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Q: Why is everyone trying to railroad Evgeni Malkin out of town? He is arguably the third-best player in the world and we want to rush him out of here after one semi-bad season. I agree he underachieved this year, but 90 percent of the team did the same. There is no way a trade could ever be made that would give the Pens equal (value in) return. Trading an NHL scoring leader and playoff MVP one year removed is crazy.
MOLINARI: Anytime a team -- any team, in any sport -- sustains a disappointing loss, a segment of its fan base immediately launches a search for scapegoats, and Malkin is a convenient one now, because he is a high-profile, big-money player who did not perform to his usual standard during the regular season, then sputtered through the playoffs. (The same, obviously, is true of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.)
What's more, the Penguins' lack of a quality goal-scorer on the wing is an obvious soft spot in their lineup, and not everyone buys into general manager Ray Shero's concept of emphasizing strength down the middle when building a team. For those who believe two very good centers (Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, in this case) are enough, trading the third to address some other personnel needs makes perfect sense.
There's no indication that Shero is inclined to stray from the formula that yielded a Stanley Cup last year, and he shouldn't unless the return he would get in a trade would be over-the-top exorbitant. For while there's no question the Penguins could survive with just two standout centers, and Malkin almost certainly would be a white-hot commodity on the trade market, especially when he's under contract for four more seasons, removing him from the mix would fundamentally alter the makeup of this team.
Those who focus solely on his performance in 2009-10 probably wouldn't have a big problem with that. Those who remember what he did the previous season -- when a segment of the fan base was calling for Crosby, not Malkin, to be dealt -- and are confident he can do it again certainly would. And with good reason.
Q: I imagine you're getting a lot of questions regarding the blame game. I think there's plenty of blame to go around. The stars didn't shine, the defense was weak, the role players were so-so, fatigue from two years of deep playoff runs, and the netminder only showed up on alternate nights, etc. But what amount of the blame to you attribute to the coaching staff? I think it's their job to keep the talent motivated and prepared to play. I'm not sure that happened this year, as evidenced by their inconsistent play.
Jim Montuoro, Rock Springs, Wyo.
MOLINARI: The belief here always has been that if a coach -- whether it's Dan Bylsma or Bob Berry, Ivan Hlinka or Bob Johnson -- has to motivate players at this level to simply do their jobs, something is terribly wrong.
There's no question that some coaches can get more out of their players than others -- once Johnson's players realized that his unceasing enthusiasm for the game was genuine, they would have gone into a blast furnace to chase down a loose puck for him -- but every guy cashing a professional paycheck should be expected to put forth a reasonable effort every time he steps onto the ice.
With that established, a lack of desire to compete and succeed really wasn't an issue with this team. While various factors, from holes in their lineup to physical and mental fatigue rooted in long playoff runs the previous two years, prevented the Penguins from doing it the way they had in 2009, this wasn't a group that was ambivalent about victories and defeats.
What the coaching staff can be held accountable for is either failing to develop a game plan to counter Montreal's rope-a-dope strategy during the second round or, if there was one, for failing to get the players to execute it consistently and effectively.
Give Montreal every wisp of credit it has coming for knocking off the Penguins immediately after upsetting top-seeded Washington -- that's a very impressive feat, regardless of how the Canadiens' series with Philadelphia plays out -- but nothing happened during that series to shake the belief that was held before it began that the outcome would be determined by the Penguins, not Montreal.