It’s the Easter long weekend, but the THN.com mailbag doesn’t take holidays. And why should it, especially at this time of year? Playoffs are right around the bend, non-playoff teams have important decisions to make and the NHL draft talk is just heating up. Thanks as always for your questions and enjoy the holiday.
Adam, with the Oilers in line to get another top-five draft pick this year, the team has many different options of who to select. Who do you think they should pick and who do you think they will end up picking?
Phil Bowden, Pemberton, B.C.
There’s very little doubt the Oilers – who have amassed an embarrassment of riches at forward in Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – will be aiming to draft an impact defenseman this summer. GM Steve Tambellini could trade down one or two spots and acquire some more immediate, veteran help while still being able to select an up-and-coming blueliner such as last season’s Western League rookie of the year Matt Dumba or Everett D-man Ryan Murray.
Of course, the Oilers also could deal themselves completely out of the first round, but the return would have to be monstrous and include a talent comparable to recently-traded Blue Jackets defender Jack Johnson. Stranger things have happened, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest that’s more likely than them staying the course with their rebuild and investing in the long-term through the draft.
Adam, I can't remember the last time I didn't see the Capitals predicted to win it all in at least three different media sources. Do you think all of the high expectations always make them fall short, or is it just that their players disappear in the playoffs?
Adam Hartog, Long Island, N.Y.
I don’t have any time for teams or fans who claim media pressure has adversely affected their on-ice performance. Do the Detroit Red Wings crumble because their past achievements create a degree of expectancy among their fans? Do the Pittsburgh Penguins fail to live up to pre-season projections that have identified them as Stanley Cup contenders since Sidney Crosby’s ascendancy to the top of the league?
Of course not. The truly elite teams don’t give a tinker’s damn what people believe about them. As Jason Spezza told me at this season’s All-Star Game, nobody in the Senators room cared one iota about prognostications they would finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Pointing fingers at people who have nothing to do with playing the game is a sure sign of bigger problems.
That’s where I think the Capitals are this year. Granted, their core of talent hasn’t been healthy all season long, but their consistently disappointing showings are an indictment of the group as a whole. And I expect significant changes this off-season, particularly if they go out in the first or second round with a whimper. The press doesn’t have anything to do with it.
Adam! Semyon Varlamov seems like somewhat of a wild card to me. That being said, I think he has been exceptional as of late. Do you think he is Colorado's goaltending answer down the road? Or will some talent in the pipeline (Calvin Pickard, Sami Aittokallio) end up being the starter?
Nicholas Duplessis, White River, Ont.
I have to admit, prior to the start of the regular season, I was of the opinion that Colorado’s trade for Varlamov – which sent the Avalanche’s 2012 first round draft pick to Washington – was one of the worst of the summer. But after seeing how he’s held up and given that the Avs’ strong-ish finish to the year means their pick will be in the middle of the first round, it’s looking like GM Greg Sherman was right to make the move.
Granted, Varlamov’s key numbers this season (a 2.56 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 52 games) aren’t as good as they were with the Capitals last season (2.23 GAA and .924 save percentage), but Colorado is a younger team with a thinner defense corps.
Making the deal even more palatable is Varlamov’s age (23) and contract status (he’s a relative bargain at a cap hit of $2.83 million for two more seasons before becoming a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014). It’s impossible to predict whether another prospect in the system will push him out of the starter’s role, but he’s shown more than enough to be Colorado’s go-to guy next season.