Q: I found it quite refreshing to hear Michel Therrien say (last Tuesday) that, "We have a lot of injuries. That's the reality. Hopefully, the (all-star) break will give us some time for players to get healthy, to put a healthy lineup on the ice." It's become so taboo to say stuff like that these days because people just accuse players and coaches of making excuses, but I think that is a load. It is the primary reason that the Penguins (and many other teams) are struggling. When you take one key player from your team, it hurts. When you take a third of your starting lineup away, it is devastating. That is the reality. It's not an excuse.
Matt Von Gruben, Baton Rouge, La.
MOLINARI: There are reasons that guys like Sergei Gonchar, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury make $5 million or more per season, and anyone who thinks their roster spots could be turned over to guys from the American Hockey League without the team's performance suffering simply isn't being realistic. (Especially in the salary-cap era, if a general manager could replace a guy making $5 million with one making $500,000 and not have it be reflected in the way his club produces, the $5 million guy would be on the trade block in a millisecond. Maybe less.)
So while the significance of losing as many man-games as the Penguins have -- especially when a large percentage of those reflect injuries to high-profile players -- can't be overstated, it isn't an all-encompassing excuse for the Penguins' frequently shoddy work during the past two months or so. Having a watered-down lineup is one thing; having a lot of nights when they simply did not put forth a focused, honest effort for three periods is quite another, and is completely inexcusable.
Tenacity and crisp execution of a sound strategy can compensate, to some degree, for personnel losses, as the Penguins proved in their recent victories against Philadelphia, Anaheim and the New York Rangers. While injuries are a variable over which teams have very little control (assuming the players are well-conditioned), that isn't true of the energy and effort they're willing to put into games.
Q: If there is a bright side to the underachieving first half, could it be that the Penguins' first-round pick is now more valuable than originally anticipated when they were expected to be at the top of the entire NHL? Any deal they could make involving that first-round pick would likely fetch more, or require them to give up less because it will be closer to the middle of the first round than the end. I know such a difference is very significant in the NFL draft, but does a similar value system exist in the NHL?
MOLINARI: There's no question that a first-round choice in the middle of the opening round is worth more than one near the end, or that one in the top 10 is worth more than one in the middle. Just how great that disparity is fluctuates from year to year, based on the quality and depth of the talent pool in a particular draft.
At this point, however, most indications are that the Penguins are more interested in acquiring draft choices than in sending them away. General manager Ray Shero hasn't ruled out any possibility -- and shouldn't -- but after sending their top choice in 2007 (Angelo Esposito) and No. 1 pick in 2008 to Atlanta in the Marian Hossa-Pascal Dupuis deal last February, the Penguins clearly are interested in adding some young, high-end talent to their organizational depth chart. They also have made a point of trying to acquire draft choices to make up for the ones they surrendered in deals to bring in the likes of Hal Gill and Georges Laraque.
With the NHL's salary-cap system, there is an increased emphasis on developing homegrown talent, because it generally costs less to keep players than to bring them in as free agents. The Penguins' first selection in the 2008 draft didn't come until the late in the fourth round (120th overall) and no matter how good of a job a team's amateur scouting staff does, it's not realistic to think that it won't suffer over the long term if it relies solely on prospects claimed in the middle and late rounds.