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Over The Boards

Panthers' chances, Jimmy Vesey among questions

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly mail

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the July 27 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run periodically through the course of the offseason. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Are the Florida Panthers in over their heads with all the personnel changes, or do you see them going far in the playoffs? -- @themoose0221

I don't think they're in over their heads at all with the personnel changes. I see them getting back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, likely as a top-two finisher in the Atlantic Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning. I love their strong, stable and mostly signed young core of forwards. I like their blue line depth. Their goaltending should be good enough behind an improved defense that helped Florida finish seventh in goals against last season (2.44 per game). I can't predict now if they're going to go far in the playoffs because all of the variables that matter in the playoffs, including health and how the team is playing in March and April, are unknown, but I don't have an issue with any of the roster changes they've made.

They've clearly beefed up their defense with the additions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. I'm not in love with the Dmitry Kulikov-Mark Pysyk trade, but it did free up some cap room and bring back a 24-year-old defenseman (Pysyk) and another draft pick. Signing James Reimer to a five-year contract looks like a stretch, but it suggests the Panthers are ready to reduce Roberto Luongo's workload once he's healthy. I'm not sure Reimer is definitely a No. 1 goalie, but he can play in a platoon with Luongo and be good for around 40 starts. Signing Reimer also leads me and many others to believe the Panthers think Luongo is going to retire in the next few years. He still has six years remaining on his contract, but it's a back-diving contract signed before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement came into place and will pay him $3.618 million total in the last three years and $7 million total in the last four. He'll make $6.714 million this season and next season.

Video: Trocheck on the new look of the Florida Panthers

Kyle Palmieri. Adam Henrique. Taylor Hall. Cory Schneider. Do the New Jersey Devils clear at least a wild card spot for next year? -- @JimSabino182

That's a good start. No, actually, that's a really good start, especially the last two players you mentioned there in Hall and Schneider. However, I still think it's too early to call the Devils a playoff team next season. I expect them to challenge for a wild card, but I'm not ready to say they'll get it. I don't think they're top three in the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and maybe the New York Rangers and/or the Philadelphia Flyers ahead of them. They could be as low as sixth or seventh, to be honest.

On the plus side, the Devils should score more than they did last season (182 goals, last in NHL), especially if Hall can finally have a 30-goal season and Palmieri can prove his 30-goal season wasn't a fluke. Pavel Zacha could be a key. If he proves he's ready and can play center, he gives the Devils a power forward down the middle, which is necessary. He could play ahead or just behind Travis Zajac. With Henrique, that gives the Devils decent center depth even if they don't have a true No. 1 center. Zacha might become that, but he's not there yet.

On the negative side, the Devils' depth is concerning, particularly on defense. Behind Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy and John Moore, they're going to rely on a lot of young defensemen to come through for them, potentially including rookie Steven Santini, who has played in one NHL game. Their defense, though it has potential, is still too unstable for me to say with certainty that they'll be a playoff team.

Video: TOR@NJD: Henrique nets second goal of game in the 2nd

Do the Nashville Predators have enough depth and speed down the middle to get it done this postseason? If not, do you see a trade to boost that? -- @apfleisc

I think you can debate each. I foresee the top four centers right now being Ryan Johansen, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher and Colton Sissons, in that order. Calle Jarnkrok might play center at some point, but for now I think he'll start on the wing. Johansen is a legit No. 1 center, which is huge for the Predators because when was the last time they went into a season with a legit No. 1 center? It's a great start. However, Ribeiro and Fisher are each 36 years old and their production dipped last season from 2014-15. Ribeiro had 50 points, which is still solid but down from the 62 he had in 2014-15. Fisher had 23 points in 70 games, down from the 39 he had in 59 games in 2014-15. Sissons is 22 and has played 61 NHL games total, including 10 in the playoffs last season. So you have a legit No. 1 center followed by two aging centers and a young center who hasn't shown the same offensive potential in the NHL that he has in the American Hockey League. It's not the fastest group either.

That said, considering the Predators' issues at the center position in their history, having Johansen, Ribeiro and Fisher as the top three looks pretty good by comparison. My guess is general manager David Poile is going to let it play out as is for a while before he looks to tinker. The Predators are in win-now mode and Poile has clearly shown an affinity for swinging for the fences in trades. He's not afraid of the blockbuster, so maybe something could brew a few months into the season. It might have to for the Predators to make a deep postseason run.

Video: Looking back at the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber trade

The Chicago Blackhawks are on Jimmy Vesey's short list. How do they fit him under the cap? -- @ny1bullsfan

Easy. The Blackhawks still have $2.398 million in salary cap space, according to General Fanager. Vesey can't count for more than $925,000 on the salary cap for two seasons regardless of the team that signs him because he'd be signing an entry-level contract. This is not a scenario that involves money and who can pay him more, etc. This is all about Vesey and getting the opportunity to choose the team that wants him from among the teams that are interested in him, which appear to be at least the Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks have to pitch their program, their organization, their roster and depth chart, where they see Vesey fitting in, who he could play with (potentially Jonathan Toews), and the city of Chicago and hope it's enough to convince Vesey to sign with the Blackhawks. They have the cap space to sign him.

Do you think Jacob Trouba will sign with the Winnipeg Jets or get traded? -- @tonyneufeld88

Sign, because I don't think the Jets have any desire to trade a 22-year-old defenseman and I don't see an offer sheet coming at this point.

The difference between the Jets and Trouba and the Predators and Seth Jones is that the Predators had a specific need for a No. 1 center and could get that from the Columbus Blue Jackets (Johansen) while keeping a strong blue line intact with Shea Weber (now P.K. Subban), Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. The Jets a) have Mark Scheifele as their No. 1 center of the present and future; and b) have a greater need for Trouba than the Predators did for Jones, which is to take nothing away from how important Jones was to them and is now to Columbus.

As for the contract negotiation between Trouba and the Jets, I also think Jones is playing a role in it because of the six-year, $32.4 million contract he signed with the Blue Jackets on June 29. If Jones, an ideal comparable to Trouba across the board, is making $5.4 million per season, it suggests Trouba would get a contract in the same neighborhood. He doesn't exactly have leverage (coming off entry-level contract, no arbitration rights) to shoot for the moon and get it. That might be holding up this negotiation, the difference between what Trouba thinks he's worth and what the market suggests he's worth.

That said, I think the Jets and Trouba will come to an agreement before he goes to training camp with Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. I highly doubt he's going to play in the World Cup without a contract and I don't think the Jets have any desire to trade him.

Video: NSH@WPG: Trouba snaps the puck past Rinne

Your top three clubs in each division? -- @Maddalucas

This is right now and I'm not putting them in any particular order at this point because why set myself up for that kind of ridicule on July 27:

Atlantic: Florida, Tampa Bay, Montreal
Metropolitan: Pittsburgh, Washington, New York Islanders
Central: Chicago, Nashville, Dallas
Pacific: San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles

Feel free to yell at me if you disagree.

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