Here is the introductory paragraph of my mailbag column. (Yes, you guessed it – it was snowing in Toronto again as I wrote this.)
Firstly mate – I have said it once and I'll say it again: cheers for such a great column. Good hockey journalism is so valuable to me as an Australian, and yourself and the rest of The Hockey News are doing a great job. Now for the question: With the Northwest Division ending up much the same as recent years, how do you see this shaping up for the upcoming playoffs? Who would you say is the best contender from the bunch come spring? Thanks again for your time mate.
Matt Witkowski, Melbourne, Australia
I’m going to play the role of The Ignorant North American for a second and wonder how I should respond to your kind words. Do I go with “crikey?” How’s about “blimey,” or “shiver me timbers?” Which do you and your fellow Aussies prefer?
On the serious tip – you ask a question that, right from the start of training camp, many hockey observers couldn’t answer with any degree of certainty. Many of us suspected the Northwest would be the league’s toughest division, so it’s no surprise it’s still a virtual toss-up as to which team will emerge as the best Stanley Cup contender.
I’ve liked Calgary for a while now, but their recent road trip hasn’t inspired me to make them my Cup favorite. Colorado would be my second choice, but again, they haven’t put opponents on notice with a win streak of any real significance, so doubts about them remain in my mind, as well. And I still think Minnesota and Vancouver have some big-time holes that superior opponents will quickly exploit.
So, have I answered your question without really answering it? I believe I have. But I’ll have a much more definitive response in mid-May.
Who do you consider to be the biggest free agent right winger in this summer’s market? Are there any Canucks GM Dave Nonis would consider acquiring? Thanks,
Evan White, Tri Cities, Wash.
As it stands now, Marian Hossa is likely to be the most sought-after right winger available to the highest bidder this summer. That said, it may not remain that way if teams choose to buy out players who don’t fit into their on-ice or financial plans after this season.
Nonis will have to make some moves of serious consequence in the off-season, especially if the Canucks bow out in the first or second round again, or if they fail to make the playoffs altogether.
Perhaps those moves start with not tendering a contract to Markus Naslund, and using his money to make a play for a big name such as Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra or Kristian Huselius. If Nonis sticks with the status quo, he may not be on the job too long if Vancouver stumbles early next season.
Great column! My question is in regards to my team, the Capitals. If they make it to the playoffs, do you think they could upset a few teams and possibly go deep? My probably-wishful thinking is based on: solid, experienced goaltending, a big, physical presence all over the ice, secondary scoring from second and third lines, a good power play and improving penalty kill, and of course, No. 8 can and has won games for his team all year. Just wondered what your thoughts are on the Caps right now?
Andrew Bowman, Durham, UK
As noted here and in other spaces before, I don’t actively root for any team, but rather, for individuals and team personnel I’ve come to like over the years. But I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t mind seeing Washington squeak into the post-season. The game needs Alex Ovechkin, one of its most dynamic personalities, in the playoffs, and long-suffering Caps fans deserve at least a first round’s worth of action.
Unfortunately, it’s starting to appear as if their late-season playoff push came a bit too late. Beside Donald Brashear’s mental disintegration in Boston that cost Washington a crucial chance to gain ground on the Bruins, the Caps fell to Chicago Wednesday, adding another nail to their coffin.
I still think the future is very bright for them, but after the moves GM George McPhee made at the trade deadline, it would have to be considered a huge disappointment if they don’t qualify for the post-season this year.
As a true fan of the Ducks and a season ticket holder, I've listened ad nauseum to the pros and cons of the Chris Pronger suspension. The one issue that hasn't been addressed is this – should Chris Pronger continue to be captain? What example does he set for the younger players, and his team? I for one think someone else would be more suited for the job. Scott Niedermayer was a tough act to follow.
Rochel Goldstein, North Tustin, Calif.
You raise a very interesting point, and one not too many media types or fans have debated thus far.
Like you, I think there are probably better examples the Ducks can provide to their players. Pronger has become dangerously hot-headed and reactionary, and though it’s clear GM Brian Burke likes his team to play “on the edge,” his current captain has fallen off that edge too many times.
If Burke and Ducks management truly believe Ryan Getzlaf is the key component of the team, the 22-year-old ought to wear the ‘C’ right now. Well, make that at the end of the season. The last thing they’d want heading into the playoffs is a controversy of their own making.
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