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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Flyers' chances to win Cup, Avalanche goalie situation

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the March 4 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Do the surging Philadelphia Flyers have a championship pedigree? Are they the team no one wants to face in the Eastern Conference? -- @theashcity

I can't say yet that the Flyers, winners of six straight games, have a championship pedigree when the only player on the team that has won the Stanley Cup is defenseman Matt Niskanen, who did it with the Washington Capitals in 2018. However, the Flyers are dangerous. Are they THE team no one wants to face in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? No, because they're not alone. But they will be a challenge and I can see them going on a run if they continue to play the way they have been. One thing that I noticed in covering the Flyers' 5-2 win against the Rangers on Feb. 28 is that their confidence is oozing. I talked with Niskanen and forward Jakub Voracek, and each commented about how much they liked the team, the style, the goaltending with Carter Hart and Brian Elliott, the defense and the depth. Voracek said he feels he's played the best he has in his career since mid-to-late November. He has 39 points (eight goals, 31 assists) in 43 games since Nov. 23. Those numbers are strong, but won't blow anyone away, still Voracek said his all-around game has never felt better.

The Flyers, who are three points behind the first-place Capitals in the Metropolitan Division, have a strong four-line rotation complete with versatile center depth. Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes are offensive-minded but defensively conscious centers. Derek Grant (Anaheim Ducks) and Nate Thompson (Montreal Canadiens) were quality additions on 2020 Trade Deadline day because they can fill the roles as the third and fourth centers to continue to allow Scott Laughton and Claude Giroux to thrive on the wing. If Nolan Patrick, who hasn't played this season because of a migraine disorder, can get in the lineup at any point it'll be a bonus for the Flyers. Philadelphia has quality speed. The Flyers are 23-5-4 on home ice, a huge factor if they finish first or second in the Metropolitan Division and have home-ice early in the playoffs. They have better than average special teams (12th on the penalty kill at 81.2 percent; tied for ninth on the power play at 21.6 percent). Hayes specifically commented on their defense, and how impactful Niskanen has been as a partner to Ivan Provorov, and the quality minutes the Flyers get from the pairing of Philippe Myers (17:07 time on ice per game) and Travis Sanheim (20:07).

Video: NYR@PHI: Hayes hammers Voracek one-timer off the rush

 

Does Jared Bednar have a goalie controversy in Denver? If so, does this help or hinder the Colorado Avalanche's chances of winning the Stanley Cup? -- @theashcity

It's not a controversy if you believe in each goalie and choose, without hesitation or wavering, the hot hand come playoff time. It's especially not a goalie controversy when neither goalie, in Colorado's case Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer, has a long history of winning and being a No. 1 in the NHL. It was controversial when Grubauer, then with the Washington Capitals, started the 2018 playoffs ahead of Braden Holtby. In that case Holtby was an established starter and longtime No. 1. He eventually got it back and led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup, but there was a controversy in Washington over coach Barry Trotz's decision to go with Grubauer instead of Holtby to start the playoffs. Bednar, Colorado's coach, can't be blamed if he simply rides the hot hand. 

Francouz has been excellent in the absence of Grubauer, who has missed eight straight games with a lower-body injury. Francouz has won six straight starts, allowing two goals or fewer in each for a .957 save percentage and 1.32 goals-against average. He went 7-1-1 with a .942 save percentage and 1.79 GAA in February. It's hard to argue against it being Francouz's net now. Bednar has to know that. But if Francouz cools and Grubauer, assuming he returns this month, gets hot, then Bednar needs to make sure Grubauer gets the net going into the playoffs. It's that simple, really. 

Video: COL@ANA: Francouz boosts Avs with first NHL shutout

 

How come Adam Fox doesn't get any Calder Trophy love. He's been the best defenseman on the New York Rangers this season. -- @1994_nyr

It's slow to come for the rookie defenseman, but he's starting to get some love, at least here at NHL.com and I think externally as well. In our latest trophy tracker voting, which was done in mid-February, Fox was ranked either fourth or fifth by eight of the 18 writers who voted. I had him fourth behind Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. The number of voters who acknowledged Fox isn't enough to get him the Calder, but it's a measure of how people feel about him. He's in the mix. He should be. He's third among rookie defenseman in scoring this season with 35 points (seven goals, 28 assists) and first with a plus-20 rating. However, I hesitate to say he's been the Rangers best defenseman all season, because at times it's been Tony DeAngelo, who has 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists). At other times it's been Jacob Trouba, who plays the hardest minutes of them all (22:39 per game, including 2:32 shorthanded). It'll be interesting to see how the Rangers finish the season and how that impacts Fox's Calder candidacy. I can't see him leaping Hughes and Makar, and it may be hard for him to get ahead of Merzlikins and Chicago Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik, who leads all rookies with 29 goals. 

Video: NYR@MTL: Di Giuseppe buries Fox's nice feed in front

 

Three questions: 1) Are the NHL general managers looking to change the playoff format?; 2) Any possible call-ups for the Rangers from Hartford?; 3) Is Henrik Lundqvist done after this season? -- @MikeyBGoode27

1) There has been zero talk about the playoff format at the NHL general managers meetings, where I am now in Boca Raton, Florida. I don't even think the topic has come up here. It has been a non-issue in the past, and I don't anticipate a change.

2) The Rangers haven't dipped into their American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford for a call-up since forward Chris Kreider fractured his foot against the Flyers on Feb. 28. I don't anticipate one coming any time soon. The Rangers are content with what they have on the roster now, plus, they have two more non-emergency recalls remaining for the rest of the regular season. There isn't an obvious candidate to recall from Hartford now. Rookie forward Vitali Kravtsov is not ready. 

3) Lundqvist may be done with the Rangers after this season, be it through a trade or a buyout, but I don't think he thinks he's done in the NHL. If he has the final year of his contract bought out by the Rangers, my guess is he will take a look in free agency and try to sign a one or two-year contract with a new team to extend his career. He can play, but he hasn't been able to prove it regularly in the past month and a half because he's played in five games since Jan. 2 and hasn't received enough of an opportunity that would keep him fresh and sharp. I don't think he's finished.

 

Now that the trade deadline has passed, who do you see winning each division? -- @ZacharyChalmers

Metropolitan Division: Washington Capitals
Atlantic Division: Boston Bruins
Central Division: Colorado Avalanche
Pacific Division: Vegas Golden Knights.

I'm 100 percent certain that I won't be 100 percent accurate.

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