What minor leaguers might contribute?
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Q: Who from last year's minors do you see coming up this year to make a contribution? I figure (Alex Goligoski) will be one, but do Ryan Stone or Jonathan Filewich have a shot at being that plugging third- or fourth-line winger?
Howard Hewlett, Des Moines, Iowa
MOLINARI: Goligoski looks to be the best bet to step into the lineup at the start of this season -- Ryan Whitney's foot surgery could open a spot on the blue line, especially for a guy with significant offensive ability -- although it would be a mistake to say Goligoski is guaranteed of a place. If he has a lackluster training camp or the Penguins opt to stick with the other seven defensemen who spent last season in the NHL -- Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Hal Gill, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Darryl Sydor -- Goligoski could find himself back in Wilkes-Barre a month from now.
Stone and Filewich received, and squandered, opportunities to claim NHL jobs last fall, and did nothing to stand out during brief appearances with the Penguins over the course of the season. Both were re-signed this summer, but neither is assured of a place in the Penguins' long-term plans. Stone could fit in on a third or fourth line if he produces the feisty, physical game he's proven capable of playing in the American Hockey League, while Filewich has shown a decent scoring touch but got only 10 goals last season.
If you want a couple of longshot prospects, watch out for Luca Caputi and Dustin Jeffrey, both of whom performed very well during last year's prospects tournament in Kitchener, Ontario. Caputi went on to have a superb season in the Ontario Hockey League and Jeffrey plays a committed defensive game that should serve him well at any level.
Q: I know "chemistry" is often seen as an overrated quality, but I would disagree in the case of the 2007 Penguins. (I still don't like that we're without Colby Armstrong). I did not expect to see so many of our free agents leave. Why didn't they make more of an effort to keep a lot of the team intact, seeing as how they lost Marian Hossa, anyway?
Ricky J. Perrotta II, Uniontown
MOLINARI: Whether chemistry is overrated depends upon who is doing the rating. As noted in last week's Q&A, the 2007-08 Penguins had an exceptional level of camaraderie, and being willing to sacrifice for one's teammates can be a difference-maker at times. Strong bonds among players can't negate, say, a decided disadvantage in talent, but certainly can be a positive force.
Nonetheless, ties like those last season's team had aren't usually enough to keep players from investigating the possibility of working elsewhere. Ryan Malone, for example, certainly wasn't looking to relocate, but it became evident that other teams placed his value at a level where the Penguins weren't willing to go. Malone's roots here have been chronicled at length for years, but he ultimately decided that taking advantage of an opportunity to maximize his earnings outweighed those emotional ties. (Again, it's hard to hold such a decision against any player, when they have devoted most of their lives to reaching this level and getting into a position to benefit financially from their efforts.)
While Hossa signed with Detroit because he believes the Red Wings have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, most of the Penguins' free-agency losses were based on business decisions by general manager Ray Shero and his staff. They did not want to pay Malone as much as the Lightning was willing to, they decided to fill the enforcer role for less money than Georges Laraque was seeking and they did not want to commit to Jarkko Ruutu or Adam Hall for more than two seasons, and both accepted three-year deals elsewhere.
Q: I was watching replays of the Penguins whipping the Flyers in the conference final. After winning the series, no Penguin would touch the trophy they had just won due a superstition that doing so might jinx their run at the Stanley Cup. A few nights earlier, while watching Classic Series on the NHL Network, the Penguins beat the Bruins (in the Wales Conference final) and were all over the conference trophy. That team won the Cup. Shouldn't the Penguins have their own superstition that they must hoist, carry, fondle and caress the conference trophy so they will win the Cup?
Chris Palochak, Aliquippa
MOLINARI: Sometime after the Penguins won their second Cup in 1992, conference-winning teams decided it was bad luck to give anything more than a cursory acknowledgement to the trophy they had earned. Turns out that's a really good thing to do -- for exactly half of the teams, anyway. When both conference champions refuse to touch the trophies in question, one is absolutely certain to win the Cup. Of course, that means the other one is guaranteed to lose it.
Bottom line: Talent, tactics, tenacity and luck, among other things, have far more impact on who wins the Cup than any superstition does. But if players decide that having no contact with a conference trophy is important, it's best to humor them rather than risk messing with their mind-set. In that way, it's very much like the Penguins allowing Marc-Andre Fleury to wear the bright gold equipment that he used to favor; if Fleury felt more comfortable in those pads, the smart thing was to let him use them, regardless of any tangible downside -- like making the puck more visible to opposing shooters during scrambles around the net -- they might have. Some battles are won between the ears as much as they are on the ice.
First Published September 8, 2008 12:00 am