Here is the April 14 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked using #OverTheBoards.
With trades completed, who is the favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup this season? — @Duck13Ling
I’m looking at the same team that won the Stanley Cup in 2020: The Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last season, the Lightning traded for forwards Blake Coleman (New Jersey Devils) and Barclay Goodrow (San Jose Sharks). They made another move ahead of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, getting defenseman David Savard on April 10 in a three-team deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings. Columbus traded Savard and got a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Detroit received a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft, and defenseman Brian Lashoff was sent to Tampa Bay.
Savard wasn’t cheap, but he and Victor Hedman can provide a defense pair with Stanley Cup Playoff experience. Tampa Bay is tied for first place with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers in the eight-team Discover Central Division, where the top four teams will qualify for the postseason. Nikita Kucherov also remained on track to return for the playoffs, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said March 12. The forward hasn’t played this season after having surgery on his right hip Dec. 29.
I also like the Colorado Avalanche. They’ve come on strong in the second half of the season and are where I expected them to be from the start, first place in the Honda West Division, four points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights. Colorado traded for forward Carl Soderberg and goalie Devan Dubnyk, but I’m not sure they did enough to bolster themselves before the deadline. No. 1 goalie Philipp Grubauer could have used additional help, but the Lightning and Avalanche are my top two teams heading into the home stretch.
Are the Toronto Maple Leafs a better team with the deadline acquisitions they’ve made? And are they a Cup contender? — @SamRitter8
Yes and yes, though I think you’ve rightfully called them a Stanley Cup contender rather than a favorite.
The Maple Leafs were big players before the deadline, though mostly for leadership and depth by trading for forwards Nick Foligno and Riley Nash (Blue Jackets), forwards Stefan Noesen and Antti Suomela (Sharks), goalie David Rittich (Calgary Flames), and defenseman Ben Hutton (Anaheim Ducks). Toronto won’t have to get through traditional Atlantic Division powers like the Lightning or the Boston Bruins this season, so it was smart to go all in while first in the seven-team Scotia North Division, seven points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets. Though Jack Campbell set an NHL record of 11 consecutive wins to start a season, I’m still concerned about the goaltending with Frederik Andersen (lower body) out since March 19.
The Maple Leafs are a Cup contender, even though they haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. We’ll have to wait and see whether it all works out.
At what point would NHL general managers start to expect calls from Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis? The impending expansion draft is on everyone’s mind, so I’m curious to see if some deals are done as teams’ seasons come to an end. — @theashcity
There is no question calls are already being made. Francis told TSN on Monday that he expects the Kraken to officially be part of the NHL after they make their final expansion payment at the end of April. Without that payment, the Kraken can talk to other teams but can’t make deals.
That means Francis has likely had many informal discussions about the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and took many calls leading up to the deadline. General managers around the NHL have had to assess how trading for a player or players with term could impact what happens to their roster once the expansion draft comes around, knowing they’ll have to either protect new players, risk losing them, or potentially need to make high-priced side deals with Seattle to keep them on their roster. Even the threat of Seattle made an already difficult deadline situation, given the flat NHL salary cap and quarantine considerations, more complicated, so the Kraken are already making an impact before they’re full-time members of the NHL.
Is this the offseason when the Red Wings make coaching and staff changes? How does their current plan make any positive impact moving forward? Can you touch on Bobby Ryan? Is he an integral part of the rebuild that we didn’t know about? — @hansbrieden
General manager Steve Yzerman said Monday that “we are obviously rebuilding our organization” after the Red Wings traded forward Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals for forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik and two draft picks. Yzerman also said he will speak with coach Jeff Blashill after his contract expires at the end the season, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Blashill is 168-217-58 in six seasons, Detroit is last in the eight-team Central, 13 points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators. It’s not where the Red Wings or Yzerman want to be, but Blashill hasn’t had an overwhelming array of talent with the Red Wings making one playoff appearance (2015-16) since he was hired June 9, 2015. The haul they got for Mantha was impressive, and I think that there is trust that Yzerman can help turn things around.
Ryan is out for the season with an upper-body injury. The 34-year-old forward scored 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 33 games after signing a one-year contract with the Red Wings on Oct. 9 and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. It’s unclear what the future holds for Ryan, but it’s possible Detroit brings him back to help lead a team filled with young players.