Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: I've got mixed feelings about whether to be really excited. I am stoked about getting Marian Hossa, but was that ever an expensive trade. Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen are two good, hard-working forwards with some scoring touch (not to mention that Christensen is decent on faceoffs) and still have tons of potential. Plus, you give up Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick? Wow. That's a really hefty price to pay and conflicts with the mantra the Pens have been living by for the last few years about developing their young players and not sacrificing their future for rental players.
Matt Von Gruben, Baton Rouge, La.
MOLINARI: Part of the reason NHL teams like to collect what have come to be known in the industry in recent years as "assets" -- NHL-caliber players, good prospects, early-round draft choices, etc. -- is so that if an opportunity to make a high-impact trade comes along, they have enough to offer the other club to make the deal happen.
The surprising thing here is that general manager Ray Shero decided this was the time to make such a bold move, given that the Penguins look to be a year or two away from having the experience and personnel to make a serious run at a Stanley Cup. Obviously, Hossa has the credentials to be the high-scoring winger the Penguins have been seeking to play alongside Sidney Crosby, but his presence doesn't have any effect on their largely unproven goaltending or their fairly average defense corps. And it certainly won't assure that Crosby's high ankle sprain won't bother him, or even recur, before the Penguins' playoff run ends.
A case could be made that adding Hossa has made the Penguins a favorite to finish first in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, and if they could parlay three rounds of home-ice advantage into a berth in the Stanley Cup final, the possibility that their exceptional individual talent could carry them past a Western Conference team likely to have superior depth and can't be ruled out.
Such a scenario hinges on a lot of things breaking their way, however. A year or so down the road, if the Penguins have continued on their current developmental curve, they probably wouldn't have had to count on having quite so many variables go just right for them.
It's worth noting that while the Penguins obviously gave up a lot to get Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from the Thrashers, they didn't surrender anything that can't be replaced.
Christensen, his considerable skills and excellent wrist shot notwithstanding, is most comfortable and effective at center, and has a game tailored to playing as a top-six forward. With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the depth chart, however, the chances of Christensen getting steady work in the middle on one of the top two lines were pretty much non-existent.
Armstrong was effective in a blue-collar role, although it was a reach to use him alongside Crosby on a scoring line, and is a committed team player who's capable of throwing an occasional devastating bodycheck, but hardly qualifies as a one-of-a-kind talent. A valuable member of a supporting cast, to be sure, but not a star.
While Esposito is a quality prospect -- Penguins officials discussed his development in extremely positive terms as recently as last weekend -- the presence of Crosby and Malkin already had forced him to switch from center to the wing, and even though the 2008 draft is hailed as one of the deepest in recent history, the Penguins' first-rounder should be late enough that it won't net a truly elite prospect.
But even though the Penguins didn't surrender anything that will cause irreparable harm, they did relinquish a lot of assets in the Hossa deal. Perhaps so many that they won't be able to make a similar move to address a significant need in a season or two, when they might be better-positioned for a real run at a championship.
If the Penguins' season ends with a parade down Centre Avenue, Shero and his staff will be vindicated -- and celebrated -- for the gamble they took by bringing in Hossa. The belief here, though, is that it would have been wise to hold off on a trade like that for 2009 or 2010.
Q: This appears to be a great trade for Atlanta. Let's see, Pittsburgh rents a player for the remainder of the year for Armstrong, Christensen, Esposito and a first-round draft pick. Shero has been saying he wanted to add to the team, not subtract from it. We obviously learned math in different countries.
Francis Porch, Overland Park, Kan.
MOLINARI: It's pretty clear that Atlanta GM Don Waddell won't be able to write off the Hossa trade as a charitable donation on his taxes, because he certainly didn't give him away. The Thrashers picked up two immediate contributors in Armstrong and Christensen, a quality prospect in Esposito and a draft choice that might well yield another player who can help the Thrashers for years to come.
Still, if one accepts the adage that the team that gets the best player wins the trade, the Penguins clearly fared pretty well. Trouble is, if they can't re-sign Hossa, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, that won't be the case for very long, and it is far from certain at this point that Hossa will be around for more than a few months.
The Penguins' team-building strategy to this point had seemed to be to get their own talent under contract, then use whatever fiscal resources and salary-cap space they had left to bring in personnel upgrades from the outside. Trying to working out deals with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury (only the latter of whom will be a free agent July 1) still will be high on Shero's to-do list this summer, but making every possible effort to retain Hossa -- assuming it can be done without sabotaging the team's entire salary structure and cap situation -- has to become a top priority.
If the Penguins are able to convince Hossa to stay for more than the stretch drive and playoffs, the price they paid to get him will become infinitely more palatable. Hossa is just 29 and gifted enough that he could be a core player for a lot of years, so Shero has a chance to make his bold move one of the best the Penguins have pulled off in recent years if he can get a contract extension worked out.
Of course, if negotiating a deal that meets Hossa's approval was that easy, Waddell would have done it and Hossa never would have been available to the Penguins in the first place.
First Published February 28, 2008 12:00 am