Can the Pens keep Sabourin and Fleury?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: One of the constants in the Q&A is finding wingers for Sidney Crosby. I know he developed a chemistry with Marian Hossa, but hey, Sid's in a class almost by himself, right? Doesn't it stand to reason that he's at least a few steps ahead of almost everyone in the league as far as vision, anticipation and, in some cases, skating? If so, finding a winger that's close to his talent level and bringing him into Pittsburgh (aside from the temporary deadline deal) would be almost impossible, wouldn't it? Going one step beyond, even if you did get that winger, the other guy on the line would be the "weak link" other teams would leave open, and that would reduce the effectiveness of that line.

Rob St. Pierre, Concord N.H.

MOLINARI: There's no question that, after a relatively brief period of adjustment, Crosby and Hossa developed an exceptional chemistry, the kind teams hope for when two players of such extraordinary ability are used together. Had Hossa returned to the Penguins, there's no doubt they would have been one of the most formidable twosomes in the league. (There's also not much question that the Penguins wouldn't have had the money to do a number of other things, like re-sign defenseman Brooks Opik.)

Players with Hossa skills set and size are rare, so general manager Ray Shero isn't likely to bring in anyone who is his equal, at least not unless he's prepared to make some difficult personnel decisions and a few alterations to the team-building approach he's employed for most of his time here.

The issue, though, isn't necessarily finding someone who is a near-clone of Hossa, but a winger who can work well with Crosby and, most important, capitalize on a reasonable percentage of the scoring chances he creates. Petr Sykora is an example of such a player, although he meshed better with Evgeni Malkin than he did with Crosby and thus has remained with Malkin for most of the past year or so.

While most teams do not leave lines intact for long, coaches do seem to like to find pairs that are effective together (Malkin and Sykora, for example) and to rotate the third forward on the line, based on how well someone is filling that niche well at a given time. While it's true that that third forward likely is the offensive "weak link," he Still can serve a valuable purpose on the line by taking on extra defensive responsibilities and handling other blue-collar duties that allow the other two to focus more on scoring goals.

Thanks to the salary cap, the days of teams having three elite players on the same line (unless they are put together temporarily because of special circumstances) are pretty much over. Especially if that team, as is the case with the Penguins, has several world-class talents at the same position (Crosby and Malkin), which mitigates against investing large sums of money in the personnel needed to assemble one dominant line.




Q: What precludes us from holding on to Dany Sabourin, in addition to Marc-Andre Fleury? The Red Wings can afford Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin. We have a lot of high-priced players, but so do the Wings.

Richard Hocevar, Ashland, Ky.

MOLINARI: Well, a few things might.

The most obvious is money. If Sabourin continues to play as well as he has for most of this season, he might be a pretty valuable commodity on the free-agent market next summer. Because the Penguins already are paying Fleury $5 million per season and will count on him to play a large majority of their games, they won't want to commit too much cash to his backup. That's especially true if the salary-cap ceiling does not go up or, even worse, drops. (Don't rule out the latter, since the ceiling is tied to league-wide revenues and sports teams aren't exempt from the pinch created by the current economic crisis.)

Also, it's not out of the question that some team will be sufficiently impressed with Sabourin that it will offer him a chance to become its No. 1 goalie. Pretty much every pro athlete wants to play as much as possible, and if Sabourin sees a chance to start 50 games instead of 15, that might be enough to convince him to move on, no matter how content he is in his current role. (Of course, having an increased workload almost certainly would translate to an increased salary.)

The Penguins will have to decide, over the next five months or so, if they believe John Curry is ready to play behind Fleury. If so, that obviously would make losing Sabourin a lot less painful. Curry performed well in his first NHL start last Friday in Buffalo, but it's still too early to reach any real conclusions about him.



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