Here is the Dec. 23 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:
The Flyers have found some consistency and confidence in their game. Do you think they'll squeeze in as a wild card? -- @BillyStayScheme
It's too soon to tell if the consistency they have found will carry them through this grind of a schedule. I'm not sold on them yet mainly because I'm not sold on their defense or goaltending. They seem to have the St. Louis Blues' number, but allowing a team to get a 3-0 lead on you is not exactly the best recipe for success in this League. It's about the worst, in fact.
What I will say is I am impressed with the Flyers' attack mentality. They are playing coach Dave Hakstol's system well. He wants them to have some risk in their game. They seem to be playing that way. It's working. Shayne Gostisbehere is the perfect example. When he's on, he makes a big difference. But what will the Flyers do when Mark Streit is ready to return? Gostisbehere is no lock to stay, as crazy as that may sound.
Overall though, I still have to see more before I can say with any certainty that I think the Flyers look like a playoff team. It's open for them to be that, but ask me this question again at the All-Star break and I'll have a better idea.
Metropolitan Division team with the best hopes of a playoff spot: Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Philadelphia? -- @zac_harvey
At the risk of getting yelled at, I'm still saying the Pittsburgh Penguins. I know, I know; they've got problems, a lot of them, too many for the talent they have on the roster. But eventually I think that talent will come through and start performing at the expected level. Maybe a little break is what Sidney Crosby needed. Maybe Crosby hasn't performed up to his level this season because he has been playing with a nagging injury. We don't know the answers, but certainly I expect more from him, as does everyone else. I think he will deliver. He has to. He needs to step up. It's time. I also think the Penguins will get used to playing under coach Mike Sullivan and find some identity as a fast team that plays with a bit of snarl. They're not necessarily built to play with a lot of snarl, but they can't get pushed around the way they were. A good blueprint for them was their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. Not only did they score some goals and win, they didn't let the Blue Jackets get away with anything. Remember when Brandon Dubinsky was taking liberties on Crosby earlier this season, when Mike Johnston was Pittsburgh's coach? Nobody came to Crosby's defense. That won't fly under Sullivan. That should help the Penguins.
I'm not discounting the Devils and Flyers, but of those three teams, I still have the Penguins finishing third in the division.
What is the expected return for Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, and would any teams want both if the Jets take back or retain salary? -- @mennoknight427
Venturing a guess here that the return for those players is more in the form of draft picks and prospects than it is in actual NHL players. I guess it's possible that the Jets would be able to make a player-for-player trade, but that's unlikely when it comes to players who would essentially be rentals for the team they go to. They are playing on contracts that expire at the end of the season, making them unrestricted free agents on July 1. I would think that the Jets would want to continue to try to negotiate with one or both, exhaust all options before looking at the trade market. That's what they should be doing, at least.
As for a team wanting both, why wouldn't they? Ladd is an experienced leader, a 200-foot player who can score and play in all situations. Byfuglien is a weapon on the back end who can play forward too. His versatility, size and shot makes him a prize for any team that gets him. The Jets would be silly not to retain some salary on them if it means their return is better. These are expiring contracts. The cap hit won't matter beyond the end of this season. But I'm also not sure that would ever happen.
What's going on with the Blues? Win some, then completely blow a lead. What needs to change? -- @matt_winthrop
Nothing needs to change. Don't overreact to one loss, especially when it comes on the heels of them winning four of five games and five of seven. The Blues had it going good until they blew that lead to the Flyers. It's easy to overreact because it was such a dramatic thing to happen, something we don't see happen often in this League, but it's still just one loss. They responded with a 2-0 win at the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.
The Blues won't be judged until the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If they flop again in April, change will be in order.
Would firing Bruce Boudreau help the Ducks or are the players to blame? -- @Touchback
I do think the players are to blame here more than Boudreau, because the errors they are making are preventable and I don't think have much to do with coaching. They are turning pucks over in areas that should not result in turnovers. They are not getting the puck to the net nearly enough, and these are players that know how to get the puck to the net and have done it a lot under Boudreau. It's not Boudreau's fault that Ryan Getzlaf has one goal, into an empty net. Getzlaf has to be better. The Ducks have to be better at connecting passes. They need to be better at creating chances off the rush. They need to be better at creating turnover. They just flat out need to be better.
What people don't want to believe is the fact that I think the Ducks overachieved in the regular season in 2014-15. They set an NHL record with 33 one-goal wins (33-1-7). They are 5-4-6 in one-goal games this season. They tied an NHL record with 12 wins in games they trailed entering the third period. They are 2-13-1 in that situation this season.
Unfortunately, the coach is always the fall guy in cases like these, so maybe Boudreau does get fired at some point. But I don't think the blame falls on him. The players he's coaching are better than the way they're playing. If they play up to their standards, they'll start winning more games.
When do you think the Montreal Canadiens slide will stop? Will they make a trade, or wait for Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher? -- @gelboustany
It will stop when Price and Gallagher are back in the lineup. Period, end of story. It's hard enough for any team to withstand the loss of their best player when he's a skater; it's near impossible when it's your goaltender. The New York Rangers managed to win last season without Henrik Lundqvist, but Cam Talbot was a better backup than Dustin Tokarski or Mike Condon, and the Rangers scored four goals a game in February. The Canadiens have had chances to score; they just can't score now. It's not good, but it happens. Getting Gallagher back will help, obviously. Getting Price back will give them even more confidence. It's going to be tough sledding until those two return.
How much could Lee Stempniak get in return if the Devils trade him at the deadline? He's having a good season. -- @NJ030
Interesting question. I'm not sure that his value is great even though he's having a decent season for the Devils. I can't imagine they'd get anything more than a draft pick or a prospect. It could be worth doing if they think they're out of the playoff race and if they don't have intentions to re-sign him. But I think coach John Hynes and goalie Cory Schneider will help keep them in the race come Feb. 29 (deadline day) and I also think re-signing Stempniak is something general manager Ray Shero should consider. Stempniak has made good on a quality opportunity he got in New Jersey. He's the type of player who would be a bottom-six forward on a team with forward depth, but he's good enough and skilled enough to be a top-six forward on a team like the Devils. He's a valuable player to have regardless of the depth of your team. He's also not going to cost a lot of money. I'd keep him.
How much do you think the new lottery process is keeping bottom level teams from being full-on sellers at this point? -- @everytimedavid
Another good question. I don't think it's the new lottery system as much as it is the parity and the time of year. We can't say it's still early in the season, but it is still early in the trading season. A lot of teams think they're still in the race. If we've learned anything in this League, it's that if you get in the playoffs, all bets are off. I'm sure teams are still thinking along those lines. Give it until after the All-Star break and I think you'll start to see a little bit of separation to get a better idea of the teams that will definitely be sellers. It won't be a perfect cut from the sellers and buyers, but you'll have more of an idea the closer we get to the trade deadline.