We’re only a week in and yet it seems like we’ve gotten about a month’s worth of storylines packed in already. Major injury concerns, inexplicable fast starts, even more inexplicable slow starts, controversies, rivalries and more.
Most of the questions I got this week were about the Sharks but I just took the most interesting one.
Pat asks: “If the Sharks continue to stink for months, do they even have the ability to blow it up with their contracts?”
At first blush you’d say, “Probably not.” And you’d definitely say it in the middle of a season. Who’s going to have the flexibility to add a huge long-term deal, right?
But I dunno. They have $65.4 million committed to 15 players next season, plus they’ll need to give Kevin Labanc a huge raise. But at the same time, I can see a few teams being very interested in a Brent Burns or Logan Couture if they have good seasons despite the Sharks’ hypothetical struggles. You’d definitely have difficulty doing the same with contracts for Karlsson, Vlasic, Kane (oof), and Jones (ooooooof).
That said, this team can’t blow it up because it has a lot of good young players who will be around for years. Meier, Hertl, and Labanc are the most obvious. If you wanna surrender control of them to get the really bad deals off your books, more power to ya, but I don’t know that this team could reasonably become bad enough to tank even if it could, would, or should.
Josh asks: “Which hot start — player or team — is here to stay?”
James Neal. Just kidding.
I think probably the Carolina Hurricanes are for real, though they’re obviously not going to go undefeated or even come close to doing what the Lightning did last year. There was plenty of reason to believe these guys could be great based on what they did down the stretch and in the playoffs.
They added talent over the summer (maybe not in goal, but you’d have to say they probably made a lateral move), they played a great system the whole time even if the ability wasn’t always there, etc. This is just an organization that seems to “get it,” from top to bottom, and it would be surprising if they weren’t at least a top-two team in the Metro at season’s end.
As for a player’s hot start that’s gonna last, and which we might not have seen coming? I can really see William Karlsson bouncing back after a tough go of things last year. Again, maybe not 40-plus goals, but he’s definitely going to be a strong player for them and I’m glad he’s over a point a game right now.
Dixon asks: “If the Flyers stumble out of the gate and/or aren’t in a playoff position by Thanksgiving, do you think Fletcher has the ability to correctly identify the problem, or is he just gonna trade Gostisbehere?”
Obviously I didn’t like what they did on defence over the summer. I think Braun and Niskanen were really good at what they did once upon a time, but that was a year or three ago at this point. The defence is kind of a mess even if you like your Gostisbeheres and Sanheims and Provorovs, but there might not be a ton Fletcher can do to address it.
I don’t think anyone would be making a “Trade Gostisbehere” decision simply because he’s 26 and at least has a solid track record as an offensive threat. You always hope teams understand what their deficiencies actually are, and while I never thought Fletcher did a great job in Minnesota, I think he mostly did okay. That should give you faith, to some extent. You just hope Carter Hart keeps it up so everything progresses as normal.
And hey, they at least won a gunfight against Chicago.
Ryan asks: “Is Rasmus Dahlin a legitimate contender for the Norris this year?”
I’d like to give him a little more than three games in which he played fewer than 46 minutes to be sure, but everything looks pretty good right now, doesn’t it?
The thing is the Sabres probably aren’t this good and it’s really hard for high-scoring, non-Canadian defencemen on mediocre teams to get Norris consideration no matter how good they are.
Samuel asks via email: “Is Jeff Gorton a good GM? Rangers get praised for good moves this summer but they tripped and fell into the second pick and both Panarin and Trouba wanted to come to the Rangers.”
There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. While his roster management hasn’t been great to date, you have to say he’s getting the guys who want to come there and will actually make a difference, and that he’s done a good job of getting nice talent out of drafting and development.
It might be a couple more years before we see the full story, especially because some lingering contracts on the blue line in particular are hampering the team big-time. But if you’re going through a rebuild, I don’t know that you could have scooped as much talent as Gorton has so far.
And again: No Rangers fan should have ever thought this team was going to be good this year, no matter how much talent they added. It was always always always about the 2020-21 Rangers.
Og asks: “Does James Neal score 30?”
I really hesitate to say “yes” to this because 30 is a lot, but he’s already a fifth of the way there three games into the season. I’ll still say no, but reserve the right to change my mind if he ends October with 12 or something.
Nick asks: “How short should Jim Rutherford or Mike Sullivan’s leash be?”
Pretty short for one of them, for sure! I’m not sure what Sullivan can do with a roster that looks like this. The guy who built the roster, on the other hand…
Deej asks: “Should Jack Hughes be sent down?”
I think we all understand the answer is “probably not” even if he’s very clearly struggling. First and foremost, look who he’s playing with at 5-on-5. His most common linemates are Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood. Not exactly two players where you’re like, “Damn, they can help him out, but he stinks anyway!”
Those guys aren’t exactly the people I’d count on to help him out, but you also have to keep in mind that he hasn’t been good with any of his linemates in an admittedly very small sample. It’s on John Hynes to put this kid in a position to succeed and he kinda hasn’t done that. You can’t put him with the Taylor Halls of the world at full strength just because he’d draw (and likely get devoured by) top competition, but you also can’t stick him with two career third-line guys whose roles don’t exactly scream “scoring.”
On the other hand, he’s barely 18. Won’t be 19 until around the Conference Finals. So sometimes you have to say to yourself, “Look, he’s insanely young.” Check out what Joe Thornton did as a rookie. Would the extra year of junior have helped Thornton? Maybe. But things turned out okay in the end.
I would’ve told him to go to college for a year and get in some reps against physically mature players who are significantly worse than him, but do you send him to the AHL to get more minutes? I’d say no. At least, not after two or three games.
Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
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