Chat with EJ Hradek
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN The Magazine's EJ Hradek will stop by to chat about the NHL season.
Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.
Keep up with what Hradek has been up to through his blog on ESPN.com.
Send your questions now and join EJ to chat Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Is Peter Chirelli stock-piling draft picks to make a big move before things get out of hand in Beantown?
EJ Hradek (3:01 PM)
I think Peter is just trying to manage his assets wisely. He has some potential salary cap issues he's trying to deal with and is moving players out to create the proper cap room and slotting for players on his roster going forward. Certainly acquiring draft picks isn't the worst thing in the world, and it puts them in a position of acquiring significant assets to move and strengthen this team at the deadline. Worst-case scenario, they can be used to fill this team with young players.
Do you think the Rangers were brought back down to reality last night?
EJ Hradek (3:03 PM)
It's certainly a wakeup call when you lose like that. There are teams you try to measure yourself against...San Jose is one of those ones. I was surprised they started their backup goalie, which may have had something to do with lightening Lundqvist's load during the early part of the season, especially since he's going to participate in the Olympics, but he could have sat out against Toronto. They had a great start with a bad effort last night, and they'll refocus against Jersey on Thursday.
Detroit is off to a slow start. Do you think it has anything to do with the Europe trip?
EJ Hradek (3:04 PM)
They lost two of the games over there. I think they've got some injuries, and when you consider the hockey they've played, it's a matter of time before some of the teams catch up to them. I feel it will be a struggle and challenge for them this year. It's a talented group and it won't be easy to keep them out of the top of the Western Conference.
So, EJ...Colorado....what's up with them? I thought they were supposed to be terrible this year.
EJ Hradek (3:06 PM)
So did I. I think so did a lot of people who keep an eye on the teams heading in to the season. The biggest difference is the addition of free agent goalie Craig Anderson. He's given them a chance to stay in every game. Last season, goaltending was a major problem for the Avalanche. The fact that their goaltending was so bad last year probably skewed the way we thought of the team. They also had some major injuries to key guys. This year, they're healthier and have added some young players to their group. Anderson has been really good. They have another winnable game against the slumping Wild in Minnesota.
Ben (San Francisco)
Do you think pressure to be considered for Olympic rosters is causing some players (e.g., Bobby Ryan) to underperform?
EJ Hradek (3:08 PM)
That might be something that is on the minds of some players, but I can't imagine this early in the season, after guys went through their respective orientation camps where they were informed of the decision-making process, I can't imagine that was the sole reason why they are struggling out of the gate. Some young players in Anaheim like Getzlaf have struggled, but I think it's a matter of not having found their way yet. It has more to do with the issues of their group there in Anaheim than it does with Olympic pressure.
If there is one thing that prevents the Blackhawks from winning the Cup, what would it be?
EJ Hradek (3:09 PM)
Goaltending. Huet isn't good enough at this level yet. He certainly hasn't done anything to change my opinion through the first several games of the season. The Hawks paid this guy a lot of money a few summers ago, and salary cap issues have prevented them from finding a real quality goaltender. It's a significant weakness on their team, and I'd be interested to see if there's anything management can do to alleviate the problem.
EJ, where do you see the Blues going this season. Johnson and Perron are starting alittle slow and Mason has been anything but solid?
EJ Hradek (3:11 PM)
I still think the St. Louis Blues, in the big picture, are going in the right direction. It's a very competitive conference, especially now that Colorado has gotten off to a good start. It will be a real struggle for points night-in and night out. I think the Blues are in a position to hold a playoff spot, but it will take a strong effort from each of the teams. The key is to avoid any downtime in the season and try to get as many points as they can in each and every game.
Rob (New Castle, Pa.)
Should the rest of the league be concerned that Pittsburgh is winning despite the fact that Talbot is out, Malkin looks disinterested at times and Crosby still doesn't have a finisher on his line. Fluery may be the best goalie in the league right now and it seems that Shero has put together a team that can beat you anyway you want to play the game.
EJ Hradek (3:13 PM)
That probably should be a concern for other teams, when the Cup champion gets off to a great start despite some lackluster play. They're going to be a team that will be extremely tough to deal with all year. Fleury has been really good early on, and Shero has been impressed by the role-players on their roster.
EJ Hradek (3:14 PM)
They look like they have the aura of a championship team, as they stepped up against Philadelphia with a real good performance. I think they are still the team to beat.
Neither Varlamov nor Theodore has been solid this year, and now Theodore has back issues. What will it take for Neuvirth to get a long look in net with the Caps?
