NHL Roundtable: What to do with Drouin; wild card teams; more
Every Friday, a trio of SI.com staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. Regular panelist Sam Page was unavailable this week—we assume he’s home lying in a fetal position and sobbing in front of his Pekka Rinne shrine—so Jeremy Fuchs is filling in alongside Michael Blinn and Al Muir. Among our topics: Jonathan Drouin’s holdout, John Scott’s All-Star presence, building larger NHL rinks, and the playoff hopes of three surprise contenders.
• Say you’re an NHL GM who harbors more than a passing interest in Jonathan Drouin. How does his decision to walk away from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch this week impact your willingness to trade for him? Mike, you’ve got first.
Michael Blinn: For a guy who has a year-and-a-half left on his entry level deal followed by several more years of team control, I’m incredibly skeptical. The real question is what Stevie Yzerman thinks he can get in return at this point for a 20-year-old with a sour disposition and not a whole lot to show on the ice.
Jeremy Fuchs: If I believe he’s capable of scoring 35-plus goals, then no, not at all. If anything, it gives me more incentive to do it now. The price will never be lower. That said, I don’t think Yzerman gives up on Drouin yet. This is a guy who left his captain [Martin St. Louis] off of Team Canada. I don’t think he’ll give in to anyone.
Al Muir: Man, the optics are terrible for Drouin. He looks like a spoiled brat here, and if I’m a GM, I don't think I’d be too excited about dealing with an agent who would advise a kid to use this tactic. That said, I don’t know that it turns me completely off the player. There’s a very good chance that there’s another side to the story that we’re not aware of. Were promises made to him at some point by Yzerman or coach Jon Cooper in terms of how he’d be used? What was he told about the team’s plans for him? Were there communication issues along the way? I don’t know, but I have to believe the Lightning have some complicity here. I just think that if I’m someone who has an interest in Drouin, I’m doing all due diligence before I make a decision to pursue him or not.
• So the league finally read the writing on the social media wall and decided to allow John Scott to participate in the All-Star Game. Your thoughts, in 140 characters or less.
JF: The whole thing was really silly in the first place, but good on them for keeping their word. #AllStarsShouldBeActualStars
AM: There have been so many people acting badly here, and there’s plenty of shame to go around. At this point though, I’m glad he’s playing.
• The Florida Panthers are still in top spot in the Atlantic thanks to their 12-game win streak, but four straight losses have brought them back to the pack. What is this team exactly, and can it compete for the division title?
MB: This is a team that’s nearing the end of a transitional phase, and we’re seeing extended flashes of brilliance. While their success wasn’t sustainable, the Panthers have the young legs, coupled with the grizzled veterans, to make a run at the playoffs for the first time since time since 2011-12. In fact, given Montreal’s offensive ineptitude, Boston’s inconsistency and Roberto Luongo playing some of the best hockey of his career in net, the Panthers, at least right now, have a decent shot at the Atlantic crown.
AM: Look, the Panthers are nowhere near as good as that winning streak suggests. Some of those games, especially near the end of the streak, they were getting roundly outplayed but were saved by great goaltending or a few bounces.
But hey, give ’em credit for finding a way. Lucky or not, that sort of stretch can be a transformative moment, something that could change the way this team sees itself. The Panthers aren’t in the middle of a rebuild anymore. Now every guy can look around that room and say, “Hey, this is how good we can be. This is what we’re capable of.” And if they start believing that then yeah, they could easily take the Atlantic.
JF: The Panthers are three things right now: Roberto Luongo, Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov. Simple? Yes. But having three elite players down the middle is a proven recipe for success. They remind me of a young Los Angeles Kings, with Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar. They can definitely compete for the division title, although that chase will be easier if Tampa Bay trades Steven Stamkos. Florida will make the playoffs, maybe win a round, but the Panthers will really make noise in a few years, when they can easily become contenders.
• Calgary Flames exec Brian Burke is pushing for new NHL facilities to feature the option for a wider ice surface. Your thoughts?
MB: One of the league’s biggest problems of the past 20 or so seasons is its inability to rid the game of clutching and grabbing, the infractions that rise and sink every few months when someone realizes their effect on the game. Burke’s proposal—an extra five feet of space from side to side—might not seem like a whole lot, but for guys like Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Ennis, Brad Marchand, Tyler Johnson and Brendan Gallagher, just imagine what that extra space could provide in terms of freedom, and in turn, the offense it could create.
JF: Bigger ice changes the way the game is played. It would be great for some players, and Calgary’s Gaudreau is one of them. Actually, the whole Flames team would be great on bigger ice. Maybe that’s Burke’s reasoning. Still, I think that wider ice will push far too many established players out of the game, the average second- and third-pair defensemen, the average fourth-line grinder. It will change the game so rapidly that I’m not sure all teams will have the time or the infrastructure to adapt. Unless you’re Calgary.
AM: I like the idea. Burke’s right. Players are getting bigger, there’s an extra official on the ice. Everyone could use a bit more elbow room. But this isn’t some rule change that can be debated in committee. This is an infrastructure issue. And even if Calgary and Detroit have committed to ensuring that their new buildings are adaptable to change down the road, we’re literally decades away from being in a position where this is within the realm of possibility. I mean, there are rinks going up in Vegas and Edmonton that aren’t even open yet and aren’t equipped to handle 90 feet across. Think those will be replaced any time in the next 30 years? It’s a good idea, but like a lot of good ideas there are just too many practical barriers that will prevent it from happening.
• As we sat down for this week’s discussion, both the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche held unexpected wild card berths. Do either of these teams have what it takes to be there at the finish line?
JF: The Devils have two things going for them—a weak Metropolitan Division (outside of Washington) and a top-five goaltender in Cory Schneider. That gives them a chance. Colorado plays in probably the toughest division, and I’m not sure I’m ready to trust a team that ranks 24th in goals allowed. Give me the Devils.
MB: If we’re going to go by the numbers, both teams rank at the bottom of the league possession-wise. While weirder things have happened, I’d pick Schneider over Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov to backstop his team into the postseason. The Devils can take advantage of playing in a weaker Metro division while the Avalanche have a tougher road in through the Central. With the high amount of parity and underperforming teams, it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if both of them reached the playoffs.
AM: Schneider, and the inconsistency of the Metro, make it easier to believe in the Devils. It wouldn}t surprise me at all if they made the cut, especially if GM Ray Shero can acquire some depth scoring before the deadline. But one stat has me thinking the Avs might have what it takes: their 10-3-1 record against the rest of the Central. They have 12 games to go against their bunkmates. If they can make some hay with those, they can punch their ticket.