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NHL's top prima donna and prairie dogs, plus more mailbag nuggets

These may be the dog days of summer, but your missives keep pouring in. Let's dig through the mailbag for your thoughts on Eddie Shore winners, the league's leading prima donna and prairie dogs.

I'm shocked by Boston's decision to sign Derek Morris after dealing Aaron Ward. I really thought they needed the salary space more than anything. Besides, they could have slid Johnny Boychuk into that puck-moving role, right. He won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman last year. Seems like he would have been a perfect fit. I wouldn't trust Morris for any responsibility above the third pair.-- Jayson Molinari, Connecticut

Based on his erratic play last year, I get why you'd have concerns about what Morris brings to the table. But keep in mind that he toiled with a couple of teams (Coyotes and Rangers) that struggled to play a cohesive game. That won't be an issue in Boston.

Within Claude Julien's system, that minus-10 he earned in 2008-09 could easily turn into a plus-20, and his assist totals should improve if only because he'll be dishing the puck to a more accomplished group of scorers. In other words, he's almost certain to look better by virtue of being surrounded by better parts.

I'll admit that, at first blush, I was surprised by his $3.3 million cap hit, but only because the Bruins already were struggling to find space under the cap. GM Peter Chiarelli knew his team needed to become more adept at puck movement after being bogged down in the quarters by Carolina. Morris brings that dimension and, in fairness to Chiarelli, the contract reflects the going rate for that type of player in free agency. For my money, I would have rather spent a few more bucks on Francois Beauchemin, but Chiarelli had to consummate the Ward deal first. By the time that was finalized, Beauchemin was off the table.

Bottom line, Morris wouldn't have been my first choice, but he should be an upgrade over Ward. I'm looking for him to have a solid year.

As for Boychuk, he seems to be what baseball prospectors call an AAAA player. Basically, it means he can dominate at the AHL level, where his foot speed and slow reads can be compensated for. That's not so easy to do in the NHL, so don't expect him to secure full-time employment with the Bruins. And not to belittle that Shore Award, but going by recent winners Andrew Hutchinson, Sheldon Brookbank, Andy Delmore and John Slaney, it's hardly a harbinger of NHL stardom.

After picking up David Hale in the Radim Vrbata trade, the Tampa Bay blueline is getting pretty crowded. Do you think they'll move someone before the season opens to improve the forward lines? Who stays and who goes?-- Beth MacKenzie, Florida

It's a good bet that Brian Lawton's not done playing with the clay quite yet, Beth. Say this much: One year after setting a league record by dressing 22 defensemen (think for a moment about how deep they had to dig to get to that number), the Lightning should dress the NHL's most improved back end. Problem is, they currently have nine blueliners employed under one-way contracts. That's two too many.

Look for returnees Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros -- who each spent half of last season on the IR -- to be joined by free agents Mattias Ohlund, MattWalker and Kurtis Foster and top draft pick Victor Hedman. Matt Smaby, who signed last week, and RFAs Matt Lashoff and Mike Lundin will be retained as depth options. That means Hale and Lukas Krajicek are likely to be dangled as trade bait. Problem is, neither has a ton of value. Hale has size but limited hockey sense. Krajicek can eat top-four minutes, but there were a lot of nights where he brought a book of stamps to the rink. His inconsistency is no secret around the league. They both might bring a pick in exchange from a team looking to bolster their third pair. If not, it wouldn't be a surprise to see their contracts buried in the AHL.

The picture should clear up once Lawton makes his final defensive addition: Hiring an assistant coach to help Rick Tocchet tend their zone. Former Stars assistant Rick Wilson has been interviewed, but no decision's been made. Hard to imagine what's holding it up. Wilson is exactly the kind of experienced tutor this group needs.

I'm hearing lots of talk about the likelihood of the Rangers walking away from Nikolai Zherdev if his arbitration award is too high. Where do you think the threshold is and, if he becomes a free agent, where do you think he'll wind up?-- Jeff Giles, Winnipeg

I couldn't speculate where the Rangers might draw the line, but for me the over/under would be a buck.

Look, Zherdev is a natural talent, a guy who could score 20-25 goals in his sleep, which is a good thing since that appears to be his natural state more often than not. Five years into his career, he's a big bag of fail, so much less than the sum of his parts. I can't imagine what it's like for a teammate who relies on hard work to keep his roster spot to dress alongside a guy with so much talent and so little desire to apply it.

There are plenty of teams, including the Rangers, who would love to pencil that production onto their second line. But Zherdev brings so much less to the table that you have to wonder if he's worth the bother. It's well known that he does little to endear himself to his teammates and his prima donna attitude is a distraction. He lost the trust of Ken Hitchcock in Columbus. How much rope do you think he'd have with John Tortorella?

