Here is the Feb. 15 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.
Will the New York Islanders make the playoffs? Will John Tavares re-sign? Will the Islanders make any moves before the deadline? -- @NY_luvs_DDUB
It's a fool's errand to try to predict whether the Islanders are going to make the playoffs. They're obviously right in the mix and playing well since coach Doug Weight took over, but they've had to get scorching hot just to get back in the race. It's a lot to ask of a team to stay that hot for more than two months, and that might be what the Islanders have to do to secure a spot. I'm not ready to say yes or no mainly because there are other teams pushing, like the Florida Panthers and, at least recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are 3-0-1 in their past four games. The Philadelphia Flyers are right there too and coming off a potentially significant win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
It's also too early to say if Tavares is going to re-sign because there are mitigating factors. The good news for the Islanders and their fans is Tavares is extremely loyal and has stated publicly his desire to remain an Islander. But he might want to get some answers about the direction in which the team is going before signing. I'd be worried if he isn't signed before training camp.
The Islanders should try to be bold with the trade deadline approaching. They have an opportunity to bring playoff hockey to Brooklyn again, something that didn't seem possible a month ago. They should go hard after Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. Will the cost be steep? Yes. Might it cost them defenseman Ryan Pulock? Yes. Might it cost them a first-round pick? Yes. Might it cost them more? Yes. But it's worth it. Duchene is an elite player with two years remaining on his contract beyond this season. He knows Tavares and has played with him in international tournaments. That helps too. He can play center or the wing. The Avalanche reportedly want a top young defenseman. The Islanders have a surplus of defensemen, and Pulock could be had. This is a no-brainer for GM Garth Snow to go big.
Video: NYI@DET: Tavares buries Strome's dish for PPG
Where do you see Nino Niederreiter's status and contract situation given he leads the team in goals and overall play? -- @MeierGilles
The Minnesota Wild's salary-cap situation. Do we have to go here now? They're having such a good season, can't this wait? OK, it can't. The Wild are in a tough spot with the cap, especially if it stays flat or close to flat at the $73 million it is this season. There's no doubt the Wild would want to sign Niederreiter and protect him for the 2017 Expansion Draft. But what will they have to pay the 24-year-old forward, who is in the final season of a three-year, $8 million contract and can become a restricted free agent July 1? And how will that impact what they pay forward Mikael Granlund, who, like Niederreiter, also is scheduled to become a restricted free agent July 1. Surely the Wild would want to protect Granlund too. So what do they do?
Can the Wild get forward Jason Pominville to waive his no-movement clause and leave him unprotected for the expansion draft? Can they get someone to take his contract? According to capfriendly.com, the Wild already are at $61 million on the cap next season and that's without Niederreiter, Granlund, forward Erik Haula and defenseman Christian Folin. Haula could be a target for the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Jason Zucker, a Las Vegas native, also is a potential pick for Vegas if the Wild don't protect him. He has a $2 million cap charge for next season. The Wild will lose one player, just like all NHL teams.
Niederreiter could command $5 million or more per season in his next contract. I think reasonable comparables are Philadelphia Flyers forwards Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Schenn, 25, is in the first season of a four-year, $20.5 million contract ($5.125 million cap charge). Couturier, 24, is in the first season of a six-year, $26 million contract ($4.33 million cap charge). If Niederreiter comes in somewhere in their neighborhood, shouldn't Granlund too? It's going to be a difficult situation for Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, but fans should enjoy the season now and worry about that later.
Video: DET@MIN: Niederreiter nets Koivu's slick feed for PPG
Have the Wild already secured the Central Division? Or do the Chicago Blackhawks have a shot at winning the division title? -- @vasanthy23
The Blackhawks have a shot, at least mathematically. They're on a six-day break, so the Wild have an opportunity to pad their lead. I remain thoroughly impressed with how the Blackhawks continue to win in spite of a lack of depth at forward and deficiencies on defense. It's more proof of just how good the Blackhawks' core group of players is and why Joel Quenneville is one of the best NHL coaches of all time.
However, the Wild clearly remain in control and it would take a small miracle for the Blackhawks to move past them and finish first. I say that only because I don't think the Wild will falter in the last seven and a half weeks of the season. They're solid from front to back, deep everywhere, and likely willing to add to that depth before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1. They're well coached and have the best goaltender in the Western Conference, and arguably the best in the League this season, in Devan Dubnyk. I'd be shocked if the Wild fall apart.
What do you see the Los Angeles Kings doing at the deadline? -- @LAKingsDG
I'm not expecting much. General manager Dean Lombardi traded his past two first-round draft picks for Andrej Sekera and Milan Lucic, respectively, who play for the Edmonton Oilers. Lombardi recently told the Los Angeles Times that he doesn't see the Kings getting too involved at the deadline and certainly not to the extent to where they are trading more first-round picks. I could see the Kings trying to add a depth forward, perhaps one who could play on their second or third line and has offensive upside. Jarome Iginla could fit that bill and could play higher in the lineup too. But frankly the Kings need to get better from within. They need more out of center Anze Kopitar. They need more out of forward Marian Gaborik. They should be good enough to do some damage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if and when goaltender Jonathan Quick returns. They haven't shown it yet. Will they? I don't know.
Video: LAK@ARI: Kopitar crashes net, buries loose puck
If you had to pick one team from both conferences, who would you say are the dark horses for the Stanley Cup? -- @nyrprpokemon
From the Eastern Conference I say the New York Rangers for a couple of reasons. I am not buying the Columbus Blue Jackets. They had a great winning streak -- 16 games, one short of the NHL record -- but have been average since, and I am starting to wonder if they peaked too early. Also, I don't believe any of the teams in the Atlantic Division are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, though the Montreal Canadiens could get there with the right additions before the trade deadline. It was a major step in the right direction to hire Claude Julien, one of the best in the business, as coach Tuesday.
From the Western Conference I say the St. Louis Blues, but this is contingent on two things: 1) The Blues are for real under coach Mike Yeo and their recent success isn't just a blip, and 2) They don't trade defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues have a lot of weapons, and if GM Doug Armstrong feels the team is a true contender by the end of the month he likely will add to the roster instead of subtracting a significant piece like Shattenkirk. There's still time for the Blues to make a determination on Shattenkirk. If they fall back down, bank on him being traded.
What are the Penguins going to do with Marc-Andre Fleury? What should they do? -- @petefrompitt
They'll eventually trade him. He wants to play. He won't get much of a chance to do that in Pittsburgh unless Matt Murray gets hurt, and even then it's not a long-term solution for him to play. But they don't need to trade him before the deadline unless they can get a player in return who can help them win the Stanley Cup this season. If that player is Duchene and Fleury has to be part of the package to get him, well, then it's goodbye Marc-Andre and thanks for the memories. Goaltending, though, is a position of strength for the Penguins and I wouldn't want to deplete strength at the most important position at this stage of the season just to ensure that Murray is going to be protected in the expansion draft. The Penguins can deal with the Fleury situation after the season and before the expansion draft. That's the route they should go unless they can get an impact player for him.
Video: PIT@ARI: Fleury stretches to deny Perlini's breakaway