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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Predicting defense, goaltending markets

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the March 8 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Would Karl Alzner be a good summer signing for the Pittsburgh Penguins? -- @cbowersiv 

It depends on the price. Alzner is making $2.8 million this season with the Washington Capitals. He could make double that in his next contract. He's the kind of defenseman I think Pittsburgh could use. He's the kind of defenseman any good team could use. He'd be a perfect partner for Kris Letang on the top pair because he's a left-handed shot and he's a reliable, stay-at-home, physical, experienced defenseman. You know exactly what you're getting from Alzner. It's nothing flashy, nothing great, but he is just always there, always playing 20-plus minutes a game, always on the penalty kill, always helping. The Penguins already have Letang, Olli Maatta and Ian Cole, and they're likely going to re-sign Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin, who each can be a restricted free agent after the season. So can Derrick Pouliot. They have to figure out what to do with him. Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit each can be an unrestricted free agent. My guess is none of them will be back. It'll be a matter of price and salary-cap room, but the answer is absolutely yes, Alzner would be a good signing for the Penguins if they can fit him in and make the dollars work.

Video: OTT@WSH: Alzner blasts one-timer over Condon's glove

 

Where is Steve Mason going to end up next year? #fantasykeeper -- @PirateMeach

You have to look at teams that could need a goalie other than the Philadelphia Flyers, who appear ready, at least for now, to go with a combination of Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz. They will have to leave one of them exposed in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft. The expectation is they will protect Stolarz and expose Neuvirth, who does have a history with Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee and goaltending coach Dave Prior from his time with them in Washington. But that's not what you asked.

Mason won't be handed a starting job, nor should he based on the season he's had to date (2.76 goals-against average, .906 save percentage). But he could have options. For example, the Vancouver Canucks might have an opening if they don't re-sign Ryan Miller, who can be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Calgary Flames goalies Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson each can be a UFA too. The Colorado Avalanche might have ideas of trying to move on from Semyon Varlamov in some way, so perhaps they become an option too. If the New York Islanders find a way to trade Jaroslav Halak, they too might have interest in Mason to come in and compete with Thomas Greiss.

The other teams to consider are the ones that might lose a goalie to Vegas. The Flyers could be on that list, as I mentioned above, but so could the Chicago Blackhawks (Scott Darling), New York Rangers (Antti Raanta), Capitals (Philipp Grubauer) and Columbus Blue Jackets (Joonas Korpisalo). All of those teams have a No. 1 goalie who isn't going anywhere, and Mason wouldn't do himself any favors by going to one of those teams if he still sees himself as a No. 1, which I have to believe he does.

It's too difficult to predict now where Mason will end up, but from your fantasy team's perspective, he's not going to be handed a No. 1 job, so it might not be in your best option to have him as a keeper.

 

Will Vegas be in the market of taking a goalie like Philipp Grubauer, a backup goalie with starting potential? -- @gdohlke79

I already mentioned this above, but the answer is yes, Grubauer would be the perfect fit for Vegas. For starters, there is the history he has with McPhee and Prior. McPhee drafted Grubauer when he was Capitals GM. Prior was Washington's goaltending coach when Grubauer was developing into an NHL goalie. Grubauer is 25 and could be ready to get a shot at a No. 1 job. The last thing McPhee wants to do is pay a lot of money for goaltending because the Golden Knights likely won't be a playoff contender next season and it's smart business to make it a competition in net before paying up for a No. 1 goalie. Grubauer will be a restricted free agent coming off a contract that paid him $750,000 this season. He'll get a raise, but it won't be outlandish.

I think it makes sense for Vegas to take Grubauer from the Capitals, Korpisalo from the Blue Jackets and either Darling from the Blackhawks or Raanta from the Rangers. Figure out who your top two goalies are going to be and trade the other to acquire more assets, either prospects or draft picks. Then they can figure out from there who the No. 1 goalie will be. Let them battle it out. That's my two cents on this at least.

Video: DAL@WSH: Grubauer kicks out pad to deny Klingberg

 

How do the Buffalo Sabres improve their defense? -- @Smitty0717 

For this season, they need to stay aggressive, push from the start, and don't stop pushing in the second period. Don't sit back with a lead. Don't rely on the goalie.

