- Craig Custance
It's the second mailbag of the season and we're already diving into crazy trade questions. Love it! If you want to send in your own -- or a question on anything else hockey related -- send it in here.
Let's jump right in:
Am I being too "Maple-Leafy" thinking that Jake Gardiner plus James Reimer could get Nail Yakupov? Reimer is a proven goalie (only according to his numbers though) and Gardiner is a future solid defenseman. Yakupov provides some star power. Thoughts?
Joshua, San Jose, Calif.
Yes Joshua, you're being too Maple-Leafy. Essentially, you're offering a talented young offensive defenseman with flaws defensively (something the Oilers already have) and a player who is arguably a backup goalie (and currently hurt) for the No. 1 overall pick from 2012.
I got a few Yakupov questions in the mailbag (maybe because I wrote about him twice this week, here and here) and my thought is this: It may make sense for the Oilers to trade him eventually, but to do it now -- when his value is as low as it's been since they drafted him -- would be a mistake. Let him work his value back to where it was after last season. I may be wrong and he could be traded tomorrow, but my expectation is that he learns from the benching, works harder and starts scoring goals again for the Oilers.
Are the Sharks the Oregon Ducks of the NHL this season? They're faster and deeper than any other team, and they don't even have Raffi Torres or Martin Havlat back yet. Do you think that teams will place a greater emphasis on adding speed in the next few years as a result of the Sharks' success?
Ananth, Cupertino, Calif.
Whoa there Ananth, let's not get carried away. I'm not sure I'm ready to crown the Sharks faster and deeper than any other NHL team. Talk to anyone who plays the Islanders and they rave about the overall team speed that Garth Snow has assembled. And I think the Blues and Blackhawks are as deep as the Sharks.
But I think this San Jose team is as set up to compete for a Cup as any we've seen in the last several seasons. As for the league following San Jose's lead, a wise Todd McLellan once told me that you have to be careful chasing trends in the NHL or else you're always chasing. You have to play to the strengths of your roster, and that wasn't always speed in San Jose. Give GM Doug Wilson credit for the moves he made in tweaking that roster last season and this summer. There are a lot of ways to win in the NHL, and speed is one of the ingredients that can do it.
What are the early thoughts on Jon Cooper's coaching style and chances for long-term success now that he has had a full summer and training camp to get familiar with his players and their abilities?
Pat, Novi, Mich.
What do you think of Tampa under Jon Cooper this year? Do they have a legit shot at the playoffs in that tough division?
Marc, New York
It's been a nice start for a Tampa team on which I didn't have a great handle heading into this season. Last night's win over the Wild improved the Lightning to 5-2. To the question about Cooper, I'm a fan. I think he's one of the ideal coaches for today's players. I had a conversation with a GM (not Steve Yzerman) who mentioned Cooper specifically as the kind of guy you want behind the bench with today's NHL players. I remember talking to Cory Conacher last season before Cooper was hired about playing for him the AHL, and he raved about him, his communication skills and how much he enjoyed playing for him.
Cooper and I have very different views on fighting, even after I tried to talk some sense into him, but I do like the "wolf pack" philosophy he instills in his team. That said, the Lightning currently have the league's highest PDO at 1.066, which suggests they've been getting more luck than the rest of the league. They have the league's highest even-strength shooting percentage (11.71), so if that number comes down they might struggle.
The most encouraging thing for Lightning fans has to be the play of goaltender Ben Bishop. He's 5-0 with a .943 save percentage, and he seized the starting job after some thought that it would be a time-share along with Anders Lindback. That's exactly what Tampa needed to start the season.
If the rumors hold true and Seattle and Quebec are awarded expansion franchises, will there be another reshuffling of the conferences? Obviously Seattle would be placed in the Pacific Division, but what about Quebec? I doubt the NHLPA would want to have a 17th team added to the Eastern Conference.
If you stuck to a geographical alignment, you'd have a 17-team Eastern Conference and a 15-team Western Conference, and I don't know if that's any less logical than a 16-team East and 14-team West. In the last realignment, some people liked the notion of dropping the East and West specifications and having four conferences or regions. Maybe we could see an adjustment like that. You'd lose your traditional East vs. West Stanley Cup finals in that case, but I think shaking things up occasionally isn't necessarily a bad thing in the NHL. Keeps things interesting. You mentioned Quebec, but a Seattle and Toronto-area expansion makes sense too. You could put the second Toronto team in the West to even things out.
What do you see the Red Wings doing in terms of roster moves? Darren Helm is on his way back, as well as Patrick Eaves eventually. Who is most likely to go and do they clear a spot for Gustav Nyquist at some point?
