The Ask Me Anything Mailbag returns for a brief May stop. I figure it’s only fair to bring it back before too many questions pile up when June arrives. Plenty of off-season speculation has begun, so we’ll tackle some big, looming decisions and rumors this time.
And a disclaimer once more: if I don’t answer your question, sometimes it’s because I’ve already answered a similar one recently. I’ve written about the Canucks’ future, for example, not to mention landing spots for John Tavares (New Jersey and St. Louis are my favorite fits, personally), so I didn’t pick those questions this week. As for the (multiple!) questions I received about P.K. Subban trade rumors…I’m not touching them because I really don’t believe them. The dude may well win the Norris Trophy this June. Mini spoiler: he got my first-place vote. And while I know Pekka Rinne could win the Vezina and wind up expendable, Subban was effective on the ice year round, including the post-season, unlike Rinne. So I’m laughing off Subban trade talk for now!
CJ (@CJBaskys) asks…
Any chance the Edmonton Oilers make a play for Jeff Skinner? Could also use Trevor van Riemsdyk as a right-pairing D-man.
Hey there, CJ. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Oilers in on Skinner. We know Skinner’s greatest asset is his wheels, and we know the Oilers were criticized all season for being too heavy up front and not possessing the proper pieces to complement the blazing Connor McDavid. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins became an interesting late-season fit once the Oilers tried moving him from his natural position of center to McDavid’s left wing, and ‘The Nuge’ is one of the only forwards on the team that can more or less keep pace with No. 97. They spent the final 13 games of the regular season together, and Nugent-Hopkins rattled off seven goals and 15 points over that span. He’s now continuing to build chemistry with McDavid representing Canada at the World Championship.
So maybe McDavid already has his new left winger. Does that mean Skinner wouldn’t help? Not so fast. The Oilers desperately need to upgrade their depth and overall speed throughout the lineup, so Skinner would be a welcome addition even if he plays with Leon Draisaitl instead. Because Skinner broke into the league at 18, it’s easy to forget he’s still just 26. He’s also a three-time 30-goal man and has spent much of his career playing with centers far inferior to McDavid and Draisaitl. So I do like the fit. Not that it’s the easiest deal to make. Skinner has just one year left on his contract at a $5.73-million cap hit, so he runs the risk of becoming a rental. Who’s the right piece to move? If the Hurricanes are just looking to shed salary and don’t need an equal-value return from a hockey standpoint, might Ryan Strome be the piece to send? According to speculation from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who believes a Skinner trade is imminent, the return won’t necessarily be astronomical considering Skinner has so much leverage with a full no-movement clause.
As for TVR, I don’t see it. Edmonton isn’t looking for conservative defensive ability on ‘D,’ with hit machine Adam Larsson, shot-blocking maven Kris Russell and the towering Darnell Nurse on board already. If the Oilers add a blueliner, it needs to be a high-end, righthanded puck-mover. Van Riemsdyk is a solid depth option but wouldn’t address that need, so he’s not the first guy I’d be targeting if I were Peter Chiarelli. Maybe the Oil have found what they need already in right-shot puck mover Joel Persson from the Swedish League, but he’s hardly a sure thing.
Honza Rapek (@honzarapek) asks…
Should the Carolina Hurricanes take Filip Zadina as the second overall draft pick? They could build on his collaboration with another Czech/Canes prospect Martin Necas, who was the 12th overall pick last year.
I’d say yes, Honza. Rasmus Dahlin is the obvious, consensus No. 1 overall pick in 2018, but you get a muddy tier of high-upside players after that. I’d put Andrei Svechnikov, Zadina and Brady Tkachuk in the next group behind Dahlin. While they are different players, they’re so close in overall talent that you can’t go wrong picking them in any order. Svechnikov is a powerful goal-scoring machine and would appeal to a Carolina team that has ached for more offense for years. Tkachuk is a unique blend of playmaking ability, brute strength and elite agitation skill. Supposedly he makes brother Matthew look like a nice, clean player. A hard-nosed guy like Tkachuk could be the best fit for new Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour, a forged-in-iron fitness fanatic.
