Do the Carolina Hurricanes get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Sub question: How much love can Sebastian Aho get for the Hart Trophy or Selke Trophy? — @everytimeidavid
My answers are yes and some.
The Hurricanes are legit. They’re tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most wins (23) and points (48) in the NHL since Dec. 31, and have the second-most goals in the League (117) since then. Carolina lost 8-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, but bounced back with impressive road wins, 5-3 against the Nashville Predators on Saturday and 3-0 against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. They haven’t lost two in a row in regulation since Jan. 15 and 18. I don’t see any let up, any signs that would indicate the Hurricanes are going to go into a late-season swoon. Their goaltending with Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney is holding up well and their offense continues to produce at a winning rate. They’ve scored at least three goals in 18 of their past 22 games, going 16-1-1 in those games. I’d be surprised if they let up.
Aho might get some fourth- or fifth-place votes for the Hart Trophy. He won’t top Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov or Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. He probably shouldn’t finish ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby or Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau either. However, Aho’s role in Carolina’s season with 77 points (30 goals, 47 assists) in 69 games demands attention from the voters. He deserves votes for the Selke Trophy too. He faces some of the best lines in the League, kills penalties and entering play Tuesday, his 56.49 shot-attempts percentage is ninth among forwards who have played in at least 60 games. Aho also is plus-25.
What are your words of comfort to Buffalo Sabres fans for how our season has fallen apart? — @EternalRhino15
It’s one word. I don’t think you want to hear it. You’ve probably heard it too often in the past six or seven years.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but it’s all I’ve got. The Sabres are doing a rebuild of a rebuild, but they’re closer to being contenders today than they were a year ago. They have core pieces in forwards Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, and defensemen Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen and Brandon Montour. It’ll be even better if and when they re-sign forward Jeff Skinner. They have a foundation on the NHL roster, not just prospects who may or may not pan out. They’ve had some success too, like their 10-game winning streak in November that left them at 17-6-2 on the season. They were alone atop the League standings with 36 points on Nov. 27. That they’ve fallen out of the race is disappointing to them even if to many it was the expectation. That’s actually a good thing. For too long it seemed like the Sabres were playing to their critically low expectations. This season, I think they’ve played to their reasonable expectations. They entered play Tuesday, their 69th game of the season, with five more wins and seven more points than they had all of last season. That’s progress even if it’s hard to see through the fog of what will be their eighth straight season missing the playoffs. It will be the longest drought in the NHL if the Hurricanes make it. That’s hard to swallow, I know, but you’ve got to see the progress as a reason to believe next season will be better.
I was fooled by the Sabres’ 10-game winning streak. I thought then that they were for real, a playoff team. I was wrong. It was too early. This season was too early for them. Next season should be better. It has to be or their problems go way deeper than I think.
Is Jordan Binnington a serious contender for the Calder Trophy? — @STLBluesChirp
Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson is still the favorite and the likely winner. He has 58 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 58 games. He needs two points to tie the Canucks record for most points by a rookie, shared by Pavel Bure and Ivan Hlinka. Pettersson has slowed down lately and the Canucks have fallen out of the race, but he single-handedly changed the feeling about their future by the impact he had made this season. I also think Dahlin and Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen deserve attention in the Calder Trophy race, but St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington would get my second-place vote if I had a vote.
Binnington’s impact on the Blues this season should outweigh the fact that he was in the American Hockey League for most of the first three months of the season. St. Louis was 29th in the League standings (16-19-4) before Binnington made his first start. Since then, the Blues have the second-best record in the League (20-7-3). Binnington has won 16 of those games with a .928 save percentage, 1.81 goals-against average and five shutouts. Pettersson has been the best rookie all season, which matters in the voting, but Binnington’s impact in the second half is enough for me to think of him as No. 2.
