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 3:30 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (3:30 PM)
We've got EJ!
Hi EJ! The West seems as dead even as it ever has. None of the teams are standing out to be head and shoulders above the rest which should make for a great postseason. What are the chances that the Coyotes live the dream?
EJ Hradek (3:34 PM)
I think the Coyotes have a great chance. They have good goaltending. They play a strong system. They get contributions offensively. They get scoring from the blue line. I agree with you that the West is wide open. A lot will depend on the final matchups and who teams are playing. It might be on how healthy the teams are. I would say the Coyotes will be difficult no matter who they play.
Nobody is talking about the Kings returning the the playoffs for the first time in 8 years! Is there any chance that the Kings might actually move past the first round this year?
EJ Hradek (3:35 PM)
I would have to give you the same story I just gave for the Coyotes. It's a tight conference. A lot of that is still to be determined. Matchups in the playoffs have a lot to do with who moves forward. It's great that L.A. had some big wins last week when they needed them. Quick had a loss in goal but came back. They want to get him going forward into the playoffs. For the Avalanche, Coyotes, Kings, a lot will depend upon who they matchup against.
I read a report that the Rangers will attempt to go after Kovalchuk if he is not resigned by the Devils. Would he be the linemate that Gabs desperately needs or another mistake by management?
EJ Hradek (3:37 PM)
It doesn't make much sense to me. First of all, they'd have to address a pretty significant cap issue if they tried to add him. They'd have to trade or find a way to send to the minors someone that's making big money now. It doesn't really answer the problem that the Rangers have, which is a lack of good centers on the roster. I think it might be one of those rumors that's out there because the Rangers are a team that spend big money on players. It doesn't add up to me for them to go out and spend big money on a second guy. Gaborik and Kovalchuk wouldn't make sense to me for them to play together.
Ryan (Germantown, MD)
Why does it seem the Rangers play there best hockey when at least one star is out due to injury?
EJ Hradek (3:40 PM)
If you want to count Avery or Callahan as being stars, they're helpful players, but I don't know if they're stars. The Rangers are in a desperate situation now. They're playing a group of teams that's below them in the standings. It's added up to them being able to focus and take advantage of those things and win some games. This week it will be a little different. Tonight they have Buffalo, which will be a challenge. Then they play a fiesty Toronto team. Then the back-to-back games against Philadelphia. Last year, they were able to sweep the Flyers late and it caused some problems for Philadelphia.
Do the devils get past the first round this year?
EJ Hradek (3:42 PM)
I think they do. To me, the East is really separated into two groups, even three. The Devils, Caps and Penguins are teams that could win the conference. You have Buffalo that's between there. Then the other teams below there. I don't see any of those teams as any that could go much past a first round upset and then out. Having said that, I think the Devils have a chance to go deep. They went out and made the trade for a high profile scorer. They have their sites set on a long run. I think they get past the first round, but you never know in those series. You think a team that has no chance gets a hot performance from a goaltender.
EJ, Who would you personally rather have on your team, Patrick Kane or Nicklas Backstrom?
EJ Hradek (3:44 PM)
I love both guys, first of all. Patrick Kane is one of the most fun players to watch in the NHL. He is a unique player. If I were building a team, I'd probably take Backstrom, because he's a center. That's no slight on Kane. He's a special player in the league right now.
For the Sabres, when Vanek and Connolly are healthy, who comes out of the lineup? I think you leave in the red-hot rookies and bench Stafford and Mair, thoughts?
EJ Hradek (3:46 PM)
That's a good question. Teams that have been playing well, I hate to play with any lineup. I don't care who's coming back. There's a chance that Nathan could come out. Kennedy.
EJ Hradek (3:47 PM)
It's nice for them to have some options.
Just read your article for ESPN magazine on winning the Stanely Cup. You mentioned the formulas for winning, being strong up the middle, defense, and great goal-tending. And you mentioned Washington as a concern. What I didn't notice was talk of Nick Backstrom and Jose Theodore's play of late. Why no love?
EJ Hradek (3:49 PM)
I think there's love for them. Particularly Backstrom. He's one of the top 3-4 centers in hockey. He fits the mold, playoff wise. Theodore's played well this year, but I think there's still a concern about how he plays in the playoffs this year. My feeling on the Caps is that for them to win, it's going to be more about Backstrom and Green than Ovechkin and Semin. I have a lot of love for the Capitals. They have the elements it takes to win, but I just think there are other teams there as well. They haven't gotten to the conference finals yet with this group. They're in a similar situation as Chicago that they have a really good team. It might just be a matter of timing. The Caps are one of the favorites to win the Cup this year. But with all of the teams, I could go through them and find areas for concern.
Imre (Missoula, MT)
How 'bout those Hawks turning the calender? Do you think their recent play is cuase for hope?
EJ Hradek (3:51 PM)
I think the Hawks play all year has been cause for hope. Like I said for Washington, the Hawks have a terrific young team. They have some great players in Kane, Toews, Keith. This is a really good hockey team. They have some question marks in terms of their goaltending. Their recent play has been good. They're a Cup contender. If their goaltending is steady, it doesn't have to be great, just good. That's a good team there.
who do you got winning tonight? pens or caps? and am i the only one who wants to see ovechkin vs. crosby fight?
EJ Hradek (3:52 PM)
Whenever I pick these individual games, it's tricky. I would say the Penguins tonight. They're at home. I think Pittsburgh's focused on getting that last game tonight without finishing the season series having been swept. I expect it to be a high energy game and fun to watch.
I still believe in the young Av's. WHEN they do make the 8th seed, can you see them beating the Sharks? I think out of all the match-ups, this one might be the most favorable since S.J never lives up to their potential come playoff time.
EJ Hradek (3:54 PM)
In the West, I can make the case for anybody. The teams that are good at the top have some issues. With San Jose, it's the mental aspects of the game, finding ways to find ways to win this time of year. Colordao has a terrific goaltender. They'll have to start the series on the road, if they can steal one on the road, then you have the question of if San Jose can stay in it mentally. The worry for a young team, especially one like Colorado, is that they've had to really push it down the stretch. You wonder how the young guys react in the playoffs.
with the signing of Letang how likely are the Pens to bring back Gonchar or is his price going to be to high? I would think with his age and recent injury problems the last few years they could resign him almost the same salary. I hate to see him go.
EJ Hradek (3:57 PM)
A lot depends on Sergei. It's obvious the Pens would like to have him back. He's a puck mover. He has a great shot from the point. The problem is that the Pens have some high end players with contracts. He'll be over 35, which has to be considered. If he goes on the open market, there will be teams that are desperate for that kind of player and will give him the term he's looking for. It's about if he wants to go to the highest bidder or if he's happy in Pittsburgh and wants to do some kind of deal that would make him happy there. The fact that he's won a Cup in Pittsburgh makes me think that he wants to see all of the offers going forward.
Tom (Southport Corridor)
EJ, should we all feel bad for Phoenix if Detroit winds up the 5th seed? It's a great story in a tough situation, but I don't think they can beat the Wings in a series.
EJ Hradek (3:59 PM)
That would be the natural feeling, right? The Wings have played well down the stretch. We know of their success the last 15 years. If Dave Tippet were sitting down and picking who they play in the playoffs, they'd probably want the Oilers more than the Wings. They'll realize that this is a challenge that they'll face. What I would say to the Wings is that the Coyotes can play with anyone in the West and the way they've played all year. When they get a lead in the game, they play well. It's not a perfect scenario to play the Red Wings, but the Coyotes, if they're going to win the Cup, they have to face teams like that eventually.
EJ Hradek (3:59 PM)
Thanks for the questions. See you in the playoffs!