Q: Where do Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy fit into the Penguins' future? The talk seems to be centered around locking up Jordan Staal, but Talbot and Kennedy seem to play roles that are just as important.
Bryan, Charlotte, N.C.
MOLINARI: While neither of those players should be considered an untouchable -- if a general manager puts too many of his players off-limits for trades, simply because they contribute to his team's success, he's undermining his ability to upgrade his roster -- you can assume the Penguins' decision-makers are aware of what both have done, and can do in the future.
Even though Neither Talbot nor Kennedy figures to fill a top-six role over an extended period of time, both have shown they can be plugged in on one of the top two lines and acquit themselves well. They are, however, most valuable in a more blue-collar role, ideally as third-liners (although that's pretty much out of the question for Talbot if he's used in the middle and Staal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all are healthy and working at center).
Talbot, who is a regular in the Penguins' penalty-killing rotation, will be a restricted free agent (with arbitration rights) after this season. A couple of months ago, Kennedy passed on a chance for restricted free agency when he signed a two-year contract extension a few months ago that will pay him $600,000 in 2009-10 and $850,000 in 2010-11.
Q: Do you think that Alex Goligoski's strong offensive play might make Kris Letang expendable in the eyes of Ray Shero and/or Michel Therrien? In my opinion, Letang has been our best defensive defenseman so far this season and I'd hate to see him become trade bait simply because he's developed into a different role than was originally expected for him.
MOLINARI: Letang's niche/role really isn't any different than it was a year ago, even though he doesn't have a goal in 21 games this season. Offense remains a major component of his game, and his 10 assists place him third on the team, behind only Malkin (25) and Crosby (20).
Goligoski and Letang, like Talbot and Kennedy, can't be excluded from trade talks if other clubs inquire about them, but it isn't likely that Ray Shero will solicit offers for either of them. Goligoski reached the NHL a bit ahead of schedule because Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are recovering from operations, but hasn't looked out of place at this level and has done a credible job playing the point on the power play. Letang, meanwhile, is not only skilled but a right-handed shot, which only enhances his value.
The Penguins could face a surplus of bodies on their blue line if no one is traded or injured before Whitney and Gonchar return, and it seems likely that Shero would look to deal a defenseman or two under those circumstances. It's hard to believe, though, that trading Goligoski or Letang would be his option of choice, given their youth and limited experience, along with their potential to improve.
Q: Statistically speaking, what is considered a faceoff win?
Mary, White Oak
MOLINARI: Faceoff wins, like the scoring chances discussed in this space a few days ago, can be a fairly subjective statistic but, in general, a player is credited with one if a teammate ends up with possession of the puck in the wake of a draw. (That criterion obviously does not take into account situations in which, for example, a penalty-killer intentionally sends the puck the length of the ice off a faceoff, conceding possession of the puck to the other team in exchange for taking time off the clock.)
Also, because not all faceoff wins are clean, a player's success rate on them can be affected by how hard his teammates compete for "50-50 pucks," which are the ones that are up for grabs after neither of the faceoff men is able to pull it directly to someone from his club.