My guess on Eichel's next contract is eight years in the neighborhood of $80 million, which would mean approximately, if not exactly, a $10 million NHL salary-cap charge. It's probably more than the Buffalo Sabres would like to pay the 20-year-old center at this point and a shade less than Eichel would like to make, but it's fair for the way the market has trended, his value to the team now and how that value is likely to spike through the term of the deal. I think Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl's new contract, eight years and $68 million (average annual value $8.5 million), is a jumping off point for Eichel, who can argue his value to the Sabres is greater than Draisaitl's value to the Oilers because he is Buffalo's top forward, whereas Draisaitl is second behind Connor McDavid on Edmonton's forward depth chart.
I would not name Eichel captain this season, but I would tell him he will be the captain soon and put a succession plan in place to get him there. I'd give the 'C' to forward Jason Pominville this season and let Eichel be an alternate captain. That would give Eichel a chance to be in on all the captain's meetings and learn the ropes of that job before he takes it on fully.
Video: Mike Harrington on the Sabres, Eichel extension talks
Pominville has experience as a captain in Buffalo and could be a buffer between Eichel and the media if necessary. I'm not suggesting Eichel couldn't handle it now, but I do think another year or two of experience, of learning the League, and the opportunity to get to know new coach Phil Housley well would be the best way to go.
That said, I wouldn't be shocked if he is named captain the day he signs a new contract.
Is there any coach with more candor than Doug Weight? Do you think he can be as impactful as Mike Sullivan or John Tortorella? -- @mikeybox
I'd say Tortorella, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has at least as much, if not more candor than Weight, of the New York Islanders. However, Weight's candor is one of the reasons we in the media appreciate working with him. He tells it like it is. He defends his players, has their backs, but he rarely sugarcoats anything and you can tell he speaks from the heart, too. He is quotable. He is also good at explaining his thoughts and reasoning. That's important because it allows reporters to then convey that information to the reader or the viewer. That's the job of the reporter, to keep the public informed on what they need to know.
As for his impact, much of that will be measured by the talent on the Islanders roster. However, it's Weight's job to mold young players like forwards Joshua Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal, and defenseman Ryan Pulock. I think he can have a significant impact on them and the rest of the roster because his candor comes from experience. He has done what every player on his team would love to do. He played in 1,238 NHL games, scored more than 1,000 points (1,033) and won the Stanley Cup (with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006). I also think his impact on the Islanders started to show last season after he took over for Jack Capuano, but now it's his team, his job, which is why he has to find a proper distance between himself and the players. That's a big reason why he hired Scott Gomez as an assistant. Gomez is going to be Weight's eyes and ears around the dressing room just as Weight was when Capuano was there. Gomez should be the coach the players will go to with issues, problems, solutions, etc. Gomez then has to filter those out and take them to Weight, who will make the tough decisions.
I can't say now if Weight will be as impactful as Tortorella or Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I do think he has the internal ingredients to be a strong coach. It's up to the players to make him a winning coach.
Which team has the best shot of winning the Central Division? -- @austincarey3611
I'm going with the St. Louis Blues because of their forward depth (even with the absence of Patrik Berglund until at least December because of shoulder surgery), quality defense, strong goaltending and the way they responded last season after the coaching change from Ken Hitchcock to Mike Yeo. The Blues are stronger with center Brayden Schenn and forward Vladimir Sobotka in their lineup. Defenseman Colton Parayko and center Robby Fabbri are going to be stars in the NHL and should have big seasons. Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are as steady as they come defensively. Jake Allen is a proven No. 1 goaltender. I think the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators will be right there, but I'm a big believer in the Blues this season.
Video: 31 in 31: St. Louis Blues 2017-18 season preview
At what point do the Edmonton Oilers look at trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? How do they afford him with their latest extensions? -- @k_corpstein
Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli and his staff are in an interesting and difficult position with Nugent-Hopkins, who is 24 and carries a $6 million salary-cap charge for the next four seasons. He's valuable to them now as a No. 2 center or perhaps a No. 3 center depending on how they use Draisaitl and Ryan Strome. He also fits under their salary-cap structure now because McDavid's raise, from $925,000 to $12.5 million, doesn't kick in until next season. However, the Oilers will likely be in a bind next offseason with McDavid's new contract and the potential to give Strome and defenseman Darnell Nurse raises too. They must look a year ahead, when goalie Cam Talbot will be in the market for a new contract.
