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Ask Me Anything: Trade Karlsson, trade Hoffman, or both?

How do you fix the Senators' mess? Who would be a fit for a Milan Lucic trade? And more.

Sheesh, that crept up on us. The draft is just a week away? Whoa. That means a week of speculating not just on who picks whom, but who makes trades. Lots of material to sort through for the Ask Me Anything Mailbag as the rumor mill swirls – with winds reaching hurricane speeds in Ottawa.

Donald Parrish (@DonaldParrishGA) asks…

One of the teams rumored to be interested in Ryan O’Reilly is Montreal, a team within the division. I don’t hear other Sabres fans worried about potentially having to deal with him four-plus times a year. Is this a dated fear to have now? Or unrealistic because there are only four divisions?

Hey Donald. I do see a fit for O’Reilly with the Habs, who need a center who can log big minutes on a scoring line and play in all situations. I still don’t believe the Sabres should rush to trade the guy, as I explained in this blog, but from the Canadiens’ perspective, he’s certainly a fit, and they have the cap space.

As for the idea teams don’t want to trade within their division: I’ve always thought it was overblown. Ultimately, if you’re a GM, you have to do what’s best for your team first and worry about your rivals second. If you have two equally appealing offers and one is from a team in your division, then sure, the rivalry can be a tiebreaker and you might accept the out-of-division offer, but sometimes the best offer happens to come from within your division. The inner-division deals are more commonly mid-season rentals, like when the Toronto acquired Tomas Plekanec from Montreal and Winnipeg got Paul Stastny from St. Louis, as the player doesn’t have to worry about facing his old team over and over given the team selling him is missing the playoffs. But traditional longer-term trades happen, too. Four years ago, the Habs sent Josh Gorges to Buffalo, remember. Chicago traded Patrick Sharp to Dallas and Ryan Hartman to Nashville.

So if Sabres GM Jason Botterill backs away from a deal, it won’t be because it involves Montreal or another division rival. The goal of a trade is to improve your team, so even if you have to worry about facing O’Reilly, whatever you got for him, in theory, should be worth that pain.

Ralph Wiggumn (@ralphwiggumn) asks…

The Professional Hockey Writers Association released their Conn Smythe votes. I think that’s the first time. What do you think of it? Can we get the Hall of Fame with that transparency?

You’re right, Ralph, this was the first time the PHWA went transparent with the Conn Smythe vote, and it’s part of a bigger plan to make all our voting ballots transparent. I’m a PHWA member, as are my colleagues Jason Kay, Ken Campbell, Ryan Kennedy and Jared Clinton. At the All-Star Game in Tampa this year, the PHWA had a meeting, and we discussed the idea of making our votes transparent. The idea was to hold us more accountable. If everyone gets to see how we vote, it’ll motivate every PHWA member to put extra time and care into every decision so he or she can back up his choices if and when the public reacts to them. It’s funny that you mention the Hall of Fame, as I believe our idea was inspired by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s peerless approach to transparency.

We held a vote, and 81.3 percent of us supported revealing our ballots to the public. That was enough to make the change official. In the spirit of our newfound transparency, I can tell you I voted “yes” emphatically. Why not? I know I put many, many obsessive hours into my ballot, and I’m proud of that. I lost sleep deciding between Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon for the Hart Trophy, for example. So I’m happy to share my choices and discuss them with our readers.

As for the Hockey Hall of Fame opting for transparency, well, that organization operates separately from us, so I can’t speak to its plans. As far as I know, the Hall will continue to keep its voting extremely secretive.

Offseason Marty (@martin_14) asks:

What do the Tampa Bay Lightning need to get over the hump? Will the changes behind the bench be enough, or is personnel change required as well?

Hey Marty. The Lightning are just so close. They’ve been to three of the past four Eastern Conference finals, winning one to reach the 2015 Stanley Cup final and losing the other two in seven games. They can match any team in the NHL talent for talent, and so many of their best contributors, including Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Mikhail Sergachev and Brayden Point, haven’t hit their peak years yet or are just commencing them. I expect this Tampa core to remain very strong for several more seasons. It’s entirely possible GM Steve Yzerman could change nothing or even lose some key personnel and the pucks would just bounce the right way regardless, giving the Bolts a Stanley Cup next season – just as things finally broke right for the Washington Capitals this year.

That said, a competitive GM like Yzerman recognizes how close this team is to a championship and may decide it’s worth stomping on the gas pedal even harder. Trading away a package of futures to get Ryan McDonagh at the 2018 deadline told us Yzerman believes he’s assembled a critical mass of good players and that it’s time to make the big push. I support the idea. The Lightning are so loaded, especially at forward, that they hardly have room on the depth chart to promote more of their youngsters, so why not shop them in the name of landing a high-impact player? The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks realized in recent seasons that they were all-in with their cores, didn’t turn back and spent years auctioning off their picks and prospects. Now both teams have completely gutted their developmental systems, and that’s absolutely fine. They have combined for six Cups since 2009.

I would have no problem if Yzerman decides it’s time to get uber-aggressive and pursue a monster piece, just as the Penguins did when they added Phil Kessel in the 2015 off-season.

How about Erik Karlsson? He only has a year left on his deal, so he’s a risky piece to acquire if there’s no extension guaranteed, but the Lightning are one of the few teams that can afford that risk. They’re so close that even a year of Karlsson could yield a championship. And given the potential for amazing chemistry if he’s paired with Victor Hedman, and opposite-handed shooter, good friend and fellow Swede, Tampa would be a nice long-term fit for Karlsson anyway if Yzerman could ever find the money.

