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E.J.'s Mailbag: Kings to repeat? Playoffs for Isles?

by EJ Hradek

After a tough start to his career, Kyle Turris seems to have found a home in Ottawa.

The 23-year-old forward on Tuesday signed a five-year contract worth $17.5 million ($3.5 million annual salary-cap hit) with the Senators. The extension kicks in at the start of the 2013-14 season.

Turris, the third pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, started his career with the Phoenix Coyotes in the final days of the 2007-08 season after deciding to leave the University of Wisconsin following his freshman season.

E.J. Hradek's Weekly Mailbag

NHL analyst and NHL Live host E.J. Hradek provides his take on NHL news every week.

In my mind, that was a bad decision. Turris hardly dominated at the college level, scoring 11 goals in 36 NCAA games. Not surprisingly, he struggled at the NHL level, scoring 46 points in his first 131 games, and spent long stretches in the American Hockey League (including the entire 2009-10 season).

After showing some signs of progress late in the 2010-11 season, Turris held out last year, missing the first two months of the season before signing a two-year deal. A month later, he was dealt from Phoenix to Ottawa, where he posted 29 points in 49 games.

With a fresh start and a little experience under his belt, Turris finally has a chance to move forward in a setting where he seems comfortable. He’s a good fit as a second center behind Jason Spezza in Ottawa. Maybe now Turris can finally realize the promise that made him such a high pick in ’07.

Now, let’s get to your questions in our weekly mailbag. Remember, you can get your questions to me via Twitter (follow me @EJHradek_NHL).

Is there anything new on Sean Avery? He’s got a lot of energy and charisma left to give for a team like the Sharks. -- @Michael_Rophone

I haven’t heard anything new about Avery, who scored three goals and picked up 21 penalty minutes in 15 NHL games last season before being banished to the minors by the New York Rangers. At 32, Avery likely can still fit in the League as a role-playing pest. At this point, however, he comes with a lot of baggage. Is there a team willing to deal with that? I can't imagine the Sharks would. Most clubs figure they can find a similar player without having the headaches.

And I don’t know just how interested Avery would be in playing outside of a select few markets. If he doesn’t get an NHL gig, Avery should be able to find a job in one of the European/Scandinavian leagues.

What do you think is the solution if Corey Crawford is not the answer to Chicago’s goaltending problem? -- @StacyAlbano

Good question! After a strong rookie season (33 wins, 2.30 goals-against average, .917 save percentage), Crawford took a step backward last season, posting 30 wins with a 2.72 GAA and a .903 SP. Moreover, he too often looked tentative in the crease.

Ray Emery, who turns 30 in September, put up 15 wins (2.81 GAA, .900 SP) in 34 appearances. He's a solid No. 2 guy, but I don’t think coach Joel Quenneville sees him as a full-time option.

The Blackhawks did have a short flirtation with free agent legend Martin Brodeur in July, but he opted to stay in New Jersey.

For now, with no goaltending prospect in the organization ready for the NHL, the best option for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman likely is the trade market. While it would be fun to think about Roberto Luongo coming from the hated rival Vancouver Canucks to play in the Windy City, Bowman would probably set his sights in another direction.

I figure Bowman will start the season with the Crawford/Emery duo while looking for a possible upgrade if he doesn’t see improvement. After all, the Blackhawks have a team that can contend for another Stanley Cup. I don’t think they want to be derailed by subpar goaltending.

How is Zach Parise going to affect the Wild? Where do you see the team going? -- @hannah_stephenz

Parise will have a terrific impact in Minnesota. The 28-year-old left wing is a talented star who plays with the work ethic of a fourth-line grinder. After missing most of the 2010-11 season with a knee injury, Parise bounced back with a 31 goal/38 assist season, leading the New Jersey Devils on a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Zach Parise
Zach Parise
Left Wing - MIN
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 69
SOG: 293 | +/-: -5
I have to think the five-time 30-goal scorer will look great alongside underappreciated center Mikko Koivu on the Wild’s top line.

Of course, the Wild also signed another elite free agent, defenseman Ryan Suter, who’ll slide comfortably into the top slot on the club’s blue line. He could be a big difference-maker for a franchise that has never had that kind top-pair defender.

GM Chuck Fletcher didn’t just shop in the expensive section of the free agent store. He picked up veteran role players Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell to add depth to the bottom half of the lineup. Those guys will help.

Promising prospects Mikael Granlund (No. 9 pick in 2010) and Charlie Coyle (No. 28 pick in ’10, San Jose Sharks, acquired in the Brent Burns trade) have a chance to crack the roster out of training camp. Either of those guys could be a Calder Trophy candidate.

I think the Wild will challenge for a playoff spot in the spring with a chance for much bigger things in the not-too-distant future.

With the same roster, do you think the Kings have a shot at another Cup? -- @Timoneybrandon

Why not? They certainly looked darn good rolling the Canucks, Blues, Coyotes and Devils (going a combined 16-4) en route the franchise’s first title.

This season, the Kings return every single player who suited up for them during their playoff run. That’s a pretty rare thing. The Bruins lost a few players from their 2011 title team and the Blackhawks were nearly remodeled after raising the Cup in 2010.

Coach Darryl Sutter’s team is strong in all the right places (center, defense, goal). And they’re a pretty young group too.

If the Kings can stay healthy, I think they’ve got an excellent chance to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ’98 to win back-to-back Cups. It won’t be easy with so much parity in the League, but L.A. has what it takes to get it done.

Do the Islanders have any chance of making the playoffs this year? -- @MikeCapBrozzi

Yeah, I think the New York Islanders have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They don’t have an easy path, though, being based in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division alongside the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers and Devils – all of whom totaled more than 100 points last season.

John Tavares
John Tavares
Center - NYI
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 50 | PTS: 81
SOG: 286 | +/-: -6
The Islanders finished with 79 points, 13 behind the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators for the final playoff spot. Can they make up that kind of difference, and then some, that it’ll take to make the playoffs?

The Islanders do have a bench full of terrific young players led by star center John Tavares, who is becoming a more complete player with each passing season. Last year, Tavares finished eighth in the League with a career-best 81 points. He may soon challenge the 100-point plateau.

I don’t think the Islanders can get to the postseason in the spring unless they get lights-out goaltending from somebody. The most likely candidate to do that would be veteran Evgeni Nabokov, who was pretty good last season after not playing in the NHL in 2010-11. After him, the Islanders have fragile Rick DiPietro and youngsters Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin.

At this point, the Islanders still seem a long shot for the playoffs, but, eventually, with all these good young players, this team is going to move up the ladder.

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