4-17 Q-Hughes Stamkos Mailbag

Here is the April 17 edition of the weekly NHL.com mailbag, where we answer your questions asked on X. Send your questions to @drosennhl and @NHLdotcom and tag it with #OvertheBoards.

Where would you rank Roman Josi on your Norris Trophy ballot. It seems Quinn Hughes has it locked up (deservedly so), but it's hard to argue Josi isn't the best all-around defenseman in the League. -- @ItsGovertime

We are running our end of season Trophy Tracker stories this week after our staff voted on the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Calder Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Jack Adams Award last week. We don't have an official vote, but we do Trophy Trackers at every quarter of the season. Josi, the Nashville Predators defenseman, was second on my ballot for the Norris behind Hughes.

Hughes, the Vancouver Canucks captain, has been the best defenseman in the NHL from start to finish. Not only does he lead the position with 74 assists and 91 points, he is plus-39 in 81 games. I tend to disregard the plus/minus stat unless the number stands out on either side of it. Plus-39 stands out. It shows Hughes' dominance when he's on the ice. If it was plus-10 or so, sure, that would be good, but he plays nearly 25 minutes per game and the plus/minus stat inherently lends itself to randomness. He could be on the ice for a goal for or a goal against and be 100 feet away from the play, but plus-39 shows that he routinely is on the ice for positive results and his production shows that he's the one driving those positive results. That's why Hughes is No. 1 for me this season.

Josi, Nashville's captain, is No. 2 for many of the same reasons, driving possession, leading the offense from the back end, creating without sacrificing his defending and doing it for nearly 25 minutes per game. He needs to have more of a shooting presence for the Predators because of how their offense is run and where they need the shots to come from to score consistently. Hughes can be more of a dasher and passer to create for the Canucks. It's close, but Hughes has done it at a higher level for longer this season. Josi's second-half surge (36 points, plus-15 in past 28 games) vaulted him into the running with Hughes, Cale Makar and, in my opinion, Josh Morrissey, Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman, but Hughes has been a relentless force all season.

VAN@ARI: Hughes scores from the point for PPG in 2nd

Most people probably expect Steven Stamkos to re-sign with the Lightning, but what other teams could be in play? -- @punmasterrifkin

I'm on the fence about Stamkos' return to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They've been steadfast in their desire to wait until after the season to iron out the future of their captain. If the Lightning go out in the Eastern Conference First Round, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they let Stamkos become an unrestricted free agent. A first-round loss could trigger the Lightning into a refresh of sorts, leaving Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy in place, but reworking the roster around that core. I am not saying that's the right thing to do. Stamkos is a 40-goal scorer again this season. He's 34, has played 1,204 NHL games when you combine regular season (1,081) and Stanley Cup Playoffs (123), and he is still a top player. But he has to determine what he wants and if that matches with the Lightning's potential plan for him. For example, if he wants a four-year deal and the Lightning only want to give him two years, will there be a middle ground or is that the breaking point for Stamkos with Tampa Bay? There's a lot to figure out.

If Stamkos becomes a UFA, I think he'll want to go to a big-market team on the cusp of a bright future. The Montreal Canadiens make sense, especially with Martin St. Louis as their coach. Stamkos and St. Louis were close when they were teammates in Tampa Bay and they're still tight. St. Louis would love to have a player like Stamkos to show the way in Montreal. He's the type of veteran, experienced, championship-caliber scorer and leader that they need. And, let's face it, Montreal is Montreal, a legendary hockey market, and playing for the Canadiens is special. That's the one that makes the most sense if Stamkos leaves. The other would be the Detroit Red Wings for a reunion with former Lightning and current Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman.

BUF@TBL: Stamkos whips in nasty wrister for 40th of the season

Is it a realistic option for Filip Chytil to be the Rangers' RW1 when/if he comes back? -- @JCKakko40

This is a big if, but that's a potential landing spot for Chytil if he can return during the playoffs. That would depend on how Jack Roslovic looks on that top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The past two games have been good for that line. Roslovic scored in a 4-0 win against the Ottawa Senators on Monday. If it's not in Roslovic's spot, another one for Chytil is center on the third line between Will Cuylle and Kaapo Kakko, pushing Alex Wennberg to the fourth line, where he would be the center between Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey. That would give the New York Rangers more of a dynamic, scoring presence on their third line with Chytil, who has more offensive upside than Wennberg when healthy. It would give them a bona fide matchup/checking line as their fourth line with Wennberg, Goodrow and Vesey all being top defensive forwards and penalty killers. 

None of that is a sure thing to happen. Chytil is practicing with the Rangers. He's able to take some contact, but he hasn't played since Nov. 2, when he initially sustained an upper-body injury. He had a setback during a lightly attended optional morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 26. It was then that the Rangers ruled him out for the rest of the season, but he's practicing and has been medically cleared, so he's not ruled out for the playoffs.

Can you list three or four players who are great players for teams at the bottom of the standings? Would Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes be on that list? -- @TrishTheMiddle

If we just look at the bottom four teams in the NHL this season, I'll give you three players who are not yet "great players," as you're looking for, but on their way. That's Connor Bedard of the Chicago Blackhawks, Leo Carlsson of the Anaheim Ducks and Adam Fantilli of the Columbus Blue Jackets, otherwise known as the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively, in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Keller would certainly be high on the list of top players on struggling teams. He's a game-changing type of player who hasn't had enough talent and depth around him to push the Coyotes further along to be a playoff contender. He had 86 points (37 goals, 49 assists) in 82 games last season coming off a leg surgery and playing for a non-playoff team. He has 75 points (33 goals, 42 goals) in 77 games this season, again for a non-playoff team. Keller has 224 points (98 goals, 126 assists) in 226 games since 2021-22, putting him in the top 30-40 range of points per game (0.99).

The Minnesota Wild also struggled, which means forward Kirill Kaprizov is among the best players in the NHL who won't be in the playoffs. Kaprizov was tied for eighth in goals (45) and 11th in points (95). He and Sidney Crosby are the only players with at least 40 goals this season (17 total) whose team failed to qualify for the postseason.

Zach Werenski of the Blue Jackets is one of the top defensemen in the NHL. His problem is he hasn't been able to stay healthy enough each season to prove it consistently. The New Jersey Devils didn't make the playoffs, but that doesn't make me think any less of Jack Hughes, one of the most talented, skilled and dangerous players in the League. If the Buffalo Sabres can figure it out around him, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will win the Norris Trophy one of these years. He's of that quality.