Continuing a new kind of mailbag, with deep-dive answers to your most pressing hockey questions.
Clap, clap, clap. That’s me applauding you, readers. We debuted the Friday Ask Me Anything mailbag last week, and it’s turned out to be the most popular post on our website since then. Awesome. That means we’ll keep this racket going for a while.
In case you didn’t read the first Friday AMA: this is a hockey mailbag with a twist, in that the answers are (I hope) deeper dives than your typical fare. The second edition begins…now.
Denis Beauregard (@denisbeauregard) asks…
Is Ryan McDonagh a trade target?
Not yet, Denis, but it’s a fair question to ask. First off, the New York Rangers remain very much in win-now mode despite the 5-7-2 start. They have mortgaged away many a pick and prospect in recent seasons – this June ended a five-year gap between them picking in the first round – and want to chase a Stanley Cup as long as Henrik Lundqvist remains between the pipes. McDonagh is obviously a huge part of any plans to contend. He’s the Rangers’ captain and leads them in ice time. He’s still in his prime at 28, he’s a fantastic skater, and he’s expected to be the Blueshirts’ do-it-all blueliner every game. If the team continues to struggle, GM Jeff Gorton’s first order of business should be to fire coach Alain Vigneault before shipping out any crucial player personnel.
McDonagh is also ingrained in New York’s hockey culture. I met him for the first time last season at the All-Star Game in L.A., and he told me some wild Ranger fans once swarmed him outside a restaurant and asked him to literally sign their truck. Haha. He told that story with a real fondness. That’s just one anecdote, I know, but he doesn’t seem like he’s someone eager to leave Manhattan. Few players are, really.
That said, a lot could change by the winter. Because this Ranger team is nearing the end of its contention window, a descent out of the playoff race would mean curtains for this era. If the Rangers bomb out this season, that’s it. This run is over and it’s time to rebuild. So if they aren’t in a playoff spot by February, McDonagh offers should start piling up. He’s an extremely attractive buy, signed through the end of 2018-19 at a $4.7-million cap hit, and would be a true difference maker. He’d elevate a good team to a great one. He has a modified no-trade clause, including a list of 10 teams to which he would not accept a trade, but that leaves 20 other teams, so a McDonagh trade wouldn’t be the toughest thing to execute. It’s not on the table if New York climbs back into the playoff hunt, though.
Weeks Evans (@wevans_twe) asks…
What do you make of the Kings’ hot start to begin the season? Are playoff expectations realistic at this point or no?
Hi Weeks. I’m extremely impressed by the Kings’ start so far, and I really didn’t see it coming. They had their usual strong possession numbers last year but the shot attempts didn’t translate into goals because they had no finish. Their biggest off-season addition was Mike Cammalleri, and I didn’t buy the notion that “getting a healthy Jonathan Quick changes everything” since backup Peter Budaj played great in his absence last year.
But so far, I was wrong about everything, and I have to tip my hat to Drew Doughty. I did a lengthy and fascinating interview with him this summer and tabled the idea the Kings were too slow. He disagreed and expressed major confidence in new coach John Stevens’ ability to change the way the Kings play. Here’s a snapshot of what Doughty told me:
“I don’t think we’re slow. I think that’s kind of a misconception. We definitely, back in the day, played with the defensive system with the big strong guys, ‘We’re gonna crash and bang,’ and that’s how we won. And yeah, the game has changed. Look at Pittsburgh winning these Cups. They’re not playing with those big, physical guys anymore. I don’t necessarily think we entirely need to change our system, because we have a great defensive system, and I enjoy playing on a team that likes to crush guys into the boards. I don’t want to be playing for a team where guys aren’t going to finish their checks. That’s not what I’m about.
“We’re definitely going to take steps in the offensive process. We need to score more goals. We hired some new coaches who have some great offensive minds, so we’re going to work on that. We’re going to get faster. We’re going to be making more plays. We’re not going to be afraid to try different plays when we might have been in the past. Like I said, I don’t think we are slow. We are fast, and we just need to learn to use it better. “
Doughty nailed it. The Kings are playing far faster this year, partially because they are finally giving their fastest forward, Adrian Kempe, a regular NHL job, and also because Stevens seems to have unlocked slumping veterans Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Doughty spoke at length with me about Stevens and how he’s a much more approachable coach than Darryl Sutter was, and it seems the Kings are playing with more freedom now while not sacrificing defense. I looks like they will be a playoff team this year after all.
By the way, that Doughty interview was one of my all-time favorites. What a good talker. If you want to learn more, here’s the full story and interview.
Pamela Porter (pgayleporter) asks…
Who has had the best goal so far this season?
Ooh, fun question, Pamela. Thanks for mixing it up with a curveball here. Hm…best goal of the season. I’ll go with one scored on opening night by the amazing Connor McDavid. It was his second of three goals against the Calgary Flames. In this one he shows his unbelievable, unrivalled speed going end to end, blowing past the entire team. He was clocked at something like 40 kilometres per hour. That means he would almost be speeding if he were skating through a school zone on a street! Check it out:
Emil Nilsson (nilssonemil) asks…
Which Coyote is the most talented player: Clayton Keller or Rasmus Dahlin?
