How does Boucher fit in?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: As far as I can tell, the Pens were never dissatisfied with Darryl Sydor's play; in fact, he performed rather well when finally called upon during the Stanley Cup final last season. There just wasn't enough blue line for all the guys capable of playing on it, and that will especially be so once Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar are ready to play. So, where do the Pens come up with the ice time for Philippe Boucher? Who sits, if the new guy is going to be given his chance?

Mike, Pittsburgh

MOLINARI: The Penguins did not bring Boucher in to take over Sydor's place in the press box on game nights -- exactly how much he'll play remains to be seen, and obviously will be influenced by how well he performs -- but he definitely assumed a spot in the Penguins' top three pairings the moment his acquisition from Dallas was finalized.

Early indications are that Mark Eaton, who has not performed to expectations -- his or the team's -- so far this season will be the one who loses playing time because of Boucher, but if one of the other defensemen stumbles, it wouldn't be a shock to see Eaton get back into the mix. Because he was signed to a two-year contract with an annual salary of $2 million during the offseason, the Penguins have a vested interest in having him elevate his play to its customary level.

Whether Boucher can play at a top-four level is difficult to predict with any certainty, although some team officials are quietly optimistic that he can, but there will be a place for him in the lineup until he plays his way out of it. The same is true of the power play, because Boucher is a right-handed shot with a history of getting the puck on goal.

Naturally, the return of Whitney and, later, Gonchar will nudge everyone down the depth chart -- assuming the Penguins haven't suffered any more significant injuries on their blue line before those two are back -- and whittle away at their playing time, but because he is a righty and a veteran whose track record shows he can be used in any situation, Boucher's workload probably won't suffer much unless he simply does not perform the way management hopes.

The Penguins almost certainly expected a little more of Sydor than he gave them after accepting a two-year, $5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2007, although he hardly qualified as a flop. He did, however, seem to lose the confidence of the coaching staff and it was surprising when he often was scratched in favor of Eaton during the first quarter of this season.

There was no reason to believe that was going to change anytime soon and, at first blush, this looks like a trade where both players might benefit from a change of scenery. Boucher appears to have the greater upside, however. Sydor is a known commodity -- especially in Dallas, where he played twice previously -- and operates effectively within his limitations, but Boucher has the possibility of becoming a significant force on the Penguins' power play in addition to playing at even-strength and killing penalties.

Q: What is the rule regarding the trade of a recently re-signed restricted free agent? Say someone was to offer Jordan Staal a big contract that the Penguins could not afford, long-term. Rather than taking draft picks as compensation, could the Penguins match the offer and immediately attempt to trade him to that team or another club?

Jeremy Mohler, Squirrel Hill

MOLINARI: No, they could not. When a restricted free agent signs an offer sheet from another club, his original team has seven days to match the offer and retain the player. If it declines to do so, it receives a package of compensatory draft choices, with the makeup of that package determined by the average annual value of the player's contract with his new team.

That compensation formula is adjusted every season, but it seems reasonable to project that if Staal were to command a salary that would be too generous for the Penguins to match without running into salary-cap complications, they would be entitled to two first-round draft choices, along with a No. 2 and a No. 3. That's the second-highest level of compensation called for by the collective bargaining agreement; the top one awards a team four No. 1 selections.


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