Robert, East Lansing, Mich.
Hey, Robert. We're now 2 for 2 getting an East Lansing question in this season. Nice work. Helm and Eaves are on LTIR, which means they can't come back until later this month. The Red Wings have flexibility with Eaves, but Helm makes things interesting. His cap hit is $2.1 million, so GM Ken Holland is going to have to get creative.
It's entirely possible that another injury bails Holland out between now and then -- or Helm has a setback during his AHL rehab -- but if everyone is healthy, Jordin Tootoo would be the guy most likely moved. Mikael Samuelsson has a no-trade clause, but if Holland can work some magic and erase that $3 million, that'd be ideal too. He may be forced to package a salary and a prospect or draft pick to a team with cap room to make it all work. But based on the injury history of some of these players, the most likely resolution involves LTIR.
Craig, Buffalo fans are very frustrated with our team. They don't look like they're giving 100 percent. If you were the owner, do you replace the GM and coach? Would you get rid of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller and a few under-producers and just let the "kids" play and get experience? I think if the players gave a good effort, the fans might be a little more forgiving. I wish them the most success. Your thoughts?
Frank, Las Vegas
If I were handed the keys to the Sabres franchise, I would start fresh with a new coach and GM. I think fans want to see the page turned completely, and it would energize the franchise to get a new voice at the top.
While cleaning house, I would make sure to credit Darcy Regier for the young talent he's accumulated there. Buffalo would be an attractive GM job for that reason: lots of good young players coming. There are some nice pieces to build upon in Buffalo.
I'd try to extend Vanek; if he wasn't interested, I'd trade him. Trading a goalie isn't easy, and I definitely wouldn't trade Ryan Miller just to trade him. It would have to be a legit offer. I'd have no problem sticking with him as my goalie in the rebuild if he's interested in returning to Buffalo, something I think he would be since he's a player who appreciates that there are a limited amount of starting goalie spots in the NHL.
I read your mailbag answer about NCAA vs. Major Junior hockey. As a longtime college fan, my concern isn't over which is the better route to the NHL; it's that the vast increase over the last decade or so of players who play just one or maybe two years of college hockey have made that game a lot less fun to follow. As a fan, it doesn't matter to me if the best players aren't coming to the NCAA. Hockey is a great enough game to be entertaining even if the players good enough to go pro in two years all go elsewhere. There are so many problems that college football and basketball have with players who are not actually there to go to class. This is not a path I wanted to see college hockey go down, but it certainly looks as if that's what happened.
Three years ago, I finally got fed up with a lot of the developments in NCAA hockey, including the commercialization of the Frozen Four -- which my father and I attended every year from 1989 to 2009 -- as well as players leaving early. I switched my primary rooting interest from the University of Minnesota's men's team to the women. I've never looked back. I started attending the women's games expecting not to like the product on the ice as much, but that it would be worth it to be rid of the crap.
What I've found is that I even prefer the game. No-check rules change the way teams play defense in what I think are more tactically interesting ways. And, of course, I got to watch a player named Kessel win the WCHA Freshman of the Year award and then stick around. She's missing this season, but I fully expect that next season I'll be watching her play her senior campaign as a Gopher. And she even backchecks.
J. Michael Neal, Minneapolis
I hear what you're saying J. Michael, but I'm still in the camp that believes it's better to see the elite players for a couple of years rather than not at all. As for appreciating the women's game, no argument there. Men or women, it's always a treat to see hockey played at its highest levels, a place the Minnesota women consistently play.
I know it is an award given by the NHL Broadcasters' Association, but what does it really take to in order to be considered for the Jack Adams Award. In my estimation, Todd McLellan should have at least been up for the award a couple times but never seems to be in the mix.
Justin, Portland, Ore.
That's such a tough award, because every season there are a good seven or eight legitimate candidates. It helps catch the eye of voters if you overachieve, which is hard to do in San Jose, where expectations are always high. Look at last season: Joel Quenneville had a record-setting year in Chicago and didn't win. Voters tend to like coaches who overcome something (like Paul MacLean and the Senators overcoming serious injuries) or come out of nowhere and have a big season (like Bruce Boudreau and the Ducks). Being consistently good is nice for job security, not necessarily postseason awards. Just look at Mike Babcock, still waiting for his first Jack Adams despite being one of the three best coaches in the league.
ESPN Insider Craig Custance dives into his mailbag for questions on crazy early-season trade ideas, NHL expansion and the San Jose Sharks as the Oregon Ducks of the NHL.