Here is the Feb. 3 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked using #OvertheBoards.
This week is Amalie Benjamin.
What team matchups do you think will prove most interesting as we move through this COVID-19 season with the adjusted divisions? Which teams do you see developing into a rivalry because of said matchups? — @sammstormborn
I love that we get to see new rivalries that we haven’t in previous seasons. I wrote about one such rivalry Monday, with the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals getting to play eight times this season in the MassMutual East Division. And it’s not just because defenseman Zdeno Chara signed with the Capitals after 14 seasons as Bruins captain. I see potential for an extremely fun matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I love that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets get a season in the Discover Central Division, with the added spice of Patrik Laine joining the mix after the forward and center Jack Roslovic were traded to Columbus by the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23 for center Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. And I’m all-in on the Scotia North Division. More of Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames? More of the Toronto Maple Leafs playing the Montreal Canadiens? Sign me up.
Where is the love for Brad Marchand as the best defensive winger in the game? Only ever hear about Mark Stone, but “Marchy” is continually great defensively and on PK. Also franchise leader in SHG (active as well maybe?) — @bradchealey
I think, in general, Marchand has had a difficult time getting his due for how good he is for several reasons, some self-inflicted, some not. That went away with consecutive 85-point seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, followed by 100 points (36 goals, 64 assists) in 2018-19.
But having watched Marchand daily since I started covering hockey in 2013, there’s no question that he has worked himself into being one of the best two-way wings in the NHL. Some of that came from playing with Patrice Bergeron, who’s had an impact on Marchand’s defense when they’re on the ice at the same time, which is almost always, and been an influence off it. The Bruins captain demands a lot of his teammates and that goes double for his linemate, power-play unit mate and penalty-kill mate. That’s helped Marchand improve his game.
Defensive statistics aren’t always perfect and easy in hockey. But by one measure, shot attempts relative percentage (SAT) shows how a player performs on the ice relative to his team’s average and how Marchand ranks among the best two-way forwards in the NHL. His 5.7 SAT relative percentage since his rookie NHL season of 2009-10 is third among left wings (minimum 500 games played) behind Daniel Sedin (6.4 percent) and Tomas Tatar (5.8 percent). The top centers since then are Bergeron (7.1 percent), Henrik Sedin (5.9 percent) and Sidney Crosby (5.1 percent).
So yes, I agree. More credit is probably due to Marchand in this area. And for the record, Marchand has scored 28 shorthanded goals, tied with eight others for 28th in NHL history and first in Bruins history, three ahead of Rick Middleton.
Oilers GM Ken Holland has, once again, put all his eggs in the McDavid/Draisaitl basket. It’s early, but it looks like it’s all up to that top line to carry the load. Is this gamble viable to contend for the Cup? — @theashcity
The Oilers are a fascinating case study. The top of their lineup is so dynamic, so entertaining, and capable of scoring around one million goals per night. (OK, maybe not a million, but that eight-goal explosion against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday was impressive.) In 12 games, Connor McDavid has scored an NHL-high 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists). Leon Draisaitl is second with 22 (seven goals, 15 assists).
Though two of the best offensive players in the NHL puts the Oilers ahead of the pack, there are some limitations in terms of depth at forward, defense and especially goaltending. Edmonton is allowing 3.58 goals-against per game, 27th in the NHL. Mikko Koskinen has started 11 games, going 5-6-0 with 3.31 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in 652:07 minutes played, more than 110 ahead of Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (538:45). Mike Smith is on long-term injured reserve and has yet to play this season, but the 38-year-old was back on the ice Monday. His return will help, but probably isn’t enough.
Ultimately, I think that the Oilers are always going to be tantalizing, but I’m not sure that they’re going to contend for the Stanley Cup as currently constituted, which isn’t to say they can’t get there. But even McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t enough if they don’t have the right players with them.
Who do you think won the Blue Jackets/Jets trade? — @SfDz11_07_14
I think this trade is as even as you can hope for, especially given that there were difficult circumstances on both sides with players who were unhappy with their situations. Though I might give the slight edge to the Jets, who got a 22-year-old center to bolster their already good depth at the position, it seems like a perfect marriage of need for the two teams. I’m excited to see what each player will do in his new home.
Our last view of Dubois in Columbus wasn’t his finest moment, when he was benched in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning two days before the trade. He’ll have to repair his reputation, but that could mean the Jets get a motivated player. Laine was held without a point and minus-2 in 20:54 of ice time in his first game for the Blue Jackets, a 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday, but he could blossom in Columbus with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen telling reporters that he wants to build a future with the Blue Jackets.
That’s good news for both sides. I’m ready to see them skate for their new teams and can’t wait until the No. 2 (Laine) and No. 3 (Dubois) picks in the 2016 NHL Draft go head to head, though that won’t happen in the regular season.