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 (3:01 PM)
We're getting EJ!
Blue Bleeder (St. Louis)
Are the Blues legitimate Western Conference challengers? Why has there power play been so anemic?
EJ Hradek (3:14 PM)
The Blues are 9-1-2 after 12 games. You're going to worry about the power play not being great, but they're 9-1-2. You're happy if they're 9-1-2. Their terrific goalie has already shown you what he can do in the playoffs last spring. I think you have to have a lot of confidence in him. They're going with a lot of young players. I think the Blues are a fun team to watch right now. Their coach has really turned things loose. They play an uptempo game. They're an aggressive, fun team with a really good goalie. I like the Blues. I think they'll get better over time. They're off to a great start. Every night they go to the rink, they're going to be hard to deal with.
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
As for the power play, all kidding aside, you want to be better than 11-12 percent. They'll want to improve on that. They lead the league in five-on-five. If I had to choose between being better in 5 on 5 or power play, I want to be good at even strength.
Which division leaders right now will finish the season atop their division? (Currently: St. Louis, Vancouver, LA, Philly, Montreal, Washington)
EJ Hradek (3:17 PM)
I like Washington for sure. I think they'll be there for sure. I think Philadelphia, if they can just be consistent. There is some question about their goaltending, but so far so good there. I just talked about how I like the Blues, but they are in a good division with Chicago and Detroit. Vancouver has a shot in their division. I don't think it's as strong as it once was. I think San Jose is going to push LA at some point. So, the one for sure for me is Washington and I like Vancouver and Philly as well.
Matt (Fenton, MO`)
On a scale of 1-10 just how much of a steal was it when the St. Louis Blues traded for the Halakness Monster?
EJ Hradek (3:19 PM)
It was an enormous steal. Montreal was in a tough spot, because they had two young goalies. They had to move one of those guys. I think I would have kept Halak and moved Price. There may have been a better market for Price. Halak is one of those guys that doesn't say too much or look spectacular, but he just stops the puck night after night. I like the move the Blues made, not just with Halak. We'll see how over the course of time the deal plays out. If you look at his young career, he has had a lot of success. It was a great addition for the Blues. He's a young guy that fits in with a young team. Great addition.
Which rookie have you been the most impressed with so far?
EJ Hradek (3:21 PM)
There have been a bunch of them. I did my Calder Watch, usually the first Wednesday of each month, and I had Michal Neuvirth but since I wrote that, I think Jeff Skinner from Carolina has picked up his game.
Do you think the Hurricanes have a shot at making the playoffs this year?
EJ Hradek (3:23 PM)
I think they have a shot, but like a lot of the bubble teams in the conference, they need to limit the down cycle. It's going to be really close in both conferences. Teams need to find a way, whether win or lose to get some points. They have to stay out of the long losing streak. That will be the difference between the teams that finish 7-8 or 10-11. Cam Ward has some playoff experience. Staal is one of the best centers in the league.
Mario (Milwaukee, Wi)
Do you see any holes in the LA Kings?
EJ Hradek (3:26 PM)
I don't see the 1978 or 1977 Montreal Canadiens in the league this year. Or the '82 Islanders. I don't see a team that's just a monster. I like that they have the cornerstones in place. They have a No. 1 goalie in Quick. They have a No. 1 defenseman in Doughty. They've got a good big, legit center in Kopitar. They could use a little help in the secondary scoring. They'll be a good team that continues to get better. That's good news for Kings fans. They were a part of the first expansion and they had the run in '93 with my buddy Barry Melrose at the helm and Gretzky. There are some good fans in LA.
Andrew (Minneapolis, MN)
How does the MN Wild look? Backstrom is playing better and Brent Burns is becoming a top defender again
EJ Hradek (3:29 PM)
You said it. Backstrom has played well. He played really well last week against San Jose and Calgary. He's had some really good nights and really instrumental in getting them points when they could have lost. I just think Minnesota is one of those teams that has little room for error. The guys need to stay healthy. And if all of the right things happen, it still might not be enough to make the playoffs. Minnesota, like Carolina, will be one of those teams jockeying for playoff position. You can't afford a long negative streak. They need to find ways to put points up and move forward. If I had to guess, I'd say that Minnesota is not going to make it.
Are all the injuries finally catching up to the Isles? Are they headed for another top 5 pick in the draft?
EJ Hradek (3:32 PM)
It sure looks that way. They have really struggled after getting off to a good start. It's hard to overcome them over the long run. You can put together 3-4 games and play well. But to lose Mark Streit, that's a hard one to overcome. He plays in all situations, no matter the score. Fans of the team and the Islanders themselves, no one wants to lose. Could they use another high end pick and talented young guy? Of course. They got off to that good start and I'm sure they were itching to have a good season. You get into thse long stretches of bad play, it really puts you behind the eight ball. It's not the end of the world for them to pick up another high draft pick.
Jason (Portland, OR)
EJ, How scary would the Avalanche be if they could use their cap space and add a couple of solid defenders? Their offense is so balanced and their youth up front is fun to watch. What can they do to improve the back line?
EJ Hradek (3:34 PM)
I think most teams would say that, that they could be better in defense. But there are so many of them out there. If you're going to stretch your team financially, you have to make sure that you are spending it wisely. You need to make sure that you keep the core group of guys together.
What do you think of the Caps new defensive look. Carlson and Karl Alzner have propelled this team to a top 10 GAA.
EJ Hradek (3:37 PM)
I don't think when people look at the regular season and the Caps the last few years, I don't think they think of them as a bad defensive team. The worry about the defense is more in the postseason and a 7-game series, where a team can isolate your weaknesses. Carlson and Alzner are two young guys. But as they've had some postseason disappointements and not playing well defensively, I think you will see them focus more on that during the regular season. I never thought that the Caps' weakness on defense was really exposed last year during the regular season. We won't see it until the postseason. That's when we'll see if they've made progress.
EJ Hradek (3:37 PM)
Thanks again for the questions. A big week ahead. Enjoy it and we'll do it again next week.