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Rosen's mailbag - Nov. 25, 2015

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

Here is the Nov. 25 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:

Do you think the defensemen award should be split; one for overall points and the other for actual defense stats? -- @whoopoi

No.

The explanation of the Norris Trophy is fairly simple in that it goes to "the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." The object of playing defense is to stop the other team from scoring; the best way to do that is to not let the other team have the puck. The best defensemen in the NHL today are elite skaters, puck movers, distributors and scorers. They are the players who possess the puck the most, because a good offense is, as they say, the best defense.

All stats should be considered in voting for the Norris Trophy. Does it typically go to a defensemen who has good offensive numbers? Yes, but that's significant in the concept of playing defense.

Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter once told me that the best teams in the League don't play defense, they check the puck back and possess it. He said if you're playing defense all the time, no matter how structured you are in the defensive end, you're probably not playing past mid-April. The same theory naturally holds true for individual defensemen. If they're always playing in their defensive zone, they're not doing their job well enough. Offense is a big part of playing defense, so it should be a big part of who wins the Norris Trophy.

Is there any historical context to apply to a franchise-best start (Dallas) and whether it improves Cup chances? -- @Allen_Schneider

You may remember that before winning the Stanley Cup in 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks started the 2012-13 season with points in 24 consecutive games, breaking the NHL record for consecutive games with at least a point to start the season (17, San Jose Sharks). They also won a franchise-best 11 consecutive games in starting 21-0-3.

However, what the Blackhawks did then doesn't change the fact that winning in November only gives a team a better chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April. What the Dallas Stars, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have done so far this season is impressive, but the only way it can logically improve their chances of winning the Stanley Cup is it gets them closer to having home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

The Rangers set franchise records last season for wins (53) and points (113). They lost in the Eastern Conference Final. Similarly, the Anaheim Ducks set franchise records in 2013-14 for wins (50) and points (112), but lost in the Western Conference Second Round.

How do you think the rest of the NHL views Montreal? Legit contenders or just not there yet? -- @RichardObrand

Legit contenders. I'm not sure how you could look at it any other way. There was skepticism of the Canadiens last season because their style of play wasn't conducive to winning without an elite goaltender. They have one in Carey Price, and he was the main reason the Canadiens were a 110-point team last season. He has the hardware to show for it. It's different this season. The Canadiens are better all around this season, with more balanced scoring. They have the puck more. They're playing better in front of Price. They've already gone 7-2-2 without him. They were only 6-6-4 without him last season. They're legit. The rest of the NHL knows it. But they've got another challenge ahead of them with Brendan Gallagher out of the lineup for a minimum of six weeks. He's a first-line player and a heart-and-soul guy. He'll be tough to replace.

With Brendan Gallagher out for a good while for the Montreal Canadiens, who do you see replacing him at first-line right wing and is there a possible transaction coming? -- @gelboustany

Gallagher is out for a minimum of six weeks, the Canadiens announced Tuesday. Montreal has 19 games, including the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, in the next six weeks.

Read this fantastic analysis from LNH.com Managing Editor Arpon Basu on what the Canadiens lose (a lot) with Gallagher out of the lineup.

Montreal practiced Tuesday with Devante Smith-Pelly in Gallagher's place on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. It appears Smith-Pelly, who missed the game Sunday with a lower-body injury, will get the first crack at replacing Gallagher. He played with Pacioretty and Plekanec for roughly half of the game against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Friday. Montreal coach Michel Therrien didn't like the look of his lines about 30 minutes in, so he moved Smith-Pelly onto the top line. That seemed to work OK.

The worry for Montreal is their overall depth at the right wing position. Beyond Gallagher, the Canadiens are looking at Smith-Pelly, Dale Weise, Alexander Semin and Sven Andrighetto, who has played one NHL game this season and 13 in his career. Not to knock Smith-Pelly, but it's almost by default that he's getting nod now. His ability to be a responsible player was pointed out by Therrien multiple times on Tuesday in his media session. Semin clearly has the most offensive ability of all the right wings Montreal has available now, but Therrien clearly doesn't trust him to be a strong two-way player, which is necessary when you play with Plekanec and Pacioretty. That's part of the reason why Gallagher works so well with them.

I assume you mean trade when you ask about a possible transaction coming. Those are hard to predict and probably harder to make in November in the NHL. I would expect the Canadiens to try to get by without Gallagher for the time being and hope that Smith-Pelly or someone else can fill his role with Plekanec and Pacioretty without disrupting the other lines too much.

