It's been awhile since we've dug through the ol' mailbag, but with the letters piling up and sports problems to be solved, this seems like as good a time as any to address this matter. Here are a few representative examples of the questions that many of you have been asking:
I'm really getting worried about Steven Stamkos and his availability for Team Canada. Wasn't Tuesday night's game against the Maple Leafs one of the targets for his return to action? If he can't go, who is his replacement?
-- Rachel Rosenfeld, Mississauga, Ont.
During the next two weeks, the attention that will be paid to Stamkos and his broken leg will likely make the kerfuffle over royal baby No. 2 pale in comparison. Problem is, his healing rate is in no way commensurate with the number of cameras that are following him, or with the questions he's being asked. He'll be ready when he's ready, but there's a growing sense that he might not be ready before the Lightning's final pre-Olympic break game on Feb. 8. And if that's the case, it puts Team Canada's brass in a tough spot.
We're already near a point where even if his leg is up to the challenge of playing, Stamkos won't have the strength or the wind to be truly effective playing at the Sochi tournament's pace. Still, I think there's a strong desire on Canada's part to bring him to Russia and push off any decisions until Feb. 11, the last day that a roster change can be made.
That would be a risky call. Not only would it require flying another player over in order to have a replacement ready (as Canada did in 2010, keeping Jeff Carter on stand-by in case Ryan Getzlaf couldn't go), but it also sets up a possible repeat of the mistake that Canada made in Turin in '06, when Chris Pronger played at less than 100 percent ... and played poorly.
So the smart thing to do if Stamkos isn't ready to go by Feb. 5 (giving him two games of prep) would be to thank him for his efforts, but tell him it's time to bring in someone who is capable of playing at full speed. It will be tough to replace the team's best goal scorer, but Canada has an enviable array of options. James Neal has hands that are nearly as good Stamkos', and he's a natural winger. Neal might make the most sense, but Claude Giroux, Eric Staal and Martin St. Louis each deserve a long second look, as well. If it were up to me, I'd probably take Staal because of his size, versatility, international experience and run of solid play (five goals and 14 points in his past 11 games).
And Steve Yzerman thought the hard part was over on Jan. 7 ...
So now it's two goals (and three losses) in the last four games for the Kings. This team is going nowhere the way things are going, so what's Dean Lombardi waiting for? When does he pull the trigger on a trade to get this offense firing again?
-- Nathan Whiting, Denver, Col.
It's not time to panic just yet. The Kings still have the league's best defense, and you know what they say wins championships. Still, the team's mix has seemed a little sour all season, not just lately, and Lombardi is also keenly aware that this group wasn't quite good enough to get it done last spring. Standing pat doesn't seem like much of an option, especially when Los Angeles is so close to winning the Stanley Cup again.
But there's more involved here than just moving a couple of assets to bring in a sniper who can start converting some of the chances that the Kings are generating at even strength. (L.A. ranks sixth in shots taken in close games.) It could come down to timing. The team can take on just over $1.3 million in AAV salary today, according to capgeek.com, but if the Kings wait until the March 5 trade deadline, they can absorb just over $2.5 million. That could mean a much bigger prize, but Lombardi also runs the risk of missing out on the player he really wants.
So, who comes in? Matt Moulson seems like a good candidate. He'll cost a first round pick and a prospect -- not cheap, but there's a good chance that Lombardi could re-sign the pending UFA to ameliorate that cost. Remember, Moulson's brother-in-law is Jonathan Quick and family is always a compelling lure. There's some buzz about Jaromir Jagr as well, but I'm skeptical that the Devils will be willing to move their leading scorer with a legitimate shot at the playoffs on the line.
-- Carol Stuten, Medford Mass.
Offensive ability is hardly a bad thing, but that's not the first quality the B's will be looking for in a replacement for injured defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. A veteran with size and shutdown ability (Dan Girardi, for example) is the goal.
MacDonald's an interesting guy, though. He reminds me a lot of Stephane Robidas in Dallas, a player who was forced to play a more significant role than he should have. (Interestingly, Robidas was back on the ice with the Stars on Wednesday after suffering a broken leg in November.) An increase in minutes because of a wave of injuries has pumped up MacDonald's numbers, but it has also exposed his defensive shortcomings. He's an ace shot blocker, but his decisions with the puck aren't always on the money -- a flaw that's been on display too often lately. The mental errors are troubling, but if he played a more protected role, he might be more effective. Add in his affordability (he's making just $550,000, so he'd be easy to fit under the cap) and left-handed shot and it's possible that he's a match. A second rounder and a second-tier prospect might get a deal done.
--Colin Bowsher, Tampa, Fla.
It might be tough to make a deal, but if the reports of Callahan's salary demands -- $42 million over seven years -- are credible, there's every reason to believe that he'll be available. He clearly provides value above and beyond his numbers (a good thing, since he's scored just three goals in his past 27 games), but that's a tough commitment for the Rangers to justify over the long term. The trick for GM Glen Sather will be finding a dance partner who has the cap space and assets to make a trade happen. I don't know if that team is out there at this point, but if I'm Sabres GM Tim Murray, I'd make a call about Callahan. He's exactly the type of player that Buffalo needs for the future.
Who starts in goal for Team USA in Sochi?
--Jon Klein, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
If I have to make the call, I go with Ryan Miller. I love his history and ability to battle through adversity. If things get hairy -- and they might as the players adjust to the bigger ice -- he's proved that he can handle an onslaught. That said, I think Jonathan Quick gets the call. Really, the gig was his to lose from the start, given his strong record of recent playoff success. And considering how well he's played since coming back from injury (1.53 GAA, .938 save percentage, two shutouts), there's no reason to think that coach Dan Bylsma will go in another direction.
-- Mark Johnson, Penn. I don't know if "soured" is the way to put it. Sure, Stewart played only 5:32 against the Islanders last weekend (finishing the game with a minus-2 rating) and he's been parked on the fourth line, but the Blues know who he is. His inconsistency was part of the package when they signed him to a two-year, $8.3 million extension last season. When he's on his game, he's an unstoppable force who overpowers defenders. When he's not -- like right now -- he tries to do too much, relying on skill rather than will. No doubt St. Louis wants to see more of the raging bull and less of the dandy dangler, but I doubt the club is frustrated to the point where it's ready to cut ties altogether.