The Christmas roster freeze is almost here and it looks like, apart from a possible Ilya Kovalchuk signing, there won’t be any kind of major transaction between now and then.
With that in mind, we’re looking forward to what’s coming in 2020 and how things are going to shake out as the season enters its second half.
Marcus asks: “Is Taylor Hall really a fit for Arizona? I know he's an MVP-caliber player and will score, but as a casual observer who hasn't watched much of them this year, it seems they play ‘boring hockey.’ They already have a similar style player in Kessel, so which will drive Tocchet mad?”
He’s a fit insofar as they did not have anyone of his quality, or even all that close, up front. The question of whether his style of play (carrying the puck with speed) is a match for the Coyotes’ approach overall is interesting, especially because in his first game he played with Christian Dvorak and… Phil Kessel?
As you said, he’s got a similar style to Kessel because he’s also a guy who wants the puck on his stick so he can unleash his shot at will. Neither are really great as pure “trigger men,” which one suspects is part of the reason it never really and truly worked with Kessel on the Malkin line.
So it doesn’t make sense to have them on the same line long-term. There are other talented forwards to pair Hall or Kessel with, but it gets a bit tricky. Schmaltz and Kessel play the same side, as do Hall and Keller. There aren’t a ton of centers where you’re like, “That guy would definitely help generate offense for those guys,” and that includes Dvorak.
By the way, I think Kessel might just be cooked, so the Hall trade might just be insurance against that. But there’s another 45 games or something to find out.
Moose asks: “Would any team currently outside of the playoffs be happy with making the first round, but go out in 7? Would Ottawa or New Jersey sign up for that?”
In the East, I think Florida, the Rangers, and Columbus take that deal even if they maybe shouldn’t. The Sharks, Wild, and Canucks all do in the West. Maybe the same is true of Nashville but I think the “out in seven games” thing probably deters them because they went into the season with bigger aspirations.
I’d be interested to see how a team that’s in need of a clear rebuild (Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey) feels about that kind of thing. It wouldn’t be worth it for me, but I don’t have “making the playoffs is an important thing” brain disease.
Reed asks: “If you’re Ryan Getzlaf how much are you weighing finishing your career with the rebuilding Ducks versus waiving your NMC to go Cup hunting elsewhere?”
Well he’s got the Cup already (albeit well over a decade ago, at this point) and if it was about His Legacy I think that ship has kinda sailed. He would be a very expensive role player on any team that’s reasonably looking at being a Cup contender, even if the Ducks eat half of his salary, which you’d think they would have to.
But if it’s about just going deep into the playoffs again because it’s fun and cool to do that, then yeah, go for it.
On the other hand, I can’t blame a guy for wanting to live by the beach and make a ton of money for the last two years of his career as a Leader guy. That would be cool too. Nice to have options.
Phil asks: “Jack Eichel is on a torrid pace for a possible Hart. What else do the Sabres need to squeak into the playoffs? The Atlantic honestly looks like a crapshoot other than Boston.”
They need a lot. Like I said the other day, they need someone who’s not Eichel to do the scoring and actually possess the puck. They need better goaltending (though to be fair they’ve settled into a bit of a groove with Ullmark).
This team is capped out, and they just don’t have enough talent to do what they need to keep outscoring the opponents like they have of late. Not sure there’s a way around that.
To your point about the Atlantic, though: Yeah. But Toronto and Tampa are making progress here all of a sudden, and Buffalo and Montreal are just kind of treading water. It’s easy to see a scenario where it’s mid-January and you have Boston still in first, then Toronto/Tampa or Tampa/Toronto running 2 and 3. Could happen even sooner than that.
Michael asks: “Who are your front runners for Jack Adams?”
I hate to be one of those “If the season ended today” freaks, but let’s say it did because obviously we’ve all got 45 games to go and things can fall apart very easily in this sport.
But right now you gotta go Jared Bednar, Rick Tocchet, and Ralph Krueger. I think we all thought the Avs would be pretty good, but maybe not “keeping up with the Blues” good, and certainly not given that every important player who’s not Nathan MacKinnon has missed a decent amount of time.
Tocchet and Krueger have self-evident cases: No one expected their teams to be as successful as they have been. Probably it won’t last. But hey, if the season ended today…
Jesse asks: “Is Auston Matthews underperforming?”
The guy who’s on pace for 50 goals? The one who leads the team in WAR? The one who doesn’t take penalties? The guy who puts almost four shots on goal a night? Yeah, he sucks.
Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
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