But Tampa is one of the few teams that, in my opinion, doesn’t have to stress over an extension for Karlsson if it isn’t a guaranteed component of a trade. They’re in championship mode now and have enough talent on their existing roster that they can afford to deal away picks and prospects.

Mikey (@MacAndEnglish) asks…

Can the Oilers acquire a stud right-handed defenseman without giving up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Who are the likely trade partners in a Milan Lucic trade?

To get a true stud right-handed blueliner, you have to give something to get something, so the Oilers would have a tough decision to make. Does it mean ‘The Nuge’ has to go? Not necessarily. For one, dealing him may not be worth it. Don’t think of the Oilers as a team having a huge surplus at center anymore. Treat Nugent-Hopkins as a left winger – Connor McDavid’s left winger. The two made magic together late in the season, and Nugent-Hopkins played some of the best hockey of his career, with seven goals in 15 points in the 13 games they spent as linemates. So if I’m GM Peter Chiarelli and I’m pursuing an impact right-handed defenseman, I’m trying to do so without dealing Nugent-Hopkins.

If Chiarelli really just wants a right-hander to balance out the D-corps, he can shop Oscar Klefbom, who endured a huge regression in 2017-18, or Darnell Nurse, each of whom shoots left-handed. But, to me, the Oilers want to maintain that group and add another legitimate piece rather than swapping one out for another. That means Chiarelli has to dip into his futures pool. I’m looking at the 10th pick in next week’s draft and/or a prospect such as Kailer Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi. It would be painful to deal away a promising kid, but the Oilers have to maximize these prime years of McDavid. I’d move Puljujarvi if it could secure me a Justin Faulk or Tyson Barrie. Guys like that would address two needs for Edmonton: right-handed puck-mover and power-play quarterback.

As for Lucic, his contract won’t be the easiest to move, as he’s got five years left at a $6-million AAV. With that much term left, retaining salary in a trade becomes a headache on Edmonton’s end, so you ideally want a trade partner who believes in Lucic enough to eat the whole contract. Hey, he’s still just 30, so even if his prime is done, he has useful, physical hockey left to offer a contender. There’s rumored motivation to make a deal because some insiders suggest Lucic wants out of a Canadian market.

As for fits, I love the Dallas Stars for Lucic. They remain deep at center and have an improving young D-corps, but their scoring was extremely top-heavy last year, relying on the top trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. They need a scoring winger. For the same reason I like the Stars as an Ilya Kovalchuk suitor, they’re a fit for Lucic in my opinion. Two other teams I believe want to acquire a veteran left winger: the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins. Might Lucic fit as a replacement for Rick Nash? A Boston reunion is a fun idea, but keep in mind Lucic’s contract – the term, not the money – will make a deal difficult to execute. He’s more likely to remain in an Oilers sweater than not, even if he and Chiarelli want to get a trade done.

Dave Harrison (@forestrydave) asks…

How would you fix the mess in Ottawa?

“Mess” is right. It’s a nightmare from which I’m not sure the franchise can recover. The first and obvious step, in my mind, is to trade Karlsson, of course. He almost wound up a Vegas Golden Knight at the deadline. The trade is more complicated to make now that he’s on the last year of his deal, as teams would be surrendering a lot for just one year of him unless they can negotiate an extension as part of the deal (unofficially, as it couldn’t be announced legally until July 1). But it’s not a matter of whether you can deal Karlsson. There will be a lineup out the door and around the building twice over for his services. It’s just a matter of Ottawa ensuring a good enough return and his new team managing the risk. It can happen. And given what he and his wife Melinda have endured this year, they deserve a fresh start.

Step two: move Mike Hoffman. His value has declined because of all the wild accusations against his fiancée, yes, but he only has two seasons left on his deal, so committing to him isn’t the scariest proposition. A southern, less media-smothered market would work. He’s exactly the kind of player the Los Angeles Kings need: a left winger with speed. The Panthers and Stars could use him, too. He’s scored at least 22 goals in four straight seasons. There will be a market for him, especially if the team acquiring him has a strong leadership group, the type that won’t be fazed by all the baggage he brings. The San Jose Sharks were a perfect spot for Evander Kane for the same reason.

That said, if GM Pierre Dorion moves Hoffman, it will have to be for a lowball offer. No sane GM would offer full value now. You’re looking to score Hoffman at a price low enough to eliminate the risk. The Senators can’t pull a Joe Sakic/Matt Duchene and sit on Hoffman for a year, waiting for the perfect deal. This is a PR nightmare, and they’d be wise to wipe the slate clean. At the same time, I wouldn’t expect a Hoffman trade before or during the draft, not while the facts of the harassment scandal aren’t confirmed yet. A team doesn’t want to acquire him in the middle of a negative news story. For all we know, there are additional worse details yet to leak out. To me, Hoffman is the kind of guy we could see traded in August or September – late enough that the news may have died down, but early enough not to affect the Senators’ chemistry in 2018-19 training camp.

The third step to fix the Senators, to me, is selling them. The fanbase has justifiably turned on owner Eugene Melnyk, especially since he threatened to relocate them during an ill-advised speech on the eve of Ottawa’s outdoor game in December. Their attendance and place in the standings reached two-decade lows this season. They need new leadership or a new address – Quebec City would keep them in the Atlantic Division – or both. It’s pretty clear the Senators can’t exist exactly as they are right now: a struggling, poorly supported team with an owner who feuds with his own fan base. Something has to give.


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