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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Flyers could trade for defenseman, Calder Trophy contenders

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the March 3 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked on Twitter using #OvertheBoards.

 

Do you think Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher pulls the trigger on a trade for a veteran defenseman? Mattias Ekholm's name has been out there; do the Flyers need such a player? If not him, who could they target and at what cost? -- @theashcity 

The Flyers should try to get some help and Ekholm makes the most sense if he's available. The Nashville Predators defenseman, a left-handed shot signed through next season with an NHL salary cap charge of $3.75 million, is a strong two-way player, particularly as a presence in front of the net and ability to play in transition. He's more well-rounded than Erik Gustafsson and Robert Hagg, Flyers defensemen who are also left-handed shots. Ekholm would likely jump them on the depth chart. 

The Flyers won't be alone targeting Ekholm, who could be one of the most sought-after players if the Predators move him. I think this will be a limited trade market, so a player like Ekholm will get a lot of attention. That could drive up the price, but the Flyers have to consider the cost, potentially a high draft pick and a prospect, and how it relates to the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Let's say they protect defensemen Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers in the expansion draft, which would make sense. That leaves them open to losing Ekholm to the Seattle Kraken. Is it worth giving up quality assets for what amounts to half a season of Ekholm? It's something to consider, but if the Flyers are about winning the Stanley Cup this season then they have to go for it.

 

Who are your top three in the Calder Trophy race so far? -- @swandad 

1. Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild 

2. Kevin Lankinen, Chicago Blackhawks 

3. Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils 

Kaprizov is the dynamic player the Wild haven't had since forward Marian Gaborik was in his prime in the early 2000s and scoring at least 30 goals per season regularly. He's flashy, but I watch him and think he's a play or two ahead of everyone else. He can make terrific plays without sacrificing the little things in the game that turn skilled players into winners. The forward leads rookies with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 19 games. 

Forget rookies, Lankinen is a top 10 goalie in the NHL at 9-3-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 15 games. The Blackhawks wouldn't be in the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Discover Central Division without him. 

Smith can score, run the power play and be strong enough on defense to continue to be relied upon by coach Lindy Ruff. The next step for the defenseman is to play on the penalty kill.

Video: LAK@MIN: Kaprizov nets wraparound to open scoring

 

What can the Buffalo Sabres do, if anything, to salvage this season or is it already too far gone? -- @SabrePats13 

There is no magic potion. They have to find a way to play out of it. They have the pieces. Look at the talent on the roster: Jack Eichel. Taylor Hall. Jeff Skinner. Eric Staal. Sam Reinhart. Dylan Cozens. Victor Olofsson. Rasmus Dahlin. Rasmus Ristolainen. Why isn't this team better? Why are they stuck in the mud again this season? 

COVID-19 hit them hard. Scoring has been a major problem. Hall has not scored a goal at 5-on-5 and is shooting 1.9 percent, Eichel was shooting 3.6 percent, and Skinner has as many goals as me on 35 shots. The Sabres are 29th with 2.20 goals per game and aren't last because their power play (30.7 percent, third) is propping them up. You can't convince me that these players can't figure it out without outside help via trades or a coaching change. But losing can be contagious, just as winning can be, and I wonder if the Sabres are always waiting for the bad thing to happen.  

Honestly, why wouldn't they? I already mentioned their struggles with COVID-19, including coach Ralph Krueger. Eichel has been dealing with injuries since the start of training camp. Defenseman Jake McCabe was lost for the season with a knee injury. Goalie Linus Ullmark had to miss games in January because of the death of his father, and a lower-body injury sustained last week will keep him out until at least the end of the month. 

But the talent is there, and the Sabres need their best players to start scoring.

Has Pavel Zacha finally arrived in the NHL? Obviously, we can't expect him to maintain this point streak forever, but do you see him sustaining and becoming a 60-point player in a regular 82-game season? How much of it do you think is a response to the new system in place? -- @Rob_Oswald 

Zacha belongs at left wing with a grinding, playmaking center like Nico Hischier. Zacha was drafted as a center and that's where the Devils thought he would succeed, but with the additions of centers Hischier and Jack Hughes since Zacha was the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Devils can keep Zacha on his strong side wing.

Zacha is good at coming off the wall and finding shooting lanes. He's had a highly touted shot since entering the NHL and is starting to use it more willingly. He's big enough (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) to protect the puck on the wall. He can back in and has the power and skill to take a defender straight on. His skating has improved, so he's become a strong player up and down the wall. He played a lot at center in the first four seasons of his NHL career, but topped out at 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 65 games last season.

I think you'll see Zacha's game continue to grow and production to rise if he stays on the wing. But if he regresses, if his willingness to shoot goes away, if he stops moving his feet up and down the wall, then his value takes a major hit.

 

Is it time to panic with Mika Zibanejad? -- @AnalyticsNyr 

Don't panic, but Zibanejad's scoring problems (seven points; two goals, five assists in 20 games) have gone on long enough for the New York Rangers and their fans to be worried. I don't see the same burst from Zibanejad we saw last season, when the center scored 41 goals in 57 games. He would gain a step and blow past a defender in the neutral zone. That hasn't been happening as often. I don't see the same dangerous shot. It's more predictable, easy enough for defenders to read and get in front of to block or at least alter.  

Zibanejad has had 28 shot attempts blocked, tied for 10th most among forwards with Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The nine players ahead of him and Marner have all attempted more shots than Zibanejad's 107. It's alarming that he's not getting more than a quarter of his shots through to the goalie. When he does get a shot through, he's not wiring it like he did last season. Zibanejad's finish has been off too. He's had his share of chances on breakaways and 2-on-1s, but he's not scoring. I wouldn't panic, but this has gone on long enough this season for worry to set in.

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