QUESTION: Because Evgeni Malkin does not speak English and will likely face a challenging first season adjusting to living in North America, do you see the Penguins bringing in a Russian "mentor" to help him adjust (like Jiri Hrdina did for Jaromir Jagr)? And do you think Sergei Gonchar would be good in filling that role?
Dave Harford of Portland, ME
BOB GROVE: Gonchar should be perfect in that role, for a number of reasons. Like Malkin, he's a former first-round pick. He's been around the league since 1995 and has experienced a little of everything in his career: one of his Washington teams went to the Cup Finals and others missed the playoffs; he's been traded; he's been signed as a free agent; he's represented Russia at the Olympics; and he's gone through the same adjustments Malkin faces with respect to the size of rinks, the language, the style of play and the culture.
What's even better is that the two were teammates last season in Magnitogorsk, so they knew each other even before they were teammates the last couple of weeks in Torino. I think Gonchar can play a significant role in helping Malkin develop, and I think the presence of a young countryman will help Gonchar feel a little more comfortable and perhaps even influence his play in a positive way.
QUESTION: If and when the Baby Pens make the playoffs and the Big Pens are out, Can Sidney Crosby be assigned to the Baby Pens to help our playoff run?
Jeremy Smith of Wilkes-Barre, PA
BOB GROVE: Historically, the NHL trade deadline is also the deadline for AHL teams to finalize their playoff rosters; players must be assigned to the AHL at that time to be eligible to play in the Calder Cup playoffs. However, those players who are not subject to waivers (like Crosby), can be instantly recalled to the NHL, making it for them essentially a paper transaction.
So while there's nothing procedural stopping the Penguins from assigning Sidney Crosby to the AHL once the NHL season is over, it's not going to happen.
The AHL is a developmental league, and NHL teams use it to allow their young players to grow and learn the game so that they can be productive at the next level. Crosby is already there. There's nothing for him to learn, or prove, at the AHL level. On top of that, there's always the possibility that some AHL player will want to make a name for himself by hammering Crosby, so there's no need for the Penguins to risk Crosby being injured.
What's more, when we get to mid-April, I'll venture to guess that no player in the Penguins' organization will be more in need of a rest than Crosby. He's had the media with him almost non-stop since June, he's been under considerable pressure and he's been through a lot this season. It is also likely that Crosby will represent Canada at the World Championships in Latvia in May.
The Penguins also would be wrong to take ice time from other centers in the organization who can use the experience of playing in the Calder Cup playoffs. And we know from the AHL standings that the Baby Pens don't need Crosby to be successful.
QUESTION: I have sent numerous emails and letters to the Mr. O'Connor, Mr. Onorato, Mr. Rendell and other elected officials. But when I hear an interview like I heard with Mr. O'Connor recently, it makes me feel like all these letters, calls and emails are falling on deaf and politically motivated ears. Any encouraging thoughts from inside the Penguins to keep the fans believing?
TJ Lauten of Pittsburgh, PA
BOB GROVE: Remember what's at stake here. There remains a very real possibility that next season will be the last for the Penguins in Pittsburgh. I understand and share your frustration, but Pittsburgh hockey fans have to persevere over the course of the next 10 or 11 months.
Fans have to continue to make their voices heard. Continue to send e-mails. Set yourself apart: write a letter. Call the local office of your state representative or senator, or your county or city councilman, and let them know why it's important to keep the team here, to build a multi-purpose arena without taxpayers' dollars and to redevelop the Lower Hill.
If they are old enough, fans have to vote in the upcoming primaries and in the general election in November. Fans have to make it clear to gubernatorial candidates, County and City Council candidates and candidates for the state House and Senate that their votes will depend on the campaign positions of those candidates regarding the Pittsburgh First proposal. For those officials who aren't up for re-election this year, let them know that your future vote will depend on the outcome of the slots licensing process.
Write letters to the editor, not just to the Pittsburgh papers but to local papers as well. Call talk shows. Talk to your friends or co-workers. Ask them how they feel about the issue and tell them why everyone in the region wins when Pittsburgh First wins. Continue to read press coverage of the ongoing slots licensing process. Stay educated on the issues.
This is a political process, and those who have been elected to public office are charged with representing you. The elected officials who aren't behind the Penguins' efforts are probably hoping that the furor will die down, but we can't let it. Simple as that.
Badger Bob Johnson struck a chord with the 1991 Penguins by reminding them that the Stanley Cup playoffs were not a sprint but a marathon. Same thought applies to Pittsburgh hockey fans now.
QUESTION: Do you think that Sidney Crosby will be put on the 2nd line next year if Malkin comes to play for the Penguins?
Lauren Tegtmeyer of Pittsburgh, PA
BOB GROVE: In the very near future, I see he and Crosby as the centers on Line 1A and Line 1B. There will be no need to specify one or the other as the top line; as long as they both have capable wingers to play alongside, they'll both be productive and they'll both cause problems for opponents.
After watching Crosby play now for five months, and after watching Malkin play at the Winter Games, it's almost incredible to think about these two guys playing for the Penguins for years to come. In addition to their fantastic skill levels, they're both defensively sound, determined, competitive, combative and physical. In short, they're the kind of players around which you build championship teams.
Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing Wednesdays on pittsburghpenguins.com. Click here to submit a question.