Do you think the Columbus Blue Jackets are good enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Or is this just a little streak that will wear out? -- @TJRinger1
Let's not call their 16-2-4 run since Dec. 9 a little streak. That's more than a quarter of the season, enough of a sample size to believe the Blue Jackets are good enough to make the playoffs. They understand their identity of being a simple, structured, defensive, disciplined team. They know when they stray from their identity how bad it can look, and they seem like a team that is honest in assessing its play. For example, they defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-0 on Saturday, but they didn't like how they played, feeling that they were noncompetitive at times in the game. They were good enough to score that night, but on most nights the Blue Jackets have to rely on their identity and excellent goaltending to win. They are 24th in goals per game (2.71), 23rd in power-play percentage (17.7 percent) and 27th in 5-on-5 shooting percentage (7.3 percent). Those ugly numbers would be the undoing of the Blue Jackets if they weren't tied for second in goals-against per game (2.51), 12th in penalty-killing percentage (81.9 percent), seventh in penalty minutes per game (7:23), fifth in times shorthanded (136) and first in 5-on-5 save percentage (.933). All the latter stats speak to their identity.
It'll be interesting to watch how, or if, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen attempts to supplement the scoring touch on the roster. We learned last season, when Columbus traded for pending unrestricted free agent forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, that Kekalainen is not afraid of making bold moves before the NHL Trade Deadline if he feels his team is capable of going on a run. But this season, the Blue Jackets have an identity working in their favor, and changing the chemistry to fix a perceived weakness on a team that appears to be playing above its expectations could create problems that don't currently exist. It's a balancing act for Kekalainen as he looks at his roster and assesses the trade market in advance of the 2020 deadline (Feb. 24, 3 p.m. ET).
Has Dominik Kubalik played his way into the Calder Trophy conversation? -- @RichBooth1
Anybody who says no hasn't been paying attention to Kubalik, the Chicago Blackhawks' 24-year-old forward who leads NHL rookies with 21 goals, including 19 at even strength, which is tied for eighth in the NHL. He has also elevated his status in the discussion for the Calder Trophy because Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson, who has 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 42 games, has missed the past seven games with a lower-body injury that has him on injured reserve.
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes are my two favorites to win the voting for the trophy given to the NHL rookie of the year because of their roles, minutes and production. Makar leads rookies with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 41 games playing 20:37 per game. Hughes leads rookies with 29 assists, 18 points on the power play (three goals, 15 assists), and 21:36 of ice time per game. But Kubalik has played his way into the conversation, with some flair too. His goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, when he swatted Jonathan Toews' pass out of the air, off goalie Frederik Andersen and into the net was a thing of beauty. He has 13 goals in 16 games since Dec. 19, tying him with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Toronto forward Auston Matthews for the most in the NHL in that span. That's some heavy company Kubalik is keeping, so he has to be under consideration for the Calder Trophy.
Video: CHI@TOR: Kubalik bats in his second for amazing goal
Do you see the New York Rangers moving Ryan Strome and Chris Kreider at the deadline? -- @KevTS1988
No on Strome because of the chemistry the center has developed with left wing Artemi Panarin and the fact that he can be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. The Rangers have no reason to hurry into a decision with Strome. They can wait until the offseason before deciding if they want to qualify him and negotiate a new contract, hoping, obviously, to avoid an arbitration hearing. If they don't want to go in that direction, they can trade him around the 2020 NHL Draft. The pool of potential trade partners is likely to be bigger at that time than near the deadline because everyone will be equal in points.
I lean yes on Kreider, but I have been wondering if there is still a chance for the Rangers to attempt to re-sign him even though everything seems very quiet on that front. Kreider can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Rangers understood the position they were putting themselves in when they decided not to trade him in the offseason. They were hoping to be hanging around the playoff race in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, and they knew that would make their decision on what to do with Kreider more challenging. There is time for them to figure out if they're legitimate playoff contenders, but they're in the mix now, and Kreider has been valuable. The question is, can the Rangers afford to keep Kreider beyond this season, especially if his NHL salary cap charge on a new contract is going to be $6.5 million or higher? If they don't think they can or they don't want to, the best move would be to trade him.
With Dougie Hamilton out and Justin Williams back, how active do you expect the Carolina Hurricanes to be leading up to the trade deadline? -- @MikeTheJet
Williams' return gives the Hurricanes added depth at forward, but Hamilton's injury (fractured left fibula) puts a strain on the defensemen and more of an onus on general manager Don Waddell to address their depth at the position. Carolina isn't likely to get a player of Hamilton's ilk before the deadline. He's having a season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration with 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) and a plus-30 rating in 47 games. However, there are defensemen who could be available in a trade who will improve Carolina's back end and play in a top-four role.
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez has one year remaining on his contract after this season and has experience as a two-time Stanley Cup winner. I also brought up his name last week in an answer about the Maple Leafs and their defensemen with the injury to Morgan Rielly (fractured foot). The difference is the Hurricanes have more wiggle room under the salary cap to bolster their back end than Toronto. They also could go over the cap by placing Hamilton on long-term injured reserve, where he realistically might have to stay for the remainder of the season. The Hurricanes would then be eligible to exceed the salary cap by Hamilton's cap charge ($5.75 million). Toronto likely wouldn't be able to keep Rielly on LTIR for the rest of the season with a timeline to re-evaluate him eight weeks from his injury, which brings him to mid-March.
Brenden Dillon (San Jose Sharks), Zach Bogosian (Buffalo Sabres), Marco Scandella (Montreal Canadiens), Ron Hainsey (Ottawa Senators) and Sami Vatanen (New Jersey Devils) are all pending unrestricted free agent defensemen who might be available too.
Video: NYI@CAR: Williams scores SO goal, leads Storm Surge
What is the likelihood of Alex Pietrangelo coming back next season for the St. Louis Blues? If not, do you see a trade before the deadline occurring or will they possibly let him walk at season's end? Could the Blues continue their success without him? -- @Wozniak_Brett97
The Blues, rightfully, are focused on this season and the opportunity they have to win the Stanley Cup again. That's why I would be stunned if they traded Pietrangelo because the contract situation is unresolved and he could leave as an unrestricted free agent July 1. I'm sure the Blues have identified his value to them, but they have to be progressive and try to avoid paying veteran players a premium based on their past accomplishments. That's a problem the Kings and Blackhawks both fell into after winning the Stanley Cup multiple times last decade.
Pietrangelo might be having the best season of his NHL career -- he's tied for fourth among defensemen with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 49 games, is third among defensemen in shots on goal (155) and he's playing 24:08 per game. But the Blues also know he turned 30 on Saturday and there is a danger in giving a long-term contract to a player in his 30s, especially a defenseman who has regularly averaged between 24-27 minutes per game for nine consecutive seasons.
For example, Chicago signed Brent Seabrook to an eight-year contract extension Sept. 27, 2015, when he was already a three-time Stanley Cup champion with them, averaged between 22-25 minutes per game for seven straight seasons and had turned 30 five months earlier. Seabrook has not lived up to his contract, his numbers continued to decline, and he has been on long-term injured reserve since Dec. 26; he had surgery on his right shoulder the next day and was scheduled to have surgery on each hip by February. Seabrook, by the way, had an NHL career-high 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) in 2015-16, the last season of his previous five-year contract before the eight-year extension kicked in.
Pietrangelo is a vital, irreplaceable piece to a team that has the ability to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. That's all that needs to matter presently.