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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Norris Trophy candidates, Kakko goal prediction for Rangers

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Sept. 18 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Who do you see in contention for the Norris Trophy this season? Early predictions? -- @somehockeynerd

Victor Hedman. The Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman is the best at his position in the NHL. His impact is felt in every zone on every shift. He won the Norris Trophy two seasons ago and he finished third in the voting last season. I'd argue he's the Lightning's most important player, which is no small thing considering they have last season's Vezina Trophy winner in goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and Hart Trophy winner in forward Nikita Kucherov. Hedman, though, proved his worth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, when he wasn't healthy in Games 1 and 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and didn't play in Games 3 and 4. Tampa Bay got swept. That wouldn't have happened if Hedman were healthy. My guess is the Lightning wouldn't have blown a 3-0 lead in Game 1 if Hedman were 100 percent. 

If not Hedman, maybe Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, who was ninth in the Norris Trophy voting last season after finishing a career-best fourth in 2017-18. The Blue Jackets have talked about the need to be more defensive this season to help protect goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, neither of whom have been No. 1s in the NHL. Jones should help in that department, and if he can drive his offensive numbers to potentially north of 60 points for the first time he should be right there in the voting. He had a NHL career-best 57 points (16 goals, 41 assists) in 2017-18. 

Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi is another one I'm targeting. Josi, who is the final season of a seven-year contract, finished seventh in the voting the past two seasons. He has never finished higher than fifth (2014-15 and 2015-16). I've been wondering for a while when it was going to be his time. 

If he stays healthy, look out for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber to have a monster season. Weber has played in 84 games the past two seasons because of injuries; he has 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists).

Video: Victor Hedman is ranked No. 2 on the list

 

What are your expectations for Kaapo Kakko this season? Do you see him reaching the 30-goal mark in his rookie year? -- @jin_winberg

Expectations are high and they should be high for Kakko, the New York Rangers forward who was the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Thirty goals is not unreasonable based on his talent, the fact he's played against men in Finland and the expectation that he will be on the Rangers first power-play unit. However, it's hard for me to predict he will score 30 unless I know for sure that he will play, or at least be given the opportunity to play consistently on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. That's not Kakko's current situation. Pavel Buchnevich is getting the first chance to play with Panarin and Zibanejad, meaning Kakko is expected to start on the second line, which could be centered by Filip Chytil, the 20-year-old who has never been a regular center in the NHL. Chytil played on the wing as a rookie last season. Can he be a productive NHL center? I think so, but like the Rangers, I have to see it to believe it. Putting that under consideration, at this point there is far less production certainty for Kakko if he's not going to play with Zibanejad and Panarin at even strength. I think with what we know now, 20-25 goals and 50 points are reasonable numbers to predict for Kakko. It's not that Kakko can't score 30 or more, it's that the way the Rangers have their depth chart set up now makes the challenge greater.

Video: Kaapo Kakko ranks No. 2 on the Top Prospects List

 

What do you think Taylor Hall will be looking for in his next contract? -- @KelliX84

A lot depends on Hall and how he plays, at least early this season, coming off a major knee injury that prevented him from playing after Christmas last season. If Hall proves he's again the elite, MVP-worthy left wing he was two seasons ago, he'll be looking at a cap hit that starts with an 11 whether he re-signs with the Devils or makes it to July 1 and becomes an unrestricted free agent. He had 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 2017-18, when he won the Hart Trophy. He had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 33 games before the knee injury got the best of him last season. 

Panarin is a strong comparable for Hall provided the Devils forward puts up the numbers this season. The Rangers signed Panarin, also a left wing, to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract. His cap hit of $11.64 million takes up approximately 14.2 percent of the League's $81.5 million salary cap in place for this season. Panarin had 169 points (55 goals, 114 assists) in two seasons with the Blue Jackets before cashing in with the Rangers. If the cap goes up $2 million to $83.5 million next season, matching the increase from last season to this season, Hall could get the same type of contract or slightly more than Panarin and account for approximately the same percentage of the cap. That's in Hall's ballpark if he does his job. It also might be why he hasn't signed an extension with the Devils yet. He still has time to increase his value.

