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!
Buzzmaster (3:00 PM)
EJ will be here shortly!
EJ Hradek (3:03 PM)
Let's get to the questions.
George (Middletown, NJ)
Hey EJ, If Gaborik gets injured tonight vs Vancouver, is it safe to say that the Rangers finish the year 0-67-0? Actually 2-65-0. They play the Leafs two more times.
EJ Hradek (3:04 PM)
I don't think it would be quite that bad, but real simply, if he's out of their lineup for any significant amount of time, it's going to be really, really, really hard for them to make the playoffs. He's a key player for them and their best and most dangerous offensive threat by a long stretch.
Hey EJ. How about my Coyotes? How long do they need to not only keep winning, but playing top notch hockey, for people to start taking them seriously as a real deal?
EJ Hradek (3:06 PM)
I think people are taking them seriously as a team who has legitimately has a chance to compete for a playoff spot. They have to do it over a longer period of time. This is a team that has a lot of struggles both on and off the ice. It's a game-to-game situation. They need to have urgency. For a team like the Coyotes, the playoffs really started the first night of the season. They're going to have to bring it every night if they're going to make the playoffs this year.
E.J. - Given the emergence of Goligoski/Letang, Gonchar's expiring contract, and the expected drop in salary cap, could Gonchar be the odd man out in Pittsburgh at season's end?
EJ Hradek (3:08 PM)
At first, I'd say there's less concern that the cap will drop dramatically next season. That's not to say we know for certain what will happen, but the cap will probably just stay status quo. The managers have to concern themselves with everything that goes on with the cap, especially like the Penguins that have some high end players. Gonchar is a key part of that team and they'll do whatever they can to keep him in Pittsburgh. He's a little bit of an older player so that might limit what they can do with him. There would be a concern to do too much of a long term deal. If they lock in long term with him, they'd have a hard time moving that money off their cap. I think that they'll make every effort to get him back in the fold the next couple of years. But, as you point out, they have some emerging, young defensemen that would be able to help fill that void.
Has there been a time where so many guys have been out with concussions? High profile guys like Toews, Booth, McDonald, Tucker and Souray are all out with some form of concussion. Is the league going to meet and discuss this issue? Ex. Ruutu getting 3 games on the Tucker hit doesnt seem fair since Tucker is now out indefinitely. Thoughts?
EJ Hradek (3:11 PM)
The GMs are meeting next week in Toronto. This is something that is brought up in pretty much every meeting, even if it's just in side conversation amongst the managers. Hits to the head, injuries and the concussions that can occur. It is no doubt a real concern, because star players being out of the lineup is not good for business. I think at some point they really have to figure out some way to look more closely at the hits to the head. Whether or not a guy has the intent to hit a guy that high, it results in a player getting injured. I don't know if there should be a penalty for hits to the head specifically, but something needs to be done, especially with some of the guys getting hurt.
EJ Hradek (3:11 PM)
It is an issue that remains front and center for NHL teams and the league in general.
ANTHONY ACHOCKEYGUYS (NEW YORK CITY)
HEY EJ. Obviously the Red Wings have interest in a Goaltender, do you think the Islanders can get a top notch d-man if they were to deal Biron and his 1 year deal?? I think a top pairing d-man to play w/ Streit is one of the key things this club needs right now in order to improve immediately.
EJ Hradek (3:13 PM)
I don't think so. What the Islanders would want to get if they were to trade Biron during the season is a young prospect or a draft pick. Biron would be helpful to a team that needs experience, such as in Detroit to get an experienced backup behind Osgood. But I don't think a team gives up a big asset for him at this point.
What do you foresee for the Avs for the rest of the year? After last year a playoff berth will be sweet.
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
Let's face it, they're off to a great start. They've tied up a bunch of points that will help them in getting into the playoffs. Really, they just have to come and be consistently competitive night after night. What they want to stay away from is a long losing streak. They've put themselves in a strong position with the start they've had. This is a team at the beginning of the season that a lot of people, including myself, didn't give a good chance to make the playoffs.
EJ, is it possible that the Wings will flourish once their injury woes stop? Right now, they're playing without some key players and doing a so-so job, so can they return to a somewhat dominant force once those key players return?
EJ Hradek (3:17 PM)
The biggest injury problem they have is with Johan. They have a ways to go before he gets back. They've had other injuries that are harmful to their group. They still have a very strong defense and some really quality high end forwards. Those guys will be asked to do more and carry it more than they have in the past, when they've had a better secondary group behind them. There won't be a lot of room for error for Chris Osgood. They're a model franchise for anyone in pro sports. If they can get healthy in the spring, they'll be a club that you don't want to face in the first round of the playoffs.
Bruins have had neither a 2 game winning streak nor a 2 game losing streak.. does this trend end tonight with a loss at Detroit or keep going with a win?
