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Question: Do you think there is a chance that the Penguins could take a stab at signing Jonathan Cheechoo? He is a just a couple of years removed from a 56-goal season. Playing next to Sidney Crosby, he could at least get back to scoring 30 goals a season.
Brian Pietro, Weirton, W. Va.
MOLINARI: The Penguins, and 28 other teams, passed on a chance to claim Cheechoo when Ottawa put him on waivers late last week, which is why Cheechoo will spend the Olympic break -- and perhaps the rest of 2009-10 -- laboring for the greater glory of the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.
Turns out there just isn't much of a market for a guy who carries a $3 million cap hit through 2010-11 and contributed all of five goals in 61 games with Ottawa this season, despite being used in a prominent role until he gave coach Cory Clouston and his staff no reason to believe he would be productive there.
Cheechoo generated headlines across North America when he scored 56 goals with San Jose in 2005-06, but his output has declined steadily since then. He got 37 in 2006-07, followed by 23, 12 and, finally, five. He is a hard worker with a good shot, but is a sub-par skater who is not very good defensively, and those shortcomings make him a less-than-ideal fit here. (No, not because the Penguins already have more than enough forwards who have been suspect in their own end.)
If he had a more modest salary, Cheechoo might be worth a gamble, but for any club with salary-cap concerns -- and that's most of the contenders -- it seems like the certain fiscal risks of adding him outweigh any potential on-ice rewards.
Consequently, unless the league adopts a bylaw requiring every team to have at least one native of Moose Factory, Ontario, on its major league roster -- and perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad idea -- it's far from certain that Cheechoo will be back in the NHL anytime soon. Or that he should be.
Question: Is there any chance the Pens attempt to solidify their backup goaltending at the deadline? Perhaps Marty Turco or Dwayne Roloson? I am by no means bashing Marc-Andre Fleury, but he has been somewhat injury-prone, and I would hate to leave the playoffs in the hands of Brent Johnson, and who knows who else?
MOLINARI: Fleury obviously could be injured before or during the playoffs, but so could Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Sergei Gonchar or anyone else. In the salary-cap era, bringing in big-money insurance policies (Turco has a $5.7 million hit, while Roloson's is $2.5 million through next season) simply isn't viable, and that's without even considering the assets the Penguins would have to surrender in a trade for such a player.
While the Penguins certainly would prefer to have Fleury be their go-to guy during the playoffs, Johnson has acquitted himself quite well to this point. He's 7-5, with a 2.74 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Those numbers aren't going to win him a Vezina Trophy, but the Penguins have every reason to be satisfied with what he's given them as Fleury's partner.
Finally, while, as noted above, it's always possible that Fleury could be injured before or during the playoffs, there is no precedent for him missing playoff games because of physical problems. The Penguins have played 49 postseason games during Fleury's tenure, and he's been the goalie of record in every one, going 31-18.