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EJ Mailbag: Jets, Flyers, Isles all face big questions

by EJ Hradek /
I don't know if there's ever a time during the calendar year where hockey fans don't have something nagging at them about their particular team -- or the game itself.
That feeling was hammered home again Monday when I tweeted out a call for questions for the first mailbag session at my new digs. You guys and gals definitely didn't disappoint. I got hundreds of questions, literally. For that, I thank you!
While I could only get to a handful, I will continue to respond on Twitter (you can follow me at: @ejhradek_nhl). And, each week, I'll offer more detailed answers in this space. Here's the first shot …
If Winnipeg doesn't make the playoffs for the first few years, do you think NHL hockey can survive long-term there? -- @NicolasMarceau
The new Jets ownership group, True North Sports and Entertainment, seems to have a good understanding of its marketplace and the current state of the League. David Thompson's presence within that ownership group gives me plenty of confidence about the future of the franchise. No. 17 on Forbes' list of the richest people in the world -- No. 1 in Canada -- Thompson brings the financial wherewithal necessary to weather down times.
Would you consider the Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry line the best in the NHL? -- @TecKaHoLiC
That's a pretty darn good trio. The three players all finished among the top 21 scorers in the League. If they aren't the best line in the League, they're on a very short list. When I consider their size, skill and age, I'm not left wanting much more. 
Are the Flyers contenders or pretenders after they added goaltending and lost their top goal scorers? -- @bricks447
Despite the many changes, I still see the Flyers as a serious contender in the East.
That doesn't mean there won't be questions and there won't be pressure on the newcomers. In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov will have to prove it under an intense spotlight that can melt the blue ice in the Flyers' crease. His arrival, however, represents a very significant upgrade at a position that's been problematic in the club's more recent history.
While the decision to deal both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter sent many Philly fans into shock, I believe the changes could result in a more balanced offensive attack where fewer forwards are playing out of position. If James van Riemsdyk can build on a dynamic postseason, the Flyers shouldn't have trouble scoring goals.
My biggest concern about the Flyers is the health and welfare of star defenseman Chris Pronger, who continues to recover from offseason back surgery. If the future Hall of Famer isn't healthy enough to play to his lofty standards, the Flyers will have a much more difficult time challenging the top teams in the East.
Why have teams not made more of an effort to sign Teemu Selanne after the type of season he just had? -- @Crotoots_Corner
At this point of his career, the 41-year-old Selanne has made it pretty clear that it's going to be Anaheim or nothing for him. In other words, he either will return to the Ducks or retire.
If he did want to shop his services around the market, I'm sure there are several teams that would love to sign him. After all, the guy was the League's No. 8 scorer last season with 80 points. I imagine the new group in Winnipeg would love to bring back the former Jet. Remember, once upon a time, Selanne was selected by the Jets with the No. 10 pick in the 1988 Entry Draft.
That isn't going to happen, though. If Selanne comes back for another year (and I hope he does!), it will be in Anaheim.
Are the Yashin-to-the-Islanders rumors true, or is it all a marketing ploy? Or is it both? -- @drive4fiveNYI
I don't see how it could be a marketing ploy. In the four seasons since the Islanders decided to buy out the remaining years on Alexei Yashin's contract, I haven't heard many (any) calls from the fans to bring him back.
However, Islanders owner Charles Wang has maintained a very strong friendship with Yashin. That's a fact. With that in mind, I can see two scenarios.
First, Wang sincerely wants to bring Yashin back to the Islanders. The club does need to spend to the cap floor and there just aren't many talented veteran players available on the market. And, really, would it be the strangest thing that's happened on the Island?
Second, Wang is feigning interest in Yashin as a personal favor to help drive a better contract offer from him in the KHL. There are a few who believe that's closer to the truth.
For the record, Yashin suffered a significant drop-off in scoring last season in the "K." In 52 games for St. Petersburg SKA, he finished with 33 points. That's 31 fewer points than he put up during the 2009-10 season. The former Senators and Islanders center will turn 38 in November.
Will any games be missed due to the expiring CBA (next fall)? -- @bshah79
While it's way too early to hazard a guess on something so far in the future, I'm going to be optimistic and say no. Talking to experienced people who understand sports business and sports labor negotiations, they tell me the next NHL CBA talks will be about numbers and not about the system.
They say when the talks are about philosophical differences in the system -- as they were during the League's last CBA negotiation that resulted in a lost season -- that's when problems can occur. Those sources see that kind of storm brewing around the ongoing NBA discussions.
Obviously, from an NHL-NHLPA standpoint, there's a lot that can happen between now and fall 2012.
New NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr is better known to most sports fans as the long-time leader of the Major League Baseball Players' Association. Since accepting the NHLPA position last fall, Fehr quietly has been working to get to know his constituents as well as better acquainting himself with the key issues.

While some media and fans are concerned based on his reputation, I think it's probably wise to reserve judgment until we hear more from him.
Does social networking influence NHL GMs in any way? -- @OedipusSC
I suspect all people are "influenced" one way or another by this huge phenomenon of our time. Most recently, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has taken to Twitter to inform as well as communicate with fans. That's something different.
While I don't think any manager is going to make moves to his roster based on the impact of social networking, I have to think that individual GMs will be "influenced" more or less depending upon their background.
How early do NHL scouts start looking at young players for the upcoming draft years -- @AndyLevang
Amateur scouts are constantly trying to keep themselves aware of top prospects. If a teenager stands out, scouts can be aware of that player well before his draft year.
From what I understand, the individual clubs go to work on putting together very preliminary lists of top prospects not long after one draft ends. That would mean some of that work -- looking ahead to the 2012 Entry Draft -- is happening now.
In early August, NHL amateur scouts will flock to Slovakia for the Ivan Hlinka (Under-18) tournament. The tourney is an excellent opportunity to get a look at the top draft-eligible players, going head-to-head in an elite tournament. At that point, the wheel is definitely moving toward June.
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