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Mailbag: Golden Knights have ability to land top free agents

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the May 16 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday throughout the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Do you think the Vegas' early success will draw elite talent through free agency? Could we see a Drew Doughty or John Tavares, someone of that level, actively choose to play there? -- @briantodd34

Yes. I won't speculate and say it'll be Doughty leaving the Los Angeles Kings (the defenseman can become an unrestricted free agent after next season) or Tavares leaving the New York Islanders (the center can become a UFA on July 1), but I do think the success the Vegas Golden Knights had this season makes them a desirable destination for free agents.

And it's not just that they are winning. The Golden Knights have a state-of-the-art practice facility and home arena, and the atmosphere at home games in T-Mobile Arena is electric. The weather during hockey season in Vegas is spectacular, and the suburbs offer great family environments. Bill Foley is an active owner who seems to genuinely care about his players and how they are involved promoting the brand. And the Golden Knights already have a winning culture.

 

With Lars Eller's recent success on the second line, do you think that opens up trade talks about Nicklas Backstrom for the Washington Capitals? They need room to sign John Carlson back? -- @AMatthews1921

It might, because general manager Brian MacLellan has said he wants to re-sign Carlson, a defenseman who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Capitals will need the NHL salary cap space to make it happen. Backstrom could be traded to create that room for Carlson. But if we're playing the choosing game, I'm taking Backstrom over Carlson. That's not a knock on Carlson; it's praise of Backstrom, who is one of the elite centers in the NHL. He not only plays in every situation, he succeeds in every situation. Don't be fooled to think that Eller's success for a few games in the playoffs makes Backstrom expendable. Eller's success has enabled the Capitals to survive for a few games without Backstrom, but finding someone to replace Backstrom, if they traded him away, would be practically impossible. Losing Carlson in free agency would create a hole, but I wouldn't give up Backstrom to save Carlson.

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Eller redirects home Vrana's pass

Here's another option: Trade goalie Braden Holtby. Philipp Grubauer struggled in the first two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round, but he had a strong season (15-10-3, 2.35 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, three shutouts) and earned those starts because he was better than Holtby down the stretch. Holtby is signed for two more seasons with an NHL salary cap charge of $6.1 million. Trading him would free up the space to sign Carlson. It also, at least in my opinion, wouldn't leave the Capitals with a gaping hole anywhere, because it gives them a chance to keep Backstrom and Carlson.

 

Granted, one goal was an odd-man rush, but Connor Hellebuyck was beaten twice by Jonathan Marchessault backhands in Game 2. Is that something to keep a close eye on for the remainder of the series? -- @KMcKenna_tLT5

Marchessault, the Golden Knights forward, scored his first goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final on a breakaway, using his backhand to open the Winnipeg Jets goalie. I don't think it had anything to do with backhand or forehand, it was just a good move. He scored his second goal on a 2-on-1, and this is the one we'll focus on.

Marchessault could have one-timed Reilly Smith's pass with his forehand, but he never looked as if he was considering that option. He instead went forehand to backhand and beat Hellebuyck. This has less to do with the backhand and more to do with the scouting report the Golden Knights likely have on Hellebuyck. If they didn't have it, NHL.com's goalie expert, Kevin Woodley, certainly did in his breakdown of the goalies before the Western Conference Final.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm2: Marchessault finishes Smith's feed

Woodley wrote that the key to beating Hellebuyck is to make him move. Woodley showed that lateral plays accounted for 51 percent of the tracked goals Hellebuyck allowed in the regular season and 70 percent of the goals he allowed through two rounds in the playoffs. Sound familiar?

I spoke to Woodley about Marchessault's second goal and he said Hellebuyck committed to the pass and moved toward the middle of the crease. Because he did, he couldn't go back the other way to defend Marchessault's backhand. He didn't have his skate edge down to get any push. Marchessault never looked up, which could mean he knew Hellebuyck was committing to the pass and that's why instead of a one-timer he dragged the puck to his backhand and scored that way.

The bottom line is, it's not about the backhand, it's about the lateral movement the deke to the backhand created. I'd look for Vegas to try to get Hellebuyck moving side to side more as the series goes on.

 

Will Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas trade William Nylander or Kasperi Kapanen (plus other assets, of course) for a right-side defenseman? And whom can he pursue? -- @simonrogner

I'm ruling out Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson to the Maple Leafs. And, yes, the Maple Leafs have a huge need for a top-pair right-side defenseman. Toronto coach Mike Babcock's preference is to have lefty-righty balance. Their left side is good with Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott, Jake Gardiner, Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen. The right side has Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey. Timothy Liljegren, their first-round pick (No. 17) in the 2017 NHL Draft, is developing, but it might be too much to ask for him to be an impact player in the NHL next season.

Video: Kyle Dubas named general manager of the Maple Leafs

I don't think Toronto can bring in a big-ticket righty like Carlson (UFA), Dougie Hamilton of the Calgary Flames (signed, $5.75 million cap charge) or Winnipeg's Jacob Trouba (restricted free agent after the season) without giving up Nylander or at least one of its top young forwards (Auston Matthews is untouchable). If Toronto is willing to go that route, making Nylander, a forward who is a pending RFA, available should open doors. But Nylander is terrific player and trading him will create another hole.

The Maple Leafs might be able to keep Nylander if they try to acquire someone like Radko Gudas from the Philadelphia Flyers or Niklas Hjalmarsson, a lefty who plays the right side for the Arizona Coyotes. It wouldn't blow away Toronto fans to get either of those players, but it could fill a hole without creating another one somewhere else.

I think Dubas will end up acquiring one or maybe two defensemen to improve the right side, but I'm not sure which route he'll take to get it done.

 

Is it fair to say that judging a player's legacy by Stanley Cup championships is a little questionable in hockey? I think it's fine when talking about a quarterback in the NFL or a player in the NBA, where they have much more of a direct impact. But a hockey player plays only one-third of the game. -- @20misto

Jarome Iginla scored 625 goals and should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. But he never won the Stanley Cup.

Mike Gartner scored 708 goals and he's in the Hall of Fame. But he never won the Stanley Cup.

Alex Ovechkin has scored 607 goals in 1,003 games, meaning he's the greatest goal-scorer of his generation and one of the greatest of all time. But he hasn't won the Stanley Cup.

Henrik Lundqvist. Henrik Sedin. Daniel Sedin. Joe Thornton. Marcel Dionne. Phil Housley. Roberto Luongo. I can go on with Hall of Fame players who never did or haven't won the Cup.

A player should be judged on what he did, not what he won. This isn't tennis or golf. Even Tom Brady needs a line blocking for him, receivers to run the proper routes and catch the ball, running backs good enough to spread out the offense and a defense that gets him the ball back. Michael Jordan didn't win any of his six NBA championships on his own. LeBron James is willing the Cleveland Cavaliers to wins, but he's not doing everything on his own.

I hate that a player's legacy can be based on whether he won a championship. Winning is important, no doubt, but is Iginla less accomplished because the teams he played on didn't win the Cup? No. If Ovechkin never wins it, does that means he's not the greatest goal-scorer of his generation? No.

It's not fair.

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