I don't doubt that there are a couple teams out there who look at Zherdev as the bad boy who just needs their loving touch to turn his life around. And they may be right. But he's a lousy fit for a Rangers team that needs to re-shape its identity under Tortorella. Doesn't matter what the arbitrator rules, they should just say no.

Anton Stralman for Wayne Primeau? Please tell me this overseas Leafs fan this is a joke! What an absolutely brutal deal by Brian Burke. His hatred of European players just cost the Leafs one of the brightest defensive prospects in all of hockey. All you had to do was watch him when he played for Team Sweden to realize how much potential he has. But hey, why keep a player like that around when there's 33-year-old grinder with cement hands to be had, right? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.-- Rob Severn, Birmingham, England

Pour yourself a minty gargle and then take a deep breath of that sweet, clean Birmingham air, Rob. This deal might not be close to as bad as you're painting it.

First off, it wasn't a one-for-one exchange. The Leafs sent Stralman, Colin Stuart (acquired last month from Atlanta in the Pavel Kubina trade) and a seventh-rounder to Calgary for Primeau and a 2011 second-rounder. Move the shells around a bit and you get a banged up fourth-liner for minor leaguer and a late pick (fair enough) and a second-rounder for a defenseman who was maybe 10th on a very crowded depth chart.

Stralman may develop into a useful, top-four defender, but as Justin Pogge demonstrates, you have to take the hype behind Toronto's prospects with a grain of salt. The 23-year-old was lights out for Tre Kroner in a couple recent tournaments, but he's not the next Nick Lidstrom. And it's a good bet that it was the advice of Ron Wilson, not some overpowering xenophobia, that convinced Burke to ship out Stralman. So, a second-rounder for a defensively challenged guy who'd lost the confidence of the coach and would have had to pass through waivers to be sent down to the AHL? Seems fair enough.

And don't overlook this aspect of the deal: Burke moved two contracted players for one, getting the Leafs one under the limit of 50. That gives him some flexibility should he decide he wants to add another NHL-ready body before the season starts.

It's the end of July and Doug Wilson has yet to deliver on the sweeping changes that he promised Sharks fans after the playoffs. Nothing at the draft. Nothing in free agency. Looks like it will be more of the same next year. Please, help me find something to get excited about for this season!-- Sherilynn Wellington, San Jose

Complaining about more of the same might make sense from a fan of the Thrashers or Coyotes, but the Sharks weren't exactly feeding you a steady diet of thin gruel and re-runs of Two and a Half Men from October through April. They did win the President's Trophy last season. Those were pretty good times.

Still, I get that it's hard to get the taste of another playoff flop out of your mouth (maybe you can borrow some of Rob's minty rinse). Maybe dumping MarcelGoc and Lukas Kaspar and signing Scott Nichol won't convince anyone to avoid making potentially conflicting plans for next June. So what should you do?

Be patient.

Easy for me to say, I know. I've got nothing emotionally invested in the team. But you had to recognize that cap commitments limited what Wilson could do in free agency. Instead, he'll try to conjure up some magic on the trade market. Maybe he takes advantage of another team's cap issues this summer. Or maybe he waits until Christmas to see whose depth is challenged by injury or who gets frustrated by a slow start. Wilson's proven to be a methodical guy. He won't make a deal for the sake of change. He's waiting for the right change. And that approach, painful as it may be now, makes the most sense.

Fortunately, two of his most compelling assets, Patrick Marleau and EvgeniNabokov, have contracts that expire after this season. Normally, that would be a negative for the acquiring team, but with everyone focusing on a diminished cap for 2010-11, that makes these impact performers more attractive in a mid-season deal.

The Sharks will be fine in the regular season. Give Wilson some time to find the right dance partner and they might not be bad next spring, too.

I just read about the latest group of investors to chase after the Coyotes and how they plan to play five games a year in a "sister city," like Halifax or Saskatoon. Seems crazy on the surface, but I have a feeling it just might work. What do you think?-- Jed Crochet, Wisconsin

Look beyond the headlines with this one, Jed. The long-distance home games make for an interesting hook (and might allow Gary Bettman to slide out from under the barrage of anti-Canadian sentiment he's generated while pursuing his personal vendetta against Jim Balsillie), but they're not the story. Ice Edge Holdings, the entity behind this bid, looks like another group of big dreamers with far too little capital. No matter how desperate they are to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, you have to think the NHL is done doing business with nickel-and-dimers, right? I just don't see these guys being a legitimate option at this stage of the process.

Still, I'll admit that it's a genius gimmick. Certainly one that's going to generate a lot of buzz, even if the towns involved are Saskatoon and Halifax rather than cities with NHL aspirations, like Hamilton or Winnipeg.

But step back and look at what this plan suggests. If Phoenix would actually benefit from playing five home dates in a town of 200,000 like Saskatoon (and just how much revenue is there to be had in an 11,500 seat building anyway?), then why is anyone even bothering to prolong the misery of the franchise?

Clever idea, but this (prairie) dog won't hunt.

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