question was formulated before the start of Game 5 -- it should not outweigh all they accomplished and contributed during the regular season and previous playoff rounds.
Malone will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and that gives him considerable leverage. While the market can change, indications now are that Malone likely will command a salary of at least $4 million per season, and it's easy to see how that figure could rise if there is a bidding war for his services. That hardly would be a reach, because Malone has developed into a quality power forward who is reliable at both ends of the ice and finally added consistency to his game this season. The only asterisk is his history of running hot and cold, but 2007-08 went a long way toward alleviating concerns about that.
Malkin has a year left on his entry-level contract, but his next deal almost certainly will be worth more than Malone's. However, it's a virtual lock -- and should be -- that his annual salary will not exceed the average of $8.7 million that Sidney Crosby will earn when his new deal kicks in next season.
Although Malkin established himself as one of the NHL's elite talents during the past winter and his offensive game has components that Crosby's does not, Crosby is the undisputed cornerstone of this franchise, and his contract should effectively establish a ceiling for what the Penguins are willing to pay.
Q: It seems to me that the games are turning back into the grab-and-hook games of pre-lockout, anti-Mario Lemieux days. It is not just the Red Wings, but they seem to be better at it.
Clint Rauscher, Cambridge Springs, Pa.
MOLINARI: More than a few observers have noted a steady decline in what began as a zero-tolerance approach to obstruction-related infractions after the 2004-05 season was wiped out by a labor dispute.
The idea after the lockout was to maximize the entertainment value of games by allowing skilled players to skate and create without being impeded by opponents operating outside the rules, and it worked for a while. But while the game still is not to be confused with the NHL's pre-lockout product, there clearly is a lot more hooking and holding and interference than a couple of years ago.
A few games into the Cup final, Penguins coach Michel Therrien accused the Red Wings -- loudly and frequently -- of obstructing his players, and seemed to get a few favorable calls because of it. Those penalties served the Penguins' short-term purposes, although they rarely capitalized on the power plays they were awarded, but it will be better for the league in general if officials are instructed to again enforce the rulebook the way it is written.