Q: How can the Pens afford to pay Jordan Staal $3 million to $5 million a year to play on the third line when they have such large holes on their No. 1 line? It would seem to me having a player with Staal's talents playing on the third line is a luxury they can't afford.
Robert Smith, Sugar Land, Tex.
MOLINARI: Think general manager Ray Shero has lost a few hours of sleep contemplating that one?
In the salary-cap era, it simply isn't realistic to believe that any team can be assembled (for more than a season or two, anyway) without a significant hole in its lineup, and with two world-class centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, already on the payroll, it's easy to understand why Staal would be viewed as a luxury. Especially when the Penguins don't have the salary-cap space to handle the contract of a high-caliber winger who would allow them to get the full impact of Crosby's playmaking talents.
At the same time, it's not tough to understand why Shero would not want to part with Staal until it becomes clear that he simply has no option. A 20-year-old with Staal's size, strength skill and hockey sense is the type of guy around whom a contender could be built; not a franchise player like Crosby or Malkin, but a very large and important piece of the personnel puzzle.
A popular adage in team sports holds that strength up the middle is of paramount importance, and with Crosby, Malkin and Staal (along with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury), the Penguins could have that for many years to come. Eventually, salary-cap pressures might make it impossible to keep that group together, but until it becomes evident that Shero has absolutely no hope of making the numbers work, he isn't likely to entertain offers for Staal.
After all, finding a team interested in trading for him wouldn't be difficult at all. Far easier, to be sure, than it would be to find one that would be willing to trade Staal back if, after working out a trade, Shero suddenly hit upon a method that would have allow him to hold onto Staal, after all.
Q: Is Ryan Stone ever going to get a real chance to play in the bigs? Although he doesn't possess great skating ability, he works the boards well, something we lack on the wings, with a few exceptions. I feel Malkin and Crosby would be even more productive with a rugged winger going to the corners and in front of the net without fear.
Randy Stutler, Toronto, Ohio
MOLINARI: A better question is, will Ryan Stone ever take advantage of the chances he gets to prove that he belongs in the NHL? Admittedly, he'd only appeared in eight games at this level before the Penguins visited Buffalo last night, but Stone had done nothing to stand out in most of those.
Now, as noted previously in this space, the inclination of players who are brought up to the NHL seems to be to proceed cautiously, to avoid making any costly errors that would earn them a quick trip back to the minors, but there's something to be said for trying to make a positive impression, too.
While Stone's skating is sub-par for players at this level, he does have the size and grit that make him a viable candidate for steady work in the NHL. But until Stone consistently does things to convince management the Penguins are a better team with him on the roster, he can expect to spend most of his time in the northeast corner of the Commonwealth.