Shono: Any insights on what GMJR is leaning towards? Or even your personal thoughts? With Bonino, Fehr, and Malkin all possibly coming back, does he trust a couple baby Pens in the lineup due to recent success and target a dman instead?
Dave Molinari: Jim Rutherford doesn't share his personnel plans with people outside his organization, but from all indications, the Penguins would like to add a top-six winger -- presumably, one who plays the left side and can score some goals -- and a defenseman before the trade deadline next Monday at 3 p.m. The Penguins have made it clear that they are very happy with what they've gotten from the guys who have been called up from Wilkes-Barre -- coach Mike Sullivan was emphatic about that after the game in Buffalo Sunday -- but none of those guys project into a top-six role, at least in the immediate future. Of course, the big problem Rutherford has, regardless of what kind of player he pursues, is that the Penguins have limited assets to give up in a trade, to say nothing of the fact that the days leading up to the deadline invariably are a seller's market, driving prices up.
Laura: Why don't the Pens keep Murray and trade Zatkoff?
Dave Molinari: That certainly was a peculiar move Sunday, when the Penguins recalled Matt Murray to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in Buffalo, only to return him to the Baby Penguins today. There's no indication that the recall was made because Jeff Zatkoff was injured or ill -- Sullivan certainly had the opportunity to say that was the case -- so it presumably was a statement of displeasure with Zatkoff's work. That said, Zatkoff is a backup goalie at this level, and would not bring much of a return in a trade, assuming there would be a market for him. And while the Penguins have high hopes for Murray, if he were to replace Zatkoff as the No. 2 in Pittsburgh, he would get limited playing time, and that quite possibly would retard his development. Zatkoff is an unrestricted free agent and surely will move on this summer, and there's every reason to believe Murray will be on the NHL roster in 2016-17.
Sean: If the pens miss the playoffs this year, how comfortable will rutherford feel this offseason that his job is safe?
Dave Molinari: If the Penguins miss the playoffs -- something that hasn't happened in a decade -- a lot of people will have legitimate questions about their job security. Ownership has given a clear win-now mandate to management, and it's pretty tough to earn a Cup when you don't qualify for the post-season.
Steve: I may be in the minority here, but I really like this team as constituted, when healthy. Looks like Kessel is waking up, and except for his meltdown Saturday, Letang is playing like the top 5 defenseman he needs to be. The young kids are really starting to find their way, which gives the team quality depth when Malkin, Fehr, etc return to the lineup. Unless someone makes them an offer that they just cant turn down, I cant see them just making a move to make one.
Dave Molinari: The Penguins, when healthy, (OK, that rarely gets beyond the theoretical stage) are fairly formidable, and certainly capable of winning a best-of-seven series against almost any opponent. To make a deep playoff run, however, they probably have to add another goal-scorer up front and pick up a defenseman, ideally one with a physical edge to his game. I agree on not making a move simply for the sake of making a move. It's not as if the Penguins have, say, a locker-room chemistry issue that could benefit from the addition -- or removal -- of a player.
Sean: Is there anyway the penguins could pawn kunitz on someone for a depth player and prospects/draft picks? And if so who would even want kunitz?
Dave Molinari: Gee, there seems to be a lot of Kunitz hate out there. Clearly, at this stage of his career, he is best-suited to playing on a third line, not the first, but it's not his fault that the Penguins' depth chart is thin on the left side. [Partly because of Pascal Dupuis' premature retirement.] At 36, Kunitz probably wouldn't bring much of a return in a trade, and his value to the Penguins almost certainly is higher than anything they would get in a deal. He's not the goal-scorer he was earlier in his career, but still skates and forechecks effectively and is, by far, the Penguins' most frequent hitter, averaging 3.5 per game.
Eric L: Is Kessel going to get sufficient time on Crosby's line before the playoffs?
Dave Molinari: Mike Sullivan has made it clear lately that he's not reluctant to shuffle the personnel on his top two lines, so it would be folly to rule out Kessel turning up on Crosby's right side again at some point in the future. Their partnership didn't work out very well early this season, but they did mesh a bit when reunited recently. Until Sullivan hits on personnel combinations that produce consistently, there's no reason to doubt that he will continue to move guys around.
Eric L: What do we think the chances of the Pens moving Cole or Lovejoy are?
Dave Molinari: It seems unlikely, on either count. The Penguins figure to be a buyer, not a seller, before the deadline and likely are shopping for a defenseman, not looking to shed one. Lovejoy was injured Saturday and there's no indication that he'll be back before the deadline, so any interest there might have been in him likely is gone (even if the Penguins were willing to move him). Cole, meanwhile, is coming off a streak of 11 games in which he was a healthy scratch, so his value on the trade market probably is negligible. What's more, Cole showed after being acquired from St. Louis last season that he can fill a top-four role when he's on his game (which he obviously has not been for much of this season). The possibility that he will take his game back to its previous level mitigates against trading him for what surely would be a token return.
Dan: What do you think the Penguins plans are for their backup goalie the rest of the way? Odd that they would call up Murray just for one game...
Dave Molinari: Sullivan said Sunday that the Penguins make personnel decisions on a game-by-game basis, and declined to make any big-picture predictions about how their goaltending will be handled the rest of the season. The thinking here is that, unless Zatkoff implodes, Murray will spend most, if not all, of the rest of the season in Wilkes-Barre, and Marc-Andre Fleury will get all but a handful of starts for the Penguins during the stretch drive.
Ryan: Been hearing Hartnell is a possible trade target for the pens. Any validity to that? Seems really unlikely with the cap hit of nearly $5 million
Dave Molinari: That seems highly unlikely, although it certainly would be interesting to see him as a home-team player at Consol Energy Center, where he's slightly less popular than foot fungus. There's plenty of reason to believe that Columbus will trade Hartnell, but no indication at this point that he's going to land in Pittsburgh.
Erik: Pouliot. Traded or kept?
Dave Molinari: That's a really interesting question. Pouliot certainly has been nothing special during his time in the NHL this season, which might be a reason to be willing to include him in a trade. Conversely, the Penguins still view him as their finest prospect, and more than a few teams have made the mistake of trading a young defenseman before he had time to fully realize his potential. As a conservative sort who is especially tuned-in to the idea of not writing off defensemen too soon, I probably would be inclined to hold onto him, unless he was needed in a blockbuster deal that would transform the Penguins into serious Cup contenders this spring.
John: Any update on the pens ownership sale process?
Dave Molinari: Not a word. Mario Lemieux says nothing and Ron Burkle makes him seem like a blabbermouth, so it's unlikely anything about a sale will come from the Penguins until a deal is in place. Last time I checked, executives around the league, who might get a sense of something afoot with a sale, said to a man that all was quiet on the Pittsburgh front.
Pat: If malkin was dealing with this nagging injury before the all star game why did he go?
Dave Molinari: If, in fact, Malkin was dealing with an injury before the all-star weekend, it was short-sighted of him to participate, although it's possible he was told there was little risk of impeding his recovery. (This all is very difficult to discuss, since we don't know exactly what his injury is.) He also might have been wary of having to sit out the first game after the all-star break, per league regulations for sitting out the last game before it, although that is unlikely since he's been out for three weeks since the break.
Dave Molinari: OK, guys. Thanks a lot for some terrific questions. Let's do it again next week, when the trade deadline will be just a couple of hours away.
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