If there's one top scorer the New York Islanders have a shot to trade for, who is it? What's next for the New York Rangers? -- @RTaub_
I think you should look at the Islanders' roster as being set, minus an expected contract with restricted free agent forward Ryan Strome. Forwards such as Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee will have to deliver more on a consistent basis for the Islanders. I like the signings of Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau. It hurts to lose Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, but I don't think you can say the Islanders are worse off now if you believe in higher expectations for Strome, Nelson and Lee.
The Rangers are in a difficult situation and I'm starting to wonder if they can get out of it before the start of this season. They'd like to try to trade defenseman Dan Girardi and/or forward Rick Nash. Defenseman Marc Staal could be had too. Moving any of them is challenging because of their bloated contracts. The Rangers look like a flawed team that could struggle to make the playoffs.
What's more likely: The Dallas Stars deal for goalie Ben Bishop, or for a top 2/4 veteran defenseman? -- @adlgator86
I'm going to say neither right now, but if you're a Stars' fan you should be holding out hope that Bishop eventually lands in Dallas. To do that, general manager Jim Nill is going to have to bite the bullet and buy out either Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen after this season. They would both have one year remaining on their contracts. Nill acquired Niemi; he inherited Lehtonen. Neither are good enough to help the Stars win the Stanley Cup. Bishop, if he can stay healthy, could do that. Bishop could also still do that for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. If I'm Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, I'm not pushing to trade Bishop now when I think my team is good enough to win the Stanley Cup. Let's see if Bishop can do it. If he can, a Stanley Cup championship would be a nice tradeoff for letting Bishop go into free agency next summer with nothing in return unless Yzerman were to trade his negotiating rights for a low draft pick.
Do you think Buffalo is now a very desirable location for John Tavares if he goes to free agency? Close to home, uncle is there, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson. -- @Thelightwason
Sure it looks desirable, but I wouldn't lump his uncle, Okposo or Moulson into the equation. I don't think any are dealbreakers. The close-to-home factor is intriguing, but Toronto is home and you can bet that because the Toronto Maple Leafs didn't get Steven Stamkos, they're going to have an eye on Tavares unless or until he re-signs with the Islanders. One thing with Tavares is he's staunchly loyal and that should play into the Islanders' favor. It helps that the Islanders are a good team and under new ownership. They're hoping to bridge the divide between Uniondale and Brooklyn and they need Tavares to be a part of it. Tavares has two years remaining on his contract, and considering all he does, counts for a bargain price of $5.5 million against the salary cap. He's not a concern for them now, but if he's not signed to a contract extension by this time next year, you'll start hearing some rumblings about his future and I would expect Buffalo to be mentioned. The Islanders can sign him to an extension starting July 1, 2017.
The St. Louis Blues have lost a lot of grit and didn't pick up any speed, better or worse than last year? -- @cfbnine
I think the Blues are different. It remains to be seen if they'll be better or worse. They lost captain David Backes and Troy Brouwer, but remember, that means more ice time and responsibility for Robby Fabbri. Don't forget that they re-acquired David Perron, who has some grit to his game and can score, but isn't fast. I still like the Blues' center depth with Paul Statsny, Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund and Kyle Brodziak. Alex Steen can obviously play there too. The curious part of the Blues this season is what effect, if any, losing gritty, grinding forwards like Backes and Brouwer will have on Ken Hitchcock's style of play? That is going to be interesting because I think Hitchcock, in his final year, is going to have to adjust to playing a faster, more wide-open game with the players at his disposal. He might hate it too. I would expect assistant coach Mike Yeo, the head coach in waiting, will have a lot of say in how the team plays.
