Q: In the past, people often questioned whether Ryan Malone could consistently contribute. After having the best year of his career this year and showing that he can, will the organization make a strong push to try to keep him?
MOLINARI: Unless someone in the front office is convinced that Malone's excellent performance during the past 5 1/2 months stems only from him playing for his next contract and is not the true breakout season to appears to be, it's hard to believe the Penguins won't move aggressively to retain Malone before he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
While it's virtually certain that his play in 2007-08 will cause Malone's market value to spike, he provides a blend of size, skill, versatility and toughness that would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Penguins to replace. He has made himself a fixture in every situation and has, as you noted, shown that he can be an player game-in and game-out, something he failed to do during his first three seasons in the league.
The Penguins are believed to have touched base with Malone's representatives earlier this season to discuss his next contract, a pretty good indication that they're serious about keeping him. It remains to be seen if he will be willing to give them a hometown discount, although that hardly seems out of the question in light of his Western Pennsylvania roots. The Penguins dare not, assume, however, that Malone will settle for significantly less than he could command on the open market, where he should receive some big-ticket offers if he elects to auction himself off to the highest bidder.
Malone has matured into the player the Penguins have always hoped he could be. Keeping him won't be cheap, but letting him go might carry an even higher price.
Q: When a team loses a player during the season, how does the loss impact the team's salary-cap position? Is there an allowance built into the system?
Bob Smith, Sugar Land, Texas
MOLINARI: The NHL's collective bargaining agreement does, in fact, include provisions that give teams salary-cap relief if they are forced to deal with long-term injuries.
Article 50.10, which doesn't exactly qualify as light reading, basically says that teams can bring in personnel earning as much as a player who is expected to be out of the lineup for at least 24 calendar days and 10 games, for the duration of that player's absence. If the injured/ill player is making, say, $4 million, he can, in theory, be replaced by two guys making $2 million each. The catch: The injured player cannot return to the lineup until the team frees up the salary-cap space needed to accommodate his contract under the CBA-mandated ceiling.
That kind of relief matters only for teams that are close to the cap ceiling, which is why the Penguins, who are well below the cap maximum, haven't sought it. An individual familiar with such matters said only a few teams, Philadelphia and Boston among them, have done so this season.