I am in Toronto at the HOF, getting ready for the ceremony. Let's chat.
I was at the game last night and the Blackhawks absolutely dominated the Flames. Toews got his first goal and I suspect more will follow. Do you think the Blackhawks are a top 4 team in the west?
First of all the Blackhawks are playing well and are starting to click on offense. Top 4? Well I would consider SJ there, I think they are the best team in the NHL, despite last night's loss. The Ducks are back and still a force, and then there is that team from Detroit, the defending champs who are off to a great start as well, althought Mike Babcock has not been that happy with the team play so far. So is Chicago the next best team in the West? I say they probably are. The coaching move looks like it paid off handsomely, despite many questioning it when it came down.
What's up with my Rangers? Just trying to get the chemistry going? Will they be able to find wingers who can play with Drury?
Great question. After a really good start they are in an uneven period. Some of what afflicts them now is what afflcited them last year, finding the right combination for Gomez and Drury. It is a work in progress for Tom Renney. This is a team that had a dramatic overhaul in personnel over the offseason and yet seemed to find instant chemistry. They have fallen off on offense and I think there are some questions on their on-the-puck toughness. This is still a good team and I think a playoff lock. But there are questions abotu whether they are an elite team that can go deep in the playoffs.
Whats your take on Kings goalie Erik Ersberg, we love him in LA as he has given us the best chance to win this season and for 15 games last year. Whats your take on him and the kings in general?
I was interested as well to see just how the Kings would handle their goltending situation. I was impressed with him late last season. But the problem is that such a limited body of evidence does not indicate the kinds of NHL skills that can last over the course of a season. I think Jason LaBarbera has had ample opportunity to establish himself as the No. 1 and has not. Under Ersberg the Kings have improved and if he can become that goaltender they have been looking for, this young team can really improve. I think this is now Ersberg's job to lose.
The Dallas Stars, can they/will they turn it around Scott? What do you think the problem is?
I think the asnwer is yes, and I am not just saying that because they were my Cup pick. The Stars are a much better team than their record indicates. But after a huge win against the Ducks they should have got a least a point the next day againast SJ. And were it not for a late Marty Turco gaffe, this wekend may have been seen as a realy tuning point. And although they did lose to the Sharks, I think they will continue to improve, especially with the return of Zubov and Lehtinen. I think the whole Sean Avery to do has been blown somewhat out of proportion and I think he will eventually find a comfort zone where he is both effective and aggravating, which is what we saw in New York.
Are the Bruins for real? What's to make of their goaltending situation? Can the be a threat in the east?
The short answer is Yes. I think they are for real. This is a team that has developed solid young players along the blue line and up front. Kobasew is back and he was an important part of the playoff drive and their goaltending has been very solid, despite people's doubts. That is key to keeping yourself in the playoff mix. This team is growing and building off their success from last season. I think they will challenge for the division lead, and will be there in April, barring some horrific injury.
What's with the Penguins inability to play for 60 minutes every night. One night (Edmonton last week), they play great for the first 40 minutes and don't even show up the last 30 and the next night (the Islanders a couple days later) they are non-existent the first 40 minutes and are on fire the last 20. What gives?
I think there are many factors here, which includes the significant change in personnel after the Cup final. The Pens last year took a long time to get in the groove we saw late last season and intor the playoffs. It took a while to get the defense right and find the right combinations up front and that proccess is happening right now. Where does Fedotenko fit in? What is Jordan Staal's role? It is a work in progress as the Pens try to intergrate 6 or 7 new pieces into their lineup. They are also without 2 of their top 4 defensemen with Gonchar and Whitney out. But I think we will see improvement and cosistency from this team as the season move ahead.
Scott, where do you see Nikolai Khabibulin ending up, and when do you think he will be moved?
It is amazng to look around the NHL and see which goaltenders have not made an impact and vice versa. Obviously Khabibulin has provided a level of play most people did not expect. he is still a top flight goaltender. I think it is almost certain that he will be moved before the end of the regular season. But I think there is not much pressure to move him now than there was 3 or 4 weeks ago. There are two solid goaltenders in Chicago with Huet playing better. In terms or where he will end up, a lot will be revealed in NJ in the coming weeks. If Kevin Weekes can keep the Devils afloat, maybe there is not a need for New Jersey to make a move, but if the team flounders, maybe he ends up with the Devils. The Kings may be an option. Khabibulin's future is not in Chicago, but there are three or four places where his future may exist.
Will the Pens be in the hunt for Gaborik? I don't think Shero will come up with another two-month rental (after getting burned by Hossa), but Gaby is signed through next season as well.
