Who is the most improved team from each division? -- @BobbyDrex
Atlantic Division: Buffalo Sabres
I think the Sabres can be a playoff team this season with the additions of forward Kyle Okposo and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Forward Jack Eichel has a year of experience and should be better. Forward Ryan O'Reilly is already good. Forward Evander Kane is a question mark, but assuming he's in the fold, the Sabres have scoring. They also have a balanced defense. The big question is in goal, but if Robin Lehner can hold up, I think the Sabres can make a big jump.
Metropolitan Division: New Jersey Devils/Carolina Hurricanes
I'm torn between the two, which is why they're each listed. The Devils got the top scorer they needed trading for forward Taylor Hall. They had to give up defenseman Adam Larsson to get him, but Hall is well worth it. I like the addition of Ben Lovejoy as a reliable, veteran defenseman. The Hurricanes added forward Teuvo Teravainen to a young core that includes Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin and Jaccob Slavin. I also like the addition of proven 20-goal scorer Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg, who knows his role as a fourth-liner and plays it well.
Video: 30 in 30: Carolina Hurricanes 2016-17 season preview
Central Division: Minnesota Wild
Coach Bruce Boudreau has a way of working magic with a team and he may do that with the Wild. They need Eric Staal to prove he can be a center on one of their top two lines. It's a gamble considering he had 13 goals and 39 points in 83 games with the Hurricanes and Rangers last season. Forward Chris Stewart could provide some depth scoring. I was going to go with the Nashville Predators because of defenseman P.K. Subban, but I think they were already good. The Wild should be a 90-plus point team this season. They had 87 last season.
Pacific Division: Calgary Flames
Goaltending was a huge problem for the Flames last season. They addressed it by acquiring Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson. Calgary had the worst save percentage in the NHL (.898); Elliott had the best save percentage among goalies with 40 or more appearances (.930), and Johnson had a .920 save percentage in 45 appearances. Adding forward Troy Brouwer brings some physicality and experience to their top six.
What deal do you think Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will get? I heard people say Jonathan Toews /Patrick Kane money, but I don't believe that. -- @AlexGrablauskas
Gaudreau and Monahan won't get anywhere near Toews/Kane money ($10.5 million annually). They've made the Stanley Cup Playoffs one time. Toews and Kane had won the Stanley Cup twice and each was a Conn Smythe Trophy winner by the time they each got an eight-year, $84 million contract extension two years ago. They followed that up by winning the Stanley Cup again. No chance Gaudreau and Monahan get anywhere near that now. Maybe in their third NHL contract, but not in their second, which as restricted free agents they have yet to sign. I'm thinking more along the lines of what Filip Forsberg got in his second contract, a six-year, $36 million contract with the Nashville Predators, or Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele's eight-year, $49 million contract. Look at the past two seasons for wings Forsberg and Gaudreau and centers Monahan and Scheifele:
Gaudreau: 54 goals, 88 assists, 142 points in 159 games (0.893 points per game)
Forsberg: 59 goals, 68 assists, 127 points in 164 games (0.774 points per game)
Monahan: 58 goals, 67 assists, 125 points in 162 games (0.772 points per game)
Scheifele: 44 goals, 66 assists, 110 points in 153 games (0.719 points per game)
Gaudreau is a touch ahead in production and has two seasons in the bank compared to Monahan's three. I can see a situation where he gets slightly more money than Monahan, but not much. I expect each to fall within the $6-7 million AAV range on a contract that is at least six years long.
Video: 30 in 30: Calgary Flames 2016-17 season preview
What do you see the New York Rangers doing about their lack of a puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback? -- @ManhattaKnight
Look no further than Ryan McDonagh. The Rangers' do-it-all captain is going to have to do a lot more without Keith Yandle in the mix. Brady Skjei might take on some of those responsibilities, but he's young (22) and inexperienced (12 total NHL games, including five in the playoffs) for the Rangers to rely on him. Kevin Klein has an underrated shot, but the Rangers liked to run their power play through the left point and Klein is a righty. I expect McDonagh to be at the left point. He doesn't shoot it like Yandle but can get it on net. McDonagh had 177 shots on goal in the 2013-14 season, including 41 on the power play. He was tied for 15th among defensemen in shots on goal and was 27th on the power play.