But Zadina brings a tantalizing blend of goal-scoring ability, two-way play and tenacious effort. He’s committed at both ends of the ice. He should be a high-end scorer at the NHL level, but I expect him to become total-package player who makes an impact on defense, too. Think Marian Hossa. Because Zadina brings such a mature, NHL-ready skill set – and because, like you mentioned, there’s the added bonus of chemistry with Necas, last year’s first-rounder – Zadina would be a great choice at No. 2. That said, there’s no reason to fret if Carolina takes Svechnikov or Tkachuk instead. I believe all three of those forwards will be stars.
The Edge (@TheEdge202) asks…
Is there a William Nylander swap out there similar to the Seth Jones / Ryan Johansen deal?
It’s amazing how much can change in a year. Less, even. In the fall, when rumors of a Dougie Hamilton / William Nylander swap got tabled in the media, I laughed. Both players felt absolutely untouchable and essential to their teams’ long-term plans.
Hamilton enjoyed another great year alongside Mark Giordano and has done nothing to damage his own value – but the structure of the lineup around Hamilton makes me wonder if Calgary will entertain a blockbuster trade now. We know this team needs an upgrade at forward. The Flames finished 27th in the NHL in goals this past season. The Johnny Gaudreau/Sean Monahan connection remains outstanding, the Mikael Backlund-centered second line is among the league’s best two-way trios, and Mark Jankowski’s 17-goal breakout from the third line was encouraging, but the Flames’ forward corps has too much dead weight. Troy Brouwer is a disaster and, let’s face it, so is Sam Bennett.
The Flames badly need another high-end scoring forward. They also have (a) No elite forward prospects coming up the pipeline and (b) no pick until the fourth round of this June’s draft. So it looks like the only way Calgary secures a forward upgrade is by going out and snatching one in the trade market or via free agency. We also know GM Brad Treliving is in scramble mode after Calgary went from fringe Stanley Cup contender to out of the playoffs.
The Flames also happen to have a surplus of good blueliners. Even without Hamilton, they’d have Giordano, T. J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic around, and Brodie has always been more effective playing his off side with Giordano anyway. Just as importantly, in Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki, Calgary has legitimate high-end youth coming to its blueline. Andersson, like Hamilton, is a righthanded shot. Andersson got into 10 NHL games this past season, and his offensive game really took off in the AHL, so he looks like a full-time NHLer for 2018-19. Theoretically, then, from a team needs perspective, I could see the logic in shopping Hamilton.
Meanwhile, the Leafs very obviously need to acquire a high-impact, right-shot defenseman this off-season. Hamilton couldn’t be a better fit hockey wise, and he has experience playing in two pressure-cooker markets in Boston and Calgary, so Toronto, while a step up in spotlight, wouldn’t be total culture shock for him. The Leafs’ greatest surplus isn’t just forwards – it’s wingers, specifically. They are bursting with skilled scorers on the flanks. Behind the big names Nylander, Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau and the depth guys like Zach Hyman and Connor Brown, there’s a battle for playing time between the Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo and Andreas Johnsson types. Letting Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk walk as free agents will make room for more of the kids, but there are even more coming – notably Carl Grundstrom, a Patric Hornqvist-esque scorer/agitator blend. So, yes, theoretically, if the Leafs wanted to deal from an area of strength, you could make a case for Nylander.
The fantasy trade isn’t absolutely perfect, of course. It’s not a given Nylander would automatically become the elusive right winger Calgary seeks to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Nylander has a fantastic shot but has proven more playmaker than triggerman so far in his career, so new coach Bill Peters would have to mold that clay a bit to make Nylander more of a shooter. So many of the best NHL lines have one shooter, one playmaker and one digger, too (think Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson), which is why Micheal Ferland has been a pretty nice fit with dangler Gaudreau and underrated goal scorer Monahan, so would Nylander even be a guaranteed first-line option? We don’t know that. It’s also important to remember that Brodie and Travis Hamonic struggled at times last season and that Giordano is 34, meaning Calgary’s defensive depth might not be as rich as it appears.
