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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Kucherov negotiations, Penguins goalies

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 5 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Most likely to sign Nikita Kucherov? Offer sheets? -- @blh3999

The Tampa Bay Lightning.

I don't see it playing out any other way. I don't see an offer sheet coming, but my best guess is the Lightning would match any offer sheet and deal with it after that. But who knows? That might make it easier on them, forcing them to move quicker than they are right now.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman knows how valuable Kucherov is to them. In my opinion, he's fourth behind Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop /Andrei Vasilevskiy. I lump Bishop and Vasilevskiy together because it certainly seems like Bishop's time is now but Vasilevskiy's time is coming.

I fully expect Yzerman to sign Kucherov and make a corresponding move, if necessary, to make the Lightning cap-compliant. That could mean trading Tyler Johnson if he has to, even if that would deplete the Lightning's center depth and remove a key piece of the "Triplets Line." That could mean trading Jason Garrison or Braydon Coburn and depleting their defense depth. Those moves might seem unfriendly and I'm sure Yzerman will be criticized for "mismanaging the cap," but when you have good young players who need to get paid, something always has to give.

They can't give on Kucherov. He's a 40-goal scorer in the making. He's a budding star. You need players like him to play on a different line than Stamkos because that's how you make a strong and deep team. See Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel). See Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane). See Washington Capitals (Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov).

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm4: Kucherov scores off Johnson's feed

Do the Anaheim Ducks move a defenseman, and if so who and to what team? -- @victortroyan

I think they will in order to get Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell signed. The Ducks have about $7.5 million remaining in cap space, according to General Fanager. Lindholm and Rakell likely will cost them more than that. Sami Vatanen got a $4.875 million average annual value on his four-year, $19.5 million contract. Lindholm is better than Vatanen and deserves at least $5 million per season. Rakell's AAV on his next contract should come in lower than that, but it still would mean the Ducks would have to make a corresponding move.

Cam Fowler would be the defensemen to go. His name is mentioned most in rumors, and I haven't seen anyone from the Ducks saying that Fowler is safe in Anaheim. He's a definite tradeable commodity at 24 years old with two years remaining on his contract, which carries a $4 million salary-cap charge. The Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils are the first two teams that come to mind when I think about where Fowler could end up. Each needs major help on defense, and Fowler should be entering his prime years now.

As I've mentioned before, I think the Ducks botched this a bit by re-signing Kevin Bieksa to a two-year, $8 million contract extension last year. Bieksa is a solid player, a veteran leader, but he's 35 and making what Fowler is making for the next two seasons. The Ducks wouldn't be in this predicament if they didn't re-sign Bieksa. They'd have one of the best young defenses in the League with Fowler, Lindholm, Vatanen, Simon Despres, Josh Manson and Shea Theodore all 25 or younger. They'd still have 31-year-old Clayton Stoner for a veteran presence.

Do you think Marc-Andre Fleury regains the starting job from Matt Murray? -- @attackhunter97

Considering Murray will miss the start of the season because of a broken hand, I'd say Fleury already has regained the starting job from him. The better question, and the question you probably meant to ask, is: Will Fleury keep the starting job once Murray is healthy?

The Penguins said on Sept. 24 that Murray would be out 3-6 weeks. If he's to return on the early side of that, it would be Oct. 15, but that might be pushing it. Fleury will have an opportunity to get off to a strong start. If he does, there'd be no reason for coach Mike Sullivan to just give Murray the No. 1 job back; he gained it because of Fleury's injury late last season. If Fleury is playing well, Murray will have to wait. If Fleury continues to play well, it will present an interesting dilemma for GM Jim Rutherford because he knows his goalie situation between Fleury and Murray will have to get ironed out at some point before June, when Las Vegas has its expansion draft.

Fleury has three years remaining on his contract, which includes a limited no-movement clause. He would have to waive his no-movement clause for the Penguins to trade him. He told the Tribune-Review last month that he hasn't asked for a trade and he wants to play in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career. However, if he knows he's going to be the backup, he might be more inclined to change his mind. But if he thinks he's going to be the starter, or has a chance to be the starter, he might not want to leave Pittsburgh, where he already has laid down roots with a family. That would force Rutherford to trade Murray or risk leaving him unprotected for the expansion draft. If I was Las Vegas GM George McPhee, Murray would be my first choice so I could lock up the goalie position, the most important position on the team, with a Stanley Cup winner.

A lot still has to play out, and I'm speculating on the future with the expansion draft, but the fact is that Fleury will have a great opportunity to earn his job back. Now let's see what he does with it.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm5: Fleury makes tough stop after faceoff

How do you see the Nashville Predators defense working out with Roman Josi and P.K. Subban the clear top two, but both are offensive? -- @MeierGilles

This is a strong defense. Josi and Subban can be more offensive, but don't discount what they can do in the defensive zone and how they break the puck out of that area. They are two of the best in the League at breaking the puck out of the zone. That's huge. Subban himself is a one-man rush waiting to happen. Josi still doesn't get enough credit for his overall game. That's an injustice to him. He's excellent. But don't forget Mattias Ekholm, who is physical, smart, offensive when he needs to be and strong in the D zone too. Ryan Ellis is more of a puck-mover, but that works when he plays with Ekholm.

That said, I can see a situation now, based on the preseason, that has Subban playing with Ekholm and Josi with Ellis. Subban could simply replace Shea Weber and play with Josi, but I would think the Predators would want to maximize the offense they can get out of their defense by spreading them out. Ekholm can be defensively responsible, but he also is a solid puck-mover and skater. Josi might have more responsibility in the D zone if he plays with Ellis, but that shouldn't be an issue if he's breaking the puck out well and helping to start the Predators offense.

Projected amount of points for John Tavares? Do Jimmy Vesey or Pavel Buchnevich get a top six role or let them progress in the bottom six? -- @RTaub_

The rare New York Islanders-New York Rangers two questions in one question. I like it. Not playing favorites. Good for you. Smart move.

Tavares had 70 points in 78 games last season. That's too low for him. I see him up around 80-85 points, so I'll split the difference and round up one and say 83 points for Tavares if he plays the full season. It'll make a difference for him if Brock Nelson and/or Ryan Strome emerge as a legitimate No. 2 center. Tavares is, in my opinion, a top 10 player in the NHL, maybe even top five or six. I love his game. He's maybe the best 1-on-1 player in the Eastern Conference. I'd give Patrick Kane the edge in the Western Conference.

I think one of Vesey or Buchnevich will play a top six role. It depends on chemistry. If Vesey fares well with Derek Stepan, he'll get the top six role to start the season, potentially with Rick Nash on the right side. That means Nash would have to move from left to right, but he should be versatile enough to do that. That would leave a second line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello, and a third line of J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Buchnevich. Brandon Pirri could fit in somewhere in the top nine too, but if Vesey and Buchnevich shine, Pirri might be destined to be the 13th forward.

On the other side, Vesey might be more comfortable with Hayes, possibly pushing Buchnevich up in the lineup. If that happens, Nash might be able to stay on the left wing, leaving Nash, Kreider, Vesey and Jesper Fast as the four left wings.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has a lot of options.

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