What's the latest on trade talks?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: Have the Penguins been having serious talks with any other teams about trades? I don't know if teams tend to talk over the All-Star weekend, while they are all in the same place.

Scott, Mechanicsburg

MOLINARI: Unfortunately, even after nearly three years as the Penguins'

general manager, Ray Shero still hasn't realized that one of the most important aspects of his job is to keep reporters posted, in real time, of all meaningful conversations he has with other GMs, so it's tough to say with absolute certainty that he's involved in any substantial trade talks at the moment.

However, Shero, like most of his colleagues, routinely checks around the league to see how might be available, and assesses whether a player who is might provide an upgrade for the Penguins (without causing complications on things ranging from locker-room chemistry to the salary cap). And with the March 4 trade deadline little more than a month away, trade discussions around the league will begin to increase in volume and intensity, as some clubs make final judgments on what they need to add for the stretch drive and playoffs and others determine what they're willing to part with for the sake up improving their future. (And still others try to determine whether they should be buyers or sellers.) Sher o, more than anyone, is aware of the soft spots on his depth chart, but recognizing a weakness and being able to address it effectively -- especially in the salary-cap era -- aren't necessarily synonymous.

As for the all-star festivities, they no longer are the gathering place for personnel decision-makers that they used to be. Many clubs, including the Penguins, opted to hold their mid-winter scouting meetings during the break, so Shero and his staff were in Florida while team executives who aren't directly involved in hockey operations went to Montreal.

Q: I love what Rob Scuderi has done for this team the last 2 ?? years.

He has progressively gotten better and better and, although he is not tops in the league as far as defensemen, he sure seems to have a knack for defusing a sticky situation at just the right time. How does management view Rob's contribution and play for this team and what are the chances that Scuderi -- given his increased role, probable increase in salary and the cap possibly going down in a couple of years -- that the Pens will keep Scuderi?

Neil Lifeson, West Palm Beach, Fla.

MOLINARI: Scuderi, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, has a salary-cap hit of $712,500, the lowest of any of the nine defensemen currently on the Penguins' NHL payroll.

Not even his mom would suggest that he's an untouchable, and if he 's a difference-maker, it's strictly in ways that a lot of people find easy to overlook. Killing penalties effectively, clogging passing lanes and blocking shots -- Scuderi ranked seventh in the NHL before last night's games with 110 blocks -- aren't the kind of things that get a guy a lot of headlines or airtime on the highlights shows.

They are, however, the kind of things that help a team to win, and anyone who doesn't appreciate Scuderi's contributions to the Penguins probably hasn't been paying close attention. Certainly, coach Michel Therrien and his staff are aware of what he does, as evidenced by how Scuderi has been averaging more than four minutes of shorthanded ice time per game -- 35 seconds more than any other Penguins defenseman before they faced the New York Rangers last night.

He isn't, wasn't and never will be a major force in the offense -- never mind that he entered the Rangers game with 10 points, just one shy of the career-high he set two seasons ago -- but Scuderi is one of those guys whose value far exceeds his profile.

Still, teams generally aren't inclined to throw big money at free agents who fill Scuderi's role, and that isn't likely to change when there's uncertainty about where the salary cap is headed in coming seasons. It's not out of the question, though, that the Penguins=2 0would be willing to get into a modest bidding war (OK, a bidding scuffle) if one became necessary to retain Scuderi this summer.


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