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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Options for Blackhawks, McDavid-Draisaitl line

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Nov. 15 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday throughout the 2017-18 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

What options do the Chicago Blackhawks have since they have very little wiggle room? They are in a funk and they need a change. -- @JChristian9410

I think the Blackhawks, who are 8-8-2, will eventually use the salary-cap space afforded to them when they put forward Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve to help the team, but it's not something they want to do now. I think they're taking their time in figuring out how to best use that added cap space later in the season. What they can't do is rush to rash judgments and make hasty decisions in November, which is why I don't see any big changes coming now. 

The Blackhawks need to simplify their power play. They need to stop trying to create the pretty play on the power play and instead move the puck around, find a shooting lane, get traffic in front, fire shots on net and win the battle for any loose pucks. Look at their goals on the power play in their 7-5 loss against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. Defenseman Jan Rutta fired from the point with center Jonathan Toews in front. Since the Devils had just turned over the puck, there was chaos and the quick shot deflected in off Devils defenseman John Moore. The second goal came off a face-off win at the start of a power play. Toews won it back to forward Nick Schmaltz, who tapped it up to Rutta. He again wasted no time. His shot went off the end boards and came out the other side. Right wing Patrick Kane fought off two Devils to get his backhand on it. Goal. 

Simple. Creativity is great, but if you take look at how teams are scoring these days, many goals come from scrums around the net. The Blackhawks need to be there more. But they can't have defensive lapses like they had against the Devils, committing too many turnovers in the neutral zone and not being hard enough in the defensive zone. 

Video: PIT@CHI: Seabrook beats Murray from the slot

The Blackhawks lack depth in their top-four defense group. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are cornerstones and Rutta looks like he fits in the mix too. Connor Murphy, who was acquired in the trade that sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, clearly hasn't earned coach Joel Quenneville's trust. He was scratched earlier in the season and he hasn't played more than 12:59 in any of the past four games. He played a season-low 11:09 in Chicago's 4-3 overtime win at the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. He needs to find his rhythm and gain some trust from the staff.

 

Are the Edmonton Oilers' woes due to not building the "right" team around Connor McDavid? They're all slow, puck-possession players, similar to Sidney Crosby's early career with teammates that don't understand his style yet. -- @briantodd341

I can't say McDavid's teammates don't understand his style. They do. He plays a fast game. You need to play fast and think fast if you want to play with him. I think one of the Oilers' issues is they've been too reliant on one line. They load up by putting Leon Draisaitl with McDavid instead of giving Draisaitl his own line. The top line, which includes Patrick Maroon, dominates shifts, but what about the other two-thirds of the game? You need a good four-line rotation to have consistent success. The Oilers' other lines haven't been dangerous enough. Draisaitl has chemistry with McDavid, so it's easy to understand why coach Todd McLellan has them playing together. But it's robbing Peter to pay Paul. McDavid is happy because he gets the linemate that obviously works well with him, but the Oilers' four-line rotation takes a hit. If the Oilers separated McDavid and Draisaitl, they could use Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a third-line role. That makes them deeper down the middle and tougher to play against. I think the Oilers need to find a different wing to play with McDavid and let it grow. It's a formula similar to what the Pittsburgh Penguins have used with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby is at his best when he has a certain type of wing to play with, someone in the Chris Kunitz or Conor Sheary mold. The Oilers need to find the type of wing that works best with McDavid and use him in that spot. Draisaitl is that guy right now. I think they'd be better in the long run if they found someone different. Maybe one day soon it'll be rookie forward Jesse Puljujarvi

Video: PIT@EDM: Nugent-Hopkins nets his 100th career goal 

 

I'm very confused about Vadim Shipachyov. What do you make of that entire situation? Why did the Vegas Golden Knights sign a man for two years, $9 million if they didn't like what he has to offer? -- @bloodfury96

I think Vegas general manager George McPhee and his European scouts liked what they saw of Shipachyov in the Kontinental Hockey League and figured at 30 years old he was a mature player whose game was going to be predictable and good, and he would fit into the mix on a team that would likely play a simple game. The Golden Knights knew they had to pay him well to get him to leave Russia, so they gave him the two-year, $9 million contract, figuring he could compete to be a center on one of their top two lines. The $4.5 million salary cap charge wasn't going to be damaging to the Golden Knights because they weren't going to reach the salary cap limit anyway. Two years made it a safe move because if things didn't work out, they weren't going to be on the hook for Shipachyov when the players they want to build around were maturing and either ready or almost ready to make an impact in the NHL. 

