Hi folks I am in Naples, Florida with the NHL GMs (I know, tough gig). So let's get started with some hockey talk.
What brought the Pens to where they are currently? new coach? the return of Gonchar? the deadline deals? all of the above? If they continue to play as they are, I dont imagine anyone will want to face them in the playoffs.
Hey Bob as boring as this might seem I think it's a little bit of everything. As much as I think Michel Therrien deserved a little longer leash - he only had Gonchar for one game before he got fired - it's clear the Pens are playing with more confidence and jump under Dan Bylsma. And we felt Kunitz would thrive in new surroundings (and playing with Sidney Crosby helps, no?). Guerin should be a nice fit, too, because he doesn't have to do too much. So, yes, I would think teams at the top of the conference are hoping the Pens keep climbing so they won't have to face them right off the hop in April.
Many of your colleagues say the Western Conference is far superior, but the 6th seed in the West would be 10th in the East right now. Wouldn't it be fairer to say that the West is more top heavy, and the East is more competitive?
Devin, that's an interesting point and I think a fair one. When you look at the teams in the middle and lower ends of the playoff brackets on both sides I think there are a lot of teams that are about the same caliber. Is there much difference between a Carolina or Buffalo and Edmonton and Nashville? I think not. And apart from Pittsburgh (see above) is there a team that you can realistically see moving on from the 7th or 8th seed in either conference right now? I don't think so. (Watch now the bottom four seeds will all win as they did in the west a couple of years back).
Scott, Why didn't you include the Caps along with Boston, San Jose, and Detroit?
I did forget the Caps although it might be the fact they've lost four in a row. But you're right. Interesting team that I think is still learning how to win.
What would you recommend to eliminate the premeditated fights? Add some extra penalties for fights immediately off of the faceoff?
That's a good question and one that's getting asked a lot here in Naples. I think you could start by hitting players who fight off a face-off with 10-minute misconducts. The problem is that these guys are generally guys who play only a handful of minutes a night. So whether they're sitting in the penalty box or on the bench is kind of moot.
Hey Scott, Does Vancouver's scoring balance, 2 strong lines and good health give them a shot in the west? Also, will Detroit's problems in goal leave them out after the 1st or 2nd round?
Always good to get a Canucks question Paul. I must admit I've been hard on Mats Sundin but the Canucks are looking awfully good right now with Luongo back to full health and Sundin hitting his stride and giving the 'Nucks that strong second unit to which you referred. I know GMs in the west don't want anything to do with Vancouver come playoff time. It looks like a Chicago/Vancouver match-up may be in the cards which would be a dandy especially with the expectations so high in Chicago. Then you could be looking at a Vancouver/San Jose or Vancouver Detroit match-up and you'd have to give the edge in goal to the Canucks in either case. Interesting times.
Does it look like a NHL team will land in Seattle anytime in the next couple of years? There was some talk of a team coming here a few years ago but I havent heard anything for a while.
J.J. I would say Seattle is well down the list of places an NHL team could end up if there is relocation. Look for Kansas City, Southern Ontario and possibly Las Vegas to be in the queue ahead of Seattle although I, for one, would be okay with heading out to the Pacific Northwest a couple of times a year.
will fighting really be banned in the NHL
Never. Tweaked yes, banned no.
When should we expect Ilya Kovalchuk to be traded? This years' entry draft or next years' trade deadline?
Luke, good question. Funny, the Thrashers are playing their best hockey of the season right now and Kovalchuk is on fire. Still, this is a team that's still a good piece removed from being a playoff team and it's hard to imagine Kovalchuk will sign on for more rebuilding before his contract expires at the end of next season. That leaves GM Don Waddell the options of dealing him before this year's June draft or at next trade deadline. I think if the economy continues to be soft and the threat of the salary cap declining in 2010-11 the market might be better sooner than later. Whatever the deal whomever takes a run at Kovalchuk better come armed with top young prospects, high draft picks and a good player who can play in the NHL right now.
Scott, who do you have for the Hart Trophy if the season ended today?
Mitch, I like Evgeni Malkin. I know Alexander Ovechkin is more dynamic and leads the NHL in goals but I think Malkin has been the catalyst for the Penguins' resurgence. Best player in the league right now.
