Here is the April 21 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked using #OvertheBoards.
How likely is a long-term situation for Taylor Hall with the Boston Bruins? — @RobTiongson
Ultimately, it will come down to how well Hall plays and his impact with the Bruins over the remainder of the regular season and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I think there’s a decent chance the pending unrestricted free agent forward will sign with them after this season. It looks like it’s been a good fit for Hall and Boston so far.
Skating on the second line with David Krejci and Craig Smith, the 29-year-old has scored three points (two goals, one assist) and the Bruins are 5-0-0 since he was traded to Boston by the Buffalo Sabres on April 12, with forward Curtis Lazar, for forward Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Hall considered joining the Bruins as a free agent before signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sabres on Oct. 11 and said he acknowledged utilizing the no-movement clause in his contract to push a trade to the Bruins.
Hall also said, “I’d love to be a Bruin for a few years.” Boston is a perennial Stanley Cup contender, and Hall has played in the playoffs twice in his first 10 NHL seasons — with the New Jersey Devils in 2018 and the Arizona Coyotes last season — and has not won a series. So why wouldn’t he want to stay?
The Bruins needed a scoring wing like Hall to play with Krejci and provide scoring depth behind their potent top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Boston also could re-sign Krejci and goalie Tuukka Rask, who each can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. But if it can work out a contract with Hall that fits under the NHL salary cap, it makes sense for both sides for him to stay.
If you were the Tampa Bay Lightning general manager, what do you do with Tyler Johnson? You can’t give him away and his game is far from the all-star player that he was. — @tcpipman
This is a difficult decision Julien BriseBois and the Lightning front office will probably have to make following this season with Johnson, whose production and role have been reduced since he scored 47 points, including tying his NHL career-high of 29 goals, in 2018-19. Playing mostly a bottom-six role, the 30-year-old has scored 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) while averaging 13:45 of ice time in 45 games this season.
With three more seasons left on the seven-year, $35 million contract (annual average value of $5 million) Johnson signed July 10, 2017, it will be difficult for the Lightning to find a team to take him without potentially giving up significant assets to sweeten the deal. Tampa Bay was able to put off that kind of trade before this season because forward Nikita Kucherov is out for the regular season following hip surgery, allowing it to place Kucherov on long-term injured reserve and create additional salary cap space.
But if everyone is healthy, with the salary cap expected to remain at $81.5 million again next season, the Lightning might have to convince a team with cap space to take Johnson’s contract by giving up a high draft pick and/or a prospect.
The Washington Capitals did something like that in their trade with the Detroit Red Wings for forward Anthony Mantha on April 12. To get the Red Wings to take forward Richard Panik (two more seasons with a $2.75 million AAV remaining on his contract) as part of the trade, the Capitals gave up a first-round pick in the 2021 draft and a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in addition to forward Jakub Vrana. The Lightning might have to do similar to move Johnson.
How much longer do you think it will take the Devils to be competitive again? — @matt12r
With the Devils missing the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, you probably don’t want to hear about the need for patience. So I’ll start by saying they already have some important pieces in place with forwards Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich and Pavel Zacha; defenseman Ty Smith; and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood; and the right GM for the job, Tom Fitzgerald.
I believe things could turn around quicker than it might look right now. The Devils are playing out the string with a younger lineup after the departures of forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac (traded to the New York Islanders) and defensemen Dmitry Kulikov (traded to the Edmonton Oilers) and Sami Vatanen (claimed off waivers by Dallas Stars) before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline on April 12. In the meantime, New Jersey is evaluating more of its future with forwards Marian Studenic, Nolan Foote and Tyce Thompson and can look forward to the arrival next season of forward Alexander Holtz. The No. 7 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft signed an entry-level contract Monday.
No doubt, the Devils hoped to take a bigger step this season, but goalie Corey Crawford’s unexpected retirement and Hischier missing most of the season with injuries were significant setbacks. New Jersey can be in position to take that step next season with the right offseason moves.
I’m guessing the Devils will try again to add a veteran goalie to share the net with Blackwood and make that a more stable position, which is important for a young team. And with many teams expected to be tight against the salary cap, they will have opportunities to possibly acquire a quality player or two without giving up a lot in a trade.
When do you see the young talent being in the Capitals’ lineup? Can you see Connor McMichael replacing Evgeny Kuznetsov if he’s picked by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and Martin Fehervary‘s role increasing? – @irieLife4me
I’d be surprised if the Capitals left Kuznetsov unprotected for the expansion draft, but they might have to do something eventually to clear the way for McMichael to play regularly in the NHL. That might not necessarily be before the start of next season, and it’s possible, because of the Capitals’ depth at center, they shift the 20-year-old to wing initially to ease his transition.
McMichael, the No. 25 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has had a solid first pro season for Hershey in the American Hockey League, scoring 13 points (Bears-high eight goals, five assists) in 22 games, and played one NHL game against Buffalo on Jan. 24. With the Ontario Hockey League unable to play this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, McMichael has gained valuable experience with Hershey and might get more as an extra player for Washington during the playoffs. So it will be interesting to see what kind of chance he gets to make the NHL roster in training camp next season.
The path should be clearer for Fehervary, a left-shot defenseman who was a second-round pick (No. 46) in the 2018 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old played six regular-season and two playoff games for Washington last season but was pushed to ninth on the depth chart this season following the additions of Zdeno Chara, Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk. There should be more room for Fehervary next season after Jonas Siegenthaler was traded to the Devils on April 11 and with the possible departure of Chara after this season.