How far do you think the New York Islanders make it IF they make the playoffs? -- @SJS883
The Islanders are going to be a tough out because of how good they are at preventing attacks at their own blue line and limiting high-danger chances. It's the biggest reason they are first in the NHL in goals-against (173), including second in 5-on-5 goals-against (116), despite being 28th in shot-attempts percentage (47.46 percent) and face-off percentage (48.0 percent). Their opponents might have the puck more than they do, but it has been painstaking to do anything positive with it.
That strategy is going to give the Islanders a chance in the Eastern Conference First Round. They won't win against the Tampa Bay Lightning if they fall into the second wild card, and I'm skeptical of their chances against the Washington Capitals too. Each will find creative ways to attack the Islanders and generate chances, and each has a power play that could burn the Islanders, who won't win a series if it comes down to special teams.
New York is 29th on the power play (15.1 percent) and is a combined 1-for-18 against the Lightning and Capitals this season. I think the Islanders could frustrate the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes; they're 8-2-1 against those teams this season.
Video: Greiss on Islanders' success, first star of the week
The Penguins, are they really good, really bad, in between? I can tell you they are insanely frustrating to watch. -- @petefrompitt
From a big-picture perspective, the Penguins not a top five team, but they can play like one when everybody is healthy and they're in sync. I won't be surprised if the Penguins win the Stanley Cup this season, and I won't be surprised if they lose in the Eastern Conference First Round. I guess that speaks to your question, because they can be maddeningly inconsistent even with the talent they have. But I really do like them when they're healthy, which they are not right now with center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Olli Maatta out of the lineup.
Provided they're good to go for the start of the playoffs and everyone else stays healthy, I give the Penguins a chance to beat anybody. They slot well down the middle with Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Nick Bjugstad and Matt Cullen. They have speed on the wings. Their defense is fast and aggressive with Letang and Brian Dumoulin on the top pair followed the potential of Maatta and Justin Schultz on the second pair. The fact they could go into the playoffs with Marcus Pettersson, Erik Gudbranson or Jack Johnson as a scratch is telling of their defensive depth. For what it's worth, I'd go with Pettersson and Gudbranson.
Matt Murray has been shaky at times this season, but he has been a top-five NHL goalie at other times. I trust his playoff resume, so I trust him in the playoffs. The frustrating part is it's a tossup some nights when it comes Penguins team you will see. The good one has a chance to make Pittsburgh great again this season.
Video: PIT@CAR: Letang finishes feed from Rust
How much have the Nashville Predators missed Austin Watson's passion and grind? And do you think Colton Sissons should be playing higher up their lineup for the foreseeable future? -- @VillageCCScorer
The good news is Watson is again available to the Predators. The forward has entered the follow-up care phase of the Substance Abuse and Behaviorial Health Program (SABH). When Watson plays, he's effective. He brings that physical element to the game the Predators needed before his second suspension this season on Jan. 29, which was so he could enter Stage Two of the SABH.
Since Watson last played, however, Nashville acquired forwards Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds in separate trades, in part because of Watson's absence. Boyle and Simmonds have many of the same traits as Watson, though they are more effective scorers. So if Watson does play again this season, it will only add to the level of physicality, passion and grind Boyle and Simmonds already bring.
As for Sissons, he thrives whenever the Predators elevate his role, which they've done recently because fellow center Kyle Turris has struggled. Remember Sissons being elevated to No. 1 center in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final two years ago and scoring a hat trick to help the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final? He doesn't change his game when he moves up in the lineup, but he adapts to the role because he's versatile. Coach Peter Laviolette scratched Turris against the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks last week. Sissons moved up and had two goals and an assist to help Nashville win each time. He has 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 67 games this season.
All that said, I still think the Predators are better situated for a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if Turris is playing higher in the lineup, ideally providing offense in a second-line role behind Ryan Johansen and ahead of Bonino and Sissons. If Sissons is the center on the third-line or fourth-line, the Predators have the four-center balance they need to win in the postseason.
Who do you think the No. 1 choice is to replace Willie Desjardins behind the Kings bench next season? -- @Jaykegil
The Kings are 21-31-7 since Desjardins took over for John Stevens on Nov. 4. If Desjardins is not retained, Los Angeles will have its pick of a number of quality candidates. I think the top candidate right now is former Sharks and Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan. He knows the Pacific Division well, having coached in it every season since 2008-09 until he was fired by the Oilers on Nov. 20. He has knowledge of the Kings and has a relationship with Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake; McLellan coached Blake in his last two seasons with the Sharks (2008-10) and is 434-282-90 in 11 seasons as an NHL coach.
The keys are McLellan seems to work well with veteran leaders, wants his teams to push the pace and is not afraid to give young players rope. In San Jose, he played a big role in the development of centers Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski and defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. He helped Oilers centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl by bringing them along at the right pace.
And if the Kings get a top-three pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, McLellan's experience working with high picks should pay dividends. He had a lot of it in Edmonton; McDavid, Draisaitl, forwards Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defensemen Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom each was a first-round pick from 2011-17 who played under McLellan.
I'd love a New York Rangers offseason gloss over. Are we sticking with the rebuild? Going for UFAs (Artemi Panarin)? Making draft day moves? -- @MattyWill7
The Rangers are not going to abandon the rebuild in the middle of it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they augment it by going after some big-ticket unrestricted free agents, with Panarin being the perfect example of someone they could entice to come to New York.
It helps the Rangers that Mika Zibanejad established himself as a bona fide No. 1 center this season, with 67 points (28 goals, 39 assists) in 73 games. Consider their offense, including their power play, if they had Zibanejad with Panarin on the right wing and Chris Kreider on the left.
Kreider is also an interesting case. With one year remaining on his contract, my guess is he will either get a contract extension this summer or be traded.
The Rangers have 10 picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, including at least two in the first round. It is reasonable to consider one of them would available in the right trade, perhaps for a No. 2 center if the Rangers don't think they already have one on the roster. Where the Rangers fall in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery will help determine which pick would be available, if it's their own pick (unlikely) or the one they received from the Winnipeg Jets in the trade for center Kevin Hayes (more likely).
That doesn't mean they will do any of the above. They could wait another year before they dive into the free-agent waters to get a better evaluation of what they already have. They could use all their picks in the 2019 draft to continue to fill up their prospect coffers. More picks give the Rangers better odds of finding impact players for down the road.
I'm not trying to be on the fence on purpose. The point is, there are a number of ways the Rangers could go this offseason.