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Q: So what did happen when Ryan Malone was up for free agency the summer after the Pens lost in the Stanley Cup final? Why were his rights dealt to Tampa Bay? I understand the contract he received with Tampa was at an annual price higher then what the Pens could afford, but what happened before that? Did Malone become combative in negotiations? Were his rights dealt simply because the team knew he wouldn't take what was offered? Did Malone feel entitled at all to be treated as a higher priority despite the team having Marian Hossa and other free agents to sign, as well? It seems he has grown into an even better player and I'm sure looking back, the team wouldn't mind having him.
John Lorenzini, Philadelphia
MOLINARI: Actually, you probably wouldn't have an easy time finding someone who expected Malone to flop after he signed with Tampa Bay in the summer of 2008. Anyone who complements Malone's blend of size, speed and skill with his commitment and other intangibles is a pretty good bet to succeed. Certainly, Penguins general manager Ray Shero and his staff expected him to do well after he left.
And, unfortunately for those who enjoy such things, hostility and hard feelings weren't part of the negotiations, on either side. Malone's camp had a pretty good idea of what it felt he was worth, and Shero didn't think that the Penguins' salary-cap structure could support the kind of deal (seven years, $31.5 million) he received from the Lightning. It's hard to disagree, on either count.
There's no question that having Malone, who has 21 goals and 22 assists in 61 NHL games this season, would make the Penguins a better team. He's tough, an excellent two-way player, a good penalty-killer and a quality team guy. What's not to like?
The problem, of course, is that the NHL's salary-cap system -- which gives every team a reasonable opportunity to be successful at the box office and on the ice if it is managed well -- forces clubs that have a bounty of good players to make some difficult decisions about who should be kept, and for how long. The Penguins haven't allowed free agents such as Malone, Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill to leave because they didn't believe they could contribute; those guys weren't retained because the team simply didn't have the cap space to accommodate them, and/or because the front office believed their projected cap hits exceeded their value to this particular team.
As for the deal that sent Malone's rights, along with those of Gary Roberts, to the Lightning for a third-round draft choice, that simply was a matter of Shero getting something in return for a player he was certain to lose for nothing a few days later. That proved to be a good move for both teams, because Shero received a good draft choice and the Lightning got the time it needed to reach an agreement with Malone before he felt obliged to test the open market.
Q: Is Mark Andre Fluery's role with Team Canada purely an emergency goalie in case of injury?
Howard Elbert, Pittsburgh
MOLINARI: No, but from a practical perspective, it might as well be, because he clearly is behind Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo on Canada's depth chart. Things can change, of course -- especially in the wake of Brodeur's so-so performance during a 5-3 loss to the United States Sunday -- but it's hard to imagine Fleury getting into a game now, since he never made it onto the ice during the preliminary round.
Even if he never faces a puck fired in anger, though, simply being present for the tournament should help Fleury in the future. Winning a Stanley Cup might be tougher than winning a gold medal, but the challenges are very different -- winning an NHL championship is a two-month ordeal, while a single misstep at the Olympics can cost a team a title -- and if Fleury is chosen to represent his country at Games in the future, he will benefit from getting a first-hand look at what it's like.
Of more immediate significance, having to face some of the world's top shooters during practice for two weeks can't hurt as Fleury prepares for the stretch drive and playoffs.
First Published February 23, 2010 5:00 AM