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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Young teams have edge if season resumes, next Rangers captain

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Here is the April 8 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

What teams do you think will climb the standings if the season resumes? Which teams nosedive? -- @FusionGains

Hard to say, because if the season resumes with regular-season games, every team will be in the same position, starting from scratch, no momentum, trying to get their skating legs back as quickly as possible. The teams that get up to NHL speed the fastest will have a huge advantage, which is why teams that have younger legs should, pardon the pun, have a leg up. In the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs would, in theory, be in a good position to try to make a push because of their youth. They are the second-, third- and fourth-youngest teams in the NHL with average ages of 26.0, 26.2 and 26.6. The Blue Jackets could have defenseman Seth Jones back from his fractured ankle. The Tampa Bay Lightning would likely have center Steven Stamkos back from his core muscle surgery. The Winnipeg Jets (average age 26.9) and Colorado Avalanche (27.0) would be in strong positions in the Western Conference. The Avalanche could have a healthy lineup with goalie Philipp Grubauer, and forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri back. They were injured when the season was paused March 12 due to the concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The St. Louis Blues would have forward Vladimir Tarasenko back from his late-October shoulder surgery. 

I didn't like the way the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars were trending at the time of the pause and each is an older team. The Islanders, whose average age (29.0) is sixth highest in the NHL, had lost seven in a row (0-3-4) and were 2-7-4 in their previous 13 games. The Stars, whose average age of 29.6 is the highest in the League, had lost six in a row (0-4-2). It shouldn't matter how they were playing going into the pause because all momentum, positive or negative, is gone now. But getting back up to speed quickly could be harder for older teams if the season is able to resume.

 

Which teams have the most to lose if the season is cancelled and the start of next season is delayed (i.e. leveraged the future to win in 2019-20, 2020-21)? -- @dctsports

The Boston Bruins are the best team in the NHL, the only one with 100 points and the leader for the Presidents' Trophy, six points ahead of the St. Louis Blues. And I fear that they stand to lose a lot if the scenario you bring up plays out. They are deep into their window to win the Stanley Cup as a veteran team and many of their core players are in their early to mid-30s, including forwards Brad Marchand ,31; David Krejci, 33; and Patrice Bergeron, 34; who all celebrate birthdays before next season could begin. Goalie Tuukka Rask is 33 and defenseman Zdeno Chara is 43. In addition, we don't know if Chara or defenseman Torey Krug will be back next season. Krug is in the last year of his contract, a pending unrestricted free agent who turns 29 on Sunday. Chara is operating on a one-year contract and hasn't signed for next season. The window to win with the same core only stays open for so long. It's been open for a long time for the Bruins, who came close last season but lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Blues. Losing the opportunity to win this season would be a massive blow because they are the favorite to raise the Cup right now. They wouldn't get it back and a crunched 2020-21 season could adversely affect their veteran core.

I also worry about the Stars. They signed forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to try to win this season. I'd be shocked if Perry, who signed a one-year contract, is back next season. Pavelski, who signed a three-year contract, is 35 and hasn't produced the way the Stars hoped he would. He scored 14 goals in 67 games after scoring 38 in 75 games for the San Jose Sharks last season.

Video: Season Snapshot: Dallas Stars

 

Assuming Alexis Lafreniere is selected No. 1 by the Ottawa Senators this upcoming entry would he be a shoo-in to make the roster this fall? Or does he have some finetuning to do? -- @theashcity

We can assume that Lafreniere would be a shoo-in to make an NHL roster next season, but we can't assume it'll be with the Senators. The 2020 NHL Draft Lottery hasn't happened yet. What's to say the Detroit Red Wings, last in the NHL right now, wouldn't get the No. 1 pick? Or perhaps another team, the New Jersey Devils or Los Angeles Kings, jumps up and wins the No. 1 pick? But to the overall point of your question, yes, Lafreniere should be a shoo-in to be in the NHL next season. He has power and skill, he protects the puck well, he plays well without it. He has a mature game in that he can play physical and win one-on-one battles. I won't say he'd be an impact player at 18 years old, but he'll be in the NHL next season.

 

Flipping the puck 20-feet in the air out of the zone leads to boring play. Address it like an icing or similar. Just do something to make these players earn their ice. -- @MikeRoof

I disagree. Flipping the puck 20 feet in the air out of the zone is a defensive play that should not be punishable. I am all for advocating for offense, but we can't take away defensive tactics even if they're not what we view as exciting plays. If a defenseman is stuck in the defensive zone or the neutral zone and he chooses to flip the puck up and out of the zone, he's doing so knowing full well he's likely surrendering possession unless his forwards can win the race to it and go on the attack. He also risks A) icing, which brings the face-off back into his defensive zone and negates the chance for his team to make a line change; and B) inadvertently flipping the puck over the glass from the defensive zone, which is a delay of game penalty.

 

If the Rangers were to name a captain next season, who would your choice be? Seems like Mika Zibanejad is the guy for the job. -- @KREIDERMAN20

You are correct. My choice, and I think coach David Quinn's choice, would be Zibanejad, a center who in my opinion is already their de facto captain. He's highly regarded by Rangers management and the coaching staff, well respected by his teammates for his leadership on and off the ice, and he's earned his place among the elite centers in the NHL. The 26-year-old has grown into the role as the Rangers' leading voice and would be a deserving captain.

Video: WSH@NYR: Zibanejad scores five goals, OT winner

 

Which player outside of the top five in scoring surprised you the most this NHL season? -- @nucksaid

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller has 72 points (27 goals, 45 assists) in 69 games. I did not see that coming from Miller, whose previous NHL career highs across the board were 22 goals, 34 assists and 56 points for the Rangers in 2016-17. I thought he could be a decent, if inconsistent, addition for the Canucks when they acquired him in a trade with the Lightning at the 2019 NHL Draft. I thought Vancouver gave up too much by sending a conditional first-round pick and a third-round pick to Tampa Bay, but Miller has delivered as a counterpart to center Elias Pettersson. His physical game has been exactly what the Canucks needed to become harder to play against. Miller has been consistent all season, which previously was not his M.O. It has turned into a great trade for the Canucks.

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