We took a break from the NHL’s hustle and bustle last week to get philosophical. This week, it’s back to business, as many readers have questions about their teams’ futures – plus the Olympics are only a few weeks away.
HistoryRules (@mpaulm2002) asks…
Who is a contender for gold during the Olympics? I believe Russia will be loaded.
You’ve nailed it. The Russians or, as they been dubbed for this tournament, Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), undoubtedly enter this tournament as the heavy favorites, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re the only contender team capable of icing multiple players who might have cracked their roster even if NHLers were going to the Pyeongchang Games. They have access to Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the best NHL goal scorers of his generation and still a force in KHL, plus his St. Petersburg teammate and future Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk. Even Vegas Golden Knights washout Vadim Shipachyov is eligible to play for OAR, and whoever starts in net for the team will likely be the tournament’s most talented goaltender, whether it’s one of prospects Ilya Samsonov, Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin or even veteran Vasili Kosechkin.
But if the Russians have taught us anything at the Olympic Games, it’s that they’re notorious underachievers despite regularly fielding stacked rosters, especially at forward. They haven’t medalled since the 2002 Salt Lake City games. That means no medals in the Alex Ovechkin/Evgeni Malkin era. Even as the home squad in 2014, with a nation of raucous fans behind them, they choked miserably, bombing out in the quarterfinal. For whatever reason, the Russians seem to struggle when they’re expected to win. It feels like a superstitious, silly take on my part to say so considering the 2018 squad will have almost entirely new players compared to 2014’s, but I’m just saying the nation’s history leaves the door open ever so slightly.
And who might walk through it? I’m looking closest at Sweden. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the dazzling puckhandler projected to go first overall in the 2018 draft, made the team and could well be the best player in the whole tournament, even at 17. He can control a game the same way Erik Karlsson does. The rest of Sweden’s roster is full of experienced players with lots of NHL games on their resume – from Jhonas Enroth and Viktor Fasth in goal to Erik Gustafsson on defense to Viktor Stalberg at forward. Canada probably has less raw talent than the Swedes do, especially with Cale Makar declining his invitation, but almost every guy on the roster has competed at the NHL level, and as I’ve said before, any of goalies Ben Scrivens, Kevin Poulin and Justin Peters is good enough to get hot for a few weeks.
I’ll be interested to see Team Finland’s roster once it’s announced, as it could have sleeper potential if uber-talented kids such as Eeli Tolvanen make the squad.
DANNY TAYLOR® (NiftyMittens14) asks…
Who has the higher ceiling: Mitch Marner or William Nylander? Or is it too early to tell?
This is an important question for the Maple Leafs to answer over the summer, as Nylander is an RFA this July and Marner next, though both can sign extensions, Marner only after July 1.
It’s been a difficult year to evaluate both players since they’ve regressed or at least plateaued in the first half. Going into this season, I was in the minority in that I was more of a Nylander guy than a Marner guy. Nylander, to me, had a higher floor because he has far better natural goal scoring ability than Marner. Nylander’s laser of a shot, which he likes to unleash at or near goalie’s heads, reminds me of Phil Kessel’s.
Marner was always the ceiling guy to me and still is, though. More so than Nylander, Marner has the ability not just to stickhandle through teams, but also to make other players around him better because he’s a superior natural puck distributor (though both are great). That’s why you saw Marner post video-game stats when he was peaking and winning every accolade possible, team or individual, during his final OHL days with the London Knights. Marner at max potential could still be Patrick Kane 2.0. Marner can rag the puck and hit teammates with passes similarly to what we see from breakout star Mathew Barzal with the Islanders.
But will Marner reach that ceiling? One thing we know about Kane is that he has killer instinct. He’s cultivated a deadly shot and can beat goalies on the forehand or backhand or even with a slapshot. Marner hasn’t yet found his goal-scoring touch at the NHL level. He’s not only unlucky this season but also losing confidence and becoming maddeningly indecisive with the puck. As someone who has seen Marner up close with his equipment off many times, I can tell you he has a long way to go in terms of bulking up and becoming stronger on the puck. For that reason, Marner to me still has the lower floor than Nylander, who is bigger, stronger and, for now, can beat goalies in more ways than Marner can. I also think assessments of Nylander’s defensive game tend to have an anti-Euro bias. He makes mistakes and sometimes appears to backcheck lazily, yes, but he’s also crafty with his stick, with far more takeaways than giveaways and good possession numbers so far in his career. Defensively, he does the same things well that Marner does well.
Austin Cobb (aacobb) asks…
What do you think of the season John Klingberg is having? Can he win the Norris Trophy this year?
It’s been an interesting career arc for Klingberg, a.k.a. The Ghost of Gothenburg, one of the best nicknames in hockey. In 2015-16, he exploded for 58 points and finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting playing on a first-place Dallas team.
Then, a very specific timeline of events threw Klingberg off his game – as Klingberg explained to me one day last season when I met up with him.
