Will the Los Angeles Kings continue to surprise? -- @NedRyerson1957
Is it a surprise? I guess it looks like one because the Kings have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs two out of the past three seasons and haven't won more than one game in the postseason since they won the Stanley Cup for the second time in 2014. Last season, they looked like a dated, old, slow team. It didn't help that Jonathan Quick was injured on opening night and didn't return until Feb. 25, but that wasn't why Anze Kopitar couldn't find his offensive game. But now, with coach John Stevens slowly moving away from the grind-it-out style the Kings used and had so much success with under Darryl Sutter, the Kings look like a faster, more creative, more elusive team. The game looks fun again to them. And they haven't sacrificed anything on the defensive end.
Kopitar is a perfect example. He's jumping in and out of high-danger scoring areas, making it harder to defend him. He's already been in the slot in the offensive zone more than he was with Sutter, who preferred he play closer to the blue line. He has eight points (four goals, four assists) in five games. He didn't pick up his eighth point until his 14th game last season, when he finished with a career-low 52 points (in a full NHL season). Dustin Brown (four goals, three assists) looks rejuvenated. Drew Doughty (two goals, three assists) and Jake Muzzin (one goal, three assists) are up in the play and generating offense. Tyler Toffoli (two goals, two assists) is getting his shot off. Jeff Carter doesn't even have a goal yet and the Kings are 4-0-1. The penalty kill has been outstanding (95 percent).
The Kings look like a team that has had the shackles taken off.
Video: Jon Rosen on the Kings and Dustin Brown's resurgence
Will Brent Seabrook's contract be troubling for the Chicago Blackhawks in years to come? Is it moveable if absolutely necessary? -- @k_corpstein
I thought Seabrook's eight-year, $55 million contract had the potential to be a down-the-road issue for the Blackhawks the day he signed it (Sept. 26, 2015). That said, I know why the Blackhawks signed him to that contract. It was merit-based. He earned it by helping them win the Stanley Cup three times and by being a top defenseman the better part of a decade before he signed it. Not only that, the Blackhawks are the definition of a win-now team and losing Seabrook would have hurt their ability to win immediately. Plus, he wasn't going to take the old hometown discount either, not after what he had done and earned.
However, Seabrook was 30 years old when he signed the contract. He's 32 now and there are still six seasons left on his deal. He's already played in 929 games. He'll hit 1,000 this season if he stays healthy. And Seabrook doesn't wade into these games. He plays hard minutes and he plays a lot of them. He's averaged 22:27 of ice time per game in his career. He's played another 123 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and has averaged 24:51 in those. The contract was earned, but these contracts can become debilitating on a team's salary cap structure as the player gets older and his play deteriorates to the point that he's not worth the value of the contract. Seabrook still has high value now to the Blackhawks, but considering the miles he's put on his body, it's fair to wonder for how much longer? Two seasons? Three? Four? Either way, his contract could be eventually be troubling for the Blackhawks.
As for the potential to move the contract, it's not out of the realm of possibility. According to CapFriendly.com, Seabrook's no-movement clause goes away after the 2021-22 season and becomes a modified no-trade clause for the last two seasons of the contract. In addition, although his salary cap charge of $6.875 will remain, his actual total salary in the last two years will be $9.5 million.
Video: PIT@CHI: Seabrook beats Murray from the slot
When does Shea Theodore get his chance with the Vegas Golden Knights? -- @TylerDonnellyTD
In due time, especially if he keeps piling up the points as he has done through three games with the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League. Theodore has seven points (three goals, four assists) to lead all AHL defensemen.
We need to avoid looking at the "now" with the Theodore situation and instead look at the future. Theodore figures to have a prominent role in the future of the organization. That he's in the AHL today doesn't change that.
The fact is Theodore was the only defenseman on Vegas' roster who did not have to pass through waivers to be sent to the AHL. The Golden Knights have nine healthy defensemen. Clayton Stoner is on injured reserve. They have too many defensemen and Theodore won't be in the mix for the Golden Knights until general manager George McPhee finds a roster spot for him. He'd likely be playing for Vegas if all things were equal, but McPhee didn't want to risk trying to jam a defenseman through waivers. There was no risk in sending Theodore to the AHL, where he continues to play and develop his game. Remember, it's not a bad thing to have a 22-year-old defenseman playing in the AHL.