As it turned out, Shipachyov  retired from the NHL so he could possibly return to play in the KHL.

The Golden Knights may have underestimated how difficult it is for a player who has only played one way on the international size rink to adapt to playing a different way in the NHL on a smaller rink. By the time players are 30, they're usually stuck in their ways. They have a routine, a way to prepare and play. McPhee pretty much said so about Shipachyov when he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wasn't willing to take the time in the American Hockey League to adjust to the pace of play in the North American game with the smaller rink. Shipachyov wanted to play his way. It's hard to blame him because he's been doing it for so long, but it cost him. The Golden Knights had a contractual obligation to pay him, they did not have an obligation to play him if he wasn't willing to assimilate and play the way they needed him to play.

 

When is Jeff Carter projected to return to the Los Angeles Kings and how does he fit into the lineup with how well Adrian Kempe is playing between Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson? -- @TylerDonnellyTD

Carter had surgery for a laceration on his leg on Oct. 19 and was ruled out indefinitely by general manager Rob Blake. Blake said in an email to NHL.com on Tuesday that there is no time frame for his return because it's still early. Carter got his hard cast off, but he's in a boot and won't be able to put weight on his leg for a few more weeks. Considering that information, talking about where Carter fits in when he returns because of how well Kempe, a rookie, is playing between Toffoli and Pearson is moot. But since you asked, if and when Carter returns, Kempe (seven goals, four assists in seven games), provided he's still having an impact, could move to left wing, potentially with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, or drop into the third-line center role to shore up the Kings' depth at the position.

 

Why is Brendan Smith not playing? I've heard rumors of him being out of shape. True? -- @MattFitz2838

I'm not going to engage in the rumor mill gossip about the New York Rangers defenseman. What I will say is earlier in the season Smith didn't appear to be playing the same type of hard game the Rangers got from him last season after they acquired him from the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 28. Smith is at his best when he's playing with a feistiness that allows him to win puck battles and tie up players in front of the net. Coach Alain Vigneault scratched him for two games, against the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues, on Oct. 8-10. The Rangers beat the Canadiens and lost to the Blues, so Smith was put back into the lineup. Nothing changed. The Rangers were losing. Vigneault benched Smith for the final 15:09 of the third period against the Golden Knights on Oct. 31. The Rangers scored four goals without him and won 6-4. Vigneault made Smith a healthy scratch at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 2. The Rangers won that game too. They haven't lost since, taking a six-game winning streak into their game at the Blackhawks on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Smith hasn't played since. It'd be ridiculous to think Smith's benching is the reason the Rangers' fortunes changed, but coaches don't like to change a winning lineup to get a player back in. Smith will play again, but for now Vigneault is sticking with what is working.

 

A few years ago, the NHL was worried about scoring being down. Goalie equipment changes clearly aren't responsible for the huge boost, so what is? Speed the younger guys are bringing? Stricter adhereing to rules making it tougher to defense/stop opponent from scoring? -- @mikeybox

I think the crackdown on slashing the hands of the puck carrier has opened more room and allowed for more skilled plays. Speed is also key, but it's not just speed in players, it's also speed in play. We're seeing more and more players with a shoot-first mentality, understanding that a quick shot at the net is never a bad idea as long as it's not a shot directly into the pads of a player coming up to block it. Shots go off feet and legs and arms and sticks in front and it creates goals or scoring chances off the rebound. There has long been a push in the League to have a presence in front of the net. We're seeing a lot of that and shots into traffic are making it harder for defenders to use the box-out method to keep the attacking players away from the netfront. I've seen players making quicker decisions with the puck, hanging onto it less. The get-it-and-get-rid-of-it method keeps the defenders moving and that opens shooting lanes.

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