Read this quote from Jack Eichel after the Sabres blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 to the Penguins on Sunday, because it basically sums up what I mean:

"We played aggressive in the first then we sat back and let them take it to us in the second and third. The tale of every game that we've played in the last few. So, nothing changes and we blow another lead."

The Sabres have some firepower up front and need their mentality to stay the same in order to improve the way they play defense. That might sound a little odd, but it falls under the category of the best defense is a good offense. Hang on to the puck more, control it, push, be aggressive, and they won't get stuck in their own zone, which is where they have significant issues. The problem is Buffalo is a bottom-five team in overall shot-attempts percentage (SAT%), SAT when trailing, and offensive-zone starts at 5-on-5. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense and the goaltender.

GM Tim Murray has to go to work on the blue line after the season. He has Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson, underachievers for what they should be, each coming off the books as an unrestricted free agent. He can leave Zach Bogosian exposed in the expansion draft and maybe he'll get taken, though with three years remaining on his contract and a $5.142 million salary-cap charge, according to CapFriendly.com, it seems unlikely.

Video: BUF@PIT: Foligno, Eichel combine for nifty goal

 

What's your take on the New Jersey Devils this season and in the future? What kind of moves do you anticipate them making this summer? -- @smg92390

They have some good pieces in place, but they have to go to work on their defense and their depth scoring. I think GM Ray Shero is ready to make another splash like he did last offseason when he traded for Taylor Hall. It has to be on defense. I think he'll be in the mix for Kevin Shattenkirk. That would be the splash the Devils need. Shattenkirk is going to have his suitors and he's going to get paid a lot of money, but if the Devils can convince him to come on board and fork over the cash to make it happen, it would be a huge boost for them, particularly their power play. Regardless if they get Shattenkirk, I think Shero will be quite active. It's time for the Devils. In fact, I think they've taken a step back this season. They should be better than they are. They need to push and be more aggressive. They need to play a more exciting game. But to do that you need the players. Pavel Zacha will have a year under his belt, and that will help. Miles Wood is getting experience too. That's a positive. I still think they need a No. 1 center. Is Zacha that guy? Haven't seen it from him, but maybe. The Devils have cap space, and that gives them options. They have an aggressive general manager who has shown he's not afraid to make a trade. They're still in a rebuilding phase, but it's time to take the next step. I thought that time would be this season. It's not. So they'll likely have a high draft pick. Maybe they can use that as an asset in a trade too.

 

With the Calgary Flames' resurgence into the playoff picture, does Mikael Backlund get any Selke Trophy attention? -- @Zacivich

I think the overwhelming favorite to date is Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler, who is pretty much dominating in all areas of the game, including on the penalty kill and defensive-zone faceoffs, of which he had won a League-high 351 (out of 613, 57.3 percent). He'll also finish with more than 20 goals and potentially more than 60 points. Those numbers shouldn't necessarily be factored into the Selke Trophy vote, but they help and speak volumes for how he's been able to turn his quality defense into offense. However, I do think Backlund should get some attention for this trophy. He's been an all-situations center for the Flames this season and he's also leading them in scoring. He's a big reason why Calgary has surged lately to be a firm playoff team. I also think Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild and Vincent Trocheck of the Florida Panthers could get some attention for the Selke, as well as perennial candidates Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings isn't having the type of season we've come to expect from him, but he has good enough numbers for this trophy. Ryan O'Reilly of the Sabres is another one who could be in the mix here. And I wonder if Connor McDavid will get some attention here too. He does it all for the Edmonton Oilers.

 

Do you feel there should be a trophy for best defensive defenseman? Thoughts? -- @Skillocity

I see the merits of it, but I'm fine with there being one trophy. The way the game is played now, the best defensemen are the ones who aren't playing defense often. They're the ones who get the puck out of the D zone quickly and go on the attack. There is always a place on any team for a stay-at-home defenseman, but even he's at his best when he's helping his team get out of the D zone and stay in the offensive zone. It's a red flag when a defenseman is in his zone a lot, even if he's not giving up much when he's in there.

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