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Q: I'd like to play a little "What if?" What if the Pens had won the coin toss with Washington and drafted Alex Ovechkin? Could he and Sidney Crosby play on the same team? Would the Pens be better? Could they afford both? I have nothing against Evgeni Malkin, he's a fantastic player, just curious what you think.
John Kellner, Apex, N.C.
MOLINARI: Hypotheticals like this aren't a personal favorite, for a number of reasons, but the idea of a playmaker like Crosby feeding pucks to Ovechkin certainly is intriguing. (Not that the guy centering Ovechkin's line in Washington, Nicklas Backstrom, is a slouch as a set-up man, or that Crosby isn't capable of converting scoring chances as well as creating them.)
The most glaring weakness in the Penguins' lineup probably is the lack of a big-time goal-scorer on the wing, and Ovechkin is the most volatile goal-scorer in the game. If he and Crosby had been able to co-exist, which is far from certain given their alpha-male mindsets, one has to think that the combination would have been almost unstoppable.
Whether the Penguins actually would be a better team with Ovechkin instead of Malkin is far less certain. After all, they won a Stanley Cup with Malkin -- who, you might recall, was named MVP of the playoffs -- and general manager Ray Shero's strong-down-the-middle approach to team-building certainly has yielded some pretty good results to this point.
Finally, the question of whether the Penguins could have afforded both is a significant one, under the scenario you lay out. Crosby's salary-cap hit is $8.7 million per season, and Malkin accepted a contract for the same amount. Ovechkin, meanwhile, is working on a 13-year deal that carries a cap hit of $9,538,462.
Shero is not a fan of long-term contracts (although exceptions surely would be made for franchise-caliber talents) and would not -- and should not -- pay anyone a penny more than Crosby is getting, even though Crosby is working for well below market value.
Ultimately, there are only opinions about, not firm answers to, your "What If?" questions. The bottom line is that Ovechkin is in Washington, Malkin is with the Penguins and both teams are more than satisfied with how things have worked out.
Q: Have you ever considered running a poll asking which NHL team would be the second-favorite team of Penguins fans? I have a hunch that it would be Buffalo. The Sabres play a hard-hitting, skating style and the franchise seems to really value hard work, not to mention Ryan Miller's spectacular work in the Olympics to get the US to the gold-medal game. In short, they sound like a Pittsburgh team. I know this much: If for some unfortunate reason the Penguins don't win the Cup, I'll be pulling for the Sabres to go all the way.
Jason Ferrante, Monroeville
MOLINARI: The Q&A doesn't make a habit of conducting polls, but there was a precedent of sorts set a while back when suggestions for a nickname for Consol Energy Center were solicited and readers responded in large numbers.
Whether people will react the same way to this issue -- one suspects that a lot of fans don't really have a second-favorite team -- remains to be seen, but it's worth a try. If you have a second-favorite team, send along a note saying who it is, with a brief explanation for why you like that particular club.
At some point in the near future, we'll devote some space in the Q&A (or several Q&A, depending on the volume of submissions) to sharing them.