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
It won't take much. Neuvirth played well in training camp. Bruce Boudreau was pleased with his performance, but he ended up with a groin injury. He will get a chance to play with the Caps, and he will take advantage of that if he gets it.
Is it safe to say stepping into the nhl and playing defense as a rookie is not as difficult as in years past? (i.e. tyler myers, viktor hedman, etc.) Its great to see a bunch of young kids take over and play at such a high level...
EJ Hradek (3:17 PM)
I guess you could make a case for that right now. We have seen younger players come into the league and play pretty significant minutes. I don't know if it's an aberration of talented young guys in a salary cap era where you need to watch your assets, or if it's a trend going forward, but I think when you're talking about these guys, you're talking about really high-end, talented young players. As you point out, normally, playing defense in the NHL for kids 18 and 19 years old is a real tough chore.
Will the Wild ever be good? It seems like they just continue to spin their wheels, with no results on the ice.
EJ Hradek (3:18 PM)
They are in transition. They have a new coach and GM, and the problem is, they don't have the personnel to execute right now. They have some injuries, but when you look at their roster, they're not all that good of a team. It's a tribute to Jacques Lemaire that he got so much out of that group. They played a defensive game because that was the hand they were dealt. It'll be a struggling rebuilding year for them.
In the past, we seemed to hear about major NHL rule changes every couple of years. But it's been quiet of late. Are there any plans for rule changes, other than the one being talkeda about for goalie equipment?
EJ Hradek (3:20 PM)
Right now, the league is interested in letting things settle a bit--letting the games be played under their current rules for a while and just to see and let the players adjust to the way the game is played now. People in Toronto like the way the game has been played and now would like to stand pat for a bit.
How big of a mess are the Maple Leafs right now?
EJ Hradek (3:22 PM)
A big mess! A very big mess. The problems are many. Their goaltending has been week, their defense is slow, and they are not strong up the middle at center among your group of forwards. It's a recipe for a long, hard season. They begin a five-game road trip this week and it will be awfully hard for this group to get any traction during the season. Kessel is a good player but not a center, and the Leafs gave up a lot of assets to get him, including a potential future No. 1 pick. Things are bleak.
Rob Blake's minutes seem to be down. Do you think San Jose is trying to rest him to get the most productivity down the stretch, or do you see it as Blake's role being reduced?
EJ Hradek (3:23 PM)
I think you have to be smart with a player like Rob Blake. He's in his late 30s with a lot of miles. You want to pace him through a long regular season, and try to have him in a position to help you come playoff time. Older guys like that, with rare exception, are not guys you can lean on. They're in a position to support the team and players that you have. They have to be supported rather than the go-to guy.
As a follow-up to the rule change question, will we see the league force teams to give more details about injuries? I can understand "upper body injury" or "lower body injury" in the playoffs, but now it seems that's how all injuries are described, even in the early part of the regular season.
EJ Hradek (3:25 PM)
It's frustrating for those of us who cover the games and try to get that information and try to assess injuries based on what they actually are. The league has been hesitant for teams to make more of a disclosure than they currently do, but it shows the competitive nature of the league. Even in the early part of the season, teams are very cautious about giving out information. I don't see it changing, but it's a bone of contention. Definitely different from the NFL, which has to disclose injuries because of the gambling element.
Tyler (Prince Edward Island)
What do the Habs have to do to get back to winning? Any possbible trade bait out there? Frolov seems to be unhappy in LA? Maybe easy pickings?
EJ Hradek (3:27 PM)
I think they would consider trading Frolov, but they would not want to give him away. I don't think he's what they need right now. Their problem is losing their best player. Markov, the defenseman, is such a good player -- he's one of those guys who is hard to find and impossible to replace. Losing your No. 1 defenseman changes the impact of your team. Gonchar last year was a big example. It will be a struggle for the Canadiens going forward. They'll need Price to step up on a night-to-night basis, and right now that is not happening.
Will Kovy re-sign in Atlanta? Anything to the rumors he may play in the Russian KHL next yr?
EJ Hradek (3:29 PM)
It's hard to determine right now what Kovalchuck will do. From talking to his agent, he likes being in Atlanta, the owners and the agent have a great relationship...his preference would be to stay in Atlanta, but his concern is that the Thrashers have struggled during his time there. He would like to resign but they will have to be successful. There's a chance they'll sign him, but if things go sour, anything is a possibility. There would definitely be an offer considered under those circumstances.