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!
EJ, any chance the USA can make a run in the Olympics? I know CAN and RUS look to be the cream of the crop, but how do we compare with the likes of Sweden, Finland, etc? Thanks!
EJ Hradek (3:05 PM)
I would start by saying that in the short term in single elmination when you have goaltenders the likes of Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller, they absolutely have a chance. You've got it right that Canada and Russia are the favorites. Sweden is the defending champions. The Fins are a similar team to the U.S. Team USA is in the next mix of 5 teams or so that could have a chance at a medal. Tournaments like this are very unpredictable.
Brandon (RVC, NY)
EJ, I don't know if you were watching, but the Islanders might have had the most dominant period of the NHL season in the first 20 minutes against the Devils yesterday....Thoughts?
EJ Hradek (3:07 PM)
I did catch it, actually. I don't know if I'd say it was the best, because there are a lot of games, but they did come out of the gate fast. They came ready to play and the Devils, I don't know if they were tired or what, but they weren't ready to play. If it weren't for Broduer making some saves, they could have scored 5-6 goals. The Islanders are playing well right now and are on a nice little run. I'm sure they're all thrilled on Long Island right now. We'll see if they can play like this longer.
What's wrong with the pens? All that talent and near the bottom of the league on power play percentage?
EJ Hradek (3:09 PM)
Yeah, I wish I had the answer to the Penguins power play. I look at it, like I'm sure everyone does, and we wonder why the Penguins power play doesn't click more often. There are a couple of things - they try to get too cute and over pass the puck. They try to make everything a little too pretty. They might not be working hard enough as a unit. When there are loose pucks, they're not getting the zone time to make the power play work. Some times, though they have talented guys, they just don't click in those situations. They've used Malkin at the point and he just doesn't look comfortable there. It's not an essential factor in winning, but you do like to convert in games. It's one of those things that can make winning easier. I'm sure it's something that will be continued to be improved. We'll all wonder and ask questions about it until they get better at it.
Kenny (Venersborg, WA)
what are your thoughts on the Anaheim Ducks?
EJ Hradek (3:11 PM)
They've been playing better lately. With the exception of a loss they had to L.A., which was a tough spot for them on the second night of a back-to-back. They've been good, but they've put themselves in a difficult situation because of the bad start they had. They'll have to play at a high level to get into that top 8. They're six points out of a playoff spot. That might not sound like a lot, but the competitive nature of the game and the fact that we have these three point games, they have a lot of ground to make up.
I am guessing the Avs are not a fluke. How long can they keep this up and is Sacco a lock for coach of the year if they make the playoffs?
EJ Hradek (3:13 PM)
Sacco, he's definitely going to be a candidate. There have been a lot of guys who have done a great coaching job this year. But I'd imagine he'd be a finalist. They haven't gotten into any prolonged slumps. December was a bit bumpy for them. They've gotten good goaltending, that's been a big difference. They find ways to win every night. Matt Duchene is picking up steam as the season rolls forward. There's a long way to go here, but at this point, through nearly 50 games, they haven't given any indication that they'll wilt down the stretch. The Olympic break won't be bad for them, because I don't think they have a lot of guys who are going. Anderson will be able to recharge his batteries a little bit for the playoff run.
How do you feel about the choices of team USA Dmen? I don't think Jack Johnson deserves to be there. It seems Scuderi should give is play in the playoffs and his style of play is the best to utilize team usa strength in goal. Matt Carle is also the US leading defensemen in plus minus and points and he got the snub.
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
I think Team USA, both up front and on the backline, there were a lot of different choices there. USA Hockey was looking to transition into their younger player. You could have made a case for 6-7 guys at forward and defense who could have gone over someone else. I am a Jack Johnson fan. I like a lot of the things that are a part of his game. But when I look at his game, I look at his plus minus and how it's so bad. I would have gone with a safe pick in Scuderi. There's a role for a player like Scuderi as a shut down defenseman. I would have taken him over Jack Johnson. I can understand the picks that were made and I could also understand the debate about some of them as well.
Charlie (Mesa, AZ)
Bryzgalov suddenly looks like a sieve, and I'm already having visions of last year. Is ther any hope that the Coyotes aren't headed into freefall again?
EJ Hradek (3:17 PM)
I guess whenever you have a team that has a little bit of a history of that kind of turn in its season, you kind of worry. They haven't played well lately. They do have a veteran group of players. It seems like their system of play is more set in stone. Because of those things, they have a chance. If you lose 6 of 7 games in a stretch, that's what you have to avoid in the NHL now. They have to get back on track. That was an ugly loss last night.
Which team will be most affected by the Olympic break?