 

The Anaheim Ducks looked great in their rookie face-off tournament. Do you think that the Ducks will surprise a lot of people this year? And where do you see a hole in the lineup? -- @bonnetbeats

Let's be careful not to overvalue what the Ducks did in the 2019 Anaheim Rookie Faceoff. They had nine players on their roster who combined to play in 231 NHL games last season, including forward Kiefer Sherwood (50 games) and defenseman Jacob Larsson (49). They went 2-0-1 but their three opponents had a combined seven games of NHL experience between them. The Ducks rookie team should have dominated that tournament based on the rosters. NHL.com staff writer David Satriano listed five of the Ducks players from their rookie tournament in their projected lineup in his season preview (forwards Sam Steel, Max Comtois and Troy Terry, and defensemen Brendan Guhle and Larsson). Sherwood figures to be on the roster too. Defenseman Josh Mahura and forward Isac Lundestrom might also make it. All three were in the rookie tournament too. Here is Satriano's preview.

The Ducks have the ability to surprise this season because expectations are low. However, there are major questions about their offense and if they will be able to score enough. They were shut out nine times last season and scored two or fewer goals in 45 games. Goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller will keep them in games, but will it matter with their offense? That's the big question, the hole that I see.

 

The Buffalo Sabres seem to be steadily improving year after year. They've drafted well, made mostly good acquisitions and general manager Jason Botterill is adding by subtracting in the right places. Are they a team that's ready to take the next steps and have their first 90-plus point season since 2010-11? -- @GoldenSaucerGuy

Short answer: No.

Longer, more detailed answer: I don't agree with your assertion that the Sabres have shown improvement year after year. They had 33 wins and 76 points last season, a step up from the 25 wins and 62 points they had in 2017-18. But they had 33 wins and 78 points in 2016-17 after winning 35 games and getting 81 points in 2015-16. They improved last season based off their previous season, but this doesn't constitute steady improvement and they still finished 22 points out of a playoff spot. 

Buying Buffalo at 90 points this season is too high. I think 80-85 points is more realistic. That would be a step up. That would start a trend of steady improvement. However, there are still questions littering the lineup, starting with the most important position. The Sabres allowed 3.27 goals per game last season (24th in NHL) and they're bringing back the same goaltending pair of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark. They combined for a .906 save percentage last season, barely above the League average threshold of .905. To make the playoffs they'll have to get that save percentage up to around .910 or higher because I'm not sure the Sabres will be able to outscore any goaltending problems they have. Five teams made the playoffs last season with a save percentage of .905 or below. All five (Vegas Golden Knights, Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks) were among the top 13 teams in goals per game. The Sabres tied for 23rd in goals per game last season (2.70) and they didn't drastically upgrade their offense in the offseason. The good news is their defense looks better with the addition of Brandon Montour late last season and Colin Miller in the offseason. Rasmus Dahlin will be entering his second season and I think he is a future Norris Trophy winner. He should show improvement. I think the Sabres will show improvement, but 90 points is asking for a lot.

 

Who is your biggest dark horse for the Stanley Cup this season? -- @TJRinger1

Eastern Conference: Florida Panthers

They already had plenty of talent. They've significantly upgraded their goaltending (Sergei Bobrovsky) and coaching (Joel Quenneville). Is this the season center Aleksander Barkov wins the Selke Trophy? There's a lot to like in Florida and Quenneville, a three-time Cup champion, certainly knows how to coach in the spring.

Western Conference: Colorado Avalanche

They need to get forward Mikko Rantanen signed. He's still a restricted free agent. But I like how they've filled out their center depth with the additions of Nazem Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. I'm ready to become a big fan of rookie defenseman Cale Makar. Nathan MacKinnon should be a contender for the Hart Trophy.

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