Mailbag: Penguins depth biggest hurdle, Coyotes likely staying in Phoenix


Here is the Oct. 20 edition of the mailbag, where we answer your questions asked using #OvertheBoards.


Have experts (once more, I should say) underestimated the Pittsburgh Penguins and especially coach Mike Sullivan in light of their blistering start to the season? — @AManUtdFan2

No. There isn’t a person who understands the game and follows the NHL who should have been discounting the Penguins and their chances to be successful this season. If anyone did, shame on them because it means they haven’t been paying attention to Sullivan and the type of coach he has been for Pittsburgh. 

But it’s too early to say the Penguins are off to a blistering start. It’s too early to say they will be just fine. It’s too early to say they will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 16th straight season. They’ve put up some solid performances through four games without centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but sustainability will be their biggest hurdle. They are not as deep as they were when they won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017. Crosby (wrist) will return shortly, but Malkin (knee) is out for at least the first two months of the season. That’s a huge miss. 

The Penguins must play a hard, grinding, physical style. Will it hold up? Will goalie Tristan Jarry hold up? Again, a strong start is nice, but let’s see where he is at the quarter mark of the season, then the halfway point. They’re 2-0-2, somewhat surprisingly considering who isn’t playing for them, but let’s hold off on throwing it back in the faces of the so-called experts. They were a threat going into the season. Sullivan is among the best coaches in the NHL. Nothing has changed.

Video: Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan joins NHL Now


With the uncertainty surrounding the arena in Tempe, Arizona, what are some options for the Arizona Coyotes next season? Could we see them move cities? Is there even an arena large enough to host an NHL team in Phoenix? Could Houston be an option? — @theashcity

The Coyotes were told in August by the City of Glendale that their lease to play at Gila River Arena will not be renewed after this season. But they aren’t leaving the Phoenix market. They have submitted a request for proposal to the City of Tempe to build a new arena and entertainment district on 46 acres of land. The plan, if approved, is for the proposed arena to open in time for the 2025-26 season, which gives builders two years to remediate the land, currently a dump site, and two years to build. The Coyotes are working on options for a short-term temporary home, per an NHL source. They are looking at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Chase Field. 

Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum is on the Arizona State Fairgrounds. It opened in 1965, was the original home for the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and seats 13,730 for hockey. When you think of it, think of Nassau Coliseum, which sat 13,900 for hockey after renovations were completed in 2017. Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum also hosted the Phoenix Roadrunners of the Western Hockey League (1967-74), the World Hockey Association (1974-77) and the International Hockey League (1989-97). The building most recently hosted the audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 presidential election ballots. 

Chase Field is home to the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball, who have historically had a strong relationship with the Coyotes. The problem is that the Diamondbacks play from early April to early October, so there could be a problem with crossover in the spring and fall depending on if either or both qualify for the postseason. The Coyotes are in a rebuild and are not considered a legitimate playoff contender this season. The Diamondbacks tied the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in baseball this season (52-110).


What is your take on all the Vitali Kravtsov news? Any chance of the New York Rangers and him working this out? What does a potential Kravtsov trade look like for the Rangers? — @MattFitz2838

Kravtsov’s relationship with the Rangers can be repaired if he agrees to go to Hartford of the American Hockey League and work his way back into the NHL, but the more likely outcome will be a trade. 

Kravtsov is in Russia. He did not report to Hartford when the Rangers made their final cuts before opening night last week. Not good. At the very least he should be playing somewhere. He’s 21 and has a lot to learn about playing professional hockey in North America. That’s not a knock on him. It’s true of any 21-year-old, especially one who has played 20 NHL games and 39 in the AHL. 

The Rangers might be able to get decent value back for Kravtsov if there is interest from multiple teams. That at least allows them to play one offer against others to bring up the return. What is decent value? Well, it’s probably not the No. 9 pick in the NHL Draft, which Kravtsov was in 2018. But this is where the New York scouting department must come into play. Could there be a prospect available that is in a similarly difficult situation as Kravtsov, seemingly being blocked on the depth chart by players who play the same position? Remember, the Rangers drafted Kravtsov before they had Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. They had a need for top-six wings at the time and do not have that same need now, which is why Kravtsov didn’t make the team. 

Kravtsov has top-six skill as a wing, but clearly coach Gerard Gallant liked Panarin, Lafreniere, Kakko and Chris Kreider more. He wasn’t a fit for the third line that Gallant wants, which appears to be more of a grinding, checking-type line. He’s not a fourth-line player. He projects as a top-six forward in the NHL. This is where the Rangers have to be careful with talent management, because the risk they run here is trading Kravtsov and watching him blossom into an all-star. It’s realistic with his talent, but they decided to run with that risk when they didn’t put him on the team, even in a third-line role, coming out of training camp.


I was raised believing MSG was the best place to watch a hockey game, but as you watch games around the League many other buildings seem louder, more energetic and at full capacity. What are your thoughts? — @ericsagedean

Madison Square Garden is among the best places to see any event, hockey game or otherwise. The history in the building, the tradition, the location, the ceiling, it’s just a phenomenal place. Players who come to New York for the first time always marvel at the fact that they’re playing at the Garden. It’s a big deal. But there are so many other buildings around the NHL that are magical places to see a game too. The fans make it that way. Success matters greatly. 

The best two examples I can think of are the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders. The fans of each team are as passionate as any, but when they were struggling, the buildings — PNC Arena for the Hurricanes and Barclays Center/Nassau Coliseum for the Islanders — were not loud or energetic. They’re good teams now, Stanley Cup contenders, and the buildings rock, especially in the playoffs. The crowd at T-Mobile Arena cheering for the Vegas Golden Knights is incomparable because of the incredible fan experience highlighted by the pregame show, but the team has been good since Day One. That matters. 

Hockey fans are among the most passionate in the world and certainly the loudest. When a team is good, its building rocks, Madison Square Garden included. But there hasn’t been an NHL playoff game at MSG since 2017 so it’s hard to compare to the Golden Knights, Hurricanes, Islanders, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and others.

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