Q: With Marc-Andre Fleury out, do you see the Pens signing Curtis Joseph?
MOLINARI: Don't look for the Penguins to make an immediate move to add a goaltender -- the front office believes Dany Sabourin has earned the opportunity to prove he can be an effective No. 1 goalie at this level -- but they don't have the luxury of waiting indefinitely to see if they can survive without Fleury for the six to eight weeks it will take him to recover from a high ankle sprain, either. Thanks to the highly competitive nature of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the margin for error simply isn't very great -- and the Penguins used a lot of theirs during the first six weeks or so of the regular season.
Signing Sabourin, who had all of 14 NHL games on his resume when he rejoined the Penguins in July, to be Fleury's backup clearly was a gamble by general manager Ray Shero. Management's plan had been to have Fleury play 60 or 65 games this season, which meant the No. 2 goalie wasn't going to play a particularly prominent role. The inherent risk was that Fleury would either slump badly or be injured, forcing the Penguins to rely on a guy who hadn't proven he could be a consistent winner at this level. That is the situation in which the Penguins found themselves when they got Fleury's prognosis Wednesday. Sabourin will get more than a one-game audition, but if he struggles, don't be surprised if the Penguins move aggressively to bring in another goaltender.
Because Joseph is an unrestricted free agent, the Penguins probably could get him on a short-tern deal at a relatively low price. That assumes, of course, that Joseph has been working to stay sharp while this season has moved along. If he had to not only work his way back into playing shape but to completely restore the edge to his game (being away since the end of last season obviously would dull it somewhat), the process would take more time than the Penguins could afford to give him.
If they do venture into the goaltending, market, the Penguins wouldn't necessarily go after someone as, uh, experienced as the 40-year-old Joseph, but certainly would be seeking a veteran who could step into a high-pressure situation and begin to produce quickly. Naturally, adding such a player would create a logjam in goal when Fleury is able to resume playing, which is just one of the reasons management will be pulling for Sabourin to provide his team with consistently solid goaltending for the next six weeks or so.
Q: Michel Therrien seems to be earning a reputation as a coach who doesn't appreciate the team's veterans, to put it mildly. Will this affect how free agents view Pittsburgh as a potential home? Worse, could it be undermining some of the younger players' development into team leaders, or might running guys like John Leclair and Mark Recchi out of town speed up the timetable for the younger guys to step up?
Doug McKinney, Bethel Park
MOLINARI: It seems unlikely that a veteran free agent would shy away from coming here simply because the Penguins have cut their ties to a couple of older players they deemed unproductive during the past few years. After all, how many players accept a contract figuring that they're entering a phase of their career where they simply aren't able to do their job effectively anymore, and will be in danger of becoming a non-factor on their new club?
A more relevant question might be whether Shero will want to reconsider the faith he's been putting in free agents who are in their mid-30s, if not older. Given what he's seen from LeClair and Recchi when they got into their late 30s and the largely disappointing seasons Gary Roberts and Darryl Sydor have had so far, perhaps Shero will be tempted to shift his focus to pursuing free agents who are closer to, say, Petr Sykora's age bracket. It's dangerous to generalize, of course, but players who are closing in on 40 are a lot more likely to be running on fumes than guys who are a decade younger.
As for the leadership issue, this team has largely belonged to its younger members -- headlined by Sidney Crosby -- for more than a year. That doesn't mean the guys who are relatively new to the league haven't been learning from guys like Recchi and Roberts, or that they've treated the veterans with anything less than the respect commensurate with their career achievements, but Recchi's departure (like that of LeClair a year ago) doesn't figure to have a major impact on the locker-room dynamics.