The Leafs, also, don’t have to move Nylander by any means. They project to have a sizable amount of salary-cap space this summer and could take a run at John Carlson as the right-handed ‘D’ solution. And I personally wouldn’t trade either player right now if I were either GM. Still, if you’re talking shocker “hockey trades” that make a pretty fair amount of sense, Nylander-for-Hamilton is the first one that popped into my head. It’s no longer laughable. If it happened tomorrow, my reaction would be “Wow! But yeah, I can see why they did that.”
Jordan Samson (jsamson198) asks…
Do you see Vegas having similar success next year?
What a question, Jordan. First off: what I won’t do is write this team off ever again. My first possible answer will not be, “This is a one-year wonder and the Golden Knights will stink next year.” So let’s start by working up from that.
Do I think the stars will perfectly align like they have this season? Doubtful, merely because what we’re witnessing has never been done and may never be done again in any team sport. Digging more into the nuts and bolts of it, though, we can expect a different Knights roster to start 2018-19. Vegas counts James Neal, David Perron, Ryan Reaves, Clayton Stoner, Luca Sbisa and Jason Garrison among its UFAs this summer. It’s a reasonable bet GM George McPhee retains one of Neal and Perron, each of whom should command an AAV north of $5 million, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them walk. The Golden Knights have three very important RFAs to re-sign: William Karlsson, Shea Theodore and Colin Miller. Karlsson has played his way past a bridge contract and should earn a long-term extension just as Jonathan Marchessault and Brayden McNabb did. Theodore and Miller might end up extended long-term, too, if McPhee feels he can get them locked up now for what might look like discount prices a few years down the road.
Then again, even if Perron goes – heck, even if Neal does, too – the Knights still project to bring back much of what made them a great team this year. Marc-Andre Fleury has plenty left in the tank in net. The Knights have quite a mobile blueline-by-committee, and the aforementioned UFA D-men haven’t been important contributors. The first line of Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith is dynamite. We also know owner Bill Foley has no problem spending wildly, so even if Vegas loses a couple key UFAs, we might see McPhee get the green light to pursue some mammoth upgrades. Vegas came close to acquiring Erik Karlsson at the trade deadline. Might McPhee try to reopen talks with Ottawa? The Knights also aced their 2017 draft and have some nice prospects on the way, though we may not see the likes of Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom challenging for roster spots until 2019-20.
Still, there’s enough returning talent in Vegas – and enough potential for further additions – that I foresee a competitive team again in 2018-19. The heat is on every other Pacific team to keep pace with the Golden Knights now, not the other way around.
Chris (c_Row314) asks…
Are the New York Rangers really going to try and bring in Kovalchuk? Seems silly and a waste of money.
Agreed, Chris. The idea of Kovalchuk as a Ranger makes little sense to me, and I don’t see why it would work for player or team in this case, despite reports that GM Jeff Gorton “checked in” on Kovalchuk.
For an upcoming issue of our magazine, I did some digging on Kovalchuk, and people I spoke to around the league have suggested Kovalchuk (a) will be seeking a two- or three-year contract and (b) wants to sign somewhere with a winning trajectory, even if the team isn’t a top-notch Stanley Cup contender in the first year of the contract. If Kovalchuk doesn’t want a one-year pact, we can rule out some of the elite contenders who have temporary spending windows and would only want to pay up for a year, like Montreal did when Alexander Radulov returned. Given Kovalchuk is 35, he’s also not signing somewhere to become a big part of a long-term plan, the way Radulov did with the Dallas Stars at 30 last summer.
And we can’t forget the letter Gorton and Glen Sather penned to the Ranger fan base a few months ago, promising a commitment to youth. This is a team that, after not even picking in the top 40 across four drafts from 2013 to 2016, landed two selections in the top 21 last June and has three first-rounders next month. The Rangers are all-in on a franchise makeover, and signing Kovalchuk would signify the exact opposite philosophy. It would be akin to bringing back Rick Nash, from whom they’re finally free.
So I don’t buy the Kovalchuk talk for a second. He doesn’t fit what the Rangers brass have promised their fans, and they aren’t a logical spot for him as a rebuilding team – unless, I suppose, he’s more optimistic about a quick turnaround than most. I’d look for Kovalchuk to sign with a medium-upside team, like, say, the L.A. Kings, and I also wouldn’t rule out him being courted by people who know him. Think ex-Thrashers GM Don Waddell in Carolina, for example.