The Oilers must weigh the cost-benefit analysis in handling Nugent-Hopkins. If they trade Nugent-Hopkins before or during the season, when his value could go up depending on how badly a team might need him or how he performs, how much will they be giving up from a roster that should be thinking about contending for the Stanley Cup this season? If they wait until after the season to trade him, will they be getting the same value for him they might get if they traded him now or at least soon? I don't know the answer to these questions, but the best guess here is Nugent-Hopkins' $6 million cap charge is not likely a fit for the Oilers beyond this season.
Who is going to have a bigger bounce-back season, Anze Kopitar or the Colorado Avalanche? -- @briantodd34
The Los Angeles Kings center did everything else well last season (play away from the puck, possession time in the offensive zone, winning faceoffs), but his scoring dropped to 52 points (12 goals, 40 assists) from 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) in 2015-16. He averaged 24.3 goals and 44.1 assists for 68.4 points per season in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. That includes 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Video: LAK@CGY: Kopitar sweeps in Muzzin's dish across slot
I expect Kings coach John Stevens will adjust from former coach Darryl Sutter's ways to try to get Los Angeles to play more of an up-tempo style, at the same time adhering to the same puck possession principles. That could help to re-energize Kopitar's offensive game. The Los Angeles captain should also be fresher coming into the season, considering he hasn't played since April. Remember, last season he came into the season after playing for Slovenia in the Olympic qualifying tournament and for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The rest should be key for Kopitar, who has played the second-most minutes (6,513:00) of any forward in the NHL in the past four seasons; Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (6,550:11) is first. He should be fresh at the start of the season and rejuvenated by the new approach from Stevens. I expect Kopitar to get back up to near 25 goals and 70 points this season.
The Avalanche are going to struggle again and they have a situation with center Matt Duchene that needs to be dealt with ASAP. I don't think they can go into training camp with the Duchene situation still unresolved. They have to trade him, and that likely means the Avalanche will be worse off before they can get better. The idea is to rebuild their defense by acquiring young talent for Duchene. Young talent on the back end needs time to develop.
Where do you rank the Calgary Flames right now? Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith aren't game-changers, but the Flames do seem deeper. -- @HeyimbanuPeter
I think the Flames are a playoff team and will finish in the top four of the Pacific Division. You're right in saying Hamonic and Smith aren't game-changers, but Hamonic makes an already solid defense corps deeper and Smith should benefit from that defense stabilizing the net as a true No. 1 goalie. Smith hasn't played behind a defense this good in a long time, if ever. Calgary's top-four defense group of Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Hamonic should challenge the Nashville Predators for the title as the best top-four group in the League.
The Flames are lean at right wing, which is why I've been stumping for them to go after Jaromir Jagr. I think Jagr would work well in a second- or third-line role, playing on the right side of Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk or Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland. Jagr won't drive the net or retrieve the puck, but he'll hold onto it and get it to the net to set up scoring plays that way. Tkachuk and Ferland could be the puck retrieval players if they skate with Jagr and they'll benefit because they will drive the net. Jagr could be the half-wall guy on the second power-play unit.
Video: The guys discuss the Flames and their young talent
Most people are saying the Metropolitan Division is an eight-horse race with each team having a shot. Agree or disagree? -- @Jagr10190
I haven't heard that and I disagree with it as well.
The division is deep, but I don't think you can put the New Jersey Devils in the race right now, especially after losing center Travis Zajac for 4-6 months because of a pectoral injury. The Philadelphia Flyers need a lot to go right to be in the race. They need their young defensemen to develop quickly, which is far from a sure thing. They need bounce-back seasons from forwards Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. And they need Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth to step up and be the No. 1 goalie. It might be too much to ask, especially when they could have four defensemen with fewer than 85 games of NHL experience in their lineup (Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin).