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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Blue Jackets are for real

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Nov. 23 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Are the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets as good as they appear to be? -- @whoopoi

I think the Blue Jackets are ahead of the Hurricanes because of their goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky is simply better than Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. He gives the Blue Jackets a chance to win even if they're not on their game. I like the Blue Jackets defense too, especially with the emergence of Zach Werenski. He and Brandon Carlo of the Boston Bruins are two of the best rookies in the NHL this season, and it seems like no one is really talking about them. It's also good for the Blue Jackets that they are winning (4-0-1 in their past five games) without getting much from core players like Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner. I think those three will come around and will make the Blue Jackets an even better team. 

I am a little surprised at Columbus' success so far this season, but this is sort of what John Tortorella does. He has a way of coaching up a young team trying to learn how to win. It's undervalued just how good he is with young players. He tends to be tough on his players, which led to his firing by the New York Rangers, but he appears to have loosened the reins on these Blue Jackets. It's working. They also are deadly on the power play, and that certainly helps. 

As for the Hurricanes, I like coach Bill Peters and how he handles this team. They play low-event games, meaning they have the puck a lot but don't always do a lot with it. That also means they're not giving up a lot of chances. They are not a trade-chances type of team. That's good with the roster they have. Victor Rask is coming along nicely, and I think his six-year, $24 million contract is going to be a bargain, if it isn't already. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen have been impressive and will continue to be. Carolina needs more out of Elias Lindholm, and it has to figure out what's going on with Ryan Murphy.  

Video: WPG@CAR: Hanifin nets blistering slap shot for a PPG

 

If you could pick one game to watch from between the benches, what two teams would you pick, who would be at home, and why? -- @akaka996

I love this question.

I'm picking the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens, and the game would be at Bell Centre. I know, these aren't traditional rivals, but the opportunity to be at ice level, with nothing in between me and the action, to watch Connor McDavid skate and Carey Price play in goal in my favorite building in the League would be a fantastic opportunity. 

McDavid's speed is something to behold on television or an iPad and from the press box, but my guess is witnessing it up close, hearing it up close, offers a better perspective of just how fast and skilled he is. Watching Price from a distance is always special because of the things he does and how calm he is, but when you're up close to him, you might be able to pick out some of the details in his game that make him as great as he is. It would also be interesting to hear how he communicates during TV timeouts, if he talks a lot, if he is quiet, what he says. And to be almost in the middle of the action in Bell Centre would be special because that building, that crowd, is special. It would give me an even greater sense for how those fans appreciate and know the game.

If I had a second choice, it would be the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, just to see if I could squeeze myself into that tiny area between the benches and so I could hear Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill on the benches. Those two sound so much alike, I would close my eyes and test myself to see if I could tell who is speaking.

 

In what order would you place the four divisions from toughest to weakest? -- @blueshirtsbacon

1. Metropolitan
2. Central
3. Atlantic
4. Pacific

Going by my Super 16 rankings this week, I have four teams from each division ranked, which I didn't even realize I had until I went and looked so I could try to answer this question properly. However, three of my top seven teams and four of my top 10 are from the Metropolitan Division. Here is how I ranked them this week:

1. New York Rangers; 2. Montreal Canadiens; 3. Chicago Blackhawks; 4. Pittsburgh Penguins; 5. Tampa Bay Lightning; 6. San Jose Sharks; 7. Washington Capitals; 8. St. Louis Blues; 9. Boston Bruins; 10. Columbus Blue Jackets; 11. Anaheim Ducks; 12. Florida Panthers; 13. Los Angeles Kings; 14. Edmonton Oilers; 15. Minnesota Wild; 16. Dallas Stars

Here's the final rankings based on submissions by 12 NHL.com staff members.

It'll be fascinating to watch how the Rangers, Penguins and Capitals slug it out for the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division, and if teams like the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders challenge. The Islanders are the clear disappointment in the division now, but they're not a pushover.

The Central is second to the Metropolitan because of depth. I think any of the top six teams can get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's a tight race behind the Blackhawks, who to me clearly are the best team in the Western Conference. The Blues have allowed more goals than I thought they'd allow, but they're still a top three team in the division and should be all season. The Stars have injury and goaltending concerns. The Nashville Predators have gotten off to a slow start but they are better than they've shown. The Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche are right around where I thought they'd be. 

I like the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions better this season than I did last season because teams like the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Oilers are better. I figured out of the Bruins, Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres and Senators, one would be fourth in the Atlantic behind the Lightning, Canadiens and Panthers. The Panthers have had some injury problems though, and Boston has been getting superb goaltending for the most part. The Sabres aren't as good as I thought they'd be, especially without Jack Eichel, but maybe they're coming around now. I'm still not sure on the Senators. I have to wait until the All-Star break to get a good evaluation on them.

The Pacific has four teams that look like they should contend for a playoff spot and three that look like they most definitely will not. The division is not as deep as the other three.

Video: NYR@PIT: Hayes tips home McDonagh's feed

 

Do the Sabres have what it takes to make up the ground lost in the standings during their six-game losing skid? -- @AndyRewU585

There isn't so much ground to make up that it's insurmountable, but they needed to get off to a better start, and they're the kind of team that in my opinion could ill-afford a six-game losing streak (0-4-2). The Sabres don't score enough at even strength. It's a problem exacerbated by the loss of Eichel, but one player should not make that big of a difference. They're averaging 1.89 goals per game (which is last in the League) despite a power play that is clicking at 22.2 percent. They have 22 goals at 5-on-5 in 19 games, also last in the League. They scored four goals in a win against the Calgary Flames on Monday, but three of them came on the power play. It's not a recipe for sustained success. They aren't a good possession team based on the shot attempts metric (47.52 percent of even-strength shot attempts for). However, they have an unusually low 5-on-5 shooting percentage (5.2), so if you're a believer in water finding its level, that will start to rise soon, and they will start scoring some more. The problem is there are a lot of teams in a similar position as the Sabres, and they're not going away either. It's going to be tough for them.

 

If the Rangers defeat the Penguins on Wednesday, in the second game of this back-to-back, what does it say about their place in the division? -- @DansTheMan07

They don't have to defeat the Penguins on Wednesday to prove their place in the division. They're a contender, no question about it. I've talked a lot in this space and on Twitter about the Rangers and their improved speed, skill and depth from last season. I've said many times I think the puck will stop going in for them for at least a stretch. That's going to happen, but when it does, don't be shocked if Henrik Lundqvist gets hot. He hasn't gotten hot yet this season. He's been good, but not great. He obviously can be great. I think the Rangers' success is sustainable even if, or rather when, their shooting percentage starts to dip. They don't need to defeat Pittsburgh again Wednesday to prove themselves.

 

With Steven Stamkos injured, the Lightning put him on LTIR. What is the purpose at this time to do this? -- @invecta18

Cap flexibility is the only reason. Cap flexibility for call-ups or potential trades.

When a player goes on long-term injured reserve, it gives his team the ability to go over the salary cap by a certain amount depending on the injured player's salary-cap charge and what space they have available at the time he goes on LTIR. In the Lightning's case, it looks like Stamkos being on LTIR gives them approximately $9.2 million in cap space, according to capfriendly.com. Now, don't rush to think they can add a significant piece just yet, because the Lightning right now are planning on Stamkos returning before the end of the regular season, which means they need to have the cap space to bring him back on. That's why they can't add much now because they would have to find a way to shed it later. What it does for them now, though, is it allows them flexibility in their recalls, potentially recalling higher-priced players. It also gives them the opportunity to determine if Stamkos is going to be slow in his recovery and won't be ready by the time the regular season ends. There is no salary cap for teams in the playoffs.

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