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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Rangers options at center, future of Ilya Kovalchuk

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the June 28 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run periodically during the offseason. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

The New York Rangers are in need of a center after trading Derek Stepan. Do you see them going younger or going after a veteran player like a Joe Thornton or a Nick Bonino? Also, the Rangers' defense has holes. Do you see Brendan Smith re-signing with the Rangers? -- @_rodrigues_20

The Rangers have to replace two centers, Stepan and Oscar Lindberg, who they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. What they do to replace Stepan depends on how they internally value Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes. General manager Jeff Gorton and coach Alain Vigneault both have said they think Zibanejad and Hayes can be their top two centers. I'm not sure I buy that because neither has shown an ability to be a No. 1, but the Rangers have been forced to rely on depth at the position instead of a big-time player at the top of their depth chart because of their success and where it has led them in the draft in recent years.

I would expect them to go after Bonino or that type of center to fill the No. 3 spot, and then they can find a depth center to replace Lindberg. Options in free agency include Mike Fisher, Brian Boyle, Martin Hanzal and Nate Thompson. I brought up Thornton, who turns 38 on Sunday, to some colleagues and it's an intriguing idea. But if he wants a three-year contract, as has been reported, I don't think the Rangers are going that route. He'd be a terrific investment on a one-year contract or even a two-year contract. His friendship with Rick Nash also could be a pull. I really like Boyle as a fourth-line center with Jesper Fast and maybe Cristoval Nieves on his wings.

As for Smith, I think there is a good chance he returns. The Rangers liked him. He liked New York. He fits in because he can play on the left or right side.

Video: Dan Rosen on the Rangers' possible signings

 

Who has the best chance of signing Ilya Kovalchuk? -- @bloodfury96

The New Jersey Devils are the only team with the right to sign him. The Devils can work out a sign and trade with another team. They also could sign Kovalchuk, keep him for at least half the season, find out his true value on the market (remember, he hasn't played in the NHL since 2013 so his impact isn't as predictable), hope he exceeds expectations and then trade him.

The Montreal Canadiens need some firepower. Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello and Kovalchuk have a tie from their time together in New Jersey. San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer coached Kovalchuk in New Jersey. The Vegas Golden Knights have defensemen to trade and the Devils need defensemen. The New York Islanders still need another scorer for their top-six forward group. The Columbus Blue Jackets are trying to become a more dynamic scoring team, which is why they acquired forward Artemi Panarin in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brandon Saad.

Video: Elliotte Friedman on Kovalchuk, Kane, Smith and Jagr

 

Who do you see the Washington Capitals going after for a top-four defenseman? If not, how do they fill the Nate Schmidt hole? -- @hstempin92

Schmidt went to Vegas in the NHL Expansion Draft, and they're likely going to lose defenseman Karl Alzner in free agency. They don't seem to have much interest in bringing Alzner back, nor does there seem to be any interest from Washington in re-signing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The Capitals need another top-four defenseman to join John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov. They could look in the free agent market. Perhaps someone like Brian Campbell, who is 38, could work in Washington with the Capitals' style. He can still skate and move the puck. He has to decide if he wants to play outside Chicago, where he has made his home. The trade market is active so Washington GM Brian MacLellan could look there. Vegas has to move some defensemen, and Jason Garrison and Alexei Emelin could be options. The Minnesota Wild reportedly are willing to trade Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin or Marco Scandella; perhaps something could be worked out there. It's almost a certainty that a trade with Minnesota would require MacLellan to give up a forward off of his roster. The Capitals also could fill some holes on defense with players already in the organization like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Schmidt chips one-timer top shelf

 

The Blackhawks got new people on and off the ice. Will we be OK? Will we make the playoffs? How will the backup goalie turn out? -- @AndrewKanagin

Yes, the Blackhawks will be fine. They still have some of the best players in the world at their respective positions in center Jonathan Toews, right wing Patrick Kane, defenseman Duncan Keith and goalie Corey Crawford. They obviously still have defenseman Brent Seabrook and they re-acquired Saad. They still have center Artem Anisimov and right wing Richard Panik. I think defenseman Connor Murphy is going to be a good fit. And a number of their young players, including forwards Ryan Hartman, John Hayden, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero, had promising starts to their NHL careers. I'll be surprised if they're not a Stanley Cup contender again.

As for the backup goalie, Anton Forsberg is not proven at the NHL level but he's won and put up solid numbers at every other level, including the American Hockey League. Forsberg would have required waivers to be sent to the AHL this season, and part of the reason he was included in the trade to Chicago is because interest in him across the League was so high that there was no way he would have cleared waivers, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. That should give you some insight to his perceived potential at the NHL level.

Video: CBJ@CAR: Forsberg slides over to reject Nordstrom

 

Who are the New Jersey Devils No. 1 and No. 2 centers next season? And are they a better team? -- @Dobbs61

The ideal scenario for New Jersey is for Nico Hischier and either Adam Henrique or Pavel Zacha to fill those roles, but it's way too premature to be making that prediction. Let's see how Hischier does in development camp next month. Let's see if the Devils hold onto Henrique because trading him could be an option depending on the return. Let's see how Hischier does in training camp. Let's see if Hischier can even make the team. Let's see if the Devils start him on the wing, which I wouldn't do but is a possibility. Let's see if Zacha moves to the wing, which again I wouldn't do but is an option. It's way too early in the game to know for sure.

Video: NJD@NYI: Henrique puts Devils on the board with PPG

 

Which fan base should be the most/least excited for the upcoming season: Vegas for its first season, the Islanders with their big moves, or the Pittsburgh Penguins off of the Stanley Cup win? -- @mikeybox

In order of most to least:

1. Vegas: It's all new, fresh, exciting. Sports fans from Las Vegas have been waiting a long time to have a team in one of the four major professional sports in North America to call their own. This one is a no-brainer.

2. Pittsburgh: The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions have a chance to go for the three-peat. Why wouldn't you be pumped?

3. New York Islanders: It's still unclear what their final roster will look like, if they use the cap space and draft picks they got in trading defenseman Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames to acquire another top-six forward. GM Garth Snow has plenty of work ahead of him. It's still unclear if there is a reason for Islanders fans to be excited.

 

Your thoughts on the T.J. Oshie signing for the Capitals? Personally, my only concern is the term. -- @gdohlke79

I agree with your assessment. I like Oshie and the chemistry he has with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. I don't mind him at a $5.75 million salary cap charge because I think he'll continue to put up points in that role. I like that he can score 30-plus goals because it takes pressure off Ovechkin. But he's 30 years old and he just signed an eight-year contract, so, yeah, I agree, the term is a concern. But to get Oshie in under $6 million per season the Capitals had to bite on the term. He would have come in at a higher cap charge, at least $1 million more, in my opinion, had they signed him to a four-year contract or a five-year contract. The Capitals need the cap savings to continue to build their roster now. His term is going to be a problem, but not for at least four or five years in a perfect world. At that time the business side of the game could look completely different. The Capitals had to think about now, which is why in the end I understand and like Oshie's contract.

Video: Capitals re-sign T.J Oshie

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