EJ Hradek (3:19 PM)
Well, I guess if you're a Bruin and a fan, you hope it goes with a win. The Bruins are coming off of a pretty long road trip and have had a couple of days to prepare for tonight. This season will be more of a struggle than last year. It's always a challenge when you're playing Detroit. Night after night, because of the league right now and how close it is with these teams, if the Bruins want to be in the party come spring time, this is a chance to get two points.
Hank (Arlington TX)
EJ, what do you think the chances are that the Thrashers make a play off run?.. at all.
EJ Hradek (3:22 PM)
They're in a group of teams that has a chance to get in there. I see Philly, Washington as being the class in the conference and after that, there are about 10 teams that have a chance to make the playoffs. The Thrashers are in that group, but they suffered when Kovalchuk got injured. Saturday, they were lucky to get two points with a great performance by Ondrej Pavelec. They'll have to get as many points as they can with Kovalchuk out. This might be the best Atlanta roster they've had in the history of their team. They have some issues still to be determined, like can they re-sign Kovalchuk. If they can get that squared away, they can focus on getting into the playoffs this year. I think they have as good a shot as they've had to make the playoffs.
Reid (Dallas, TX)
With a big win over the Pens, and that being the second W in a row, are the Wild starting to turn things around?
EJ Hradek (3:24 PM)
They got off to a terrible start. They couldn't get anything going on the road and they finally got one against the Penguins. You have to, because they got themselves in a hole with the bad start. I think they have a real up hill battle this year. New coach, new GM. I think it's a longer year for them. I suspect they'll be trying to find which players fit with their new management group and who will move forward. The bigger picture and what's important is to push this group to where they want to be in the future.
Kessel has been cleared to play. I hope his repaired shoulder is strong enough b/c he needs to carry this team. Can he be a difference maker on the Leafs when I really dont see anyone else that can help take pressure off of him during the game?
EJ Hradek (3:27 PM)
He will certainly help a team that really isn't that strong. He's a playmaker on offense and adding him has to be thought of as a plus. I don't think Kessel is the kind of guy to carry a team. He's a big piece to a puzzle when he's surrounded well by others. I'll be interested to see who he'll be on a line with. The thing for Leafs fans to keep in mind is that he's coming off of significant surgery. He's been rehabbing and he'll have to get into game shape. From what I've seen in guys coming off of shoulder surgery, it takes time for them to gain confidence and be the players they are. He's in a tough situation and hopefully the team, fans and media will let him assimilate into the group. Over time, I think they're going to have to surround him with other players for him to reach his potential.
The flu bug seems to be hitting the NHL hard, seemingly harder than other pro and college sports that are playing now. Why do you think that is, and will the NHL implement measures to try to curb its spread?
EJ Hradek (3:29 PM)
The flu bug is one of those things that does impact all the sports. The NHL, with the travel, the number of games they play over the course of a week, I think that probably takes more of a toll on you. Football is a little different lifestyle. The travel, being in such tight quarters on the airplanes and lockerrooms. The individual teams do the best they can to prevent the spread of it. I know last year, Carolina was hit particularly hard with it. Especially with what's going on with the swine flu around the country teams are probably more vigilant about it.
Ronnie (Los Angeles, CA)
Hey EJ,Sharks fans are an insanely loyal group, and we don't quickly forget about our homegrown stars. With that said, I've been keeping an eye on Cheechoo in Ottawa, and it doesn't look like much is happening. Is "it" really over for the once prolific goal-scorer? He seems like a checking-line player now, nothing more. If so, he has to be the most enigmatic player of the past decade, and it's been hard to watch.
EJ Hradek (3:32 PM)
It's funny, I just spoke to him yesterday. He feels comfortable with his transition from San Jose to Ottawa, which is a pretty big leap, when you play your whole career in San Jose and then come east. He's struggled and hasn't scored a goal yet. I think if we're going to judge where he is now in his career versus when he scored 56 goals with Joe Thornton the year after the lockout, I don't think we should do that. He's an effective player. He should be able to score 20 or so goals. I think he's going to have to bring his other intangibles to the rink and play on both sides of the ice. I'll be curious to see how things go in the second month in Ottawa. I do think he can still be an effective player, but not be that prolific goal scorer again.
What am i to make of the Islanders 4 game win streak? A sign that they aren't as bad as i feared, or jsut one of those good runs but reality is coming soon.
EJ Hradek (3:34 PM)
It's early. I think the Islanders can really look around and see what teams like Colorado and Phoenix and others that weren't thought of highly in the preseason and have that inspire them a little bit. The Islanders play an aggressive game. They're hoping to get good goaltending from the guys they brought in. They're showing that they're going to be a team you can't overlook on the schedule. There have been a lot of positive signs for them. Starting on Wednesday, they play 14 of their next 17 games on the road. That's a big stretch and will determin whether or not they'll be in the race.
EJ Hradek (3:35 PM)
If they go into a prolonged slide, we'll know that the they'll be looking for the race for another top pick instead of a playoff spot.
EJ Hradek (3:35 PM)
Thanks as always for the questions. Enjoy the hockey this week. We'll do it again next week.