Scott, I know it's unlikely given Bettman's stubborness and the loss of jobs it would cause, but wouldn't it be better for the NHL to contract some of the teams? It sounds like many NHL teams are losing money and teams like Florida, Atlanta and Phoenix probably shouldn't exist anyway.
Tom, it's not really a function of being stubborn but you can't just do the Bewitched thing and make teams disappear. You're right about the issue of loss of jobs and revenue which of course the players and owners now share, but it's simply not going to happen. If, for instance, the Islanders can't get a new home built on Long Island they're not going to fade into the sun they'll move. Likewise the Coyotes and Thrashers and Predators. For our lifetime anyway, it's a 30-team world for better or worse.
Currently there is a log jam in the Eastern conference with Florida, NY, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Buffalo. Who's in and who's out?
Great question Matt, great races in both conferences. Although Patrick Lalime has filled in ably for the injured Ryan Miller in Buffalo if Miller's injury keeps him out much longer I think it may cost the Sabres a playoff berth. Meanwhile Carolina is really rolling offensively while the Panthers are stubbornly hanging on even though they struggle to score. I am guessing that costs the Panthers in the end. Rangers and Penguins look like they've turned a corner and should make it.
Is my team done?
Randy, it's been a tough go for you and your boys, no? I think the deadline moves suggest that the Ducks' future is next season and beyond as opposed to this year and the playoffs.
what player in the nhl right now is the best pick up
I am assuming you're talking trade deadline period and I think there are a couple that have had an immediate impact including Chris Kunitz in Pittsburgh and Mathieu Schneider who has helped revitalize the Habs' power play.
Hey Scott, We stayed pretty quiet at the trade deadline, do you think we can make a splash in the playoffs if we can get Richards and Morrow back?
Well, picking up Brendan Morrison should help in the short-term but don't look for Morrow to be back this year at all (unless you get to the final) and Richards is still a long way away. Sadly it might be too little too late for the Stars this year.
What do you see in the future for the coyotes? They choked in feb falling from 5th down to 13th
Kellan, not sure choke is necessarily the right term (although it might be). But rather this might just be another step along the learning curve for a Coyotes team that is very young but very talented. Thought Don Maloney did a nice job bringing in useful parts at the deadline and discarding parts (Jokinen, Morris) that simply didn't fit long-term. Next year, though, they better deliver the goods and be a playoff team.
Scott, what's your opinion on the new rule being debated that would reward regular season wins with 3 points and OT wins with 2 points? Do you think its good for the NHL?
Doubt if that will happen even though it's been used in some European leagues. Rather I think you'll see the tie-breaker changed to reward teams who have more regulation wins than simply wins. The second tie-breaker would be regulation wins plus overtime wins thus rewarding teams that don't rely on the shootout to pick up two points.
The Hawks were outshooting everyone they faced for a while, but the last few, their attempts have been way down. The last two games have driven me to the remote. What's wrong with the Hawks? Are they tired, tensing up? Is it just cyclical and I need to take my finger off the panic button?
Garson, step away from the panic button. This is a Chicago team that's in uncharted territory. They've pretty much locked up a playoff berth so there's not as much urgency as there might have been earlier in the season when they were trying to establish an identity etc. Joel Quenneville is a veteran coach and I think he'll get them on track come playoff time. But as we mentioned above, it's looking more and more like they'll draw Vancouver in the first round and that's a tall order given the way the Canucks are playing.
How do you see the Bruins season finishing? Do they finally get out of the first round this year?
Dan I think the Bruins' wobbles of late will be rectified and I think Peter Chiarelli's deadline additions were sound so I think the Bs are a good bet to get out of the first round - unless of course they end up drawing the Penguins in which case that's a toss-up.
If Jerome Iginla played for the NYR or a larger market team would he win the hart?
I don't think it's an issue of Iginla playing in the wrong market to earn MVP consideration. I think he's going to get some this year. I think Iginla is one of those players whose personality don't necessarily lend itself to MVP talk. Understated and humble like Joe Sakic Iginla may not get fans buzzing like Ovechkin or Crosby but he is never under the radar when it comes to discussing the games great players.
Who wins the Vezina this year?
