Here is the May 5 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked using #OvertheBoards.
Do you think Jonathan Toews will return to the Chicago Blackhawks next season? What do you feel is the team’s biggest roster need? — @35DarrenLewis
I believe we’ll see the Blackhawks center next season after he missed this one because of a medical issue. Part of that is me being an eternal optimist and part of that is from TSN reporting April 21 that, if things continued to progress well, Toews would play in 2021-22.
Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton was asked about the report the next day.
“I mean, I don’t have anything new to report,” Colliton said. “We hope that’s the case and obviously he’s a big part of our team and we miss him. But there’s a lot of time still, so we’ll be patient with it.”
As far their biggest roster need, I’m leaning toward defenseman. Brent Seabrook is through playing hockey. Duncan Keith turns 38 on July 16. Calvin de Haan has been fine when he’s played, but he’s had his share of injuries. Nikita Zadorov could become a restricted free agent after this season, so who knows if the Blackhawks re-sign him. Connor Murphy has been very good, and Chicago needs another player like him to bridge the gap between a veteran like Keith and young defensemen such as Nicolas Beaudin, 21, Ian Mitchell, 22, and Wyatt Kalynuk, 24.
I’m not ready to say they need a goalie yet. They’re allowing 33.2 shots per game, tied for 29th in the NHL. They need to clamp down on that first.
Which team that will most likely miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season will contend for the Cup in two or three years? Which team has a strong and bright future with its farm system and recent draft picks? — @Theashcity
I’m going with the New York Rangers, and that could happen as soon as next season. Though I understand the angst of Rangers fans who thought they’d get in this season, the MassMutual East Division was tough.
Back to my crystal ball (or in my case, a magic eight ball). I think there’ll be growth for Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft who has scored 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 53 games this season. The same goes for defenseman K’Andre Miller (11 points; four goals, seven assists in 50 games), the No. 22 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. I think Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, will have better numbers than the 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) he’s scored in 46 games this season. Coming soon is Nils Lundkvist, the No. 28 pick in the 2018 draft who won the Salming Trophy this season as the best defenseman in the Swedish Hockey League.
Those players getting more NHL experience will complement what the Rangers already have. Forward Artemi Panarin is a tremendous playmaker and will be for many seasons to come. Adam Fox is a candidate for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL in his second season at 23 years old. Fox and Ryan Lindgren combine for a strong top defense pair. Forward Mika Zibanejad is closing in on 50 points in this shortened season after scoring at least 74 each of the past two seasons. They’re fine with goalies Igor Shesterkin (15-13-3, 2.53 goals-against average, .918 save percentage, two shutouts in 33 games, 30 starts) and Alexandar Georgiev (8-6-2, 2.69 GAA, .905 save percentage, two shutouts in 18 games, 17 starts).
The (near) future looks bright in New York.
Since the Calgary Flames have six games left and will likely not make the playoffs, would you see them making big changes in the offseason? — @SamRitter8
I was asked in November about Johnny Gaudreau‘s future with the Flames, and at the time I thought he was going to rebound. He started the season by scoring 11 points (six goals, five assists) in his first 11 games, and he’s been productive down the stretch. He’s on a seven-game point streak (eight points; three goals, five assists) and has scored 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) in 50 games. Maybe it’s time for the Flames to see what they can get for the 27-year-old forward.
Gaudreau has one season remaining on the six-year contract he signed Oct. 10, 2016. The Flames would get some assets, and perhaps Gaudreau would benefit from the change of scenery.
Calgary has not advanced past the Western Conference First Round since a six-game win against the Vancouver Canucks in 2015. It has some work to do in the offseason, and I would not be surprised if Gaudreau is part of the changes.
Is getting the top seed in the West more important to the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights? — @adamsteinhouse
It’s important to each team, and it’s going to be fun watching them fight to the end to get there. The Golden Knights are first in the eight-team Honda West Division, two points ahead of the Avalanche, who have one game in hand.
Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb on April 30 said, “Our job is not finished. We want to be in first place, and we have some work ahead of us.”
On Monday, coach Peter DeBoer talked about the final few games of the regular season, given how much winning the West means to them.
“We’re in playoff mode here right now,” DeBoer said. “We want to make sure our game is in the right place against good teams, and this is that stretch where we can make sure it is. The wins and points will take care of themselves if we take care of that.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was asked April 21 about the Golden Knights gaining some ground on them after Colorado had three games postponed because of NHL COVID-19 protocol. He said he hadn’t looked at the standings in months and wasn’t concerned about them until the end of the season.
We’re just about there, and the Avalanche, who play four of their final six games on the road, want first place.
“We’re trying to fight our way up the standings and catch Vegas,” Bednar said Monday. “These are important games, so we’re out here to win all of them if we can.”