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Rosen's mailbag - July 22, 2015

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

Here is the July 22 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run periodically throughout the summer. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Just how dangerous can the Columbus Blue Jackets be this year? -- @BlueJacketdad

They're a team to watch in the Metropolitan Division. If they stay healthy, they're a playoff team. So clearly I think they'll be pretty dangerous this season. I particularly love the combination of Ryan Johansen and Brandon Saad on the top line, if it works out that way. Saad is on the cusp of becoming a star player in the NHL. Johansen is already there. It should make for an excellent combination. I'd put the Blue Jackets as third or fourth in the Metropolitan Division behind the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, and neck and neck with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The addition of Saad (plus assumed health) puts the Blue Jackets a notch above the New York Islanders. The addition of Phil Kessel (plus assumed health) puts the Penguins a notch above the Islanders. But the Islanders are going to be a playoff team because my pick is only three will come out of the Atlantic Division, and two of them will be the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.

Where do you see the Minnesota Wild finishing in a tough Central Division? Will they make the playoffs? -- @mustang_goalie5

A week ago in this very spot I predicted the Wild would finish first in the Central Division. Here is that mailbag with that answer.

Devan Dubnyk
Devan Dubnyk
Goalie - MIN
RECORD: 27-9-2
GAA: 1.78 | SVP: .936
It's a wide open division and the strongest in the League top to bottom, so the Wild could win it or they could finish outside of the playoff race. It's that close. I am picking them to win it at this point because I like what I saw from them in the second half last season, and their younger players such as Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba are ready to take the step into the next level. If they do, the Wild will also take the step into the next level, putting them among the elite contenders in the Western Conference. I'm also curious to see what Mike Reilly is all about. The Wild have a deep defense corps.

To me, what Devan Dubnyk did last season is not a fluke. He's the real deal. He was having success with the Arizona Coyotes before the trade; it's just that the team wasn't good enough. The Wild clearly were good enough and just needed stable goaltending. Not much changed with the Wild's skaters after the trade other than confidence in the goalie. It went a long way.

The Chicago Blackhawks will obviously be good again, but I don't see them winning the division. The St. Louis Blues will be good again, but I wouldn't be surprised if they take a small step backward. The Nashville Predators overachieved last season, at least in my opinion, and might also take a step backward. The Wild are going forward. The Winnipeg Jets are going to be in the playoff race, but they're not good enough to win the division. Neither are the Colorado Avalanche.

Will Colin Wilson sign long term with Nashville and will it be a similar deal to what Craig Smith signed? -- @predsphan

If the Predators sign Wilson to a long-term contract it makes sense for the Smith contract (five years, $21.25 million) to be a comparable. The two forwards have been comparable in so many ways. They're basically the same age. Smith turns 25 on Sept. 5; Wilson turns 26 on Oct. 20. They're each coming off contracts that had an average annual value of $2 million. Smith had 23 goals and 44 points in 82 games last season; Wilson had 20 goals and 42 points in 77 games. Smith is averaging 0.519 points per game in his 277-game NHL career; Wilson is averaging 0.483 points per game in his 368-game NHL career. Wilson has played two more seasons. If the Predators sign Wilson to a long-term contract, expect it to be right in the ballpark, if not exactly the same, as Smith's contract.

Do you think Dylan Larkin can "buck the trend" and perform his way into a winged wheel this upcoming season? @purdstheword22

History would suggest that Larkin will spend this season in Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League continuing his development. The Detroit Red Wings are notorious for their patience with prospects, even top prospects such as Larkin. However, there is something to be said for impressing the new coach, and Larkin did that in Grand Rapids during the Calder Cup Playoffs last season, when he had three goals and five points in six games after turning pro. Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said Larkin didn't look like a good young player in his short stint in Grand Rapids; he simply looked like a good player regardless of age.

There is an opportunity for Larkin if he has a good camp because Pavel Datsyuk's right-ankle surgery is expected to force him to miss the start of the season. Larkin would have to be considered in the same situation as Anthony Mantha, Teemu Pulkkinen, Landon Ferraro and maybe even Tomas Jurco. Nothing is guaranteed, but they're all candidates to make the opening-night roster.

So, yes, Larkin can "buck the trend." I can't say for sure if he will, but it looks like he'll get his chance.

If you're Tampa Bay, are you trying to extend Nikita Kucherov now or next summer (and what would be a reasonable deal for him)? -- @6DeAndre3000

Nikita Kucherov scored 29 goals during the 2014-15 season. (Photo: Bill Smith/NHLI)

If I'm Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, my only focus right now is to get Steven Stamkos to sign a contract extension. That is his No. 1 priority, as it should be. Kucherov can be dealt with next summer, when he is a restricted free agent. The Lightning control his rights, so there is no rush. It's also impossible to determine now what would be a reasonable second contract for him because the sample size we have on Kucherov is still small, only one full season. It was a good season (29 goals, 65 points), but the Lightning probably want to see him do it again before they know what to invest in him, for how much and for how long. He's 22 years old.

Looks like a complete changing of the guard by Ray Shero in New Jersey. Is Ken Daneyko safe on TV? What other changes do you expect? -- @AnthonyLong65

Daneyko will be back as New Jersey Devils color commentator on their MSG Network broadcasts. He confirmed that to me Tuesday. As for other changes, Shero still needs to hire a new director of scouting now that he's parted ways with David Conte. There will be roster changes coming in stages, but it looks like the Devils are set for now. Shero has to find a No. 1 center, as difficult as that may be. The Devils don't have one now. The hope is that their young defensemen continue to develop. If that's the case, they'll be set there for a while. They're obviously set in net with Cory Schneider but need to be able to score more than they have.

I, for one, love the changes going on in New Jersey. It seems like a more open and free environment there. They're even giving contract details (term and money) in their press releases. That never happened when Lou Lamoriello was the general manager. It's kind of odd too, considering Lamoriello is still Shero's boss. But I think Lamoriello deserves credit here for recognizing that the Devils needed to be more open-minded because the old way, which was so incredibly successful, was not working anymore.

Do you think some veterans (Mike Green, for example) are taking short-term deals hoping expansion increases available money? -- @mennoknight427

I hope not because that's not a gamble worth taking. I'm fairly certain that Green, for example, took the best contract offer available to him among the options he was most comfortable with. Detroit is a great landing spot for Green. He'll play well there and be a big part of the Red Wings power play. But, to answer your question, no, I don't think players are taking less now for the hope of making more later. They're getting, through negotiations, what is available to them in a fixed pool of money. Expansion might be coming to the NHL. It might not be as well. There are no guarantees and a player who is in the prime of his career now can't wait to see if he can make more money later. He has to get what he can get now.

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