Q: With a possible drop in the salary cap looming around the 2010-11 season, what options do the Pens have to shed salary without affecting their "core" talent base. I assume that they cannot restructure existing contracts to gain cap space, as is common in the NFL.
Paul Czajka, Lansdale, Pa.
MOLINARI: You are correct that restructuring contracts is not an option, regardless of whether doing so would benefit the player, the team or both. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement doesn't leave any wiggle room on that.
If the Penguins don't want to cut into their nucleus, the most obvious way to cut costs after this season would be to use lower-priced players to fill supporting-cast roles. The most cost-effective way to do that would be with players developed internally, but it could be done via free agency, if necessary.
The obvious risk, though, is that being willing to spend less on a player will result in the addition of a guy who makes a smaller contribution. The adage that one gets what one pays for certainly isn't true all of the time, but there usually is a good reason that one player commands more (or less) money than another who is ticketed for the same niche.
Q: Am I the only one who hopes Dany Sabourin is not re-signed? It's a repeat of last year. He started out strong then as time passed, the wheels came off the cart. John Curry shouldn't have even appeared in a game; Sabourin should have been good enough to start every game while Marc-Andre Fleury was out. Sabourin should be in Wilkes-Barre for a year or two. Without Ty Conklin last year, the Pens might not have even qualified for the play-offs. Time to get a reliable backup. If Fleury goes down again, it will be tough for the Pens to keep up.
Keith Allridge, Leola, Pa.
MOLINARI: The Penguins do have a reliable backup: Sabourin. When he's kept in the role he was signed to fill -- No. 2 goalie -- he's fine. The problem comes when he has to stretch his job description and try to carry the team for an extended period. It didn't work out after Fleury got his high ankle sprain last season -- Sabourin's struggles as the No. 1 then were what gave Conklin a chance to revive his NHL career -- and in the wake of a couple of strong weeks after Fleury hurt his groin Nov. 15, Sabourin's play slipped again.
In Sabourin's defense, he doesn't make a go-to-goalie's salary, so it isn't necessarily realistic to expect him to take on those duties. By the same token, in the salary-cap era, teams only have so much money to invest in each position, and getting Fleury locked up on a long-term, big-money deal obviously was the Penguins' priority in goal.
Whether the Penguins will try to re-sign Sabourin when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer remains to be seen, but if they don't, his replacement -- be it Curry or someone else -- isn't likely to earn much more than the $525,000 Sabourin is getting this season.