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Mailbag: Flames have best defense in West, Oilers No. 1 offense's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Here is the Sept. 20 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday throughout the 2017-18 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.


Which team will ice the strongest defense on their opening night roster? Offense? -- @briantodd34

Let me cheat and break it down by conferences.

In the Western Conference I like the Calgary Flames' defense. It's an easier decision to make considering the Nashville Predators won't have Ryan Ellis healthy and available likely until January because of knee surgery and the Anaheim Ducks won't have Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen to start the season because of injuries. Calgary's top-four group of Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic has all the ingredients you need, with speed, size, mobility, offensive instincts, long reaches, physicality, etc. It's solid, just like the Predators' top four is when Ellis is healthy, and the Ducks are with Lindholm and Vatanen. The Flames also have Michael Stone, who I think is perfectly suited for a third-pair role.

For offense in the Western Conference I'll go with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, especially if forward Leon Draisaitl and McDavid are on separate lines. They can play on the same power play, but the Oilers are a more balanced offensive team, and much more dangerous in my opinion, when McDavid and Draisaitl are separated at even strength. Edmonton averaged 2.96 goals per game last season, which was third in the Western Conference behind the Minnesota Wild (3.21) and Winnipeg Jets (3.00). Winnipeg, by the way, gets my vote as the second-best offensive team going into opening night. The problem is they might allow more than three goals per game.

In the Eastern Conference I'm torn between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes for top defense. The Penguins get Kris Letang back, which is huge. He runs neck and neck with the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman as the second-best defenseman in the Eastern Conference, behind Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. Factor in Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole and Matt Hunwick and the Penguins have a formidable top-six group. But the Hurricanes have depth with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Slavin is one of the most underrated players in the NHL.

I'm not torn when it comes to offense in the East. The Toronto Maple Leafs get my vote as the best offensive team. They were fifth in the NHL last season with 3.05 goals per game and forwards Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner have a lot more to give. Matthews could be a 50-goal scorer, which I don't think would surprise anyone. Toss in the addition of forward Patrick Marleau and the Maple Leafs should be expected to score more than they did last season.


Why hasn't anyone given Andreas Athanasiou an offer sheet and where does he go? A second-round pick for compensation is cheap as far as I'm concerned. -- @J_ferns97

It's not that simple.

The Detroit Red Wings have offered Athanasiou a two-year contract worth $1.9 million per season, according to the Detroit Free Press. As you noted, the Red Wings would receive compensation in the form of a second-round draft pick if they don't match an offer sheet between $1,877,615 and $3,755,233. The team signing him would be getting a 23-year-old player who scored 18 goals in 64 games in his second NHL season. But if the Red Wings don't want to pay Athanasiou more than $1.9 million, what would make anyone assume the other 30 teams are interested in doing so and giving up a second-round pick in the process? That's what people tend to forget when they discuss offer sheets and wonder why GMs don't use them. The offer sheet is an enticing option, but there is a risk/reward that includes guaranteed compensation to the other team. For example, if a general manager wants to give Athanasiou an offer sheet with, for argument's sake, a $2.7 million average annual value, he would have to believe Athanasiou is going to provide greater value than $2.7 million to make it worth giving up a second-round pick in the process. In addition, if the Red Wings don't match it the other team would be giving Athanasiou a contract that essentially would set a precedent for future players like Athanasiou. That could have an impact on a team's salary structure.


Your thought on faceoff violation penalties? Will referees be so strict during the season? -- @JVitek94

My thought is that if a player violates one of the rules in the NHL rulebook he should have to deal with the consequences of the violation. If it's a two-minute penalty, so be it. The rules should be called as written. My hope is that the officials will call the rule as it is written all season. Abide by the rule, don't cheat, and there will be no penalty.


New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said defenseman Marc Staal might not make the team. How? He's making huge $ and has a no-movement clause. How would all that work? -- @msilvers1979

Staal has a full no-movement clause, so he's in control of the situation. The Rangers can try to trade Staal, but he'd have to waive his NMC to make it happen. Similarly, Staal would have to waive it if the Rangers wanted to waive him for the purposes of sending him to Hartford of the American Hockey League. The odds are against either scenario happening this season, especially since Staal has four years left on a contract that carries a $5.7 million salary cap charge, according to Staal absolutely will not waive his NMC to go to the AHL.

My take is that Vigneault's comments on Staal have, at least from the comments on my Twitter feed, been taken out of context. He was partially trying to light a fire under Staal and partially trying to keep his options open. Vigneault doesn't have to consider contracts when he makes comments about players. However, he ignited this storyline and this question by saying something about Staal's place on the team, indicating that it was in question. Staal knows he must compete for ice time, but he has a firm place on the roster. However, Vigneault controls Staal's ice time, so he might wind up as the seventh defenseman on the depth chart. That's a possibility depending on how he performs during camp and how some of the other defensemen perform as well, including Tony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk and Alexei Bereglazov. That said, with Vigneault's penchant for giving more rope to veterans who have earned his trust, I think barring injury Staal will be in the lineup against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 5.


How long does Avalanche GM Joe Sakic let this Matt Duchene circus continue? -- @tcaswell9

Nobody knows, but Duchene hasn't shown he's keen on the idea of staying in Denver beyond the start of training camp. He told the Denver Post on Monday that he views his career with the Avalanche to be "day by day." He clearly wants out, but doesn't want to rock the boat too much. I've talked to Duchene on multiple occasions since just prior to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline and he always reiterates his respect for Sakic, his appreciation for Sakic, even his friendship with Sakic. I wonder if that's wavering at this moment. But frankly, Sakic hasn't done anything wrong. By all accounts we think he's still trying to secure the best trade possible for the Avalanche. That's his job. But considering Duchene's obvious dissatisfaction it might be best to just cut ties sooner rather than later, even if the trade isn't perfect for Colorado.


Who won the trade on Monday, Florida Panthers or Arizona Coyotes? -- @StefaniJanvier

You're talking about defenseman Jason Demers going to the Coyotes and the Panthers getting forward Jamie McGinn in return. I like this trade a lot for the Coyotes. GM John Chayka has put together a formidable defense group around Oliver Ekman-Larsson. With Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, Demers and, when he gets healthy, Jakob Chychrun, the Coyotes have a dynamic nucleus on the back end. Luke Schenn also is in the mix. Demers fits with the up-tempo, join-the-rush style the Coyotes will be looking to play. Also working for the Coyotes is the Panthers paid Demers a $1 million bonus prior to the trade, and will retain $2 million of the $16 million remaining on Demers' contract, Chayka said.

McGinn adds depth to the Panthers up front, which they needed. I also don't think they make this trade without confidence that defenseman Michael Matheson will take a big step forward in his development this season. Matheson is in the final season of his entry-level contract, and if all goes to plan the Panthers likely will use the money they were spending on Demers to re-sign Matheson.

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