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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Capitals should keep Karl Alzner

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the March 15 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Assuming the Washington Capitals can only keep one, who should they re-sign: T.J. Oshie or Karl Alzner? Who will they? -- @gdohlke79

I don't know who they will sign, but if I were general manager Brian MacLellan and had to choose between Oshie and Alzner, I would go with Alzner. With all due respect to Oshie, it's easier to replace a top-six wing than it is a top-four defenseman who plays the stout, reliable, 20-plus minutes per game that the Capitals get from Alzner, who also never misses a game. They might have to double his pay to keep him because that could be what the market demands for a 28-year-old defenseman to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. It'd be worth it. It's difficult to find players like Alzner. The Capitals drafted and developed him, and he has become vital to their success. Now it's time to sign him. Oshie, who is due to become a UFA, would be a luxury. The Capitals have to re-sign forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and it's clear to me that forward Brett Connolly has earned a new contract in Washington too. Each is set to become a restricted free agent. Burakovsky is ready to become a reliable scorer. Forward Jakub Vrana could be ready for an expanded role in Washington.

If the Capitals lose in the first round, is Barry Trotz on the hot seat? -- @RainemanC

It would have to be a consideration because that would be a massive disappointment for the Capitals. I don't see it happening.

If Jake Guentzel started the NHL season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, considering how he's been playing do you think he's in the Calder Trophy discussion? -- @_MAF29

No, but that's not his fault. The best rookie on the Penguins is Matt Murray. He should be in the Calder Trophy discussion. Guentzel wouldn't get enough attention because of that. It also doesn't help his cause that Toronto Maple Leafs centers Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, as well as Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine, are surpassing what were already incredibly, and some felt unreasonably, high expectations. Guentzel is having a fine rookie season and has gotten hot of late with three goals and three assists in the past five games. His 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) prove that he has a future in Pittsburgh, that he should be a core part of the Penguins if they are going to go on another Stanley Cup run this season. However, with Murray already in his dressing room, and Matthews and Laine running away from the competition, I can't see Guentzel getting enough credit to be in the Calder Trophy picture. And we also don't know how he would have handled being in Pittsburgh for a full season. That unknown also gives me pause, not about him as a player, but simply about his Calder Trophy chances. I like him a lot.

After the Los Angeles Kings' loss Monday, are the Western Conference playoff teams pretty much locked up? -- @i24predsfan

I think so. The order isn't, but I think the eight in position now will be the eight that get in. The Kings are four points behind the St. Louis Blues for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the conference with 13 games to play. It's a lot to make up. The only thing that gives me a bit of pause is how streaky the Blues have been. They have won five in a row, but that's after losing five in a row, a streak that came immediately after a six-game winning streak. One could say they're due for a losing streak, and that could open the door for the Kings. But then I look at the Blues schedule and think otherwise. Ten of their remaining 14 games are against teams currently out of a playoff position, including six against the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, the bottom two teams in the League standings. The Blues should be fine. The Kings are not. They can't score enough in Darryl Sutter's grind-it-out, heavy system anymore to compete with the speed and transition they go up against in the League. It's easy to point to the 2.41 goals per game they scored in the 2013-14 season, but I point to the 3.38 goals per game they scored in the playoffs. That is why they won the Stanley Cup. But the alarm bells went off two years ago, when they were 18th in goals per game (2.66) and didn't make the playoffs. They rang again last season, when the Kings got into the playoffs but improved their scoring only slightly to 2.72 goals per game, 14th in the League. They scored 11 goals in a five-game series loss to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round. And they are scoring 2.45 goals per game this season, 25th in the League. Imagine where they'd be without Jeff Carter, who has nine more goals (31) and 18 more points (60) than anybody on the team. They won't score enough to win enough games down the stretch to get into the playoffs and need a complete re-evaluation.

Video: WSH@LAK: Kopitar tips home Carter's shot for PPG

Do you think Morgan Rielly will eventually become a No. 1? -- @Moe19C

He's already close, even if he has been inconsistent for more than two months. Rielly is at least 1B if Nikita Zaitsev is 1A. He's playing 22:12 per game. He's playing a big role on the penalty kill, getting some power-play time, and producing. But I think I get the underlying meaning of your question. I think you're saying he isn't a No. 1 defenseman yet when he probably already should be. I think he will be. He's in his fourth NHL season, just turned 23 and is finally playing on a decent team. He's growing, developing. Rielly hasn't been so solid since about Christmas, but he did have an injury that could have something to do with his erratic play. Here's the thing: Although he's a lefty, every time I see Rielly I think of Ryan Suter. They're both lefties. I think they can play alike too. Rielly is not at Suter's level yet. There are still holes in his game that he needs to fill, Give him some time. Toronto rushed him into the NHL on a bad team, and now he's trying to figure out how to be an effective No. 1 defenseman on what should be a good team. It's not an easy transition.

If the Florida Panthers miss the playoffs do they clean house, again? -- @TylerSN1

They might find a new coach to replace Tom Rowe, who also is the GM. But otherwise I don't think they'll abandon their plan after one year. They have underachieved this season, but they had some significant injuries that stunted them at the start. The Panthers haven't been able to make up for that. They had a chance by winning five straight on the road last month, but they've gone in reverse in a big way since. It's alarming to me when a team is trending in the right direction and then does a complete about-face, as the Panthers have. It suggests something about their players and their ability to handle pressure and the grind. But I wouldn't expect a housecleaning again in Florida in the offseason, other than maybe looking outside the organization for a new coach because they left that option open when Rowe replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 27.

What's the biggest single thing the Colorado Avalanche could do this offseason to get going back in the right direction? -- @avsareawesome

They need a change. We know that. I don't have a problem with trying to trade Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, but not both. They can't afford to mess it up if they do make a blockbuster trade. They absolutely have to get a top-pair defenseman and another top prospect. They need a defenseman who can play a solid 23-24 minutes per game. They need a healthy Semyon Varlamov too, but they can't bank on that. They have to rebuild their defense. Do that and they'll have a chance to use the firepower they have up front to their advantage. Travis Hamonic and a prospect from the New York Islanders in a trade for Duchene; that's a deal I can see working for each team.

Will the "peculiarity" (massive understatement) of some games being worth three points and some two be changed? -- @brad0088

As of today there hasn't been any stated desire from the League, the general managers or the NHL Players' Association to change the current system of awarding two points for a win and one point for an overtime/shootout loss. There has been talk in the media about going to a 3-2-1 system, meaning three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss, but it hasn't gotten anywhere. The GMs spoke about the points system last week at their annual March meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, but that was part of a discussion of where they see the game going in five or 10 years and what ideas they might have. They have not attempted, at least to my knowledge, to adopt a formal policy change. So nothing is changing anytime soon.

Which team out of the West do you think stands the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup? -- @TomGolembeski

I picked the Chicago Blackhawks in October. I stuck with them halfway through the season. They're only getting better. It's still Chicago.

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