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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Blues' title defense, Hall's chances of re-signing with Devils

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Aug. 14 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Is it feasible that the St. Louis Blues retain the Stanley Cup? -- @MuzakirAhmed

Yes, but don't take this answer as a prediction that it will happen. I'm not ready to go that far yet.

The Blues do seem to be in the same situation as the Pittsburgh Penguins after they won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and again in 2017, and the Washington Capitals after they won it in 2018: They return largely intact with a few minor changes. The biggest subtraction might be forward Pat Maroon, but he's still an unrestricted free agent, which means there's a chance the St. Louis native could re-sign with his hometown team. He played on a one-year contract last season. If he's gone, the Blues have plenty of in-house replacements, including 21-year-old Jordan Kyrou (16 games with the Blues last season) and 20-year-old Klim Kostin, who each played for San Antonio of the American Hockey League last season. Look for forwards Robert Thomas, Sammy Blais and potentially Robby Fabbri to get bigger roles in the middle of the lineup too. 

I think it's still fair to ask if goalie Jordan Binnington can do it again. He came out of nowhere last season to lead the Blues from the bottom of the NHL standings, where they were on Jan. 3, to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the third-place team from the Central Division, and eventually the Stanley Cup championship. It's asking a lot of Binnington to put up similar numbers as he did last season (24-5-1, 1.89 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, five shutouts), but he won't have to do that if the Blues have a better start to the season than they did a year ago. Binnington didn't make his first start until Jan. 7. If he repeats his playoff numbers (16-10, 2.46 GAA, .914 save percentage, one shutout in 26 starts) spread across double the number of starts, it would be good enough for the Blues to get back in the playoffs. That's the first task to repeating, and I don't think the Blues should have any problem meeting that challenge. What happens from there is a shot-in-the-dark speculative answer now, but they're built to go after the Stanley Cup again.

Video: Craig Berube faces challenges in first full season

 

What one team that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season will make it this upcoming season and why? -- @TJRinger1

The New Jersey Devils. Their biggest question mark is in goal. Can Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood give them above-average goaltending? The League average save percentage last season was .905. Twelve of the 16 teams that were .905 or better made the playoffs. The Devils had an .895 save percentage and finished 26 points out of a playoff spot. A good chunk of that falls at the feet of Keith Kinkaid, who had an .891 save percentage in 41 games, but Schneider didn't help much with a .903 save percentage in 26 games. I suggest above-average goaltending is necessary to get into the playoffs because of the competitiveness of the Metropolitan Division, which has eight teams that legitimately believe they are a playoff contender. If the Devils get it, they have enough useful parts to be a playoff team, especially with left wing Taylor Hall returning healthy after missing the final 47 games of last season with a knee injury and defenseman P.K. Subban giving them a bonafide No. 1 defenseman.

The addition of Subban helps in many ways, including slotting the other defensemen in favorable positions. Damon Severson and Sami Vatanen are the righties behind Subban. Each is better suited to be a second-pair or third-pair defenseman. Subban should help the Devils break out of the zone quicker and enter the offensive zone with more speed, which should feed into a transition game for the forwards, a group filled with playmakers, including Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Nikita Gusev. Subban should provide a much-needed, point-shot presence on the power play, which should be better than it was last season, when it finished 21st at 17.7 percent. It may seem like a bad sign that Subban had 10 points on the League-worst Nashville Predators power play last season (12.9 percent), but that is more of a blip than a new trend. Subban was second among NHL defensemen in power-play production (135 points) from 2012-18, one point behind Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks. 

The goaltending is a legitimate concern. Schneider has struggled the past two seasons with injuries that limited him to 66 games (63 starts) and inconsistent play that resulted in a .905 save percentage. Blackwood is 22 years old and has started 21 NHL games, all last season (10-10-0, 2.61 GAA, .918 save percentage). Schneider did play well for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship (.920 save percentage, 2.49 GAA in eight appearances, including six starts) and should be as healthy as he has been in a few seasons entering training camp. Maybe he regained his confidence at the World Championship and returns to being a legit No. 1 goalie. Maybe Blackwood's success last season was a sign he was just touching his long-term potential. I like the Devils to be a playoff team if the maybes become sure things.

Video: Shero on Devils' improvements for the 2019-20 season

 

Do you think that Taylor Hall will re-sign with the New Jersey Devils? -- @JoshRogoff14

More Devils? Why not? They've been an offseason winner.

I think Hall will eventually sign a long-term contract extension with the Devils, but it might not happen until at least halfway through the season. Waiting isn't a bad thing for either party. For the Devils, it'll give them a chance to see Hall healthy again, which is important. Knee injuries can create lingering issues and the potential for another knee injury down the road. The Devils need to see the 27-year-old left wing at full strength before committing to him. They also benefit by getting to see Hall play with Hischier and Hughes, giving them a better idea of his long-term fit. For Hall, waiting makes sense because a strong start to the season, a good first half, will increase his value. It's a bit of betting on himself, but that's a gamble worth taking for a player who won the Hart Trophy in 2017-18. Hall will also get a better idea of the type of team the Devils have this season and what they can be in the future. 

In the end, I think he will see the future as being bright in New Jersey, especially with Hischier and Hughes as the top two centers, and he'll sign a contract similar to the one forward Artemi Panarin (seven years, $81.5 million) signed with the New York Rangers on July 1. 

 

Aside from Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, do you see any 2019 draftees sticking in the NHL this season? -- @TommyPSports

It's hard to predict because we haven't gotten a look inside training camp yet, but from the information I can gather, and from the help of colleague and draft expert Mike Morreale, it looks like potentially three more 2019 NHL Draft picks have at least a chance to be on the opening night roster:

Kirby Dach, center, Chicago Blackhawks, No. 3 pick

Bowen Byram, defenseman, Colorado Avalanche, No. 4 pick

Dylan Cozens, center, Buffalo Sabres, No. 7 pick

The Blackhawks have an opening for a third-line center after trading Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for forward Zack Smith. It's possible Smith could fill the role. Chicago could try forwards David Kampf or Andrew Shaw in the middle. But Dach is a possibility. He could start with Chicago and end up with Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League by the end of October.

The Avalanche might be without Erik Johnson (shoulder surgery) and Ian Cole (hip surgeries) at the start of the season, opening the possibility of Byram potentially being in the lineup when they open at home against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 3. It's harder for a defenseman to make the jump as a teenager, but Byram has played two full seasons with Vancouver in the WHL. He had 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games last season.

Cozens is the long shot of the three, but his speed and the potential opportunity to play behind Jack Eichel could be enough to convince coach Ralph Krueger that it's worth giving him a chance at the start of the season. Cozens will have to convince the Sabres that he can handle the physicality of playing in the NHL.

Video: Cozens shares his journey from Whitehorse to Buffalo

 

Who will be the first big restricted free agent to sign? -- @hawkeystix88

It just seems right now that the RFA market is in a holding pattern waiting for Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner to sign. It's as if the top Group 2 RFAs, including Winnipeg Jets forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point, Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser, Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski, are content to wait it out because they know Marner is expected to get the highest average annual value in his next contract, and what he signs for could dictate how the rest of the market plays out. I think Marner will eventually be the first of this elite group of RFAs to sign, and when he does you'll see the rest fall in line quickly. The soft deadline now is the first day of training camp. Toronto's players are scheduled to report for physicals Sept. 12.

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