Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
Share with others:
Q: Last summer's signing of Ryan Kesler to an offer sheet by the Flyers met with some pretty hefty criticism. However, offer sheets are a tool available to all teams. I wouldn't be surprised to see teams pressure the Pens with offer sheets to restricted free agents as Pittsburgh's young stars' entry-level deals begin to expire. I think a kid who may be (the recipient of) an offer sheet, or several, is Anaheim's Dustin Penner, a huge power forward-type who scored 29 goals and is making the league minimum.
Keith Justus, Las Vegas
MOLINARI: Signing restricted free agents to an offer sheet clearly is an option available to every team, but it isn't necessarily a practical one most of the time.
Because a restricted free agent's team had to extend him a qualifying offer to retain his rights -- or the ability to receive compensation if he signs elsewhere -- it clearly has at least some interest in keeping him. Consequently, another club interested in signing that player to an offer sheet will have to overpay, perhaps grossly, to have any reasonable hope that the original team will allow the player to leave. In Kesler's case, even though the Flyers signed him to a deal worth roughly twice what he had been expected to receive from Vancouver, the Canucks decided to match. Just like Detroit had years earlier when Carolina tried to lure Sergei Fedorov away with a bloated offer, and Colorado did when the New York Rangers frontloaded a proposal for Joe Sakic.
Now, it could be argued that some teams will use an offer sheet to put a rival club in fiscal peril, but that isn't as simple a strategy as it sounds. After all, the team extending the offer sheet has to be willing to live with the contract if the player's original team declines to match it, and that can be problematic in an era when payrolls are capped by the league's collective bargaining agreement. These days, a team not only has to worry about coming up with enough money to attract a restricted free agent, but about having his (presumably) bloated contract not impede its ability to pay the rest of its roster.
There's another, less obvious, factor to be considered, too. Salaries in the NHL, and most other leagues, are based in part on comparables. Basically, if, say, a right winger who is in his mid-20s and scores 20-25 goals a year is offered a deal worth $6 million a year, that sets a standard other guys who fit that description will look to meet. (Think of the adage about a rising tide lifting all boats.) Consequently, a club that makes an inflated offer to a restricted free agent might be planting the seed of a problem it will have to deal with a year or so in the future.
Bob Clarke, the former Philadelphia general manager who signed Kesler to his offer sheet, was heavily criticized inside the industry, and any GM who does something like that this summer can expect the same. That's not reason enough to resist the urge to follow Clarke's lead -- a GM's first responsibility is to improve his team, now to worry about how he's viewed by his peers -- but anyone who violates what seems to be an unspoken agreement among executives from around the league shouldn't be shocked if his colleagues shed their reservations about negotiating with any of his restricted free agents who might upgrade their lineup.
Q: With the exception of this past year, the Penguins have been holding part of their training camp, as well as a preseason game or two, in Wilkes-Barre. Do the Penguins plan to return to that arrangement this year?
Kyle Dreibelbies, Easton, Pa.
MOLINARI: The days when the Penguins' preseason itinerary included three or four days of workouts and an exhibition game or two in Wilkes-Barre apparently are over. They have not ventured to the northeast corner of the commonwealth since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, and do not plan to do so this fall, either. While training-camp plans always are subject to fine-tuning, the Penguins' current intent is to conduct it in Pittsburgh, although a team-building trip like the one to West Point last year remains a possibility.
Q: (Various websites) list entry-level bonuses for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Kristopher Letang as part of their salary-cap hit. Are they essentially guaranteed or are they likely to be earned? Since Staal was drafted in the first round, in the second slot, the same as Malkin, why was his bonus only half that of Malkin's?
Marc Finder, Buffalo Mills, Pa.
MOLINARI: All potential bonus earnings (the ones payable by a player's team, not the league) are included in that club's salary-cap hit for a given season, regardless of whether the player in question actually goes on to earn it. That might seem a bit extreme, but the league clearly is intent on not having any team exceed the payroll limit for any reason, and factoring all bonuses into a club's total is one way to do that.
Staal's contract, relative to the one given to Malkin, has nothing to do with the Penguins' expectations for those two players, and everything to do with leverage. Although he had made it clear for a long time that he wanted to play in North America, Malkin had a valid, lucrative contract in Russia -- at least until he gave his team there two weeks' notice that he was voiding the deal -- and that gave him a legitimate option to hold over the Penguins' head when they were discussing a deal to bring him here.
