Chat with EJ Hradek
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, 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 Monday at 3 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (3:08 PM)
Hang on folks. We're working on getting EJ.
Buzzmaster (3:11 PM)
Dan (Royal Oak, MI)
EJ, is Marc Andre Fleury no longer the number one option in Pittsburgh?
EJ Hradek (3:14 PM)
Obviously Fleury has had some struggles. He had some struggles last season. October has not been kind to him. In his last start against Philadelphia, I thought he was OK. I thought he had some back puck luck. I thought he made progress. On the flip side, Johnson as a backup has been terrific. His game on Saturday, he had a shutout, but he had some good fortune around the net. There were some pucks around the net that Carolina couldn't finish. When things are going well, sometimes, you benefit from that. They're in a tough spot, because they have to try and get Fleury going, but they have a hot goaltender, so you kind of have to ride him a little bit.
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
Pittsburgh's a little shorthanded right now. They have a couple of guys that are questionable. Staal was hoping to get in the lineup, but he's had some complications. So it's important for the goalie to play well, whoever's in goal.
Which Turco is for real in Chicago? The one who showed up Friday night in Chicago? or the one on the ice in Minnesota? Is goal-tending the weak link for the Blackhawks this season?
EJ Hradek (3:17 PM)
I don't know if it's the weak link. We're just out of October. The Hawks have played 13 games, the most out of anyone in the NHL. Every night the target is on their backs as the defending champions. I think he's shown me enough to be the guy in net. Will he have some off nights? Yeah. The thing about him is that his last two years in Dallas were marked by his inconsistent play. The Blackhawks as a group will gel. They're getting Brian Campbell back tonight. The last two years would have me nervous about him, but the way he's played so far has been very good for Chicago.
Are Stankos and the Bolts for real? Does Tampa suprise everyone and win the southeast? Does Stamkos outduel Ovechkin for the Richard and Art Ross?
EJ Hradek (3:20 PM)
I would say this, teams that lead their conference after the first month, in the last 24 years, only twice have those teams not made the playoffs. So, 46 out of those 48 teams have made the playoffs. It's a great start by Tampa. They have a really elite forward. I'm still a little concerned about their defense. But they're off to the quick start. It will be interesting to see what they can do over the next few weeks. So far so good. They certainly have some very skilled players in that group.
Ken (Boston, MA)
What's up with Ryan Miller this year? Not looking so good. Is it because I drafted him on my fantasy team?(wish I grabbed Thomas)
EJ Hradek (3:22 PM)
Ryan did call me to tell me that he was very upset that you drafted him and was thinking about not even playing in protest. I talked him off the ledge....The Sabres right now after the first month, they're not defending well. I talked to one ex-coach after watching them, it starts in their end. They're not getting the puck out and getting it to their forwards. It doesn't matter who you have in net. If you spend too much time in your end it's going to be tough. I think they're not defending well right now as a group and it's being reflected in Ryan Miller on the ice. At the end of the day, we all think we influence play with our fantasy selections, but I don't think that's at issue here. However, you might want to check out your waiver wire.
Jerry Moses (Lindstrom MN)
Is Martin Havlat just in the wrong system in Minnesota or is he overrated?
EJ Hradek (3:25 PM)
I think he is what he is. Take away the style. Take away the bigger contract and look at what's been his career. He's a really skilled player who has, at times, in his career, had his skill shine through. He's dealt with injury problems, inconsistency. And now he's in Minnesota and he's involved in another issue where his agent is writing letters to the Minnesota papers about his ice time. At the end of the day, he is who he is. He has a lot of skill, but more often than not, he leaves you wanting more. He has a history of injuries and inconsistency. I see him more of a complementary player. If he were on a better group on his team or guys that he was working with to handle his roles a little more, that might be a better role for him. But it's hard to put him in that role when you're paying him $5 million for a long term.
Why have the Sharks been sooo much better in front of Nittymayki than Niemi?
EJ Hradek (3:27 PM)
I think Niemi has really struggled. He had a good start when the Sharks started overseas. But since coming back to North America, he's struggled. The team has not played well in front of him. Since Niittymaki took over, they've played better. But they haven't played great teams. A challenge will be when they play better teams. Knowing Niemi, he's a hard worker. He'll get another opportunity at some point and it will be up to him to play better.
Brad (St Louis)
Why all the doubting on the Blues, I understand that they don't have a "Superstar". But if anyone has watch how well they play as a team, and who's in net, I have to believe that they can contend with anyone. Agreed?
EJ Hradek (3:30 PM)
I'm not doubting the Blues. I think there are a lot of people that like what the Blues are doing this year. They've really handed it over to their younger players. The analysts and observers might want to wait to see what happens. They're an entertaining team. They have a terrific goalie in Halak. That was a great pickup. They're just a fun team to watch. They play up tempo. They have young players that can really play. Their games are entertaining. I wrote a little bit about them today on my ESPN.com Insider blog.
EJ,Can I go ahead and purchase my Thrashers 2011 Playoff tickets?
EJ Hradek (3:32 PM)
It might be a little early for that. It's not that Atlanta isn't better, both conferences are really competitive. I haven't seen Atlanta separate themselves out to show that they're better. I think they're trying to instill real strong, consistent play in all three zones. I like their team a lot more now with a team approach versus with Kovalchuk as a one man team. I like their team. If you had to pin me down, I think they'll make the playoffs, but we have a long way to go before now and the end of the year. A lot will be decided by how they continue to grow and respond to what they're being taught.
Kyle (Los Alamitos, CA)
The Kings are off to a great start to the season, would you consider them serious contenders for the Stanley Cup this year or are they still likely a year or two away?
EJ Hradek (3:35 PM)
I think the Kings are a contender for the Cup this year. I don't know if this will be their best bet for a Cup. Maybe they add another player via free agency. They're definitely a team that's positioned to be a real strong team for several years. If you think about a core group of young, young stars, Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, Bernier. I just think they have the makings of a real strong, strong team where they could keep the pieces together for 10-12 years. We saw Chicago last year with the questions about whether they were ready. Chicago was probably a little further along, but if things fall right for L.A. they can make a deep playoff run.
Austen (Louisville, KY)
EJ, what is the deal with the Wings schedule right now? 4 games in 17 days...what was the NHL thinking?
EJ Hradek (3:37 PM)
I hear this from fans a lot. Rangers fans will send me notes about the Rangers playing in Toronto three times in the first month. Chicago has 13 games in the first month. These are just the quirks of a schedule. That's one job that I don't want, making schedules for one of the four major sports. Ideally, teams would like to play 3 times in a week. It's just a byproduct of putting together the schedule.
Dave (Pittsburgh PA)
Malkin has been off to a slow start (for him). Do you think that the return of Staal to center his line, will git him out of his existential funk? Maybe he will for-check? Nah prolly not
EJ Hradek (3:38 PM)
Malkin and Staal, both have an issue. I don't think that Malkin has played poorly, he just hasn't had the results that he's used to seeing. Now, Staal sufered what the team called an upper body injury. They hoped to have him back. Malkin tweaked something and he's questionable. It's important to get them healthy. They'll all help each other in different ways.
EJ Hradek (3:40 PM)
Thanks for the great questions. It was a good first month. We have a lot of hockey left. Don't forget to check out the NHL Today podcast that I do with Barry Melrose twice a week, my ESPN.com Insider blog and on Twitter: @EJHradek_ESPN.