Which team has been the biggest surprise?

Thanks for visiting THN’s mailbag. As always, your questions – which I answer here, in our magazine and on our radio show – are very much appreciated.

Hey Adam. How are things? What do you think of the job Joe Nieuwendyk has done as GM of the Dallas Stars? I am a bit confused as to what his plan with this team is. Ever since he has taken over he has made a series of questionable moves in my opinion. Letting Brad Richards walk for nothing, trading a young James Neal and Matt Niskanen for an overrated d-man in Alex Goligoski, trading an effective pending UFA in Michael Ryder for an aging, long-term deal in Erik Cole – a player having a terrible season on the ice, and acting even worse off it during the lockout. Furthermore, he let Sheldon Souray walk for nothing and trading some of his effective d-men (Fistric and Grossman) for practically nothing has hurt this team's depth. Amidst all of this turmoil, the Stars are still in the playoff chase and have strong young players like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson in place. Is this a playoff/bubble team, or a team rebuilding? Thanks.
Nick Stoyan, Toronto

Hey Nick,

I think Nieuwendyk, like most NHL GMs, has had his share of hits and misses. But I’d take issue with some of your descriptions of his work. For starters, he had no choice but to let Richards leave, as the team was searching for a new owner and the star center (having gone through ownership issues twice) wanted stability. However, since current owner Tom Gaglardi has come aboard, Nieuwendyk has had no problem re-signing key components Kari Lehtonen and Benn to lucrative contract extensions.

Secondly, while Souray revitalized his NHL career in Dallas, matching or beating the contract he signed with Anaheim would have been a serious gamble. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau told me on THN Radio that before the season, he wasn’t sure what type of player he’d be getting in Souray. It has worked out for him, but who knows how it would have gone down on a less talented Stars squad.

I picked Dallas to sneak into the playoffs in the eighth seed, so I do think there’s a solid base there to like and they’re closer to regular playoff contention than they are to a complete rebuild. It will be up to Nieuwendyk to add to that base, but I wouldn’t say he’s shown any degree of rank incompetence that should result in his termination. No GM wins every move he makes.

Adam, there's strong speculation Miikka Kiprusoff will retire at the end of this season. If so, are the Flames on the hook for any of his $5.8 million cap hit or $1.5 million salary? Does it matter that he's 35 and older?
Barry Costello, Calgary


No, because Kiprusoff’s contract was signed before he turned 35, his cap hit would come off Calgary’s books and the Flames would not have to pay him the final $1.5 million he is owed. Had he signed the extension after he turned 35, Calgary would be on the hook for the salary regardless.

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Hey Adam, Do you think that if John Tavares had a better supporting cast around him in New York, he would consistently be among the discussion of best players in the NHL, with likes of Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos?
Noah Woogman, Vancouver

Hey Noah,

You mean a supporting cast like Crosby and Stamkos have? Absolutely. The struggles of the Isles have guaranteed Tavares wouldn’t receive the same adulation those two young superstars receive.

That said, Tavares has grown his game in great leaps and bounds this year. After Thursday night’s game in Toronto, he now has nearly as many goals (26) in 44 games as he did last year when he had 31 in 82 games. And remember, the guy is just 22 years old. I’m betting Tavares gets at least a few Hart Trophy votes this season, but may be a year or two away from true league MVP status. The best is yet to come for him – and the more success the Islanders enjoy, the more spotlight he’ll receive.

Adam, What team has been the bigger surprise this year: Islanders, Canadiens, Leafs or the Karlsson/Spezza-less Sens?
Scott Brofman, Los Angeles

For me, it’s a tie between the Isles and injury-riddled Sens. The Leafs and Canadiens had enough talent on their roster to make plausible their current playoff status, but few people thought the Isles would make the playoffs, let alone be ahead of the New York Rangers in the standings. And Ottawa has had catastrophic injuries at every main position, but remains strong – especially at home, where they’ve lost just three times in regulation (15-3-3) – when most observers expected them to sink like a stone.

Adam, how can the Tampa Bay Lightning have two players in the running for most total points (Steven Stamkos and Martin St-Louis) and other strong offensive players (Lecavalier and Purcell) yet won't make the playoffs? Is it as simple as poor goaltending and lack of defense or are other factors at play?
Michael Markarian, Washington, DC


Yes, it’s primarily the defensive side of the game that has hurt the Bolts this season. Anders Lindback struggled with consistency, their penalty kill is currently ranked 23rd in the league and their goals-against average is the NHL’s fifth-worst.

It was no coincidence Lightning GM Steve Yzerman traded for Ben Bishop – and that he sent rookie left winger Cory Conacher to Ottawa in return. They have far more offensive tools right now than they do defensive options. And with just $2.6 million in projected cap space for next season, Yzerman is going to have to be creative in addressing how to bolster his team’s back end.

Ask Adam appears Fridays on Ask your question on our submission page. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.