Where do the Pittsburgh Penguins young skaters rank against their peers around the NHL? Are they valuable assets without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? -- @briantodd34
I'm guessing you're asking specifically about Jake Guentzel (23 years old), Bryan Rust (25) and Conor Sheary (25). I think it's impossible to rank them among their peers so I won't even try. Guentzel can stand out on his own. He doesn't need Sidney Crosby to be a productive NHL player. He's smart, always in the right place, skilled and can create room for himself. He would score goals with any playmaking center. Rust would cause havoc on any line because of his speed. That gives him a chance to score regardless of who he is playing with. Like most players, he just scores more when he plays with elite players like Crosby or Malkin. Of the three, I think Sheary benefits the most from playing with Crosby or Malkin. He doesn't create enough for himself, but when he's with them he produces because they create for him.
The Florida Panthers' schedule is tough to start out the season. Do you think they can make the playoffs? They've had a decent start. -- @Music_JZ
The Panthers' chances of sniffing the playoffs come down to their health and their goaltending. If either is a problem, they're not good enough or deep enough to recover. They've been healthy, but their goaltending has been subpar. Roberto Luongo and James Reimer need to put together a string of solid games. However, I think there is a lot to like in Florida and enough reasons for optimism that the Panthers can push for a playoff spot. I especially like their defense corps. I wrote about the group for Tuesday. It's a relatively young group that has a lot of mobility and upside. I love that coach Bob Boughner is pushing them to be aggressive. That's so important in today's NHL. There is a premium now on mobile defenseman who aren't afraid to join the rush and aggressively pinch. The Panthers' defensemen do that well. They can create a lot of chaos for the opposition. And Florida's forwards, again, if healthy, are also a mobile group that are excellent at assisting the defensemen. For example, I think Aleksander Barkov is Jonathan Toews light. He'll eventually win a Selke Trophy. Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck give the Panthers so much life offensively. Evgenii Dadonov and Radim Vrbata look like strong additions. Owen Tippet has a chance to be special too. The Panthers will be an interesting team to watch all season.
Video: FLA@PIT: Huberdeau buries a shot from the slot
Is there any hope for the Arizona Coyotes to rebound from a slow start? -- @rttravis
There is hope that the Coyotes will improve. They have a lot of strong pieces in place, but on the whole, it's almost a brand new team. Eight players who played for Arizona on Tuesday were not on the team last season. Chemistry doesn't develop overnight. Don't forget that the Coyotes are learning a new system. Coach Rick Tocchet wants them to play a fast game, just like the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had Tocchet as an assistant for their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. It's going to take time. The Coyotes have been used to playing a certain way for years under former coach Dave Tippett. To maximize what he had roster- and skill-wise, Tippett had to devise more conservative systems. Tocchet is taking it conservative and throwing it into the desert. He wants speed. He wants calculated risk. He wants aggressiveness. Those D-to-D and out plays, forget about them. There is hope in Arizona that things will come together, but give it time.
Can the Philadelphia Flyers' youth movement of defensemen turn into a bad problem while Sam Morin is in the American Hockey League and Travis Sanheim is scratched? -- @DXFlyers
No. Not yet at least.
I think the immediate impacts made by Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov spoiled the Flyers and their fans. It's not often that young defensemen, especially two on one team, stand out from the pack immediately after making the jump to the NHL. Those two have stood out from the moment they got to Philadelphia. It's raised the bar for players like Sanheim, Morin and Robert Hagg. Not every defenseman develops at that rate. Patience is required.
Morin is in the AHL now because the Flyers probably feel they need a veteran presence on the blue line, which is why Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning have been in the lineup. Morin will be back and I think he still has a bright future on the Flyers' blue line. Manning, for example, can be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Right away that opens a spot for Morin to be a full-timer with Philadelphia next season. Although I'm mixed on the decision to scratch Sanheim for the past two games, it's not as if he was ripping it up and forcing coach Dave Hakstol to keep him in the lineup. That said, Sanheim needs to be playing. Watching consecutive games from the press box doesn't do much for him.