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E.J.'s mailbag: Crosby's health, Sharks 'D' and more

Tuesday, 08.23.2011 / 9:47 AM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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E.J.'s mailbag: Crosby's health, Sharks 'D' and more
In his latest mailbag, E.J. Hradek answers fan mail on Sidney Crosby's health, San Jose's moves on defense and the outlook for the Sabres and Jets.
The clock is ticking toward the opening of training camps. We're now less than a month and counting. Rookie camps/tournaments will get going before that. It'll all be here before you know it.
While we wait, not so patiently, I'll take another dive into the mailbag to take a shot at some of your questions. If I don't get to your query here, I'll try to reply via Twitter. You can follow me @ejhradek_nhl.

How worried should the Pens be about Crosby's health? -- @bngsportsdotcom
How concerned should you be when your best player -- the best player in the League -- misses the second half of the season and the playoffs due to a head injury? I think you should be pretty darn concerned. Really, you'd have to be pretty naïve -- based on what we've learned about concussions over the past several years -- not to be worried.

Let's face it … conflicting reports about Crosby aside, there's just no way to predict how any individual will respond/recover after suffering a concussion. There's just no timeline for these things.

From a distance, I feel the club has handled things as best as could be expected. The Pens seem to be taking their cues from Crosby. After all, only he knows how he feels. At this point, I see it very much as a day-to-day-to-day situation.

EJ's Instant Analysis

Every Tuesday and Friday, NHL.com analyst EJ Hradek shares his take on all the offseason news.

Is the Sharks' new-look defense enough to finally get them over the hump? @CaliforniaJag
Obviously, the biggest addition to the club's blue line is young veteran Brent Burns, who was acquired from the Wild at the draft. Subsequently, the Sharks inked Burns to a five-year contract extension (which kicks in next season). He can be a difference maker in San Jose.

Burns arrival takes a lot of pressure of savvy puck-mover Dan Boyle. For the past few seasons, I felt Boyle didn't have enough support among their group of defenders.
 
The 26-year-old Burns is another legit top-pair defenseman who can eat major minutes and play in all game situations. If he can stay healthy and play consistently to his abilities (some in Minny will tell you there can be some real swings in his performance level), the Sharks, in my opinion, will be better-suited to win the West than they've ever been before.

On a much lesser note, GM Doug Wilson added rugged depth veterans Colin White and Jim Vandermeer at a reasonable price (one year, $1M each). White's championship experience in New Jersey could be helpful within their room when things get tense. Both guys will help improve the team's battle level in the post-season. But make no mistake, they are just depth players.

How well will Buffalo's new big-money team gel in a tough Eastern Conference? -- @JagsFan93
That's an interesting question. On paper, the defense, with the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff, looks stronger and deeper than it's been in a long while. That group should really help star stopper Ryan Miller.

Up front, they still lack an elite No. 1 center. (There just aren't enough of them to go around in a 30-team league.) I see that as a problem when I compare them to the top teams in the Conference. A healthy Derek Roy will be a big help, but I'm not convinced that free agent Ville Leino can produce to the level of his new six-year, $27M deal.

The Sabres are hoping for a healthy and productive season from center Derek Roy who was limited to 35 games last season. (Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI)
No doubt, new owner Terry Pegula has changed the game in Buffalo for the better. In the long-run, however, I wonder if he'll exercise the patience that's sometime necessary in assembling the pieces required to win a championship. Pegula and his team will be a story well worth watching in the coming season and beyond.

Detroit now older, Blues add vets, Hawks stay same, Preds lose talent, Jackets gain a lot. Who wins Central & makes playoffs? – @mjp42330
From top to bottom; the Central again looks to be seriously competitive. I still see the Wings, Hawks and Predators to be a cut above the Blues and Blue Jackets, but the gap is closing from both ends.

Of the top group, I believe the Hawks are the most complete. They'll miss Brian Campbell's puck-moving skills, but his departure opened up the cap room for the club to better round out its roster. I'll take them to win the division, with the Wings and Preds also earning post-season spots.

Despite the offseason moves, I like the Blues better than the Blue Jackets. I don't think either team has too big a margin of error in terms of nailing down a playoff berth. The tough in-division schedule won't make it easy for any of the Central teams.

Given how tough it is to repeat a championship in any major sports, do you see the Bruins as legitimate Cup contenders again? -- @Amy13phins
I think they remain a legit contender because they enter the new season still strong at the right positions. But clearly, they will have a lot working against them. First and foremost, as you point out, it's just real tough to repeat.

With a short off-season, one dotted with individual Stanley Cup parties, the Bruins will have to put a lot in the rear-view mirror before moving forward in a new year. That, in itself, won't be easy.

I'm not going to rule them out, but I'm likely not going to pick them to win again. Then again, as you Bruins fans will be quick to point out, I didn't pick them last year, either.

Pekka Rinne
GoaliE, 2010-11 Season Stats
RECORD: 33-22-9
GAA: 2.12 | SVP: 0.930
If the Preds can afford to sign only two key guys long term, which one gets left out: Weber, Suter or Rinne? -- @ckeithsherwood
That's not a tough one for me: Pekka Rinne. I just think it's easier to replace a goaltender then it is to find elite-level defenders. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter both stand among the very best defensemen in the League.
 
Remember, Nashville was able to get over the departure of goalie Tomas Vokoun several years back. I believe keeping Weber and Suter would give them a better chance to remain a playoff team and, perhaps, a Cup contender.

How far do the Winnipeg Jets go in the playoffs, and can they win the Stanley Cup? -- @flashjet1
Well, I think it would be a nice step forward for the Jets to earn a playoff spot. After all, the Thrashers only earned one playoff berth in their existence before moving north of the border.

I think the excitement surrounding the franchise will be a big help. If they can tighten up their defensive game in front of capable young goalie Ondrej Pavelec, I can see the Jets being a major player for one of the final two or three playoff berths in the East.
 
As for winning a Stanley Cup, these Jets still have a lot of air miles ahead of them before they can even consider that final destination.

Do you see an NHL with no fighting in the future, as I do? -- @trevor_19
It depends what you mean by "future." I don't see that anytime in the near future. There just isn't any appetite that I can detect among the League's powerbrokers to make that kind of fundamental change to the game.

Somewhere down the road, depending on circumstances (notably, player injuries), I wouldn't rule out such a possibility.
Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp