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Rosen's mailbag - Jan. 21, 2015

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

Here is the Jan. 21 edition of Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday during the season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Are the Islanders in the conversation for the Stanley Cup? -- @IanBirny

The Islanders are in the conversation as a contender at this point in the season. To say they're in the conversation for the Stanley Cup is premature because I don't think that conversation starts until the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin and we get to see the matchups, health of each team, the way each team is trending, the goaltending, etc.

That said, I have been thoroughly impressed by the Islanders this season. I love the way they play, with speed and relentless pressure. They smother everyone in their path with a fast and fun brand of hockey to watch. They are getting contributions from up and down the lineup. Their fourth line has been a gamechanger at times. They shoot from everywhere and are always getting to the net.

They have some issues. Their penalty kill has to improve and I think we've overrated the way Jaroslav Halak has played this season. Don't get me wrong, he's been good, but his .910 save percentage his 27th among goalies with 20 or more appearances this season. He needs to pick that up.

But yes, the Islanders are for real, they're legit, and they should be a must-watch team come playoff time.

Where do you see the Maple Leafs finishing in the NHL standings? Another year of #NoMansLand? -- @ORGNL6

The Maple Leafs appear on a path to nowhere this season and I'm scratching my head to figure out how it's going to get better for next season no matter the coach. The roster looks like a toxic mix of players who don't have much chemistry and who haven't been able to play a two-way game the right way in a long time.

The Maple Leafs were woefully bad in the puck possession game under Randy Carlyle, but they could score. They've gotten better at limiting Grade A chances against under Peter Horachek, but it has come at the expense of their offense. They went on the road for four straight games last week and came back with no points and one goal. They answered by losing 4-1 at home to the Carolina Hurricanes, one of the teams below them in the standings. That's a dwindling list.

I trust that president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Dave Nonis have the right intentions and are honest in their evaluation of the team, but the Maple Leafs players are not answering. Shanahan basically called them out before they went on their western road trip and essentially said it's put up or shut up time. They have scored two goals in five games since.

Where do I see the Maple Leafs finishing? They'll be ahead of the Buffalo Sabres in the Atlantic Division, but I can see the Ottawa Senators passing them and staying ahead of them. Ottawa's overall play is trending in the right direction under coach Dave Cameron even if the results haven't been positive just yet.

With the Metropolitan Division becoming very tight, is there any concern about the Penguins missing the playoffs? -- @JohnMoyer14

No. The Penguins are just fine. The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals have improved since the quarter-mark of the season. The Islanders have been right with the Penguins all season. But the Penguins have a nine-point cushion for a playoff berth; they're in zero danger of missing the playoffs. They'll likely get better once Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau return. They should be back soon after the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend, which ends Sunday. David Perron has fit in nicely, and once Hornqvist and Comeau are back, general manager Jim Rutherford will be able to fully evaluate his group of forwards to determine if they need another top-six wing. If they need one, Rutherford will try to acquire one.

Of the two big surprise teams in the NHL who is more likely to win the Cup, the Islanders or the Predators? -- @tjanthony25

If Pekka Rinne is healthy AND the Predators are able to get out of the second round, which is no easy task considering the Central Division is the best division in the NHL, I'd give the upper hand to Nashville. But don't get me wrong, I've said my piece on the Islanders above, and I don't see my opinion on them changing. They're legit. I think with Rinne the Predators have an edge in goaltending and that could be the difference. If the Predators and Islanders were to meet in the Stanley Cup Final it would be one heck of a series. That would be a track meet between two quick teams that love to push the pace. I'm not predicting that will be the matchup in the Final, but I am predicting it would be a fun series to watch if that is indeed the matchup.

Who do you think the Lightning will target before the trade deadline on defense with the injuries piling up? -- @dustinstauffer2

Keith Yandle.

Keith Yandle
Keith Yandle
Defense - ARI
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 30
SOG: 142 | +/-: -20
If you're Steve Yzerman you recognize at this point in the season that your team is deep up front and strong in net, although Ben Bishop has never played in a playoff game, but injuries have depleted the depth on your defense. You recognize that this team can go a long way in a wide-open Eastern Conference, but you need to step in to fill some voids.

Yzerman can help the Lightning by acquiring Yandle. I'm not sure of the cost. I'm not sure if it's feasible, considering a player such as Ryan O'Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche could be on the table for the Coyotes in a Yandle for O'Reilly trade. But I do know that Yandle is a great skater and puck mover who would fit in with the style the Lightning want to play.

Picture a left side of Victor Hedman, Yandle and Jason Garrison. That might be the best in the NHL. I'm not forgetting about Matt Carle, but he had surgery and is out for 6-8 weeks. The Lightning can't wait to see if he can return and be effective this season.

If the Lightning can't get Yandle, they should look at Marek Zidlicky and Cody Franson. Both are righties and can be unrestricted free agents after the season. Marc Methot, a lefty, is another player that could be available by the NHL Trade Deadline if the Ottawa Senators don't get back in the race.

Based on the standings from the first half, who is your "betting favorite" to win the Cup? -- @MarkShark55

I don't bet, at least not on sports other than playing fantasy football, but my opinion on the favorite for the Stanley Cup has not changed since the preseason. The Chicago Blackhawks were my pick before the season, and they remain my pick. I'm sticking with my Final matchup prediction of Chicago against the Montreal Canadiens with the Blackhawks winning.

Please don't give me the noise about the Blackhawks struggling of late. It doesn't matter. They will make the playoffs and they will be dominant once they get into the playoffs. Much like the Los Angeles Kings, the regular season, as bad as this sounds, becomes somewhat boring for the Blackhawks. They have to fight through the malaise, but they are positioned well and come February and March I fully anticipate them to get their game in order and be the Cup contender we all know they can be and should be. I'll say the same thing about the Kings too.

What are your thoughts on Joe Pavelski not making it as an all-star? -- @SJSharkByte

This has to be a two-part answer.

Joe Pavelski
Joe Pavelski
Center - SJS
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 41
SOG: 153 | +/-: 9
1) Pavelski is having an all-star season. I reserve the word elite for forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews, but Pavelski is in the next category. He's in the very good to great category. I love his game, love his attitude, love what he's all about. He could have easily been an all-star, but …

2) There were limited spots available. There were, quite frankly, 36 spots for 28 teams to get someone to Columbus, factoring in the fan vote with five Blackhawks players and Zemgus Girgensons from the Buffalo Sabres being locks to go. Each team should have a representative in the spirit of what the weekend should be about, a celebration of hockey in the market and the entire League at large, so there were limited spots available, and even less when you consider five of the 31 spots had to go to goalies.

In addition to Pavelski, I'd argue that P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson and Nicklas Backstrom should have been selected too, but there had to be representatives from every team, which takes away spots from other deserving candidates.

This all goes to what your perception of the All-Star Game should be. Should it be a celebration of the market the game is played in and the League as a whole? If so, the host team should have multiple representatives and every team should have a player there. Should it be the best players no matter the team playing an exhibition game? If so, Pavelski has a strong case to be there.

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