What is stopping Washington from winning its first Stanley Cup? Lack of clutch players or missing something? -- @attackhunter97
In the past, it might have been clutch scoring. Last season, it was scoring depth, which became an issue when Evgeny Kuznetsov basically stopped scoring. That hurt the Capitals in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Barry Trotz mentioned to me late last month that he thought the top players in the series cancelled each other out, but the Penguins defeated Washington with its depth scoring, namely the "HBK Line" of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. They had seven goals and 11 assists in the series. The Capitals had no match for that and it crushed them. It's a big reason why they acquired Lars Eller from the Montreal Canadiens. Eller gives Washington a legitimate third-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov. I didn't mind that the Capitals moved on from Chimera, especially since he scored one goal and two points in 12 playoff games. As it stands now, I see Washington's top nine forwards as being Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Eller and either Tom Wilson or Brett Connolly. There are no guarantees, but that could be better than what they had at the end of last season.
Will the Detroit Red Wings acquire a defenseman before the season? -- @RyleyChinn
It's possible, but the Red Wings have $4.082 million in salary cap space available, according to General Fanager, and they still have to re-sign defenseman Danny DeKeyser, a restricted free agent. The Red Wings could go into this season with DeKeyser, Niklas Kronwall, Mike Green, Alexey Marchenko, Brendan Smith, Jonathan Ericsson and Xavier Ouellet as their seven defensemen. That's not the prettiest picture, in my opinion, but it's where the Red Wings are right now in part because they haven't drafted well at that position. If they have the room, I would expect Holland to try to add a veteran defenseman, but it's going to be a cheap option and nobody that will significantly alter the Red Wings' depth at the position.
The New Jersey Devils acquired grinding-type forwards, but do you think that they can still afford a proven 20-goal scorer like Jiri Hudler? -- @aidan_cook5
With all due respect, Taylor Hall is not a grinding-type forward. He should be an All-Star with the Devils and 30-plus goals is expected. To answer your question, though, the Devils absolutely can afford Hudler and he might be a good option for them too. The Devils have approximately $18.7 million in cap space, according to General Fanager. They won't be a cap team, but they have the space to add a player like Hudler, who struggled last season but scored 31 goals and 76 points in 2014-15 with the Calgary Flames. If the Devils got Hudler, they could use Kyle Palmieri, Hudler, Devante Smith-Pelly and Beau Bennett as their right wings. Hall, a healthy Michael Cammalleri, Joe Blandisi and Luke Gazdic or Reid Boucher could be their left wings with Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson and Vernon Fiddler down the middle. Pavel Zacha might be ready too. If he's ready, it's even better news.
Besides Nikita Kucherov, what are the Lightning's priorities? Who leaves? Who joins Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos as franchise pillars? -- @Fyrmanpete
Kucherov is a budding franchise pillar and I expect that will show in his next contract. Vasilevskiy could be a future franchise pillar. He's already signed through the 2019-20 season, so good on Yzerman. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Andrej Sustr can become restricted free agents next summer. Among them, I think Palat and Drouin are most important, especially if Vladislav Namestnikov builds on his 35-point season. I want to say the Lightning won't be able to afford them all, but I wouldn't put anything past Yzerman now.
Due to the mandatory protection of players with stipulated contracts, is trading goalie Marc-Andre Fleury a priority for the Penguins? -- @_MAF29
Not yet, according to GM Jim Rutherford, but it's going to be at some point provided Matt Murray proves early this season that everything he's done so far, including winning the Stanley Cup, wasn't a fluke. Murray doesn't look like a fluke to me. His pedigree suggests he's going to be a solid No. 1 goalie in the NHL for a long time. Provided that's accurate, the Penguins can't risk losing him in an expansion draft, so trading Fleury is going to become a priority eventually. Fleury has a no-movement clause, but if he sees himself in a situation where he's going to play second fiddle to Murray, I would all but guarantee he'd be willing to waive it for the right to be a starting goalie again. Murray has played only 13 NHL regular-season games, so I understand Rutherford's hesitance to trade Fleury now. Why deplete a position of strength when you're not under-the-gun to do so? My feeling is the day will come when he'll have to do it.