Question: What has Alex Goligoski done wrong in the eyes of the powers-that-be? I was upset with all his healthy scratches but now, a demotion? How about a healthy scratch or demotion for Ryan Whitney?
Jason, New Bethlehem, Pa.
MOLINARI: Goligoski's greatest problem -- actually, his greatest asset for management, at least under the current circumstances -- was that he could be sent to the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre without having to clear waivers. Obviously, if waivers had been required, he'd still be on the NHL roster today, because there's no way he would have gone unclaimed. As it is, assigning him to the Baby Penguins allowed management to ease the logjam of bodies on defense, where things are about to get even more crowded with the return of Sergei Gonchar.
The Goligoski situation was addressed, at length, in the Post-Gazette eight days ago, and the point was made then that he has been one of the Penguins' top six defensemen and, on that basis, should have been a fixture in their lineup. But because he can move freely between the NHL and American Hockey League, sending him to the Baby Penguins -- even if it's only until the Penguins' defense corps can be thinned out a bit -- was a way for the front office to buy time and see what kind of deals they might be able to make for one or two of their other defensemen.
It's hard to imagine that Shero won't trade at least one by the March 4 deadline, since defense is one of the few parts of the roster where he could sacrifice a capable body without necessarily feeling an immediate and significant pinch. It's equally difficult to believe that Goligoski won't rejoin the Penguins before this season has run its course.
Whitney, who missed the first 2 1/2 months of the season while recovering from foot surgery, has been a frequent, popular -- and deserving -- target for criticism in recent weeks. He has been an absolute mess in his own end on many nights, and has not put up points at the pace people have come to expect. He also gets pounded by some fans because he's a big man who doesn't play physically, although that is not, never was and never will be his game.
The easiest thing for coach Michel Therrien to do would have been to remove Whitney from the lineup; even Whitney's agent would have had a hard time making a case that sitting him couldn't have been justified at various points during the past month or so.
But the Penguins' chances of being a force, or even a factor, during the stretch drive and anything that follows will be greatly enhanced if Whitney can get his game back in order, and the best way to do that is to have him play. It's a high-risk, high-reward approach -- if it works out, Therrien's patience looks great and if it doesn't, he looks like a dunce -- but it's a worthwhile gamble.
Whitney's passing can be an extraordinary asset -- he threw a long lead pass to Pascal Dupuis a few games ago that was a thing of absolute beauty -- and if his offensive play gets back to the level it has reached in the past, the decision to give him a chance to work through his struggles will be validated.
Question: I'm not losing hope yet, but don't you think it would benefit the Pens if they are out of the playoff race before trade deadline? They can become sellers and start building for next year. Sidney Crosby can get fully healthy and work on his shot through the summer break.
Gonchar will be fully healthy by next year, Whitney can become the offensive threat he is supposed to be and work on his defensive play.
Then pick up a good winger in the offseason, etc.
Ben, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
MOLINARI: While there would be some practical benefits to being effectively out of contention by the deadline, like giving Shero an opportunity to accumulate draft choices by dealing away players that other clubs believe could fill a role for them during the balance of this season, the negatives associated with that would simply be too great.
If the Penguins were on a normal developmental curve, sitting out the playoffs this spring might have been widely seen as just a minor hiccup. But after they came within two victories of a championship last spring, expectations changed. Anything less than getting into the playoffs will be seen as an epic failure, and to be so far out of contention that they'd become a seller more than a month before the season ends would border on catastrophic for the franchise.
Sitting out the postseason remains a very real danger for this team, and the impact that missing would have -- in terms of jobs lost, or possible payroll cuts demanded because playoff revenues for which ownership had budgeted were not generated -- cannot be accurately predicted at this point. It's reasonable to assume that it would be significant, however.