The Stars blueline got decimated in the 2016 off-season. They lost pending UFA Alex Goligoski, Klingberg’s regular defense partner, to a trade-and-sign with the Arizona Coyotes. UFAs Kris Russell and Jason Demers walked, too. When I asked Stars GM Jim Nill about his reasoning that summer, he insisted the young group, including Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Stephen Johns and Patrik Nemeth, was ready for primetime. They weren’t, as it turned out.
I caught up with Klingberg last February when he was just starting to strike some chemistry with Lindell and shake off what was a brutal start to 2016-17. It turned out Klingberg was feeling the weight of the world on him. I published a story on it last year, but here’s the raw, full explanation Klingberg gave me at the time:
“I always think about that summer. I thought, ‘The season’s starting with a different D-corps, and I’m going to be one of the only guys who actually has a couple seasons here,’ and that’s never a good thing. You want to build as a player, as a guy in the locker room, be a guy who steps up when the team needs you, but if you’re trying to do too much out there, it’s so weird. It has nothing to do with not trying. You’re trying too hard.
“We had a lot of injuries, and Me, Tyler (Seguin) and Jamie (Benn) were still in the lineup and trying too much. We got really frustrated with our own games, and that showed up a lot in a couple of losses. We were just too invisible.
“At the start of the year, I was wanted to be ‘that guy.’ Then I was like, ‘OK, I’m gonna try to sit back,’ and that didn’t work, either. Then I tried even harder. Then I tried for a couple games in a row to let the game come to me, and I actually built a lot of confidence from that.
And ever since Klingberg had that epiphany and took the pressure off himself, he’s been a different player. He’s absolutely a Norris Trophy candidate, not just because he’s been the best offensive defenseman in the NHL this season, but also because he’s logging a career-high 23:37 of ice time per game, posting solid defensive possession numbers in tough assignments. My colleague Jared Clinton just wrote a detailed explanation of Klingberg’s Norris case here.
If I had to submit my Norris ballot today, I’d slot Klingberg second behind only Drew Doughty.
Miguel Leduc (@LeducMiguel13) asks…
You are Marc Bergevin. What’s your asking price for Max Pacioretty?
If I’m GM Bergevin and calculating Matt Duchene’s price, I use Colorado GM Joe Sakic’s return for Matt Duchene as my measuring stick. He carries one more season after this one at a $6-million cap hit and yielded for Colorado prospects Shane Bowers, Vladislav Kamenev and Samuel Girard plus a 2018 first-rounder, a 2018 second-rounder and a 2019 third rounder.
Pacioretty has one year left on his deal after this one at a better price than Duchene’s: $4.5 million, truly a steal. Duchene is younger at 27, but Pacioretty is still only 29, and since he’s just a pseudo-rental through the end of 2018-19, age won’t factor into his value. Even though he’s struggling to score this year, Pacioretty still ranks eighth in goals among all NHLers across the past five seasons. He’s better and cheaper than Duchene, and Duchene still landed Sakic a comically large return, so Bergevin should ask for something similar. I’m talking at least one first-round pick, probably another middle-round pick and multiple good prospects.
An example I tabled on Twitter sent Pacioretty to the Nashville Predators for Dante Fabbro, Pontus Aberg and a 2018-first rounder, and that might not be enough if we use Duchene as the comparable. A team will have to empty out its farm system and/or draft picks to get a high-impact player like Pacioretty – assuming Bergevin does the right thing and asks for the moon. Given his ugly recent trading history, we can’t necessarily bet on Bergevin to play his hand right.
KRANG (@DestraDura) asks…
With the Avs winning, and young ‘D’ coming up soon (already here in Samuel Girard), can you see them trading a healthy Tyson Barrie by the deadline for a young forward?
This is a fun question, not only because it was asked by ‘Krang’ (Ninja Turtles shout out!), but also because I actually posed this identical question when working on a Central Division preview for our upcoming trade deadline magazine.
You’re onto something, Krang, but I don’t think the situation will play out exactly as you imagine it. It’s great that Girard is getting NHL experience already, but Cale Makar and Conor Timmins are obviously both still in major junior and aren’t even guaranteed to play in the NHL next season, albeit they both have good chances in my mind. It’s not like they can join the Avs during the second-half playoff push. Colorado thus very much still needs Barrie right now. Only Erik Johnson plays more minutes per game on the team, and Barrie is quietly tied for 10th in scoring among all NHL D-men over the past four seasons. The Avs do need more forward depth, as they’re carried by the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line, but trading Barrie to get it would weaken their D-corps too much.
I still think there’s a good chance Barrie does get traded, because you’re right, the Avs do have a nice future crop of D-men, but if a trade happens it’ll be during the off-season. The Avs have been a huge success this year, but they are still rebuilding and aren’t the type of team that should chase rental deals. They’re better off slow-playing this and trading Barrie for a forward roughly the same age with a contract that keeps him under team control. Just for an example – someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Brock Nelson might make sense.