Q: Lots has been said about Marian Hossa being a rental player because of the salary cap. One thing I haven't heard discussed is what is stopping Ray Shero from signing Hossa for, say, five years, then trading him prior to Evgeni Malkin's new contract (taking effect) in 2009 if he needs the cap room? The Pens would get Hossa for this year and next, and surely would get assets in a trade as good as, or better, than what they gave up to get him, as he would not be about to qualify for unrestricted free agency.
Dion, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
MOLINARI: Teams have to do a lot of creative thinking and projecting to manage their rosters effectively in the salary-cap era, but there is one glaring, potentially fatal flaw in your plan: When Hossa becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, he will be entitled to have a no-trade clause in his next contract. And given the amount of interest he is likely to attract on the open market, there's little reason to doubt that Hossa will ask for -- and receive -- one from whoever tries to sign him.
That wouldn't eliminate any possibility of trading him, of course, but would give Hossa the power to approve any deal in which he would be involved. And as Toronto general manager Cliff Fletcher discovered in the days leading up to last Tuesday's trade deadline, when a player has a no-trade clause, there's a very real possibility he will exercise the rights it gives him. Which is completely understandable and appropriate for something that was secured in the course of a contract negotiation.
Q: Is it possible Malkin feels snubbed by the acquisition of Hossa, like the message was, "You're not captain or alternate captain material?"
Gregory Paris, Washington D.C.
MOLINARI: It's hard to see the connection there, since Marian Hossa wasn't one of the Penguins' three alternates in the only game he's played for them -- Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Malone and Darryl Sydor handled those duties -- but it's probably as good a time as any to get into why Malkin hasn't been named one of the Penguins' alternates. (The captaincy figures to be Sidney Crosby's for as long as he's on the payroll.)
It' not just that the Penguins have a number of players qualified to wear an "A," but that Malkin, his wondrous on-ice abilities aside, does not have the most important skill a captain or alternate can possess -- a firm command of English. For all the leadership aspects associated with wearing a letter, the most important part of the job probably is discussing calls and interpretations with the officials. Per NHL rules, captains and alternates are the only players with the latitude to do that.
It's pretty much accepted now that Malkin's grasp of English is better than he lets on once the locker room doors are thrown open to outsiders, but there's no reason to think he has such a good handle on it that he could effectively argue the finer points of a ruling or interpretation.
Finally, as players, coaches and management types are so fond of pointing out, a player doesn't have to have a letter stitched to the front of his sweater to be a leader, and Malkin has set a pretty good example for his teammates lately with the effort he's put forth pretty much every time he's gone over the boards.
Q: This is a long shot, but with Pittsburgh getting a new arena, is there any chance, even slim, of landing a basketball team?
MOLINARI: Yes. But they're even worse than the chances of Hal Gill being hired as choreographer of the Laker Girls.