Here is the Dec. 22 edition of the mailbag, where we answer your questions asked on Twitter using #OvertheBoards. Tweet your questions to @drosennhl.
Jack Adams Award favorites? Mike Sullivan? Peter Laviolette? Darryl Sutter? — @skiminer36
They’re all good choices to be named NHL coach of the year. Sullivan has the Pittsburgh Penguins surging up the standings in the Metropolitan Division despite the injuries to center Evgeni Malkin and forwards Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel. Laviolette deserves a lot of attention particularly because the Washington Capitals have been at or near the top of the Metropolitan despite their injuries with center Nicklas Backstrom missing 30 of 31 games and forward T.J. Oshie out for 16. Sutter has turned the Calgary Flames into a team resembling the Los Angeles Kings when he coached them to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. They’re tough, grinding and dominant on the puck.
I’ll toss Dallas Eakins (Anaheim Ducks), Rod Brind’Amour (Carolina Hurricanes), Gerard Gallant (New York Rangers) and John Hynes (Nashville Predators) into the conversation. Bruce Boudreau (Vancouver Canucks) will find himself in the mix if their winning trend continues. The Ducks were not projected to be a Stanley Cup Playoff team this season; they’re second in the Pacific Division and one of the most exciting teams to watch. Arguably no team plays their system and up to their potential better than the Hurricanes, a credit to Brind’Amour. The Rangers have gone from playoff potential to playoff expected in their first season under Gallant, who has them playing fast and aggressive. It looks like the Predators are finally getting it under Hynes, who is in his third season with Nashville but had his first training camp this season. They’re rolling lines when healthy and getting contributions from each. The Canucks are 6-0-0 since Boudreau replaced Travis Green. They’re confident again and it’s showing.
We also can’t ignore Jon Cooper with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They’ve won the Stanley Cup the past two seasons and are primed to go for it again despite major changes in the offseason, losing their entire third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have been out with injuries, yet the Lightning keep winning. Cooper is the best coach in the NHL right now.
Are the Anaheim Ducks a playoff team? — @KBrunings
Yes. The Ducks are skilled, deep, fast, fun and aggressive. They have active defensemen and elite goaltending, and they’re well coached. They have four forwards who have scored at least 20 points, eight have scored at least 10. They have two defensemen with at least 15 points and four with at least 10. They have three scoring lines and balance the ice time well. Five defensemen have played in all 32 games (Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, Jamie Drysdale, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson) averaging between 19:30 and 23:36 of ice time per game. They’re top five in power play (26.7 percent) and penalty kill (85.5 percent). They start games strong, having scored the first goal 19 times. The Ducks are 9-0-2 against teams with a sub-.500 points percentage and 8-9-4 against teams that are plus-.500. They’re not losing points they’ll regret later and they’re gaining enough points against the so-called better teams that they should have enough to get into the playoffs.
How quick can you rebuild a team with two young centers signed long term and a recent prized free agent defenseman signed? Asking for a friend. — @stevenwoj
So, you mean the New Jersey Devils, with centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Hughes, Hischier and Hamilton are huge pieces, but the Devils have to determine what other long-term solutions they have. That takes time, longer when two of those three pieces can’t stay on the ice together. Hughes missed 17 games from Oct. 21-Nov. 28 with a shoulder injury, and Hischier missed five games in COVID-19 protocol along with Ryan Graves, Hamilton’s defense partner and another player who is vital to their success. Hughes and Hischier have played in the same game eight times this season, including against the Seattle Kraken on Oct. 19, when Hughes sustained his shoulder injury in the first period. The Devils are 3-4-1 in those games. They played in the same game 21 times last season, when Hischier missed 35 with injuries. They were 6-14-1 with them and 13-16-6 when Hischier was out. New Jersey needs to get a good run with Hughes and Hischier as its top two centers and rookie Dawson Mercer as the No. 3. But it’s also important to note the 20-year-old rookie is playing behind Hischer, who is 22, and Hughes, who is 20. The Devils are young at one of the most important positions.
Teams that successfully rebuild have A-plus goaltending. The Devils haven’t had that this season, and it’s not helping that MacKenzie Blackwood (neck) and Jonathan Bernier (hip) are out. They haven’t defended well enough in front of their goalies. Their game is too wide open and impatient, and it’s leading to frustration. They have to figure out if Lindy Ruff is the right coach. It’s fair to question as the losing continues, but he has to get some rope because of the injuries and COVID-19 situation.
It takes time to rebuild successfully, longer when you have injuries to the players you’re rebuilding around. I like what the Devils are attempting to do; the process requires patience.
Has the outdoor game lost its luster? — @Chris_Hepler
Not. At. All.
I always find it funny when I hear or see fans saying the outdoor game isn’t special anymore because there are so many of them. There are three this season out of 1,312 games. So, yeah, it’s still unique every time the NHL hosts one of them, largely because the league tailors the event to celebrate the market it’s in. Ask the people in the Twin Cities right now how they feel about the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic with the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues coming to Target Field in Minneapolis on Jan. 1 (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS). I bet you they don’t think the outdoor game has lost its luster or appeal. They’re pumped and ready to be the center of attention in the hockey world, to put the State of Hockey and what makes it special on display in front of an international New Year’s Day audience.
It was new and a thinking-outside-the-box creation when the NHL and Edmonton hosted the Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003. The next foray outdoors was the Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008. It couldn’t have gone any better with the blizzard creating the snow globe effect and Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winner for the ages for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. The game at Target Field will be the NHL’s 32nd outdoors. The other two this season are the 2022 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series game between the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Feb. 26 and the 2022 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Sabres at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario on March 13. Twenty-six of the 32 teams will have played in one by the time the Lightning play in the Stadium Series. Thirty-two venues will have been used (Yankee Stadium and Edgewood Tahoe Resort have hosted two games each). The games in Minneapolis, Nashville and Hamilton will all be unique because of the scene, the backdrop, the venue, the market and the fans. The outdoor game has not lost its luster.