Great question Nick. I think if Columbus stays in the playoff hunt Steve Mason is going to get a good, long look from the league's GMs who select the top goalie. Tim Thomas has great numbers but platooning somewhat with Manny Fernandez may cost him votes. Watch for Miikka Kiprusoff, who has a shot at winning 50 games, to steal the hardware if he gets to that milestone.
Hey Scott, after the 8-2 and 8-0 losses that the Wings have suffered should we be concerned with the playoffs approaching?
Talked about this in my Monday column. The losses tend to skew the view of the Wings' play. Yes it's humiliating but they've still won 12 of their last 17 games and have reeled in the Sharks for tops in the league (the Sharks have a couple of games in hand). I think it's more a momentary issue of focus than long-term cracks in the foundation.
To follow up with Matt's question, isn't it pretty much true that anyone in the Western Conference is going to have a hard time winning the Hart as long as Ovie, Crosby and Malkin are in the East? Guys like Iginla, Datsyuk, Thornton and so on never get as much credit as they deserve from the voters.
I think there's some mythology that there is an eastern bias when it comes to NHL awards. Thornton, of course, was the MVP in 2006, Nabokov was rookie of the year, Peter Forsberg was MVP, Chris Pronger etc. etc. I think it's merely a function of the dynamic play of Crosby and Ovechkin. Within a couple of years maybe we'll be talking Toews and Kane and Kopitar in the same way.
With the loss to NY Islanders the Devils looked whimsical , should i be worried?
One thing with any team coached by any Sutter and that's that 'whimsical' will almost certainly be beaten out of you within hours. No, Devils remain one of the most dangerous looking teams in the east right now.
Which injured Hawk will Chicago need the most come playoff time, Havlat or Khabibulin?
Khabibulin. He'll be back by the end of the week we're told.
Do you think Jagr be an oiler next year????
No. Not unless he stops getting paid in Omsk. He's got a two-year deal without an out. Again, assuming no failure on the part of the folks in Omsk to honor his contract he'll play it out there. The next time he'll set foot on North American soil will be at the Olympics in Vancouver.
How great would it be for the NHL if the Pens play the Caps in the first round, especially after the game these two teams played yesterday?
I have been sacrificing small animals on a nightly basis in the hopes this match-up presents itself in the spring.
As a huge flyers fan, I am curious and worried about both Biron and Nitty being free-agents, is it possible for us to keep one, and look for a fernandez or should I grit my teeth and hope that whoever we get will get the job done
Interesting issues as there always are when it comes to Philly and their goaltenders. I think a lot will depend on how the Flyers fare in the post-season. I can't imagine it won't be Biron again and if he can replicate his play of last spring I imagine the Flyers will do their best to lock him up again. Not sure Fernandez, who is an emotional type, would be best-suited to Philadelphia. Think he needs a more warm, fuzzy place to play.
what's up with the Caps??
Munich. Cool. I think the Caps are another team like Chicago and maybe even Boston that doesn't have a lot of experience and is still figuring out the business of winning. After having such success at home early on maybe there's been a tendancy to assume it'll just happen. I think they miss a guy like captain Chris Clark who has been hurt for most of the last couple of years but is hard as nails. They're still a club with all kinds of tools and expect they'll right the ship by playoff time.
Why isn't Lecavalier producing like the Vinny of the last two seasons? I mean he's not even close to being on pace for the numbers we're used to.
Bobby, lots of stuff going on in Tampa this year that contributed to Lecavalier being a bit off the mark. He started with a shoulder that wasn't quite healed then there was the coaching change and the never-ending series of player moves and the injuries to the team's top defensemen. He's still a great talent, though, and a virtual lock to make the Canadian Olympic team.
I agree buffalo doesn't make it but i think the canadiens also fail in the end. do you agree
Tom, the Habs are no lock to make it, obviously, but think Kovalev seems more focused and with Schneider helping the power play I think they hang on. Don't like their chances of advancing beyond the first round though.
Hi Scott, how about a Kings question: When will Justin Williams debut for the Kings? Thanks!
Last one folks. Don't think you'll see Williams until next year but our guess is that a year from now we'll be talking about how important he's been to the Kings playoff push. Good player and a nice fit with Dean Lombardi's emerging young squad.
Thanks for taking the time to offer up questions folks. See you next week. SB