The whole Gaborik saga is in suspended animation until he can get back on the ice and prove that he is healthy enough to be a point a game plus he has shown for long stretches, at least during the regular season. So everything is very much on hold, in regards to where he ends up. There is not urgency to trade him right now with how well the Wild have played. I think Shero would explore a deal with the Wild if Gaborik comes back healthy. Now whether it is with the idea of signing him long-term or just having him for a playoff run is yet to be seen. I am sure no one regrets having Hossa there for the playoff run. Would they have wanted him long-term? Of course. But he was a major part of a playoff run, and if Gaborik was the same type of situation, and would walk come the summer, I am sure they would do it again, if it meant getting back to the Cup final.
What are your thoughts on the venue for this year's Winter Classic? I know Wrigley has more history behind it, but Soldier Field can accommodate a lot more fans and the football field theme worked well last year for the Penguins and Sabres?
It will be very different as far as the feel of the event, compared to last year. Part of this is the novelty of it; the chance to have a game in Wrigley with its history is unique, and that is not to insult the Bears and Soldier Field. It is a little wrinkle in the formula. Yes, the number of fans will probably be 40% of what you would be able to get at a football venue, but (strange to say) it's not all about the money. It is about the spectacle and drama and when it gets done they may decide that it did not work and that a game like this is better suited for a bigger venue. I expect, and hope, it is another good day for the NHL and I hope the weather cooperates. I think it is going to be a treat.
What's your take on the Blue Jackets now that they've got most everyone healthy, goalie depth, amazing rookies, and a defense that's starting to gel? Do we have a shot at the playoffs? (please say yes)
We try to accomodate here at .com! There are a number of impressive elements here. You mentioned the rookies, and they have been terrific: Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek are both in the top four in rookie scoring, which has been a huge bonus for the Jackets. They still need LeClaire to stay healthy and to reutns to his level of play from a year ago if they are going to be a playoff team. That is crucial. Yes, on defense they are starting to play better and maybe it was understood that it was going to take some time given the significant changes made a log the blue line. I am still not sure whether the Jackets have found a true, or consistent center to play with Nash, in order to get the best production from him. But the pieces look much better than they did a few weeks ago.
What was the deal with the Habs on Saturday's game against the Leafs? Did someone swap cheap penalty energy drinks with the Ducks? The Van Ryn hit alone was repulsive.
Yes, a very scary night for the entire league, frankly, given that they promised to crack down on blows to the head and hits from behind. I do not think Kostopoulos meant to do as much damage with Mike Van Ryn, but it was a careless play. As for the Canadiens, a little bit of the bump in the path for a team with very high expectation in its 100th year. As much as their play was disappoitning I thought the Leafs turned in a very entertaining style of play. They do not stop skating and seem to have 3 lines that can generate goals, if not chances. Maybe this is a team that needed to get away from its veteran score, guys like McCabe Sundin etc so that other players could grow. It was a very different result than what was expected.
Will the bruins consider trading fernandez and if so what can they expect in return, assuming he keeps up his current level of play?
Interesting question. I do not have a sense yet as to whether the Bruins are comfortable with the tandem, or whether GM Peter Chiarelli is looking to make room at some point for Tuukka Rask. I think it is obvious, outside of rare acceptions, like a Martin Brodeur or Miika Kiprusoff, that having two goaltenders, who can play at a high level, at any given time, greatly enhances your chances of making the playoffs and having success in ther postseason. I am sure that is on the mind of Chiarelli. It is much nicer problem than not having enough goaltending, which was the problem in Boston not so long ago.
Scott, You wrote you do not think Lindros gets in the Hall of Fame, what do you think about Forsberg? their numbers are similar.
I think the decision on Forsberg is titled more in his favor because of his international play and success in the playoffs. He won two Cups in Colorado. I know he was hurt in one of those playoff years, but he also has two gold medals in the Olympics. For me it is not all about the numbers, but rather the success of the teams around the players and the impact those players had on the team. I think Forsberg's success with teams puts him ahead of Lindros, who never achieved the same type of success his talent suggested.
Scott, Do you think the canes have a legit shot this year of making the playoffs? (it sounds like we should be getting cullen,pitkanen, and sutter back very soon)
Carolina is such a difficult team to gage, because their injuries have been so wide spread. Justin williams, Sutter, Pitkanen, and the list goes on. I think the success they have had with all these injuries is a tribute tp their coaching and the charcater on the team. If they cannot keep key personnel in the lineup they will not make the playoffs. The East will have teams bunched from the 4th postion to the 13th or 14 positon. All will be in shouting distance for the playoffs. If they can get those pievces back and healthy than I think they will challenge for the division title.
Thanks again for taking the time to submit your questions. I hope you tune into the HOF ceremonies later tonight!