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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Dark horse playoff contenders, slow starts for Stars, Sharks

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 30 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

With almost a month gone in the season, do you see any of the basement dwellers becoming dark horse playoff contenders? -- @Rob_Oswald

The St. Louis Blues did it, so it's possible. That's the new motivation for teams that struggle in the first half of the season, right? I get it. The Blues were last in the NHL on Jan. 3 last season, and they won the Stanley Cup. But as Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett said a few weeks ago, when I was asking him about his team's hot start, it's not something anyone in the League is betting on happening regularly.

I do not see a potential Stanley Cup Playoff team among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference standings right now. I picked the New Jersey Devils to make the playoffs, but their start has given me reservations about how high I was rating them going into the season. They're not deep enough up front, their defense is struggling, and their goaltending hasn't bailed them out. The New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators aren't close right now.

It's different in the Western Conference. I think the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars still have the talent to turn it around, to get hot, go on a winning streak, and make up the ground. The Sharks need to get their defense and goaltending in order. The Stars must get their offense going, have their stars play like stars. I'll go into detail in answers below, but I wouldn't count either of them out at this point.

 

How do you think Bill Guerin should proceed this season for the Minnesota Wild? To me, I still see them as sellers come deadline time, but they're so up and down it's hard to really determine. -- @wild_4_MNhockey

Being up and down means they're inconsistent, which means they're likely not good enough to be a playoff team. But this season isn't about the playoffs for the Wild. Don't misconstrue that to mean they're not trying. They're trying. They want to win. But they are, as you said, too up and down, too inconsistent, and Guerin needs time to get his finger on the pulse of his new team. Guerin was hired Aug. 21; he didn't have an offseason with the Wild. Would he have signed 32-year-old forward Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract the way former GM Paul Fenton did? It's debatable, especially if he wants to get younger. That's just one example.

It's not fair to judge Guerin on this season, just like it wouldn't be fair for him to be reactive without getting the full scope of what he has to work with in Minnesota. He needs at least half the season to make quality determinations and probably up until the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 to decide what he wants to do. The Wild wouldn't be sellers in the traditional sense either, because the only pending unrestricted free agent they have is center Mikko Koivu, who is their captain. But Guerin could make other moves, hockey trades, and I don't think anyone on the Wild is necessarily safe, although I wouldn't trade defenseman Matt Dumba, and it would be hard to move forward Zach Parise and/or defenseman Ryan Suter. Each has five more years on his contract after this season.

The Wild don't have to do a complete overhaul similar to the Rangers because they've already got some solid players in position, especially at defenseman with Dumba, Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin. But if there's a market for center Eric Staal or even goalie Devan Dubnyk, they could be moved. Each has one year remaining on his contract after this season. Brodin is in a similar situation. Don't rule out Guerin checking the market on forward Jason Zucker, who has three years left on his contract after this season. Regardless, Guerin needs time to see what he has. Anything he does now would be done without enough information.

 

How long before the Dallas Stars make some significant moves? Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry didn't help. Who's on the block? Jamie Benn? -- @officebrian

If the Stars put Benn on the block, 30 teams would be calling general manager Jim Nill. Seattle GM Ron Francis might call too, just to see if he could get Benn for future considerations. OK, that's not happening, but you get my point. If every other team would want Benn, why would the Stars move him? He needs to be more productive. He needs to start hitting the net more instead of posts and just missing. Maybe he's been too fine with his shooting, but generally speaking, the chances are there. It can turn quickly.

And you say Pavelski and Perry didn't work out, as if 14 games is enough of a sample size to guarantee that they are busts in Dallas. Wrong. They've struggled. The entire team has struggled to score. I'm not suggesting Nill shouldn't try to shake things up; he might need to. But trading Benn isn't the answer. Giving up on Pavelski and Perry won't happen. The Stars should be contenders. They need more offense.

Shawn Roarke, our senior director of editorial, made the point on the latest NHL @TheRink podcast that Pavelski could be this season's Ryan O'Reilly, the Blues center who didn't seem comfortable in the first half of last season with his new team but started to take ownership in the second. His game and the team took off. I could see something similar happening with Pavelski. You can listen to the podcast here.

Video: CGY@DAL: Benn finishes feed off from Hintz for PPG

 

Should Sharks fans be concerned with San Jose's slow start? What's going on with them? -- @tealforreal_96

Yes, Sharks fans absolutely should be concerned. It's alarming how off the Sharks look. It's not something we're used to seeing. There is a disjointed look to the Sharks, who aren't a fast team to begin with, but now they're playing without their typical organization and discipline. Worse yet, their goaltending isn't masking any of the issues or eliminating some of the concerns because neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell has played well. Jones has an .890 save percentage, and Dell is at .891. Those are 35th and 36th in the NHL among the 46 goalies who have played five or more games. They're getting zero help, though, especially at 5-on-5.

Many of the Sharks' most important players are getting stuck in the defensive zone far too often in 5-on-5 situations. There are 103 forwards in the League who have at least six points at even strength this season; none is from San Jose. Logan Couture, the Sharks captain, was minus-48 in 5-on-5 shot attempts differential before a 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, sixth-worst among NHL forwards. He has four even-strength points (one goal, three assists) because the Sharks rarely have the puck when he's on the ice. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has been their best defensive stopper for several seasons, was minus-39 in shot-attempts differential entering Tuesday, tied for 12th-worst among defensemen. Patrick Marleau was minus-36 in eight games, Timo Meier was minus-32, and Brent Burns was minus-11. Meier has two goals after scoring 30 last season, and Burns has three after he had 16. Erik Karlsson was plus-4, but that's irrelevant when you factor in his minus-11 rating. He was on the ice for all seven goals in a 5-2 loss at the Ottawa Senators on Sunday. Not good.

It's a lot to turn around, but the Sharks can do it with the talent they have if they start playing together and if their goaltending starts to back them up and bail them out. That might be a lot to ask, but they're home for 11 of their 15 games in November, so the schedule presents an opportunity to make amends for a poor October. It's not too late yet.

 

Now with Vladimir Tarasenko out at least five months, what's the best course of action for the St. Louis Blues? -- @matt_winthrop

The best course of action for the Blues is to stay the course in the short term and see who steps up in Tarasenko's absence. Losing Tarasenko for at least five months because of the surgery he had on his left shoulder Tuesday creates a hole, but it's an opportunity for forwards like Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas, Robby Fabbri and Zach Sanford. Louie Korac, our Blues correspondent, detailed it in his story from practice Tuesday.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is never hesitant to pull the trigger on a trade if he feels his team needs a change. He was close to doing it last season, but he read the situation accurately and gave coach Craig Berube time to get them going in the right direction. Clearly, that worked as St. Louis won the Stanley Cup. The Blues still are very much in win-now mode even without Tarasenko, their leading goal-scorer in each of the past five seasons, so Armstrong will look for outside help if he doesn't feel like they are making up for what they lose in Tarasenko. We won't know that for several weeks though, so Armstrong is right to stay the course for now and give the players he has brought to St. Louis either through the draft (Blais, Thomas, Fabbri) or trade (Sanford) a chance in elevated roles.

Video: COL@STL: Tarasenko buries Schwartz's pass

 

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Listen: New episode of NHL @The Rink

 

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