MATT BODENSCHATZ: With Marc-Andre Fleury off to a shaky start, many in Pittsburgh are declaring him a bust. What are your thoughts on Fleury’s development to this point, and where do you think he will be by the end of this season? In other words, is he the long-term solution in Pittsburgh?

JOHN BUCCIGROSS: I believe Marc-Andre Fleury is the long term solution in Pittsburgh. He should be given full support and full opportunity to play this year. If at the end of the year, the Penguins have a better option, then maybe they can pursue something. For now, I would go with Fleury.

MB: Evgeni Malkin had a great season last year, but he wasn’t as motivated as some would have liked. Regardless, he’s had a strong start to the season this year and is looking like the complete player he was touted to be. The question is, are we seeing the Evgeni Malkin that was touted as being as good as, if not better than, Alexander Ovechkin, or is his complete-game quick start more of an aberration?

JB: Last year was difficult for Malkin. He had to sneak out of the country and get acclimated to the best hockey league in the world. He is a Top-10 talent in the NHL. The Penguins would not trade him straight up for Alexander Ovechkin.

MB: Continuing with Malkin, many believe he may be a player who could become too costly for the Penguins to keep in the coming years. If you were managing the Penguins and could keep only two of Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal, who would you want to keep and why?

JB: They will be able to keep all three. If not, of course, it is Crosby and Malkin.

MB: The Penguins are widely considered an offensive force to be reckoned with. But the defense is sub-standard at best. Do you anticipate an upgrade via trade before the playoffs, and if so, who might be some candidates, or at least who may be decent trading partners?

JB: The Penguins don’t need new players. They need the players they have to play better defensively. This is where coaching comes in. If the current coaching staff can’t instruct or motivate the players to play better in all three zones, then they need to find a coaching staff who will. They have gaping holes in their defense at times. If they can slowly eliminate those and get better goaltending, they can win the Stanley Cup this year.

MB: Similarly, do you anticipate or foresee any young players making a splash for the Penguins this year?

JB: Kris Letang is the obvious choice to make an impact sometime this year.

MB: Where do you expect the Penguins to finish at the end of the regular season, and do you think the team, as currently constructed, is good enough to advance in the playoffs?

JB: I picked the Penguins to win their division and to go to the Stanley Cup Final.

MB: Who is your pick to win the Stanley Cup right now and who will be the runner-up? How about a series score?

JB: I have the Sharks over the Penguins in six.

MB: There have been rumblings of the NHL returning to ESPN2 in the near future. Anything to report on this? Is there any chance of bringing back a nightly hockey recap show, even if the sport doesn’t return to the network?
JB: We will know soon if there will be an ESPN/NHL relationship or not. I wouldn’t expect a nightly highlight show, but a man can dream.

MB: Lastly, the NHL seems to be seeing an increased number of violent acts on the ice. Do you believe the 20- and 25-game suspensions given to the two Flyers players this month were fitting, and do you believe the NHL finally is “getting it” with regards to punishments? Can we expect this to keep up, or will it become lax as the officiating does by January of each year?

JB: I believe that harsh penalties and taking the instigator penalty away it would help. Players are running around too much right now. There will always be violent moments from time to time. It’s a lightning fast, emotional game and things are always going to happen.

Faceoff Factor would like to extend a huge thank you to Buccigross for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.