Scott will be here soon!
Let's dive right into it!
Scott, what are your biggest early season surprises so far (both positive and negative)?
Well I guess one surprise is the hottest team in the NHL , the Avs. I think a lot of people thought with the uncertainty at goaltending, it was going to be a real struggle for them. But they are putting up big numbers and are putting up some good goaltending. Obviously the slow starts by the Ducks and Flyers are surprisng, but both are coming off strong performances of late. That is what has stood out for me early on.
Hey Scott, What do you think about the Sharks this year? Yea sure they have gotten off to a good start, but I have yet to see them play a full 60 minutes. What is your take on the Sharks? Thanks
Well they are a team that have reaffirmed that they are elite. I know what they have not been perfect at 7-2, but boy they are getting offense from up and down the lineup and the goaltending has been very good for the most part. Under McClellan seems to have stepped in an established instant credibility. They are not all text book wins, the win in Philly being an example, but when you are pilling up wins there is little to quibble about, especially this early.
Hey Scott, how about my Leafs? We are actually playing defense and can skate now. Impressed?
Well yes, I think it has been a pleasant suprise, although it is worth pointing out that they got off to a pretty good start last year. I think what is impressive is that Ron Wilson has taken a no prisoners attitude towards coaching this team. I think he has taken on a sense of entitlement that once surrounded certain players; so I think there is a sense of rebirth, and a lot of young players are getting a lot of time on the ice. For the Leafs it comes down to is this real or a mirage. Can Wilson expect this level of play long term? We saw Nolan get this type of commitment with the Isles and they made the playoffs a few season ago. But we will have to see.
Do you see Thomas Vanek of the Sabres hitting 50 goals this season? He was red hot at the end of last season and so far he's on a goal per game pace this one.
Well, it makes you wonder if this is the year he jumps to the top of the scoring race. I think he is a player who is maturing as he goes. He obviously seems better prepared to handle the pressure of being the go-to guy. He is a gufted player, terrific around the net and is learning to score the big goal. And I should have included them as one of my surprises with their lead atop Northeast. 50 goals? I think it is a real possibility.
If I'm a Wings fan, should I be worried about Franzen's injury?
Yeah. I think anytime you lose a top 6 forward, like Johan Franzen, who is gone for 3-4 weeks, it is cause for concern. There are two things, this is a deep Wings team on offense and it is early in the season. Franzen suffered some injuries in the playoffs last year, so if you are going to have an injury and miss a month, better to do it in November, and he has shown himself to be a resilient player, so it could be worse if you are a Red Wings fan.
With the kids coming into their own in Boston, have they molded into a serious contender? Do you see any moves coming?
The Bruins are interestingg because they look like they are close, and then sometimes they do not. I think of losing to the Leafs last week, a game in theory, elite teams put away, and they could not hold the year. But they have come from behind against good teams like Montreal to steal a point. So they are a work in progress, but they seem to be stepping forward, and working off that seven game battle with Montreal. I think this team has learned and is getting better thanks to young players like Kessel, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci, and an underappreciated blue line. There is reason for optimism.
Although they've had a slow start, do you think the Stars will bounce back and make the playoffs? What changes do they need to make?
Well, I certainly hope they make the playoffs, as my preseason Stanley Cup pick. But I do not think it is an issue. Turco is not on his game as of yet, and has at times been slow out of the gate. I guess what is surprising is their overall lack of team defense. They have given up way tons of goals, they rank dead last in goals allowed per game, allowing 4.22. Those are not Dallas Stars numbers, and that is not all goaltending. So the team defensive game needs to get back on track, and the squad is virtually the same on D. So whether it is expecting things will come easy, or whatever it is, they are too good a team and too well coached to not pull out of this early-season funk.
I know the Rangers are off to a great start, but is it more a product of their somewhat weak schedule or are they actually this good?
Well that was a pretty impressive shoot out win against the Pens. I think they are full value, for their strong start. They lead the East in terms of points, and part of that is having played mopre games than anyone else. But they have intergrated a lot of new pieces very well. Nikolai Zherdev has been teriffic, Markus Naslund has been a great addition to the power play, on defense they are still solid and have great goaltending. I think they are full value.
After their great start, the Blues are starting to come back down to earth. But is it out of the question that they can contend for a 5-8 seed in the playoffs?
Well nothing is for sure. But what we are seeing from them, after the very good start, is what you csan expect all year. They are still young, and one of the early positivers was the power play, which is ranked second in the NHL. Keith Tkachuk is playing like a young man and Paul Kariya is in better shape. Can they sneak into a 7th or 8th spot? Maybe. But they are going to have to get great goaltending to do it, and I think there are too many great teams in the west to have them make the playoffs this year.
Scott, The Kings have still not given up a power play goal, are they that good defensively? Do they have a bright future? thanks.