Staal, conversely, had two choices last fall: He could either return to the Ontario Hockey League and play for what amounted to a glorified allowance or, if he wanted an opportunity to compete in the NHL at age 18, he could accept the contract the Penguins were proposing, even though it didn't include the kind of bonuses a player who was second in his draft class might command under other circumstances.
Staal, of course, opted for the latter, and even though he didn't get a deal as rich as Malkin's, he did get to prove that he could thrive in the world's finest league while earning a bit more than the average teenager. And anyone fretting about Staal's ability to pay his text-messaging and video-game bills because of his relatively modest contract should remember that he will be eligible to get his next deal -- one that will entitle him to earn as much as 20 percent of his team's salary -- cap maximum at the time -- a few months before his 21st birthday.
Q: What do you hear about the status of Alex Goligoski?
Michael, St. Paul, Minn.
MOLINARI: Goligoski, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, still has not told the Penguins whether he will turn pro or return to the University of Minnesota for his junior season, and indications are that his decision might not come until sometime this summer.
Even if Goligoski opts to leave the Gophers, he is far from certain to be in the Penguins' opening-night lineup. While the prevailing sentiment seems to be that his offensive game probably is good enough for the NHL now, Goligoski would benefit from a chance to add some strength and upgrade his defensive zone play, which means he would be a good candidate to play in the American Hockey League.
Q: Do you think the Pens will go after another offensive weapon this offseason to complement Sidney Crosby? It's clear he needs more talent on his line. I was thinking of possibly Daniel Briere.
Thomas Vendur, Orlando, Fla.
MOLINARI: Lots of teams will be thinking about Daniel Briere, unless he re-signs with Buffalo before hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent July 1. Enough that his asking price figures to be considerably higher than the Penguins would be interested in paying.
Although it is believed that ownership will allow general manager Ray Shero to spend more on players next season than he did in 2006-07 -- and even though the Penguins clearly could use a goal-scoring winger or two -- there is absolutely no reason to think they will be among the teams seriously pursuing big-ticket free agents such as Briere and Ryan Smyth.
The Penguins, who will face the challenge of re-signing the young players who make up their core over the next couple of years, not only are reluctant to commit $5 million or $6 million or $7 million to a player from outside the organization, but of agreeing to pay that kind of money to someone who likely will be seeking a four- or five-year deal. Even if they could absorb the fiscal hit that signing someone like Briere or Smyth would have in 2007-08, they don't want to have a large chunk of money tied up a few years down the road, when guys like Crosby, Malkin and Staal will be on their second contracts.
Q: During the All-Star skills competition, I really enjoyed getting to see the players on the ice with their helmets off. It seems a small thing, but without a helmet, a player's personality and emotion are much more evident. I think the league should consider a rule change allowing players to participate in shootouts, after overtime, without their helmets.
Dave Lokes, Ellicottville, N.Y.
MOLINARI: Long-time fans -- in this case, those who were around before helmets became mandatory for all players entering the league in 1979 or later -- might recall that it seemed easier to identify, and connect with, bareheaded players, in large part because of the reasons you cited.
While the safety benefits of having all players wear helmets during regular play far, far outweigh any entertainment-related downside, it doesn't seem like it would be particularly dangerous to have players shed them during shootouts, if they so choose. Sure, there's a possibility that a player could lose his balance during a shootout and go into the boards head-first, but that isn't terribly likely. (Fact is, it would be much easier to argue that visors should be mandatory because of the threat of a player being blinded by an errant puck or stick blade.)
And while some might contend that going helmetless would give players some sort of competitive advantage over goalies, that would be a difficult case to make.
Q: What happens to the address '66 Mario Lemieux Place' when the Pens move into the new arena? That is a cool address.
Jason Clark, Kuna, Idaho
MOLINARI: That's a detail the Penguins haven't come close to considering yet, although it's worth noting the new arena is scheduled to be built on the opposite side of Centre Avenue and Mario Lemieux Place doesn't extend over there, at least at the moment. Even if the team's address has to be altered when it moves into the new building, however, it almost certainly will feature some sort of tribute to Lemieux.
First Published May 24, 2007 3:58 pm