Why did the NHL choose nine skaters for the All-Star Game and not 12? Four lines of three = more players and normal rest between shifts. -- @hanesup

The League and the NHL Players' Association went with nine skaters (six forwards and three defensemen) and two goalies on each team because there was a concern that bringing too many players to Nashville for All-Star Weekend would create an unnecessary surplus. They didn't want to risk watering down the event with too many players, some of whom might not be deserving of All-Star status (remember, players do pull out of the event for injury reasons). There was also a concern of not having enough for the players to do if they brought more than the 44 players, including 36 skaters, to Nashville.

While the game itself is the centerpiece of All-Star Weekend, it is also just one part of a large schedule of events that also includes the Skills Competition and a host of community outreach events. In addition, remember that the players will not be playing 60 minutes of 3-on-3. At most, 18 of the skaters will be playing 40 minutes. And those 40 minutes will not be played with the same intensity as the players typically exhibit in a regular season game.

Are the Nashville Predators hunting for a No. 1 center? -- @JeremyR86

Predators general manager David Poile has been in the market for a No. 1 center for as long as I can remember. He tried to get Jason Spezza before he was traded to the Dallas Stars two summers ago. Spezza, who had a no-trade clause, wouldn't agree to a trade to Nashville. Poile also entertained the possibility of acquiring Ryan Kesler before he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, but Kesler didn't want to go to Nashville either. That's how the Predators wound up with Mike Ribeiro, who was better than expected as Nashville's No. 1 center last season but has tailed off this season. He has only 11 points in 20 games. It doesn't help that Filip Forsberg hasn't scored in 16 straight games. His last goal came on Oct. 15.

Poile again has again be on the hunt for a top center, but it might have to be a rental. Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is possibly going to be the top center available on the market as the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline (Feb. 29) gets closer. Staal might not re-sign in Nashville, but if Poile believes the Predators are built for a sustained playoff run he might take the gamble on a rental player who is as good as Staal. It's hard to win in the NHL today when your top two centers are 35 years old and one of them (Mike Fisher) isn't producing. Ribeiro would ideally be a good fit as a No. 2 and Fisher is best as a No. 3 at this point in his career.

Will the New York Rangers ship off Keith Yandle if they can't re-sign him, similar to Ryan Callahan? Any chance the Rangers move a higher paid defenseman to fit him? -- @surlysailor

This all depends on if the Rangers think Brady Skjei is ready to play top-six minutes in the NHL by February. If the answer is yes, Yandle is expendable, particularly if the Rangers aren't going to re-sign him. I don't see how they're going to re-sign him considering forwards Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider are due new contracts after this season. Plus, with Skjei, a lefty, coming up through the system, it wouldn't be wise for the Rangers to add another big money, long-term contract on the blue line when they already have several of those. So, if Skjei is ready, I wouldn't be shocked if Yandle is moved. Maybe the Rangers will be able to get a first-round pick. They haven't had one of those in a while.

As for moving another defenseman instead, I don't see it happening. They aren't trading Ryan McDonagh. I don't think they'd move Marc Staal either. He's valuable in a lot of areas for them. I think it'd be hard to find a team willing to take on Dan Girardi's contract ($5.5 million per) for a fair return based on the miles he has already put on his body and the fact that there are four more seasons remaining on his contract after this one. There's no reason to trade Kevin Klein, who has a great value contract ($2.9 million per through 2017-18). Nobody is taking on Dan Boyle.

What is a bigger priority for the Chicago Blackhawks, finding a winger for Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, or finding a defenseman? -- @isaacfrench19

Great question. I think it's finding a left wing to play with Toews and Hossa. The difference that makes is huge for the rest of the forward group. We saw it last season when Brandon Saad was there. Hossa is more effective because he doesn't get as much attention. Toews is more effective because he has more space. It gives coach Joel Quenneville the opportunity to keep other lines intact instead of trying to steal from another line to find chemistry on the top line (i.e. moving Artemi Panarin up to play with Toews and Hossa when he clearly is effective with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov).

But I'd also argue that I think the winger is on the team already. It's either Teuvo Teravainen or Marko Dano. The problem is Quenneville clearly has reservations about whether either one is ready for the role. Andrew Shaw can play it too, but that's a last-resort option because I think Quenneville prefers him as the third-line center.

In an ideal world, these would be my Blackhawks' forward lines:

Teravainen - Toews - Hossa

Panarin - Anisimov - Kane

Dano - Shaw - Bickell

Desjardins - Kruger - Garbutt

Then again, ideally Bickell would be playing a significant role in Chicago, not trying to find himself in the American Hockey League.

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