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E.J.'s Mailbag: Habs, 'Canes, Panthers playoff bound?

Wednesday, 09.05.2012 / 9:36 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

On Tuesday morning, the Colorado Avalanche made a bit of history by slapping the "C" on the sweater of 2012 Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog, making him – at 19 years, 286 days old – the youngest captain in League history. The mark for such an honor was previously held by Pittsburgh Penguins icon Sidney Crosby, who was 11 days older than Landeskog when he received the club’s captaincy on May 31, 2007.

The Avalanche's decision sparked a lot of interest in the Twitter-verse, judging by how many people asked me the same question: "What do you think of the move?"

I’ll start by saying the Avalanche management team and coaching staff know their team a lot better than any of us in the media would know it. So, clearly, their decision says a ton about their feelings for Landeskog, who scored 22 goals and 52 points while firing a rookie-best 270 shots on goal in 82 games.

E.J. Hradek's Weekly Mailbag

NHL analyst and NHL Live host E.J. Hradek provides his take on NHL news every week.

Like Landeskog himself, I was a little surprised by the move. (He said he had "no clue" about the decision.) A second NHL season can be tough enough for any young player without carrying the weight of the "C." Why not wait another year or two?

The move also tells us a bit about how the club views some of its other important young players (Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly or Erik Johnson). Obviously, they see Landeskog as the best leader – for both now and into the future – in their group.

The burly left wing is a power forward with a lead-by-example game. Off the ice, he’s impressed me as smart, thoughtful and mature beyond his years.

Even if he isn’t quite ready for the captaincy yet, I figure he’ll grow into it pretty quickly. I suspect he’ll lean on veterans like outgoing captain Milan Hejduk to help transition into his new role. I think we can all expect Landeskog to be wearing the letter of leadership in Colorado for many, many years to come.

And now … let’s get to some of your other questions. Remember, you can send me your queries via Twitter (follow me @EJHradek_NHL).

What team will be this year’s sleeper team? -- @GAT0Raids

Well, I don’t know if the fabled Montreal Canadiens can ever be called a "sleeper" team, but, after finishing in the Eastern Conference basement last season, I guess they qualify.

New coach Michel Therrien, beginning his second stint behind the bench in Montreal, inherits a team that has a top-flight goaltender (Carey Price) and a pretty good group of defensemen (P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges among the blue-line crew). That’s a start.

Up front, they’re still thin in the middle after Tomas Plekanec, but Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole and Brian Gionta provide some scoring ability off the wing. In addition, free agent newcomers Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong should add some much needed sandpaper to the lineup.

For me, I see the Habs being a much more competitive team this season. If 33-year-old Markov can stay healthy – he’s played 65 games in the past three seasons – Therrien should be positioned well to guide the Canadiens back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Is there a chance that Chris Pronger will come back for the Flyers? -- @ARueblinger

I’d like to think that Pronger could return from the serious concussion problem that limited him to 13 games in the opening months of last season. Unfortunately, the little news that there’s been concerning his condition hasn’t been promising.

The future Hall of Fame member will turn 38 in October. He has five years remaining on a contract that’s structured in a way that would likely have him play three more years.

While I’d love to see him back on the ice, the Flyers seem to be planning for life without him.

In the bigger picture, let’s hope Pronger can recover completely and enjoy a normal life with his young family outside of the sport.

Will Jordan Staal’s presence with his brother affect all four of their lines? -- @NicholasMoreno9

Jordan Staal
Jordan Staal
Center - CAR
GOALS: 25 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 50
SOG: 149 | +/-: 11
Sure! And he will affect things for the better.

Coach Kirk Muller, in his first full season behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench, will have a lot more offensive flexibility with the additions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin. I’ll be curious to see if Muller opts to use the Staal brothers on the same line or deploy them as a 1-2 punch up the middle. I imagine he’ll tinker with both ideas, depending on the situation.

Headed into the new season, on paper at least, the Hurricanes are much more dangerous team with a top-six forward group that includes Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen and Semin.

If Cam Ward delivers his usual stellar goaltending and the defense holds up, the Hurricanes could be ready for their first spring fling since last making the playoffs in 2009.

Will the Panthers make the playoffs and, if so, how far will they go? -- @hannah_stephenz

The Florida Panthers snapped a 12-year playoff drought last spring, winning the Southeast Division despite a 2-3-5 finish and allowing 24 more goals than they scored.

First-year coach Kevin Dineen did a terrific job steering a turned-over roster to the playoffs, where they came within a goal of advancing to the second round – losing a Game 7 double overtime thriller to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils.

In the offseason, Jason Garrison left for the Vancouver Canucks via free agency. Last year, Garrison was an offensive force from the blue line, scoring 16 times. Opponents had to game plan against his booming shot from the point, particularly on the power play. Can the Panthers’ replace that threat?

General manager Dale Tallon continues to ponder a move to bring goalie Roberto Luongo back to South Florida. For my money, Luongo would be an upgrade over either Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen, who are both two years older than 33-year-old "Bobby Lu."

Until Tallon makes a final decision on that front, it’s hard to predict where the Panthers will finish in an improved Southeast Division. While I like their young players and their current direction, they’ll be in tough to make a second straight trip to the postseason.

With a healthy RNH (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), can Jordan Eberle become a contender for 40-plus goals … 50-plus goals? -- @gordoweigzzz74

Jordan Eberle
Jordan Eberle
Right Wing - EDM
GOALS: 34 | ASST: 42 | PTS: 76
SOG: 180 | +/-: 4
The Edmonton Oilers certainly think so. Why else would they sign Eberle to a six-year, $36 million contract extension (that kicks in at the start of the 2013-14 season)?

In his second season, Eberle made a significant move forward, scoring 34 goals and totaling 76 points in 78 games. Those are some nice numbers for a 22-year-old.

Based on that production, I think he’s a candidate to crack the 40-goal mark. At this point, I don’t know about 50 – that remains a pretty lofty number – but 40 goals seems like a very reachable feat for this talented sniper.

I was in there icing my face as she was trying to push a baby out.

— Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf on going to the hospital with a facial laceration while his wife was in labor following Game 1 on Wednesday