Best assessment on how long it will take the Ottawa Senators to be a contender with players like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Rudolfs Balcers, etc.? — @NDeOreos
The hope in Ottawa is that the Senators will be ready to contend for a playoff spot again by the 2021-22 season. That’s what owner Eugene Melnyk essentially promised last month, when he pledged in front of a group of mostly corporate sponsors and partners in Toronto that the Senators would spend close to the salary cap every season from 2021-25. That sounds terrific, but so much has to go right for the Senators to even get to the 2021-22 season with a belief that it’s time to start contending again. It’s an optimistic assessment right now. Don’t be shocked if it takes longer.
Many of the draft picks the Senators received in trades for defenseman Erik Karlsson and forwards Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene are not until the 2020 NHL Draft. That includes the likelihood of two picks in the first round and two more in the second round. Selections made in the 2020 draft can’t reasonably be considered to be impact players for at least two or three seasons. That means the Senators must build a culture of accountability and winning before any of those future draft picks can turn into impact players. They’ll have to do it knowing they’re not going to be a top destination for unrestricted free agents until they can sell a promising direction to the players in the UFA market. They might not have enough evidence of that by the summer of 2021, which could push the rebuild into the 2021-22 season.
The good news is the players you mentioned in your question look like they should make up a chunk of the Senators’ next core. Chabot (team-high 49 points) and Tkachuk (36 points) look like the real deal. That gives the Senators a defenseman (Chabot) and a winger (Tkachuk) to build around. White (35 points), a center, looks like he should be a significant part of it too. Batherson, a right wing, leads the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists). He also has nine points (three goals, six assists) in 20 games with Ottawa this season. Those are good indications that Batherson could be an impact player too. Erik Brannstrom, the top defensive prospect the Senators acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights, should have a bright future too. The 19-year-old was the No. 15 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. It’s great that the Senators were able to get him in the trade that sent Stone to Vegas, but he could still be a year or two away from being an impact player. He had 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 41 games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL before the trade. He has one assist in five games with Belleville.
With Chicago and Arizona playing Monday for the first time since the Dylan Strome-Nick Schmaltz trade, what are your thoughts on who won the trade right now/in the long term? — @hawkeystix88
It’s unfair to judge the trade now. Schmaltz, who went from the Blackhawks to the Arizona Coyotes for Strome and forward Brendan Perlini, is out for the season with a lower-body injury. He was impactful in his 17 games with the Coyotes after the trade on Nov. 25, scoring 14 points (five goals, nine assists), but he hasn’t played since Dec. 30. Strome has played in all 45 games with the Blackhawks since the trade and has been terrific with 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists). Perlini (don’t forget him) has played in 34 games with the Blackhawks and has 10 points (nine goals, one assist), including a hat trick in the 7-1 win against Arizona on Monday, which gave him six goals in five games this month.
My long-term assessment of this trade has not changed since it was made. I thought it was good for each team in late November and I still think the same. Schmaltz is the type of center the Coyotes didn’t have; an up-tempo, high-octane, speedy distributor and scorer who could thrive playing on the half-wall on the power play. I can see him playing with Alex Galchenyuk and Clayton Keller on his wings, creating a dynamic top line and top power-play unit. Strome is different. He’s not as fast, not as good of a skater as Schmaltz, but he’s an intelligent playmaker who thrives in a puck possession game and is excellent at going to the net. That’s why he works with the Blackhawks, with either Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat. You don’t need to be the fastest 200-foot player when playing with those guys because most of the time you’re playing in the offensive zone. Strome has the skillset to play with them and help them. Schmaltz does too, but the Coyotes wanted a certain type of center, which is why they made the trade.
Do you think the New York Islanders will be involved in the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes in the summer? — @ScottyPecs
I expect general manager Lou Lamoriello to put on the full-court press to get Panarin. He can entice him with cap space, the right coach in Barry Trotz, a dynamic center in Mathew Barzal, a winning culture and the New York market. The Islanders can also sell Panarin on being a package deal with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Even though goalies Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have been fantastic this season, Bobrovsky would give the Islanders more certainty in net for years to come. It will come at a significant cost, but the Islanders are one of the few teams that could realistically sign each. The Florida Panthers have the goods to do it too.