Mailbag: Panthers chances at Stanley Cup, Blackhawks overachieving

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Here is the Feb. 24 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked using #OvertheBoards.

 

Can Joel Quenneville do it again and win a Cup in Florida? Maybe he’ll finally get some recognition (wink) — @cliffdeutsch

Ah, I love the sarcasm for coach Joel Quenneville, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Sarcasm is always welcome when my name is on the mailbag. All that aside, it’s impressive what the Florida Panthers are doing. They are 12-3-2 and first in the Discover Central Division after defeating the Dallas Stars 3-1 on Monday.

It appears the Panthers are buying what Quenneville is selling. They’re as strong on offense this season (3.41 goals per game, fifth in NHL) as last season (3.30, sixth) but giving up 2.77 goals per game (tied for 13th with Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings) after allowing 3.25 per game last season (28th). They’re 15th in penalty killing (79.6 percent) and eighth on the power play (28.6 percent).

The Panthers have made some good moves. Acquiring Patric Hornqvist in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sept. 24 has given them a reliable net-front presence with the forward scoring 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 17 games. Forward Carter Verhaeghe, who signed as an unrestricted free agent after winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, has scored 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 17 games. It’s been a good combination of established talent and new faces that has Florida among the best teams in the NHL.

Yes, I can see Quenneville coaching the Panthers to the Cup if not this season, then in the near future. The Panthers are atop the division right now, but the competition is fierce, and they probably have to go through the Hurricanes and Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to vie for the Cup. The Hurricanes (12-4-1), who lost to the Panthers 4-3 in overtime Feb. 17, are one point behind. The Lightning (11-4-1), who lost to the Panthers in two of their three games, trail by three points. The defending champions have depth and a lot of postseason experience. It won’t be easy getting past them.

But I believe it will happen at some point under Quenneville. The 62-year-old has 937 wins, second in NHL history to Scotty Bowman (1,244). He knows how to get the best out of his players and has the Panthers playing great hockey.

Video: DAL@FLA: Ekblad hammers home a heavy slap shot

 

Name one player you thought would star in the NHL and never panned out, and name one player you never thought would star in the NHL and did. — @KFord1957

Guessing I’m not alone in this one, but I thought Nail Yakupov was going to have a good NHL career. The No. 1 selection by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2012 NHL Draft, the forward scored 170 points (80 goals, 90 assists) in two seasons with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League but never caught on in the NHL, scoring 136 points (62 goals, 74 assists) in 350 games. He scored an NHL career-high 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) for the Oilers in his third season and was unable to revive his NHL career in one-season stints for the St. Louis Blues in 2016-17 and Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18.

I wasn’t sure how Johnny Gaudreau would do based on his size (5-foot-9, 165 pounds). A lot of other teams weren’t sure either, because Gaudreau was selected by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round (No. 104) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He’s been fun to watch and has scored 463 points (160 goals, 303 assists) in 483 games. I could probably put Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat (5-7, 165) in this category for the same reason. DeBrincat, selected in the second round (No. 39) of the 2016 NHL Draft, has scored 192 points (96 goals, 96 assists) in 250 NHL games.

 

How would you grade the Blackhawks so far in 2021: underperforming from expectations, performing as expected or overperforming from expectations? — @kauaiking2010

If you told me when training camp began that the Blackhawks would be among the top four teams in the Discover Central Division, I wouldn’t have believed you. They’re missing captain Jonathan Toews, a forward who’s out indefinitely for medical reasons. They don’t have Kirby Dach, a forward who’s out after having surgery on a fractured right wrist sustained at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. They entered the season with two goalies with some NHL experience (Malcolm Subban, 66 games; Collin Delia, 18) and one with none (Kevin Lankinen). It didn’t look good on paper.

But that’s why paper doesn’t mean a thing in sports.

There are a few feel-good stories with the Blackhawks starting with Lankinen, who is 8-3-3 with a 2.59 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and one shutout in 14 starts. Subban is 2-1-1 with a 2.65 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Rookie forward Philipp Kurashev has scored nine points (five goals, four assists) in 19 games, and rookie forward Pius Suter has scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 19 games. And Patrick Kane is what you expect him to be every season: consistently good and dependable. The forward leads the Blackhawks with 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 20 games and is two goals from 400 in the NHL. I’m curious if the Blackhawks can keep this going through the end of the regular season, but in their first 20 games they’ve proven me wrong.

Video: CHI@DET: Kurashev goes five-hole on Bernier for PPG

 

Do you foresee the NHL keeping this schedule of multiple games consecutively against the same opponent going forward? @adamsteinhouse

This is a popular question on Zoom calls that I’ve been on, and so far, a lot of players and coaches say they love the format. They enjoy heading back to the hotel after a game and getting a good night’s rest instead of having to board a plane after the game or early the next morning.

But they also wonder how you would pull off the same schedule when 32 teams play each other, and that is probably the biggest question going forward. We’ll see what’s ultimately decided, but I can say that this scheduling format has gotten good reviews from players and coaches.

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