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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Top Cup contenders, latest on Duchene

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Sept. 6 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.

Based on your preseason analysis of the 31 teams, who has the best chance at winning the Cup this season? -- @PrinceJantzen

It's too early to make a prediction because I need to see how training camps unfold -- who steps up, who gets hurt, who gets traded, etc. Based on what we know now, here are my top five going into camps, but notice I'm not putting a number on these, they're just in alphabetical order:

Anaheim Ducks: They're deep and experienced up front, and with the rise of Josh Manson and Brandon Montour, they make a strong case for one of the best defense groups in the NHL too, right there with the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames. John Gibson is solid, and Jakob Silfverberg is at least in the top five of the most underrated players in the NHL.

Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Cam Talbot, an improved defense, an excellent coaching staff and Stanley Cup Playoff experience all means the Oilers should be expected to go further this season. They reached the Western Conference Second Round last season. It might be their time.

Video: ANA@EDM, Gm3: McDavid snipes in top-shelf beauty

Pittsburgh Penguins: They lost some key pieces, but they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They're getting Kris Letang back, Matt Murray won't have to look over his shoulder, and they have a championship pedigree.

St. Louis Blues: A bit of a sleeper, but I'm high on the Blues. I'm picking them to win the Central Division. Jake Allen is a proven No. 1 goalie, and the additions of Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Sobotka make them deeper up front, particularly down the middle. They got the edge here, but barely, on the Predators.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I expect a rebound season from the Lightning provided Steven Stamkos stays healthy, which as we've learned is never a sure thing. Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the same line can be lethal. Stamkos' health is key for Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point because it puts them in more comfortable roles. Andrei Vasilevskiy has a lot to prove, but he has the skillset to be an upper echelon No. 1 goalie.

Will Matt Duchene start the season with the Colorado Avalanche? -- @JD312

Far be it from me to try to handicap the Duchene-Avalanche standoff now. I thought he would have been traded long ago. Not the case. I want to say he'll get traded this month, but the Avalanche don't appear to be in any hurry. Duchene's only real leverage is to not show up for training camp, which could force general manager Joe Sakic's hand or push the sides even further apart from an amicable ending to this difficult situation.

I spoke to Duchene last month, and he made it quite clear that he doesn't see himself as a member of the Avalanche anymore. He's waiting to find out where he will be playing next, not necessarily preparing to report for the start of Avalanche training camp. From the Avalanche perspective, Sakic needs to improve the defense, even if it's with prospects, and Duchene is his best trading chip to do that. The Avalanche will not progress if they don't start adding pieces on the back end. They're also going nowhere this season if they keep an unhappy Duchene on the roster. This situation needs to get resolved.

I think the Leon Draisaitl deal will hurt a lot of other clubs going forward. How do you feel about that? -- @whoopoi

It will hurt teams that had a price range in mind for their high-end player approaching the end or coming off his entry-level contract because the price went up with Draisaitl's eight-year, $68 million contract from the Oilers. The Boston Bruins appear to already be feeling the effects of Draisaitl's signing in their negotiations with forward David Pastrnak. Draisaitl and Pastrnak each is 21 and was selected in the 2014 NHL Draft. Draisaitl signed his big contract after scoring 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) in 82 games last season. Pastrnak had 70 points (34 goals, 36 assists) in 75 games last season. Considering the comparison, Draisaitl's contract theoretically sets the bar for Pastrnak's next contract. It doesn't appear the Bruins want to go into that tax bracket with Pastrnak, but Pastrnak has every reason to believe he belongs there now. I don't think this is going to be a major problem for every team because so few teams have players like Draisaitl and Pastrnak coming off an entry-level contract, but it will impact the rare teams that do.

Did the Penguins' back-to-back Cup runs definitively make the case for offense over defense? -- @briantodd34

That's too simplified. I think the Penguins' back-to-back Cup runs definitively made the case for why no two Cup runs are the same even if they are made by the same team in back-to-back seasons. 

In 2016, the Penguins definitively made the case for why teams need balanced scoring lines and a defense group -- led by one elite player, Kris Letang, who can do just about everything and never seems to tire -- that's strength is moving the puck up to the forwards quickly and efficiently. Sure, it helps to have two superstars on different lines and on the same power play like the Penguins have with Crosby and Malkin, but they maintained a strong offense two years ago in large part because of their balanced attack (such as having Crosby, Malkin and Phil Kessel on three different lines) and because of their defense, led by Letang.

In 2017, the Penguins definitively made the case for why Crosby and Malkin are the best 1-2 punch in the NHL and how two superstars can put their team on their back and take it four rounds. They didn't have the same balanced offense last season. They didn't have Letang. But Crosby and Malkin were dominant. Malkin led the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 28 points in 25 games. Crosby was second with 27 points in 24 games. Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy with 11 first-place votes and four second-place votes among the 15 voters. Malkin was second in the voting with three first-place votes and 11 second-place votes. Rookie forward Jake Guentzel received one first-place vote.

There are a lot of numbers to suggest the Penguins' run last season was unlikely or improbable. For example, they allowed a League-high 196 high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. That was 34 more than the Predators, their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final. They allowed 31.8 shots on goal per game and averaged 28.7. They had a 46.15 shot attempts percentage, which was better than only the St. Louis Blues' 44.71. But the Penguins had Crosby and Malkin, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators and Predators did not. That was the difference.

Video: Roundtable discussion on Pens, best player in the NHL

Is Kevin Shattenkirk the missing piece to bring the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers? -- @BobBialyguy

I can't say Shattenkirk is the missing piece to a Rangers' Stanley Cup run because that would be the equivalent of me predicting the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup with him. I won't go that far. However, Shattenkirk should be the missing piece to the Rangers power play and to their need for a puck-moving, right-handed defenseman to play with captain Ryan McDonagh. Maybe that's enough to put the Rangers over the top, but they still have other questions. How will Mika Zibanejad adjust to being the No. 1 center? How will Kevin Hayes handle moving up to No. 2? Who is going to play center on the third line? The fourth line? Will Henrik Lundqvist stay healthy? Can Ondrej Pavelec fill Antti Raanta's role, successfully spelling Lundqvist to the tune of 15 wins? It's more than just Shattenkirk, but he absolutely makes the Rangers better, a greater threat to challenge for the Cup.

The Rangers have not had a defenseman with 25 or more points on the power play in a single season since Brian Leetch in 2001-02 (26). Shattenkirk has scored 25 or more points on the power play each of the past four seasons. He was one of six defensemen in the NHL who did it last season, one of seven two seasons ago, one of five three seasons ago and one of seven four seasons ago. That proves what Shattenkirk can do for a power play is rare in the NHL, that only a handful of defensemen have his ability. A boost to the Rangers power play should mean a boost in their offensive production, and that should take some pressure off Lundqvist, who, let's face it, still is the Rangers' best player and would be the No. 1 reason if the Rangers are to win their first Stanley Cup championship since 1994.

Do the Minnesota Wild have to make moves to fit Marcus Foligno in, and who do they trade to make room if so? -- @kinglewimcmxc

The Wild have approximately $2.14 million in available NHL salary cap room, according to CapFriendly.com. Foligno played on a one-year, $2.25 million contract last season with the Buffalo Sabres. The forward had 23 points in 80 games, the same amount of points he had in 75 games in 2015-16, which to me means he's not going to get any type of significant raise in his next contract. The Wild likely will have to make a minor transaction (send a player down, minor trade) to get Foligno under contract. I don't think this is a major issue for general manager Chuck Fletcher.

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