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Mailbag: Central Division race, Blackhawks' trade with Coyotes

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Nov. 28 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Which team in the Central Division currently in a playoff position do you think has the highest chance of dropping out before the end of the season: Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets or Dallas Stars? Or do you think they all make it? (Nashville Predators not included as the chances of them dropping out appear minimal). -- @Ser_Rob0TroN

I'm all in on the Central Division getting five teams into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I predicted in the preseason it would happen. I said then it would be the St. Louis Blues instead of the Minnesota Wild, but I had the other four you mentioned. It could still be the Blues if they find a way to turn things around under coach Craig Berube. It could be the Chicago Blackhawks too. The point is that the Central Division is by far the strongest of the two Western Conference divisions and five teams seem like a cinch this season. The seven Central Division teams had a combined plus-39 goal differential, including plus-67 for the five teams in a playoff position (Nashville, Minnesota, Colorado, Winnipeg and Dallas). The eight Pacific Division teams were a combined minus-59.

The one Pacific Division team that I think could throw a wrench into this is the Edmonton Oilers, provided coach Ken Hitchcock can get them to improve their defense and penalty killing.

 

Are the Tampa Bay Lightning the deepest team in the League? Also, who do you think is the odd man out when Ondrej Palat returns? -- @tblightning491

Great question. I think they are the deepest team in the NHL, with the Nashville Predators giving them their best challenge.

When healthy, the Lightning have an elite defense with Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman and at least three others who could be top pair defensemen in Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman and Mikhail Sergachev. Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi are quality depth defensemen who can bump up if necessary. The Predators also have an elite defense when healthy with P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie. So is Pekka Rinne of the Predators, who won it last year. Louis Domingue has been mostly solid in Vasilevskiy's absence. Juuse Saros is a quality backup to Rinne too.

Where the Lightning win out is up front, particularly with their terrific depth at center with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Cedric Paquette. I think Point is the Lightning's most valuable player because he does everything for them. The Predators are good down the middle with Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino and Calle Jarnkrok, but I think Tampa Bay's center depth is better. Nikita Kucherov is an elite scoring right wing for Tampa Bay. So is Filip Forsberg with Nashville, but I'll take Kucherov ahead of him. You have to love the fact that the Lightning have Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson playing on the wing. Both can move to center if necessary but they're clearly effective on the wing. Palat is an elite defensive forward in the mold of three-time Selke Trophy winner Jere Lehtinen. J.T. Miller and Alex Killorn provide some power and scoring. Miller could play center if necessary. They both can move around the lineup, from top line to fourth line.

My best guess is forward Adam Erne will come out of the lineup when Palat returns. Palat would likely play with Stamkos and Gourde, and Miller would like take Erne's spot on the fourth line to play with Paquette and Callahan, leaving Point in the middle of Johnson and Kucherov, and Cirelli in between Killorn and Mathieu Joseph.

 

Is Marc-Andre Fleury a Hall of Fame goaltender? If not, what does he need to do as he approaches his career's end in order to secure it? -- @GoldenSaucerGuy

Fleury is a Hall of Famer in my book. He secured it last season, when he helped the Vegas Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion even if he was the starter for only one of the Pittsburgh Penguins' three runs (2009). He is 10th on the NHL wins list with 417 and might finish his career in the top five along with Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist. He has a career 2.56 goals-against average and .913 save percentage and has been mostly durable and consistently on winning teams. Fleury, Lundqvist and Luongo should be locks for the Hall of Fame, and Fleury has won the Stanley Cup.

 

What do you make of the Chicago and Arizona trade? Did the Coyotes trade Dylan Strome too early? -- @TJRinger1

You're talking about the trade late Sunday with the Coyotes sending forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to the Blackhawks for forward Nick Schmaltz. It's a two for one trade with young forwards (Strome is 21, Perlini and Schmaltz are each 22), so on that alone it looks like the Blackhawks get the better end of it. However, the best way to analyze this trade is to project who got the best player. I think the Coyotes did. Schmaltz has the best upside. The center had 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in 78 games with the Blackhawks last season, playing a lot with Patrick Kane. It was enough to show he can score at the NHL level, especially when you put an elite player on his wing. He struggled with the Blackhawks this season (11 points in 23 games), but maybe some regression was to be expected. It could just be an early-season slump. Strome hasn't yet proven to be a capable NHL scorer (16 points in 48 games with the Coyotes). There are also questions about his speed. There are no questions about Schmaltz's speed. Perlini can be a quality second or third-line player for the Blackhawks, but his issue has been consistency. If he finds his game and Strome develops into a quality No. 2 center, the Blackhawks should be happy with their return, unless they see Schmaltz thrive and become a top-line center in Arizona who puts up 70-80 points per season, if not more. It's never good to trade away those guys, and Schmaltz has that potential.

 

Washington Capitals fans knew Tom Wilson was turning into a great power forward, but how did he become such a dominant player? And how important is his play in the Capitals going back-to-back? -- @JRempe55

It was right after the general managers met in Toronto on Nov. 13, the day we found out Wilson's 20-game suspension was reduced to 14 games and he became eligible to play immediately, when I asked Washington GM Brian MacLellan if he thinks his team was playing flat and if Wilson could energize the group if he plays the right way and avoids the illegal hits. "That's the key," he said. "We need it. We have been [lacking energy]. Part of it is trying to find our way after last year, a long year, and part of it is we miss him."

The Capitals are 7-1-0 with Wilson in the lineup. They have won six in a row, all without forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, an impressive feat. Wilson has 12 points (six goals, six assists). He has a point in all seven of the wins; he did not get a point in the 3-1 loss in Winnipeg on Nov. 14. His game and style bring energy to the rest of the team. He's the new breed of power forward in the NHL, intimidating, physical, strong, big (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) and a good skater. If he stays on the right side of the line, he'll continue to be an impact player.

 

What gives with the Florida Panthers? Are they underperforming or performing at the level they should be? Is it a systems issue? A coaching issue? A personnel issue? Help! -- @themoose0221

I'm as puzzled as you are. If you look at the lineup, even without injured center Vincent Trocheck, it doesn't make much sense that the Panthers are 9-9-4 through 22 games. Defense and goaltending have been issues. Goalie Roberto Luongo has been in and out of the lineup with injuries. I know he's 39 years old, but you would have hoped to get more than nine starts out of him by this point in the season. He allowed 16 goals on 88 shots in his last three full games before sustaining a knee injury that has kept him out for the past two games. The Panthers can score (3.27 goals per game) and their power play is good (25.6 percent). It's hard to iron out defensive issues if your No. 1 goalie can't stay healthy.

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