EJ Hradek (3:21 PM)
I think the teams that could potentially could be impacted are the teams that have the most guys in the tournament. We did some research on 2006 and teams that had 6-7 guys go, none of them did well in the playoffs. I think there were 5-6 of those kind of teams, none got past the second round and the two teams that did make it to the second round, weren't there very long. Chicago has a bunch of guys going, as do a few other teams. But you just don't know about potential injuries. Even injuries that guys can play through. Eric Staal injured himself in the August camp and he then struggled through the early part of the season. You just don't know how guys will come back from a tournament like this, that's played at such a high level and a high speed.
EJ Hradek (3:21 PM)
It definitely changes the dynamic of the season dramatically. It will be interesting to see the fallout this year.
Do the Caps stand pat and hope their system works in the playoffs? If not, do they go for toughness/depth at deadline or a big name?
EJ Hradek (3:23 PM)
I think like all the teams, the Caps will be looking to see if there's a good deal for them out there. We've heard rumors that they'd be in the Kovalchuk chase, which I guess is a possibility. That would be quite a dynamic group, if you can add someone like Kovalchuk there. They think they can win the Cup this year, and they'll be looking close at their team and little things that they think they can add. They'll be active, at least, and looking and talking and if the right deal is there they'll pull the trigger.
Dean Moll (Cleveland, Ohio)
Mr. Hradek, It seems as if there might be a mutiny within the locker room in Columbus in regards to Ken Hitchcock. Have you heard the same?
EJ Hradek (3:25 PM)
When teams lose and don't do well, that's what we hear, right? That there are problems. I'm not in Columbus and I'm not around that team on a day to day basis and you have to be to know if there's tension. That team had high expectations this year, but it's been a tough struggle all year. Ken's a competitive guy and he expects a lot and when that doesn't happen, there could be issues for everybody. But it's more and more out of frustration more than anything else. There was probably none of that talk last year when they were making that push and that playoff bid. I think it's more because of their struggles than anything right now.
Caps-Wings tonight. Score?
EJ Hradek (3:26 PM)
The Red Wings have been playing better. They've played a couple of exciting games so far. That game against Chicago Sunday was great to watch. But the Caps at home are a handful. If you're making me pick, I'm going with the Caps. They score a lot of goals and the Wings have had a tough time scoring this year. I'll take the Capitals in this one. I'll say this, if the Red Wings can get the rest of their guys healthy, based on what I saw Sunday, they'll still be a tough team to play in the postseason, if they can get there.
Stuart (Boston, MA)
With the Bruins struggling, do think that they are still real contenders and do you think that they will get all their injured players back soon?
EJ Hradek (3:28 PM)
I see them as a cut below the top teams in the Eastern Conference. When I look at them and I compare them to a Washington or the way the Devils are playing or Pittsburgh, the Bruins are more in the middle of the pack. They have some good things going for them. They're well coached. They have a good system going and that will help you overcome the other teams stuck in that group with them. But I don't think they're a team that's capable of beating those top teams in a seven game series.
EJ-A caller on WFAN reporting that the Rangers are negotiating with the Hawks for Toews and Kane. I can't believe this is true, but they'd look great in blueshirts. Have you heard anything?
EJ Hradek (3:29 PM)
Only thing that I've heard is that caller must have been drinking. Chicago just signed those guys and have every intention of keeping them for their entire careers. I haven't heard that and I wouldn't expect that to happen.
EJ, in regards to the Olympic effect, don't you think it will be lessened by the fact it's in Vancouver? There's less of a travel/time difference issue. Also, how many more points are the refs going to cost the Red Wings this season?
EJ Hradek (3:31 PM)
A little bit. It doesn't hurt to have that changeover and dramatic time changes. But when you have that elite competition, it will impact some teams, especially those players in the gold medal game. They'll play lots of games close together. You spend that kind of energy, emotionally and physically, it will have an impact. Some of the guys will come out of it and will continue to roll on. We'll have to watch and monitor it as the season goes along.
EJ, do you think Giguere has gotten a fair shot at gaining the #1 spot in Anaheim? It seems that he's had some good games and the shaky defense in front of him has ruined some of his good performances.
EJ Hradek (3:33 PM)
All of the time, the coaches want to win and they'll put in whoever they think will give them the best chance to won. Both of their goalies were victim of shotty defense in front of them. I don't know if there's anything fair or unfair, but Randy Carlisle is going to do everything in his power to win. If he thought he'd have a better chance with Giguere, he'd be in there. He has another year on his contract, and it's a pretty big contract, I think it would be in everyone's best interests for them to find a place for him to go where he could be the guy. Clearly this isn't that place for him right now.
EJ Hradek (3:33 PM)
Thanks again. Great questions. Enjoy the games tonight and this week. We'll do it again next week.