I actually think that the Kings power play streak came to an end against Nashville. But that does not diminish their great start in that department. It is an inditcation of a young team learning the finer points of the game. Killing penalties is a sign of the maturing process, but can they produce the results long-term? That is what we are waiting to see.
The Islanders once again appear to be a mess. The contract to DP doesn't look too good anymore and the attendance is terrible...any chance this franchise is finished in New York?
Well it is not going to be finished in New York until Charles Wang says it is. Which is not likely to happen. Yes, things do not look good. DiPietro is hurt again; had not played all that well when healthy, and some suggest he is trying to do too much. They have changed coaches a lot and GMs have come and gone, and the they have drafted poorly and there does not appear to be a grand plan. They are years away from being a Cup contender, and it makes it hard to draw players, because physically they play in the worst building in the NHL. Sure Pittsburgh may be just as bad, but they are building a new one and they have a few young players who have made them contenders, which the Isles do not have.
Scott, with the World Series doing a 2-3-2 format in the playoffs, do you think the NHL would ever consider that to cut down on travel?
If I am not mistaken, at various points going 2-3-2 has been an option for teams. And every year it seems that is comes up. But owners and GMs are reluctant to change because it impact their potential home gate. I do not see that there is all that much appetite to commit to three straight games. I do not think that it will ahppen anytime soon.
The young 'Hawks are playing crisper and faster under Coach Q. Is this a product of different coaching or players realizing that there is finally accountability in the organ-I-zation?
I am not sure that they are playing faster or that they are more uptempo this season, because I think coach Q is about solid team defense. I think people expected this team to score a lot of goals and be exciting and be better in their own zone. And their play of late has shown that they are a good strong, well balanced team, that should be in the playoff mix. Would they be in this exact same point without a coaching move? Who can tell. But it is hard to argue with the move thus far.
Marion Gaborik may be the biggest name on the trade block/potential UFA that I can remember. Where will he go? Any chance he ends up in New York?
It seems pretty clear that the Wild are going to haver to trade Marion Gaborik before the deadline in early March. You simply cannot allow a top level talent like him to walk away as a UFA without getting any assets back in the process. Especially a team like Minesota. I think the idea that Gaborik is going to garner superstar money is a bit of a stretch. He is hurt now and often hurt, and his playoff performance leaves you wondering. He is , in my mind, not the kind of player around whom you can build a team. So I think finding a trade partner may prove difficult. Will the Rangers have cap space? Maybe if they are not looking long-term. The challenege will be for a team that wants to keep him long-term, based on what they will have to get rid of. As long as he is not the go to guy, I think it will all work out. But I think it is a case of buyer beware for a team who is looking for "the guy," because frankly he is not the guy.
The Blue Jackets have shown some improvement easrly on, but are struggling in the last couple of games. Do you see the youngsters Brassard and Voracek continuing to show progress and challenging for the Calder? Or more likely crashing and burning like previous years?
I am not sure it is so feast or famine. I think it may be a stretch to consider those players rookie of the year candidates, but I do not think it is fair to think they will fall off the map either. Some of the Blue Jackets early problems center around goaltending injuires. Lecaire is hurt again. We saw how well Lecaire played a year ago, and the revamped the team, but this team needs steady golatending, and if LeClaire cannot deliver it, then it becomes a big problem. If Leclaire is going to be on and off IR, they need to decide if they need goaltending depth, because that is imperative to their playoff chances.
Besides money, are there any other factors that will prevent Zetterberg from re-signing with Detroit?
No, because his biggest incentive will be another Cup ring. But Detroit has longed preached the mantra that good players want to play with good players and in order to do so they need to make sacrafices on a number of levels, from playing time to money. It is why Hossa is a Red Wing this year, and it is why Zetterberg will probably always be a Red Wing. Yes he could make more money other places, but it would be a shock of shocks if Zetterberg is not wearing the red wheel next year and for many years to come.
Was there anything behind Donald Brashear going after a young rookie (Zach Bogosian) in his first NHL game? Seemed kind of bush-league to me.
I was at that game, in Atlanta, and I do not think anyone was more surprised to see who was on the other end than Brashear. The Caps were about to lose the game and I think Brashear was acting out of some frustration. Both coaches claimed it was a case of mistaken identity. And he only pulled him around a few times and did not give him a serious beating, as he has to countles other players. I think it was an innocent play as far as any of Brashear's plays are innocent.
Bear with me here because I'm not a big hockey fan. I was wondering when the outdoor game is and who's playing in it. It's at Wrigley Field, right?
Yes it is in fact on New Year's Day and Detroit will be visiting the cozy confines and taking on the Blackhawks. The teams have just unvelied the jerseys they will wear. It promises to be, or has the potential to be a another great vehicle for the NHL to market its product to fans like yourself. It is a great spectacle to see pro players play outdoors. Last year the game was a great success in Buffalo. Here's hoping you tune in on January 1st to see how things turn out in Wrigley.
Thanks for taking the time to send in the questions. See you again in a week!