How do you see the Detroit Red Wings fixing their logjam at forward, and will they acquire a defenseman? -- @DuboisAD1468
I spoke to general manager Ken Holland about this Monday. The way he sees it, they have 16 forwards for 14 spots. Two of those forwards are Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou. Holland talked about the Red Wings trying to get younger and rebuild while maintaining their status as a playoff team because if you're a playoff team you give yourself a chance to win the Cup. It's the old "just get in and you can do it" philosophy. I don't necessarily buy it with the Red Wings this season, but that's not what you're asking. They hope that Mantha and Athanasiou push to make the opening night lineup. Either can be sent to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League without having to clear waivers. If one or both make it, it could be problematic for Tomas Jurco and/or Teemu Pulkkinen. But if Jurco or Pulkkinen have a good camp, it could be waivers for veteran Steve Ott or Drew Miller. Wait and see on it. Mantha and Athanasiou are the keys.
As for the defense, I think there's a small chance something could happen in September or during the season with Kevin Shattenkirk, who has been rumored to be on the block for the St. Louis Blues. The Red Wings could use Shattenkirk to add an experienced, solid, veteran righty into their top four. Mike Green and Alexey Marchenko are their only righties now, which is a problem. The other problem is the Blues are rightfully maintaining a high price for Shattenkirk. I wonder if the Red Wings would part with Mantha, or if the Blues would be interested in him. Or would it take Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar to get it done? Shattenkirk is the type of defenseman the Red Wings need. All players not named Dylan Larkin should be on the table as options.
Video: 30 in 30: Detroit Red Wings 2016-17 season preview
Do you think cap hits (AAV) should be recalculated annually to reflect players declining or once a player is traded? -- @Winging_it
I get what you're saying here. The NFL in a way does it with restructuring contracts to reduce cap hits and the player still gets paid. The issue is the NHL went to great lengths in the last round of collective bargaining to stop the long-term, back-diving contracts that are meant to lower the cap hit by tacking on unwanted years for little money at the end of a contract. By allowing a contract to be reworked to make the cap hit more favorable when a player starts to decline, they'd essentially be reverting to those back-diving contracts, just in a different way. I don't see that as an option. I certainly don't see a player's cap hit getting recalculated after he is traded. What teams can do to recalculate a player's cap hit and make him a friendlier commodity is retain up to 50 percent of his salary on their cap when he is traded. For example, Yandle cost the Rangers $2.625 million against the cap last season but his AAV was $5.25 million. The Arizona Coyotes retained 50 percent of his salary (and cap hit) when they traded him to New York. It made Yandle to the Rangers work cap-wise. The Coyotes were willing to take on 50 percent of the salary for a player who would no longer be with them because they were getting Anthony Duclair and a first-round pick in return. They had to pay to get what they wanted.
What do you think of the Anaheim Ducks' signing of Antoine Vermette? -- @Bbpagewolf
Well, my Ducks fan friend, I think it's a good move even though I'd have preferred a one-year contract. There were other suitors out there for Vermette and that's probably how he and agent Allan Walsh were able to get a two-year contract worth $3.5 million. Vermette is the immediate replacement for Nate Thompson. He can be their third-line center behind Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler if coach Randy Carlyle plays Rickard Rakell on the wing. That is provided Rakell, a restricted free agent, re-signs with Anaheim. Vermette is fine as either the third- or fourth-line center. With him and Kesler, the Ducks should win a lot of faceoffs. They have opposite strong sides, so it gives Carlyle options for D-zone draws depending on the side of the ice. Vermette scored 17 goals last season and knows the division. Good move for Anaheim. It's always good to bolster center depth, and that's what they did.
A lot of optimism last year for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Largely same group. Year older. Expected much-improved defense. This year? -- @BlueJacketdad
Which Sergei Bobrovsky is going to show up? The one that won the Vezina Trophy in 2012-13 or the one who was mostly bad when healthy last season and finished with a .908 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average. Tell me that and I'll tell you if the Blue Jackets have a chance at sniffing the playoffs this season. Bobrovsky is the big question; he was the big disappointment last season. It's still a relatively young team, especially if defenseman Zach Werenski and forward Pierre-Luc Dubois make it, so Bobrovsky has to be a rock in net. If you tell me he will be, I'll tell you the Blue Jackets will have a chance at the wild card. If you're unsure, they have no chance.