I see what you did there, Emil. Very clever. And fair. At 1-12-1, the Coyotes are tracking for the worst points percentage in NHL history at .107. That’s lower even than the legendary 1974-75 Washington Capitals, who went 8-67-5 and finished with a .131 points percentage. Wow. So the Desert Dogs look like near locks to end up with the most ping-pong balls in the 2018 draft lottery, meaning they are indeed the favorites to land Rasmus Dahlin.
Keller has been phenomenal in his rookie year, with nine goals in 14 games. We at THN aren’t too surprised by his start, as we ranked him as our No. 1 prospect and picked him to win the Calder Trophy. I was on a conference call with Keller Wednesday after he won the league’s rookie of the months, so if you want more context on his pedigree and to read some of his thoughts on his start, click here.
So Keller looks like a star, a Patrick Kane clone who could challenge for a scoring title someday. And yet…my answer to your question is Dahlin. That’s not a knock on Keller. It’s a testament to just how good Dahlin projects to be. He’s the top defense prospect since Aaron Ekblad at the absolute minimum, maybe the top ‘D’ prospect of this century so far. Most scouts believe Dahlin will be the next Erik Karlsson and become the league’s most potent offensive blueliner.
Our recent magazine edition Prospects Unlimited ranks all the best hockey players in the world aged 21 or younger, regardless of whether they’re drafted yet. Our prospect guru Ryan Kennedy and his scouting panel put Dahlin ninth overall, ahead of established NHLers William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nico Hischier and…Keller. That’s how big the hype is for Dahlin. He will be extremely special – or, he’s at least expected to be.
Luke Tigue (@LukeTigue662002) asks…
In your opinion, what’s next for the NHL relocation or expansion?
Great question, Luke. First off – we should establish that relocation and expansion aren’t mutually exclusive at all. I think we’ll see both happen in the next few years. There is motivation to get to 32 teams, of course, to balance out the NHL’s divisions, so expansion is an inevitability, but I see relocation happening sooner. There’s the right blend at the moment of teams struggling to (a) fill their buildings and (b) secure new rinks and ready-made markets with rinks sitting there. The owners also get to collect relocation fees in that scenario and teams don’t feel the sting of another expansion draft. So relocation is more “fun” for the league’s owners.
Of the struggling teams, the Coyotes are the market I’d watch the closest, as their arena lease in Glendale expires after this season. Quebec City is a hyper-ready NHL market the same way Winnipeg was in 2011, but the Nordiques (we know they’d take that name again) would have to remain in the Pacific or Central to balance out the divisions, as the Metro and Atlantic have eight teams each already. That or another team would have to move to the Western Conference from the East. Houston is therefore intriguing to me. It’s one of America’s five biggest sports markets, period, and it would fit geographically into the Central Division, which has a vacancy. Moving Houston to the Central would then open up a Pacific spot, which could go to the 32nd team someday if that team ends up being Seattle.
For now, expect relocation first, and my money is on Houston. I never would’ve said that a year ago, but the new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta actually has interest in hockey, so there’s some legit traction there.
Gary Slice (@Homeslice2112) asks…
It looks like Fox or somebody is going to revamp that glowing puck. What do you know about it?
Hey Gary. Your name is awesome, by the way. Gary Slice? You sound like a cool DJ. The other Gary, Mr. Bettman, did recently state during a speech, “We are working on dramatically updated versions of that technology and we have plans to roll out updated player and puck tracking.” The player tracking idea has existed in the news for a while, with talk of microchips in sweaters. As for puck tracking…it would likely be used for analytical purposes – to track a player’s puck possession time down to the millisecond, for example – but it’s tough to know exactly how much the “glow” aspect would return to TV broadcasts. I put in a request to the league today (on your behalf, Gary!) for an update on the situation, and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told me the glowing puck is “part of the broader player and puck tracking technologies.” He also said the league would be rolling out the changes over the next several years. Often, the NHL announces these things at special events, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they revealed more information at the All-Star Game in Tampa this winter. It’s clear as mud for now.
My guess is that, if the glowing puck does come back, it won’t be nearly as ’90s. I wouldn’t expect cheesy red lighting. I could see some subtler visual effects designed purely to help the eye pick up the puck. As an aside, though, I’ve never understood the notion that people can’t see the puck when watching hockey on TV. It’s a black circle on a white surface, for cryin’ out loud. It’s easy to pick up. You know what’s tough to see? A golf ball, mid flight, on a cloudy day during a broadcast of The Masters. No one’s ever complained about that, as far as I know. For anyone who disagrees and has trouble tracking the puck: if in doubt, just watch the players, not the puck. Their movements and reactions will always tell you where the puck is. It’s the same reason you watch the outfielders, not the ball, at a baseball game when you’re trying to figure out if a ball is a flyout or a homer.