Mailbag: Tarasenko’s future, Devils’ playoff chances, rivalry games
Here’s the August 3 edition of the mailbag, where we answer your questions on Twitter using #OvertheBoards. Tweet your questions to @drosennhl.
The St. Louis Blues are still in ongoing discussions with teams Vladimir Tarasenko? There have been mixed reports that he still wants to leave, but talks appear to have ended. What are the chances he ends up on the team this year and leaves in free agency? — @BeerLeagueSelke
It’s been quiet on the Tarasenko front with the Blues, but I believe that’s by design. I have no reason to believe the trade request he submitted before last season has been waived, but that doesn’t mean St. Louis wants or needs to trade him. Tarasenko was not traded last season and was good, collecting 82 points (34 goals, 48 assists) in 75 games to help the Blues advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I don’t think Tarasenko’s trade value is strong enough for the Blues to trade him now or before the season. They should get back a top-six forward to replace him, especially since they lost David Perron in free agency, who signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract ($4.75 million average annual value) with the Detroit Red Wings. But Tarasenko is 30 years old and entering the final year of an eight-year, $60 million ($7.5 million AAV) contract. Why would a team give St.Louis one of their top 6 forwards for Tarasenko when he’s on the wrong side of 30 and there’s no guarantee they’ll have him for more than this season? Let’s not forget his shoulder injury history. It may be different if Tarasenko is willing to sign an extension after the trade, but he would be doing so blindly. He has never played for another team in the NHL, so I hesitate to think that he would marry himself to a new franchise without ever playing for them. He may also be tempted by the chance to become a UFA next summer.
I feel Tarasenko will be with the Blues this season and they will try to have another magical run with him and the center Ryan O’Reilly, who is 31 years old and one year away from unrestricted free agency, entering the final year of a seven-year contract. They are also likely to get one or both to sign contract extensions before or during the season.
Video: STL@MIN, Gm5: Tarasenko records 3rd period hatty
With offseason acquisitions and coaching staff changes along with further development of their young players, can the New Jersey Devils finally make a playoff push? — @keithcaporelli
The Devils are undoubtedly deeper and look to be a better team with the forward additions Ondrej Palat and Eric Howladefenders Yannis Marino and Brendan Smithand goalkeeper Vitek Vanecek. I love the additions of Palat and Haula. New Jersey needed more veteran presence in its top-9 offensive group. The devils have it with these two. Palat could be perfect for Jack Hughes. It was for Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point when they played together with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plays well with skilled players. With Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson and Marino, the Devils are strong on the right side of the blue line. This saves time for Simon Nemec, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Smith is a versatile veteran. He will play back Ryan Graves and Jonas Siegenthaleressentially buying time for Luke Hughes, the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NHL draft who is expected to play one more season at the University of Michigan. Vanecek and Mackenzie Blackwood they have the makings of a good goalkeeper, but neither is a sure thing. Either way, it can’t be worse than last season, when the Devils used seven goaltenders and the only one with a save percentage of .900 or better was Jonathan Bernier (.902), who played 10 games, none after Dec. 3 because of a debilitating hip injury.
But to make the playoffs, the Devils must at least crack the top five in the Metropolitan Division, and that’s only good enough if they’re better than the fourth team in the Atlantic Division. So, are the Devils better than the Carolina Hurricanes? Hard no. Are they better than the New York Rangers? Hardly not again. Are they better than the Pittsburgh Penguins? I can not see it. Are they better than the Washington Capitals? It can. What about the New York Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets? That remains to be seen. They finished 18 points behind the sixth-placed Blue Jackets last season. They are no better than the consensus top three in the Atlantic Division, the Lightning, Florida Panthers or Toronto Maple Leafs. I think the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators will battle for fourth place, but I’m not told New Jersey is better than both of those teams.
The Devils have improved this offseason and have some star power coming in with Luke Hughes, Nemec and forward Alexander Holtz. But I’m not ready to predict them making the playoffs, not with uncertainty in net and the distance they have to go to be better than last season.
Video: Audrey Palat enters New Jersey
Where do you see Pat Verbeek’s plan for the Anaheim Ducks going? All I know is she wants big kids. Where does he look for scoring and defensive depth? Despite the John Klingberg signing, is there still a significant gap in the defense? — @pucksngraps
There are gaps on the Ducks depth chart that need to be filled because they are rebuilding and it is a process. The addition of Klingberg on a one-year deal is big for this season. It’s a test run to see if the Ducks and Klingberg can extend the marriage for many more seasons. Turns 30 on August 14th. He’s not too old to be a big part of the Ducks’ future because he’s not too far away.
Verbeek, the Ducks’ general manager, wants speed and power. This doesn’t have to mean big players. It means fast players who can compete hard on the bench. He has stated multiple times that he didn’t think the Ducks were fast enough last season. They have dynamic young players in the forwards Trevor Zegras and Troy Terryand defender Jamie Drysdale. They need more. Forward Mason McTavish he could be on the opening night roster in a top nine role. The No. 3 pick in the 2021 NHL draft has size (6-foot, 213 pounds) and speed. He is the type of player Verbeek wants. They added strikers Ryan Strom and Frank Vatrano in free agency. These are two top-six forwards who can skate and compete hard on the bench. Strome is a playmaker. Vatrano is a shooter. They are solid additions to complement Zegras and Terry up front, as Klingberg is at the back to join Drysdale, Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Ducks need more players who are quick and compete hard off the bench, players who can defend well and score. They hope few come with McTavish accompanied by strikers Jacob Perreault, Braden Tracy and Benoit-Olivier Groulx. They need time to become NHL players and could have a chance this season.
Video: Ryan Strome enters Anaheim
Thoughts on scheduling rivalry games? Should some sort of favoritism be given to the competitions, or does splitting the schedule more help develop the game/markets better? — @mikeybox
I’m all for competitive games, but not too many of them. It might sound great for the Rangers and Islanders, Maple Leafs and Senators, Kings and Ducks, Flames and Oilers, Penguins and Flyers, Bruins and Canadiens, and Lightning and Panthers to play each other as many as eight or 10 times in a season, but that it’s too much. I’d be good with five times a season, which is at least one more than they play now. The Rangers and Islanders have only played each other three times, all through December 22nd. This is not enough. I’m not sold that every team needs to play in every market. For example, what fans would like to see in Philadelphia Connor McDavid and the Oilers are coming to town, I think they’d be OK with sacrificing that opportunity for one more game against Sidney Crosby and the penguins. Likewise, Crosby going to play in Southern California matters, but an extra Ducks-Kings game would likely attract more local fans. But the NHL’s schedule requires every team to play at least once home and away, and the competitive balance in the League makes it hard to argue against that. Attendance rates are also strong (the NHL played at 90 percent of modified capacity last season with 20.7 million fans going to games), so it’s clear the current system is working.