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E.J.'s mailbag: PHX-CGY trade, Bryzgalov and more

by EJ Hradek
We had an interesting little deal on Monday between the Coyotes and Flames. Veteran center Daymond Langkow, who missed almost the entire 2010-11 season with a significant neck injury, goes to the desert for streaky-scoring winger Lee Stempniak.

Calgary GM Jay Feaster opens up some important cap space by moving Langkow, who must pass a team physical in Phoenix. He takes back Stempniak, who could provide some much-needed offensive support. Both guys represent little long-term risk as they're both in the final year of their contracts.

I'll be curious to see if Langkow, who'll turn 35 next month, can still be a helpful player. He appeared in just four games last season, but he's a real competitor who worked extremely hard to get back on the ice. I'm not betting against him.

While we'll have to wait a few more weeks to see how Langkow looks in training camp, I can answer a few of your burning questions right now. Let's get to this week's mailbag! Remember, you can always quiz me via twitter (@ejhradek_nhl).

If Bryzgalov loses three or four games early on in Philly, are we back to musical chairs? I'm so sick of that! -- @bobtosh1

EJ's Instant Analysis

Every Tuesday and Friday, analyst EJ Hradek shares his take on all the offseason news.

The Flyers' ownership and management group have gotten pretty tired of it, too. That's why they traded for Ilya Bryzgalov and signed him to a nine-year, $51 million deal. I'd say that's a pretty significant commitment. So I don't see the club pulling the plug on him if he gets off on the wrong skate. For better or worse, Bryzgalov is their guy. They've made a pretty big gamble that it'll be for the better.

Why is everyone predicting Vancouver, San Jose or trendy L.A. out West? Has everyone forgotten about a hungry Chicago team? -- @pat_okeefe07

When Chris Pronger is posed this type of question, I've often heard him reply; "Who's everybody?" I have to ask the same question. Who's everybody?! I think it's way too early to be making any predictions about who'll win the West, particularly when you consider the level of parity in the League.

I see several teams that could make a legitimate run at the Western crown. And, I definitely include the Hawks in that group. They have a terrific core group led by Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. If starting stopper Corey Crawford can build on his performance from last season, I see no reason why they won't be a major player in the West.

Does Ovi learn how to lead this year? Or will he just be the best player on the team? -- @AC_Gres

I think that Alex Ovechkin is evolving as a leader in Washington. In any team sport, particularly one like hockey, success is a collective effort. To this point, I don't think Ovechkin has received enough support around him. The Caps remain pretty young at some key positions (center, defense and, until recently, in goal).

Sidney Crosby, by comparison (aren't they always compared?), didn't carry the load by himself during the Penguins' Cup run in 2009. Evgeni Malkin, if you remember, skated away with Conn Smythe Trophy honors. Marc-Andre Fleury made the big saves. They also got important contributions up and down their lineup.

Nicklas Backstrom
Center, 2010-11 SEASON STATS
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 47 | PTS: 65
SOG: 202 | +/-: 24
Ovechkin can't do it alone in D.C. If the Capitals are going to make a big-time playoff push, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Tomas Vokoun and others are going to have to do their part.

In recent years, Ovechkin and the club's young core have been hardened by postseason failures. How much have they learned? And, how will new additions like Roman Hamrlik, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward as well as Vokoun fit in the mix? For me, the Capitals remain among the League's most intriguing stories.

With limited access to a piggy bank this offseason, can the Coyotes make a playoff run without Bryzgalov? -- @AndrewZapp123

I think so. It won't be easy, though. The Coyotes' schedule, as a member of the powerful Pacific Division, isn't easy. They get to face the Sharks, Kings, Ducks and Stars six times each. That's not easy. It's an added disadvantage in the already tough Western Conference.

Despite the club's budgetary issues, they were able to keep young defenseman Keith Yandle in the fold, signing him to a five-year contract extension. That was pretty important. Young, elite puck-moving defenders just don't grow on trees.

Mike Smith replaces Bryzgalov in goal. The 29-year-old seemed to rediscover his game in limited playing time during the second half of the season in Tampa. Is he ready to become the top starter that many thought he could be earlier in his career when he was backing up Marty Turco in Dallas? The Coyotes hope so.

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett is very familiar with Smith from their time together with the Stars. Tippett's strong defensive system should help Smith, who can assist his defense with his stellar puck-handling skills. Simply, if Smith can be steady, the Coyotes should be able to stay in the playoff chase.

If Drew Doughty is not re-signed by the Kings next week does the prospect of a holdout become large? -- @MHulicius

Drew Doughty The Kings drafted Drew Doughty 2nd overall during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. (Photo: Noah Graham/NHLI)
With every passing day, I guess, the prospect of a holdout becomes more of a possibility. I still don't see it happening, though.

The Kings don't open training camp until Sept. 17. Both sides know that. If there isn't a deal in place by say, Sept. 10, I suspect the urgency to complete an agreement will begin to intensify and I do believe it will get done.

From what I understand, the Kings would like to lock up their star D-man to a long-term deal in the neighborhood of nine years. The Doughty camp is interested in something more along the lines of a five-year agreement. In the end, as I say, I think they'll find the common ground to make a deal.

Claude Giroux: More or less than 80 points? Will he miss Carter & Richards? – Elliott23Boi

First, I have to admit, I think the world of Giroux. This kid can play! He put up 76 points last season, so I'll take him to crack the 80-point mark this season.

To be honest, I don't think he really benefitted all that much from the presence of Mike Richards or Jeff Carter. I'm more interested in how he'll work alongside fellow young star James van Riemsdyk, who really emerged in the playoffs last spring. These two guys could be part of a pretty dynamic line, if used together by Philly head coach Peter Laviolette.

Touchy subject, but what kind of contracts are Zach Bogosian and Brad Marchand worth; if you can answer that? -- @flashjet1

It's not that touchy a subject. Both guys are worth what their respective teams will pay them. Neither guy has arbitration rights, so they don't have too much bargaining leverage at this early stage of their careers.

While there's a lot of upside for Bogosian, I don't see how he could be asking for much more than $1.5 or $2M per season based on what he's accomplished to date. Caps D Karl Alzner, who could be viewed as a comparable, recently settled on a two-year deal that carries a cap hit of $1.285M.

Marchand's situation is somewhat different because he's coming off a 21-goal season where he was a key part of a Cup-winning team. He definitely made a mark in the post-season.

Brad Marchand
Center, 2010-11 season stats
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 41
SOG: 149 | +/-: 25
Boston Globe hockey scribe Kevin-Paul Dupont recently speculated that the two sides eventually could come together on a deal that would pay Marchand little less than $3M per season. I could see the B's pushing to make that closer to $2.5M.

In the end, RFAs coming out of their entry-level contracts just don't have a lot of negotiating juice, minus an offer sheet. I figure both guys will eventually sign.

Do the Blues see playoff hockey this year? -- @ConnorZ19

I see them in a group of teams seeking one of the final spots in the West. I think they can get there, but they'll need to avoid the injuries that really crippled them last season. Also, Jaroslav Halak must be consistently good in goal. The ex-Hab got off to a great start with his new team last fall, but struggled with inconsistency in the second half. If he's better, the Blues' playoff chances go up dramatically.

Will Peter DeBoer last the whole season as the Devils coach? -- @gabrielrasputin

I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes. I think the New Jersey coaching carousel will stop … at least for a little while. DeBoer is pretty well respected within the coaching community. I think those three years of experience in Florida will serve him well in his second NHL head coaching gig.

It doesn't help that he'll be without top center Travis Zajac for the first several weeks of the season. That's a bad break. Zajac's consistent two-way game is tough to replace.
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