Thanksgiving is when most teams are at or near the first quarter mark of their schedules and when we start learning a little more about them. So far, it’s been an incredibly up-and-down October and November for many, where even nominal Stanley Cup contenders have had some unpredictable games — and some pretty terrible bad teams. Welcome to Part 1 of the November Reader’s Mailbag. Let’s dig right in.
To hell with the rumors, what does your gut tell you about where Patrick Kane will land? – Bill S.
I was ready to be wrong about this in the first five minutes after my answer was published, but my gut says with the Florida Panthers. And that’s based on off-the-ice and big-picture assumptions. Patrick Kane is coming off the same hip resurfacing surgery that ended Nicholas Basstrom’s season in Washington. At this stage of his career, he wants to have the opportunity to compete for another championship with his family, in one place, in a good team.
Kane turned 35 last Sunday. As he ages, and perhaps understands what an intense, daily maintenance regimen can be, it becomes easier to deal with that in warmer climates, where you’re always outdoors, moving freely, stretching. . The Panthers should compete for the rest of Kane’s career. He’ll get a chance to play for a players’ coach in Paul Morris and have a different professional experience than he did last season in Chicago and, briefly, in New York.
He will get a chance to play top-six minutes in Florida, possibly starting with Alexander Barkov. And if that doesn’t work, because sometimes what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate on the ice, there’s a good second option, playing with Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. Tykachuk’s season was played against Johnny Gaudreau, who might look like Kane at his best.
The dark horse is the Avalanche because they’re still very top-heavy, although they could use help once their offseason moves and flesh out the top six.
Given that Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has been successful in creating top 6 points on offense and the work to develop a “Tier 2” defense is underway in Luke Hughes and eventually Simon Nemec, what are your insights/sources’ insights? How active/aggressive are the Devils in improving their goaltending? – Lee B.
Teams don’t make significant goaltending changes midway through the season. It’s very hard to get used to. Even seasoned players sometimes struggle to fit into a new team right away. This is why most teams set up their goaltending rotation at the beginning of the season and only make changes under extreme pressure unless there is an injury or a very bad slump. I can’t see it happening with Satan this year. Instead, I think they are committed to this year. I like what Fitzgerald did with Vitek Vanacek, signing him to just three years. This is the 2nd year. It’s a reasonably high price ($3.4 million). If a goaltender can hold the Devils back in the 2024 playoffs, they may find a solution in the playoffs, when it’s much easier to join the netminder divisions.
I don’t see Akira Schmidt going anywhere. He’s 23, on an entry-level contract and only getting better. Another factor is that when Connor Hellebuyck signed his extension in Winnipeg, the pending UFA scoring option left one obvious influence out of the mix. I suspect Boston will stick with the Linus Ullmark–Jeremy Swayman rotation this year. Ullmark could be in the game next season and if he is, he could suit up in New Jersey.
Is it too early to start believing in what the Blues have done so far this season (in terms of making the playoffs)? – Michael P.
not yet. Not for me anyway. Too inconsistent for my taste. I don’t understand how they can shutout Tampa Bay 5-0, win five of six, look like they’re on the rise, and then bounce back with two 5-1 games against San Jose and Los Angeles. Just OK is coming down to earth after a promising start against the Ducks on Sunday.
So yes, it’s too early to start believing in the blues. They need more from the power play (second-worst in the league; only four goals scored, three by Pavel Buchnevich). They need more offense from Kevin Hayes, Brandon Saad, Jakub Varana and possibly Jordan Kirow. It is good news that they will enter the field if the playoffs start today. On paper, there are three Western Conference teams that are much better than all the rest – Vegas, Dallas and Colorado. Therefore, Blues Tetsavatai, just from the end, just from the western assembly of Mzrab’u. But to strengthen that position, they need to get more from the supporting body. And I have no doubt that they can.
At some point, Gary Bettman is going to step down as commissioner (hopefully). Will the successor take over as Bill Daley and then more of the same? Or could the forces at the helm of the league go the other way? If the latter, who do you look to for leadership reform? Who would you like to see as an alternative to improve the leadership? – Stephen H.
Bettman celebrated 30 years in office last February, and although he hasn’t talked about his contract, the belief is that the six-year deal he signed in 2016 was set to expire last year, and the league signed him to another five years. If this number is true – and I believe it – then Bettman could be commissioner until 2027. Now it is 71. I guess it will be 75 in four years. Bill Daly is 59 years old, and I think he wants to lead the league on his own.
Nominally, Bettman and Daly report to the NHL’s Board of Governors, but the power rests with the Executive Committee — a 10-member panel of the most active and powerful owners in the game.
In theory, the executive committee could hire a headhunting firm to find candidates for Bateman’s eventual replacement, which Dalim would get a look at.
But they only do this if they want to go in a new direction and are not happy with the current direction of the league. I don’t think there are.
My best guess?
Even if you go through the motions of looking at foreign candidates, the easy and obvious choice is to install Dali. He is patiently waiting his turn and may be more progressive than he is capable of.
In my pie-in-the-sky world you ask, I’d like to see more attention from NHL leadership to business and hockey.
So that means Paul Kariya is the candidate for the new commissioner, enough time for Ken Dryden to improve the player safety department on the board. But I think I knew very well that Paul could not be persuaded to take the job under any circumstances.
Why is the league made up of eight and four teams? The top teams in each division will advance to the tournament (home ice not guaranteed). And back to the one-to-eight seed. – Daniel L.
So, a brief history lesson: In the 1998-99 season, or when Nashville, the first of four expansion teams over three years, was added to the league, the NHL went from four divisions to six in the two existing conferences. It was a 30-team league consisting of 6 evenly split five-team divisions when Columbus, Atlanta and Minnesota joined the league. In other words, the version of the idea you’re raising.
But in 2013-14, the league returned to the old system – two conferences, four divisions and introduced the current wild-card playoff system.
I don’t think everyone likes the current format, but I don’t think enough teams hate it enough to push hard enough for a change.
Your proposal, as I’m sure everyone understands, mirrors the NFL system. But in the end, I think the reason to keep the status quo is to expand into the future. Nominally, the NHL says expansion is not on the immediate horizon. My feeling is that it will be in the next five to seven years anyway.
And if it works, at that point, they’ll have to reset the system because you’re now in 34 groups. Then, the four-team-by-eight-section math suddenly doesn’t work.
When will the Houston Eros join the NHL? – Brent C.
Probably not before the 2026-27 season. I guess one of the last things Bettman did as commissioner was getting a $1 billion expansion fee from someone. Vegas paid $500 million. Seattle paid $650 million. Someone pays $1 billion.
Why isn’t Keith Tkachuk in the Hall of Fame? – Daniel G.
Tkachuk falls into the “maybe yes, maybe no” category of candidates, which includes Rod Briandmore, Jeremy Roenick, Henrik Zetterberg and others. But what I’m talking about is a handful of players in this category — like Pierre Turgeon, Daniel Alfredsson, Dave Andrechuk and Mark Ritchie — who all eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.
So, I predict Tkachuk will be the same. It didn’t hurt that Wayne Gretzky pushed his candidacy on TNT last week. Gretzky’s partner Keith Yandle also introduced Ray Whitney. Weird name there because it’s the first time I’ve heard Whitney’s name as a Hall nominee.
(Top photo of Patrick Kane: Jasen Vinlove / USA Today)