Here is the Oct. 28 edition of the mailbag. NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers is pinch-hitting for senior writer Dan Rosen this week. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OverTheBoards.
Colorado GM Joe Sakic seems to have retooled the Avalanche and primed them for another deep run. The only real inconsistency seems to be between the pipes. Is this tandem of Grubauer and Francouz good enough to compete for the Cup? Will one seize the opportunity? — @theashcity
The goaltending situation came up during Sakic’s availability Oct. 12, two days after the Colorado Avalanche traded for forward Brandon Saad. Sakic said he expects Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, each injured during the postseason, to be fully healthy and “not have those issues next year.” Though I’d be hesitant to assume all will be fine and dandy on the injury front this season, I do believe the Avalanche will be fine in goal. Grubauer had good numbers when he was healthy last season (18-12-4, 2.63 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts in 36 games, all starts). And I was impressed with Francouz (21-7-4, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage and one shutout in 31 starts), especially when he filled in for Grubauer before the regular season was paused. Considering the solid team in front of them, yeah, I think the Avalanche will be fine with Grubauer and Francouz splitting time.
What do you think about the latest Penguins additions? From Schultz and Johnson to Ceci and Jankowski, doesn’t sound like any improvement to me. — @thegreatmischi
I wasn’t surprised that the Pittsburgh Penguins bought out the remaining three seasons on defenseman Jack Johnson‘s five-year, $16.25 million contract or that free agent defenseman Justin Schultz joined the Washington Capitals. Speaking specifically of the players you mentioned, I don’t know if defenseman Cody Ceci and bottom-six forward Mark Jankowski make a sizeable difference. With Ceci, the Penguins get the right-handed shot they needed and hope he has a rebound season after he scored eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 56 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I do believe defenseman Mike Matheson, acquired in a trade from the Florida Panthers for forward Patric Hornqvist on Sept. 24, is a really good pickup for the Penguins. Matheson could benefit from a change of scenery, and though his contract runs through 2025-26, he’s an upgrade from Johnson. Perhaps it’s the same for Jankowski, who scored seven points (five goals, two assists) in 56 games for the Calgary Flames last season after an NHL career-high 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 79 games for them in 2018-19.
I also like the Penguins trading for Kasperi Kapanen on Aug. 25. The 24-year-old forward scored 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games for the Maple Leafs last season, has great speed, and should be a good addition to the top six. In the end, though, I’d say I have mixed feelings on Pittsburgh’s offseason moves.
Are the Nashville Predators in some sort of half-rebuild mode? They said they wanted to get younger but don’t seem to bring in anyone to really help their goal-scoring output if the few quality young players don’t produce. –@SheWentToJarrod
I like the term half-rebuild mode, and it very well may apply here. General manager David Poile said Oct. 15 that he wanted the Predators to be harder to play against, which explains why they signed defensemen Mark Borowiecki, 31, and Matt Benning, 26; and forwards Brad Richardson, 35, and Nick Cousins, 27. Those signings didn’t get them younger or bolster their scoring. These players were brought in to be responsible defensively, do the gritty, dirty work, defend their teammates when opponents try to target them, and free skilled players to do what they do best. Poile mentioned Nashville possibly putting Borowiecki and Benning together on the third defense pair to kill penalties and play against top lines to allow Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis to each play a bigger offensive role.
Poile also said it’s time for 21-year-old forward Eeli Tolvanen to get an opportunity with the Predators, and forwards Philip Tomasino, 19, and Rem Pitlick, 23, each will get a good look in training camp.
What do you think about the Blackhawks officially stating they’re in a rebuild? Are they still a middling team who isn’t bad enough to land a top 10 pick (excluding the lottery)? — @HockeyTyler21
This was addressed in the mailbag last week, but I’ll give my take.
I was surprised only that the Chicago Blackhawks finally came out and said what we’ve all been seeing for a while now. As for where they stand among other teams, as of now, I tend to agree with your use of the term middling. When the Blackhawks posted a letter to fans on social media Oct. 20 acknowledging the rebuild, it was reminiscent of what the New York Rangers did Feb. 8, 2018. The Rangers are now on the upswing, and it helps that forward Artemi Panarin, who turns 29 on Friday, is in the prime of his NHL career. It helps that defenseman Jacob Trouba wanted to come to New York when he was traded there by the Winnipeg Jets on June 17, 2019. And it certainly was fortunate that the Rangers moved up in the NHL Draft Lottery to select forward Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and forward Alexis Lafreniere at No. 1 in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Now back to the Blackhawks. Forward Patrick Kane, who turns 32 on Nov. 19, still brings great production after scoring 84 points (33 goals, 51 assists), eighth in the NHL last season. He and the rest of the veterans have too much pride to tank. The Blackhawks will score goals. I expect forward Alex DeBrincat to rebound from last season (scored 18 goals after 41 in 2018-19), and forwards Dominik Kubalik (coming off a 30-goal rookie season) and Kirby Dach will be good. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, acquired from Colorado in the Saad trade, needs to help strengthen a shaky defense. Goaltending? That’s the big question mark. This next season or two won’t be great, but I don’t think the Blackhawks will be bad enough to get those high first-round picks (outside of a lottery leap from double digits into the top 10, like when they went from No. 12 to No. 3 in 2019).