After a summer hiatus, the Friday NHL mailbag is back. It's hockey season. We'll mix in some of the new questions and reach into the offseason bag for some of the best I missed. If you have a question for next week's mailbag, send it in here.
Let's jump right in:
Why are the Wild having so much trouble scoring goals? Is Mike Yeo on the hottest seat in the NHL right now?
Steve Leet, Eagen, Minn.
According to the gambling website Bovada (known as Bodog in Canada), the odds favor Calgary's Bob Hartley being the next coach fired. I loved his reply when asked about those odds by Pierre LeBrun: "My job is to prove Jay Feaster and Brian Burke right. Whatever Mad Dog or Bodog says, I don't really give a s---."
I believe Hartley is safe right now. First of all, he's got the Flames competing hard and overachieving. And this is a team in the early stages of a rebuilding process, which isn't the time you fire a coach. He's trying to build a culture in Calgary and help develop young talent. He's done a great job making Mikael Backlund comfortable, reviving expectations on his career. And the early returns on his work with 2013 No. 6 overall pick Sean Monahan are promising. Typically, the coach who gets fired is the one whose team is underachieving. You've got to have high expectations to underachieve, which isn't the case in Calgary.
It is, however, the case in Minnesota.
The Wild are a cap team that has plenty of talent, and they had hoped to build off last season's return to the playoffs. Right now, that's not happening, although last night's 2-1 win against the Jets helps. They scored seven goals in just three games, in part because they were getting zero goal-scoring from guys like Dany Heatley, Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu. They miss Matt Cullen down the middle, and the Charlie Coyle experiment was short-lived because of his sprained knee. General manager Chuck Fletcher is very meticulous in his planning, so he's not the kind of executive who will do anything rash, plus most GMs only have so many coaching hires before the attention turns upstairs. He'd have to be sure it was a necessary switch before pulling the trigger. But with Peter Laviolette fired, the attention has definitely turned to Minnesota.
Craig, this is regarding NHL awards. Why aren't there two separate awards for defensemen? Like the Bobby Orr award for best offensive defenseman and the Larry Robinson award for best defensive defenseman? It kills me to see the Norris go to the highest-scoring blueliner every year. If they can have the Selke for the best defensive forward, why not the same for the D?
Mark Evers, Atlanta
I'm completely on board with this idea, and wish the league would make it happen. I think you'd have to keep the Norris around because of its history. A mix of both offensive contributions and defensive prowess should go into consideration for the Norris, which is why I voted for Ryan Suter over P.K. Subban last year. I think the voters got it wrong, but that's another debate for another day. I agree there's room for a best defensive defenseman award. James Mirtle, my friend and colleague at the Globe and Mail, gives out an annual Rod Langway award, using advanced stats to figure out the best defensive defenseman. For now, that's the best we've got.
What do you think about the Bruins if [Tuukka] Rask were to go down with a serious injury? I feel like they haven't really thought about that as a possibility building the team. I don't really know anything about [Chad] Johnson.
Hey Bo, it's the reality of the cap world. You can allocate only so much money to each position, so when Rask's price tag jumped to $7 million this season, GM Peter Chiarelli had to make a decision. He could roll the dice on Johnson at $600,000 and spend money elsewhere, or spend more on a different backup. He went with Johnson. That said, I spoke with a goalie this summer who looked into playing for the Bruins, and his camp was told that the team really liked Providence goalie Niklas Svedberg, the 24-year-old Swede. If something long-term happened to Rask, my guess is that Svedberg would get a long look. And if Rask is seriously injured, the Bruins can always make a trade.
Hey Craig, hello from Spartan country! I know you're out of MSU, and we'd love to have you come down for a Spartan hockey game. On the subject, there have been more and more NHL players coming out of the NCAA in recent years. Former collegiate players like Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick, Zach Parise, Duncan Keith and Torey Krug are making names for themselves in the pros. Are more notable junior players noticing this trend as well? Has there been, or will there be, an influx of notable Canadian and American prospects going to the college level instead of the traditional junior leagues? Should NHL/AHL teams start taking harder looks at college players? I don't think that the talent level within the college ranks has ever been higher.
Mitch, East Lansing, Mich.
Hey Mitch! First of all, as you noted, I may be biased in this debate. And believe me, it's a debate. I was recently having a conversation with an NHL player who said he's always arguing with teammates over which route is better, junior or college. If either of my sons ever got to the point where they were making that decision (and if you've ever seen me skate, it's highly unlikely), here's the advice I'd give them: If you think you're a top-10 pick your draft year, play junior hockey. It will get you ready for the pro game quickly by playing right away, and you can fast-track to the league. Otherwise? Go to college. Most college and junior players don't play in the NHL, so the college route sets you up for real life much better.
And like you said, the college route is just as effective in developing professional hockey players. Players will tell you that the lighter schedule helped them spend more time in the weight room filling out physically. Not to mention, my four years in East Lansing were some of the best in my life.
To answer your question, I don't think there will ever be a day when prominent Canadian hockey prospects pick college hockey over junior hockey. It's too ingrained into the culture there, and it is an effective way to get the best players into the NHL. There are great, prominent coaches in the junior program who know what it takes to succeed in the NHL. I think U.S. college coaches would be happy just to keep the best American players in the college system rather than having them play junior hockey in Canada, because right now, that's not always happening.
Does [Alex] Ovechkin get the Caps out of the first round this year? It's time for some of his individual success to trickle down to the team, don't you think?
Tony Richmond, California
It's funny, Tony, I was just having this exact conversation with somebody this week. How much is Ovechkin to blame for the Capitals' underwhelming playoff runs? Granted, last season wasn't his best postseason, scoring just one goal in seven games. But in 58 playoff games, he has 31 goals. That's pretty good production, and it's not easy scoring goals in the postseason.
What we were debating was how much of the blame should fall on Nicklas Backstrom. Everybody loves Backstrom, and you could make the argument that he's the Capitals' most important player. But he has just 11 points in his past 20 playoff games, and three goals in his past 29 games. There's no doubt that he's a special player, but you want him to be a special player on the biggest stage. I agree with you, though, you can only cycle through so many coaches and have so many postseason letdowns before the makeup of the core gets seriously questioned.