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Rosen's mailbag - Dec. 2, 2015

by Dan Rosen

Here is the Dec. 2 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday in the Over the Boards blog during the 2015-16 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

How do you see the goaltending moving forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs? Is Jonathan Bernier going to be traded? -- @LisaTashjian

[Editor's note: After the mailbag was posted, the Maple Leafs assigned Bernier to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint.]

I think Bernier will be good the next time he plays, and it will start a streak of quality starts for him. He's just too good of a goaltender to be as bad as he has been this season. He needs to be smarter. He needs to be more focused. But I wonder if seeing the success of Garret Sparks on Monday will, sorry for the pun here, spark something inside of Bernier to be better.

However, the Maple Leafs have two big problems with Bernier right now:

1. He has been downright awful, so even if they wanted to trade him now, his value is shot. He needs to play and be better when he does for it to even be a consideration. No general manager would be willing to part with valuable assets for Bernier right now.

2. Coach Mike Babcock doesn't trust Bernier now, so it's a battle in his mind to even consider playing him. It might be obvious to you and me that the Maple Leafs are not ready for prime time yet, but Babcock can't coach or think that way. He wants to win games. He's never been a losing coach. He also doesn't feel Bernier can win games right now. And he's right. That's a big problem. Bigger if you have any desire to trade Bernier.

So, even though he's injured, James Reimer is the No. 1 in Toronto for now, a position he has earned with his play this season. But he can be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and I don't know if you'll find anyone anywhere across the NHL that can say with any certainty that Reimer can be a solid No. 1 for the Maple Leafs going forward. Then again, how would we know unless he was given a chance? That would be a mighty big gamble by the Maple Leafs, who already have money invested in Bernier through next season.

It would be good for Toronto if it had another season of Reimer and Bernier to really figure this thing out, but Reimer isn't going to accept a one-year contract, nor should he.

That's why Bernier has to be good. Bernier has to solve this problem for the Maple Leafs. He needs a chance, and then he needs to do it. My opinion is that he will.

Are the Pittsburgh Penguins just truly mediocre? Will they pick it up along with Sidney Crosby or just sit where they are? -- @whoopoi

Crosby's struggles through the first quarter of the season shocked me, but overall I'm not surprised that the Penguins are battling for third in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Islanders, behind the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. That's where I felt they would be all season. I picked them to finish third in the division. They're not as deep as the Rangers or Capitals, particularly on the back end. Their goaltending, while strong with Marc-Andre Fleury, isn't better than the Rangers' with Henrik Lundqvist or the Capitals' with Braden Holtby.

That said, I do think the Penguins should be more dynamic than they have been when you consider they can roll out players like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Malkin has been fantastic of late, and Crosby is picking it up, but they are lacking in top-six wings behind Kessel and probably Patric Hornqvist. David Perron, Beau Bennett, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are more swing guys than anything, meaning at times they look like they belong in the top six and at other times they should be on the fourth line or in the press box. The swing is too great and it leads to inconsistency.

As for the defense, behind Kris Letang, the Penguins just don't have enough offensive punch. Olli Maatta needs to stay healthy before he proves he can replicate what he did as a rookie two seasons ago. They don't have anyone else to rely on there. It's a problem.

To sum it up, I don't think they're mediocre because I reserve that for teams on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. But they're not as good as the Capitals or Rangers and they're maybe slightly better than the Islanders, although that's debatable.

How do the Montreal Canadiens withstand the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher? -- @SubbansLostBro

By sticking to their game plan, applying pressure, relying on their top players to come through, and getting their depth guys to step up. They can't change how they play because of the injuries because the way they've played this season is working. But they also don't have to feel so much pressure to do in the second quarter of the season what they did in the first quarter. That's not to suggest they won't or can't, but the Canadiens have built themselves a nice cushion in the Atlantic Division standings that should allow them to withstand the injuries without significant damage. I'd actually be surprised if they're not in first place when Price and Gallagher are back.

I know it will be panic in the streets of Montreal as soon as they lose two in a row, but Mike Condon is not as good as Price, and the Canadiens don't have another right wing who can play the effectively antagonistic, heart-and-soul role that Gallagher plays. So understand it will be more difficult to win without them, but realize that they will be back and the Canadiens will be just fine if they try to win the same way they've been winning all season. If they change it up now, it will be hard to go back once Price and Gallagher do return.

Do you have any theories as to why Jakub Voracek has struggled so much this season producing goals? -- @BillyStayScheme

Part of it is bad luck. He has gotten some great scoring chances and he's definitely shooting the puck, but he hasn't caught a lot of breaks. That is one thing, and it leads me to believe that eventually things will turn around for him. I thought it would happen by now, though. The other problem is depth and contributions from defensemen in the offense. The Philadelphia Flyers' depth up front isn't good enough and their defensemen just aren't doing enough to help the forwards in scoring. Voracek, whether he's on Claude Giroux's line or playing somewhere else, is easily marked because other players in Philadelphia haven't produced either. I'm talking about Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn. If they were bigger scoring threats, then Voracek would have it a bit easier too.

You could argue he dealt with the same problems last season, when Voracek lit it up with 22 goals and 81 points. But he also scored on 10 percent of his shots last season; he's scoring on 1.4 percent of them this season. That goes back to luck. His shooting percentage is bound to go up. I just can't see his shooting percentage being eight or nine percent below his career average (10.2 percent).

Do the New York Islanders trade Travis Hamonic this season or in the offseason? -- @CVancheri

Offseason. Hamonic himself, at least in front of us in the media, has stated that he doesn't want to hamstring GM Garth Snow or the organization, and that he understands if he has to wait until the offseason to get his wish. If that's the case, unless Snow can get equal return for a top-two defenseman with an extraordinarily good contract, there's no reason to rush a trade that could potentially disrupt the chemistry the Islanders are building.

There's no doubt in my mind that Hamonic's trade request became public recently in order to put the squeeze on Snow. That's business. The media gets used in that regard quite often. But I can't imagine Snow feels too squeezed in this case because he knows he has to do what's right for his team even if he wants to do right by Hamonic.

Do you see the Minnesota Wild having their normal December slide or rebounding now that they're healthy? -- @TravKnops

After watching the majority of their game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, I'd have to say they're over their end-of-November slide and December could be a good month. I generally liked the way the Wild played in Chicago, even though clearly scoring more than two goals would have made it look better. But they outshot the Blackhawks and did a good job of holding them off even when they were pushing for the tying goal late in the game. It wasn't perfect, and they can be better, but it was good and they'll take it. They have two very winnable home games coming up against the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche. This needs to develop into a winning streak for the Wild. It should.

Any teams outside the Thanksgiving "cutoff" that you think will make the playoffs? -- @jasedavis_music

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks will be in, and the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks will not make it.

The Ducks and Lightning were outside the playoff picture on U.S. Thanksgiving last Thursday, but I can't see either missing the playoffs. In fact, I think each will finish second in their division. I actually think each team has been sleepy so far this season, along with the Lightning being injury-riddled, but a slow first two months will wake them up. It should. They're better than they have been. If it doesn't, I'll be dead wrong.


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