Every Wednesday, a trio of SI.com staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world's hot button issues. This week, Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and I talk about the impact of the recent rash of injuries, early trade buzz and New Jersey's endless shootout woes. First up:
Sick bays are filling up around the league, with key players like Zdeno Chara, Anze Kopitar, Sergei Bobrovsky among those have been possibly lost for extended periods. Which team is going to feel the biggest impact of their injuries?
SARAH KWAK: Make no mistake: Going from Sergei Bobrovsky to Curtis McElhinney in net is a serious step down for Columbus, but Bobrovsky's injury isn't a catastrophic one. He'll be back on the ice within a few weeks, and a broken finger is relatively manageable. But the Bruins losing Zdeno Chara for what looks to be four to six weeks, now that's much more worrisome, I think. The 6'-9", 255-pound Chara brings a unique set of skills and attributes that make him one of the most effective defenders in the league. He's big, plays nasty, eats minutes and his seven-foot reach disrupts plays before they even begin. No one in the NHL can replicate him, and so the void left by the massive blueliner is, in my view, the toughest.
BRIAN CAZENEUVE: And Chara’s loss is even bigger because the Bruins already parted with Johnny Boychuk before the season began in order to make room under the salary cap. Kevan Miller played well in Boston’s first few games, but then went down with a dislocated shoulder. And now Torey Krug has been sidelined by a broken finger for two to three weeks. After major surgery last season, Dennis Seidenberg has been making some uncharacteristically poor decisions and losing a lot of one-on-one puck challenges. Add to that the fact that goalie Tuukka Rask isn’t really on his game yet and this can be a tricky time for Boston. Even if everything else was clicking, the Bruins would still miss Chara and Krug a lot. The fact that it isn’t magnifies those losses even more.
ALLAN MUIR: That's the key right there. Boston was surprisingly shaky with Chara in the lineup, but you knew that veterans like him would be the key to turning it all around eventually. Without him, their margin for error diminishes significantly. You know guys like Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly will help fill the leadership void, but that defense has fail written all over it. Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky might be 10 bells in the minors but when you rely on them at this level, you're asking for trouble, especially with Krug out now.
It was a year ago this week that we saw the first two significant trades of the 2013-14 season, with the Islanders sending Matt Moulson and two draft picks to the Sabres for Thomas Vanek, and the Flyers acquiring Steve Downie from the Avalanche in exchange for Max Talbot. With several teams already struggling and others coming to grips with holes in their rosters, it probably won't be long before the first big swap of 2014-15 occurs. Who do you see making a move and why?
CAZENEUVE: I think the Sabres may finish below the Hurricanes by the time the season is done. They have a couple of wins, but have given up 22 more goals than they’ve scored in just ten games. I wouldn’t do this, but if the Sabres feel they need short-term help in multiple areas, there are a lot of teams that would love to snag defenseman Tyler Myers. Sure they wish he’d have developed as the second coming of Chara by now, but he’s still 24 and he hasn’t had an All-Star by his side to mentor him the way, say, Seth Jones has Shea Weber to bring him along in Nashville. Myers would get the Sabres a number of missing pieces in return for a guy who may never reach his full potential in Buffalo.
KWAK: Philadelphia needs some defensemen, and Boston could probably use a little help there, too, in Chara's absence, but the market for blueliners is pretty thin, and neither team will give up the farm. If there is any team that needs big time help, it's Carolina. Sure, the Hurricanes' injury situation is bad, but even with the Staals back, this is a team that needs some serious changes and upgrades.
MUIR: There have been rumbles about Carolina possibly moving Eric Staal, but I think the 'Canes are prepared to ride out this season with the single focus of getting the highest pick possible, not engineering a couple of deals to make things more respectable. Like you said, this thing needs a total renovation not a couple of patches and that's a task better approached next offseason. So wow about the Coyotes? They're hemorrhaging goals, averaging nearly four against per game to rank dead last in the league. And this despite standing a respectable 11th in shots allowed (28.8). Goalie Mike Smith's not going anywhere--he has four years remaining on a deal that looks worse by the minute--so maybe they look to add another stay-at-home defenseman to make his life a little easier. I'm watching the Flyers with interest as well. Ron Hextall has made it clear he's playing the long game, but I have to believe he recognizes the dire state of his D corps. It might not be a big deal, but I'd be surprised if the Philly GM doesn't add something to the mix before American Thanksgiving.
After 18 straight shootout losses, it's clear that coach Pete DeBoer still can't figure out how to fix New Jersey's skills competition woes. If you were in charge, what would you do?
MUIR: I dunno … I recognize this lineup isn't exactly littered with high-skill shooters but maybe working on it at the end of practice every single day might help? DeBoer seemed stunned last week to learn that's exactly what other teams do. "Really? Are you sure about that?" he said when told the Penguins work on it every day. "If I had Sidney Crosby, maybe we’d do it every day at practice, too.” DeBoer doesn't have Sid, but he does have 18 skaters who clearly could use the reps. So let 'em have them. Every day. EVERY DAY. Make it fun. Put something on the line like a team dinner or the chance to shave his head … whatever. Anything to take the focus off the pressure. And maybe by doing that, he'll know who has the hot hand. He might be surprised.
KWAK: I start by sending out different players for shootouts. And by different, I mean younger. Last year, DeBoer's most frequent shooters were Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac. The first two, while extremely skilled and historically successful in shootout situations, are also over 35 years old. This season, in the one shootout the Devils played, he sent out 32-year-old Cammalleri and 42-year-old Jagr. Listen, I'm not being age-ist, but who do you think practices and obsesses over slick shootout moves more? The 20-something who's grown up watching the shootout or the seasoned vet who actually remembers ties? Give the young players a shot.
CAZENEUVE: Martin Brodeur has always wanted to play forward—he has laced ‘em up to play left wing in a couple of pick-up games during previous off-seasons—and you know how well he handles the puck. Since I hear he’s looking for work .. well, maybe not. It’s funny, but Jagr has never liked shootouts and never been great on breakaways either. Sometimes there are players of limited overall offensive skill who are not bad at the shootout, but you wouldn't know it because they can’t generate their own breakaway chances during the normal flow of play. Ryane Clowe—yes, you read that right—is actually pretty good at the shootout. So is Tuomo Ruuttu. A guy like Adam Henrique is only 1-for-10, so that’s a pretty small sample size. If you were going to go with some young guys, you could call on Jacob Josefson or Reid Boucher, if he sticks. Or, if not, you could always activate Brodeur.
MUIR: And don't forget, it's not just the bumbling shooters who are responsible for this streak. You hate to blame the keepers when they've had just six goals worth of support during this streak, but you'd think they might be able to steal one or two over a stretch like that with an exceptional performance. That hasn't happened. Cory Schneider was flat-out miserable last season, allowing 13 goals on 29 shots for a deflating .552 save percentage. The only goaltender who faced more than 15 shots and produced worse numbers? Brodeur at an even .500. Clearly he needs the work in practice, too. And maybe some time with shrink to work on the power of positive thinking.