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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Stars' chances to make playoffs

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Dec. 11 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

With the news breaking that the Dallas Stars let Jim Montgomery go, do you see this impacting their playoff chances? Dallas had struggled early in the season to get points but seemed to finally be putting it together? Who will be their coach next season? Mike Babcock? -- @Paxton_Stover

I won't speculate on what the Stars will do on the coaching front beyond this season. General manager Jim Nill said Rick Bowness will be the coach for the remainder of this season. He said assistants John Stevens, Derek Laxdal and Todd Nelson, and goalie coach Jeff Reese will stay with him. My guess is the Stars will re-evaluate after the season to determine where they go on the coaching front. Nill has a history with Babcock from their days together with the Detroit Red Wings. I don't know how this will play out beyond this season.

The news of Montgomery's dismissal Tuesday came as a shock to the players and the retained coaching staff. It'd be ridiculous for me to say the Stars won't be impacted by this in the short term, but Bowness is known through the League as being a respected, player-friendly coach; it's now on him to get a handle on the situation quickly to keep the Stars moving in a positive direction. Laxdal, who was promoted from Texas of the American Hockey League, where he was the coach, is going to be key to the transition. Laxdal coached several players on the Stars, including forwards Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and Justin Dowling, as recently as last season.

 

Do you think this year's first and second draft picks were rushed into playing because the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils thought their rebuilds were over? Do you think both have underwhelmed as a result of that decision? -- @KingsFanInTheOC

The results the Devils are getting from No. 1 pick Jack Hughes and the Rangers are getting from No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko have everything to do with two 18-year-old forwards learning the League and how to play in it. These guys are NHL players. 

Hughes dominated last season in the USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, averaging more than two points per game. He entered the Devils' game Tuesday with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 26 games. He missed three games. If he plays in every game for the rest of the season he could finish with around 12 goals and 36 points. It's low compared to the recent No. 1 picks who were forwards, including Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (63 points in 2013-14), Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (48 points in 45 games in 2015-16), Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (63 points in 2016-17) and Devils center Nico Hischier (52 points in 2017-18). However, it's not fair to put Hughes in the same breath as McDavid and Matthews, who came into the League with the expectation to be generational players. MacKinnon and Hischier were on playoff teams in their rookie seasons, with Hischier getting to play a lot with Devils forward Taylor Hall in his Hart Trophy season. The Devils are struggling. Hughes has physical tools he hasn't yet developed. But he is playing more than 16 minutes per game in the NHL and he doesn't look out of place.

Kakko is gaining enough knowledge of the NHL game to understand how he can best use his skillset and his size (6-foot-3, 199 pounds) to his advantage. He entered play Tuesday with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 27 games, putting him on pace for between 17-18 goals and between 38-39 points. That's on par with the production the Carolina Hurricanes got last season from forward Andrei Svechnikov, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Svechnikov had 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) in 82 games. Fast-forward to this season and he's now leading the Hurricanes with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games entering Tuesday. I think Kakko is on the same path as Svechnikov.

 

For some reason I don't trust the Pittsburgh Penguins right now. The Philadelphia Flyers look good, but they have some question marks. Of the five teams in the Metropolitan Division currently holding playoff spots, who is most likely to drop out? Who takes their spot assuming it's a wild card? -- @bergywergy3030

I agree on the Flyers and their question marks, which is why if one of the five is going to drop out, I'm taking a flier (pun intended) on them. I have praised them both on Twitter and on our weekly podcast, NHL @TheRink, for being good in close games (9-1-5 in one-goal games), particularly because they've been strong after the second period (plus-14 goal differential, 42-28, including overtime). It's a tough way to live, though, and my worry for the Flyers is that playing in so many tight games will eventually catch up to them. A point here and a point there likely will be the difference in making or missing the playoffs for them.

 

Is there now a definitive No. 1 goalie for the Buffalo Sabres in Linus Ullmark, or is it still a 1A/1B situation? With the Sabres still holding onto a playoff position, is it possible they'll hold on to make it or will they fall out like last year? -- @SPGavin0409

Ullmark is taking over as the No. 1. He has started 10 of 14 games since Nov. 16 after starting seven of the Sabres' first 18 games. He was 5-3-1 in his previous nine starts before playing against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. Hutton hasn't won since Oct. 22, going 0-5-4 in his past nine starts. Ullmark is 26, so the timing is right too. Hutton turns 34 on Dec. 19. He also has one year remaining on his contract, which carries a $2.75 million salary cap charge. Ullmark can become a restricted free agent. If things break as the current trend suggests, Ullmark will be paid to be a No. 1 in his next contract and Hutton will be a backup for one more season in Buffalo.

As for the Sabres making the playoffs, it's too soon to say. But the simple answer is that staying in the race and playing meaningful games into at least late March will be a significant growth spurt for the Sabres.

Video: TOR@BUF: Ullmark gloves Nylander's breakaway chance

 

Are Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez most likely to be traded by the deadline? Does Jonathan Quick have any value around the League? -- @MHulicius

Quick turns 34 on Jan. 21, but he's can still be a No. 1 for the duration of his contract, which carries through the 2022-23 season. However, the Kings have Jack Campbell, who turns 28 on Jan. 9. He has a two-year contract extension that kicks in next season and he could bridge Los Angeles through its rebuild at a cap-friendly price of $1.65 million. That leaves Quick as trade bait, but will trading him be easier to do after the season, when all teams are evaluating their goaltending again? For example, if the Capitals don't re-sign Braden Holtby, would they want Quick to play 1A and 1B with Ilya Samsonov. If the Vancouver Canucks don't sign Jacob Markstrom, maybe Quick would interest them to play with Thatcher Demko. The Chicago Blackhawks have two goalies, Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner, who are pending UFAs. What about the Hurricanes' situation with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, who are both signed through next season. Maybe one of them can be moved in a trade for Quick so Campbell has some help and the Hurricanes have a new No. 1. And if the Devils believe they've got a quick fix and can be contenders next season, maybe Quick is the answer to their goaltending. There are options out there if the Kings want to pursue them.

I believe the Kings will be active in trying to move players out as they continue to try to rebuild into a younger, faster team. I'd be surprised if Toffoli isn't moved before the trade deadline, especially since he can become an unrestricted free agent. Martinez, currently on injured reserve with a wrist injury, is an interesting case because with a year remaining on his contract he becomes more of a commodity and thus the Kings could look for more value in return. He's a valuable defenseman when healthy because of his experience and mobility. However, he's 32 and the Kings are looking to get younger.

 

What should Rangers GM Jeff Gorton be looking for in a deal involving Alexandar Georgiev? -- @Zak4B

I don't think Gorton has to do anything now. The Rangers can ride it out with Henrik Lundqvist and Georgiev for this season and re-evaluate after. They want to contend to make the playoffs and their goalie tandem is working in their favor. However, this will be a massive decision for Gorton and the Rangers, because after the season they might have to choose between Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin, who is in Hartford of the AHL, for who they think will be their next No. 1 goalie. That's a decision that impacts a team for years. Lundqvist has one year remaining on his contract. Georgiev can become a restricted free agent after the season. Shesterkin has one more year remaining on his entry-level contract.

The Rangers are in a good position with their goaltending. Georgiev has at times played like a No. 1 with his 8-5-1 record, 2.67 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 14 appearances, including 13 starts. Lundqvist is playing well too and Shesterkin leads the AHL with a 1.98 goals-against average and he was fourth with a .930 save percentage.

Video: NYR@VGK: Georgiev's 38 saves shut out Golden Knights

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