What are the San Jose Sharks going to do before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline? They are playing well but it has been inconsistent. Do they stand pat, make small moves or sell and continue with this “reset?” — @NeufeldBlake
I don’t see the Sharks being major buyers before the deadline (3 p.m. ET, April 12). They aren’t going to trade their first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, general manager Doug Wilson said March 12. The Sharks also don’t have a second-round pick in the 2021 draft, which might make it even more challenging to pull off a move-the-needle-immediately type of trade. But I can see them trying to improve their depth, ideally at defenseman, with a smaller move that doesn’t require giving up a major future asset.
The Sharks’ recent strong play and surge into contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Honda West Division has made things interesting for them. They’re still playing catch-up, but a push to the finish line could benefit younger players — forwards John Leonard, Dylan Gambrell and Ryan Donato, and defensemen Mario Ferraro and Nikolai Knyzhov — who are playing bigger roles this season. They’re each 24 years old or younger, and experiencing a playoff push will help the Sharks next season and beyond.
But they are still a veteran team with a core of forwards Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl; and defensemen Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. They’re each at least 27 years old and they aren’t thinking about the future right now. It’s a balancing act in San Jose, but a good push of late has at least made the Sharks a team to watch.
However, I do think the Sharks will trade Patrick Marleau before the deadline if they can find the right offer for the 41-year-old forward. Marleau is a Sharks legend and has said he’d be interested in going to a Stanley Cup contender if it worked out. He isn’t going to bring a big return to the Sharks, but if they can add a draft pick, it’d likely be worth it. Marleau’s impact isn’t enough on the Sharks now where subtracting him from the lineup will hurt their chances of making the playoffs.
Do you think Vitek Vanecek is a candidate to be taken by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft or will the Washington Capitals have to pony up a draft pick for them to take someone like T.J. Oshie, who is from Washington, with his contract/age? — @GLaSnoST9
Goalies Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov are potential candidates to be taken by the Kraken in the expansion draft. The Capitals can only protect one of them, and the rest of this season will determine who that is going to be. It seems they have more invested in Samsonov as a long-term solution, but we’ll see how that plays out. Nothing is guaranteed as of now.
Oshie, even at 34 years old, is too valuable a player for the Capitals with their window still open to win the Stanley Cup to just give him to Seattle to protect a young goalie. If the Capitals do that, they’ll have to find a way to replace Oshie, but if they just leave it alone and understand they might lose one of their goalies to the Kraken, at least they will still have the other one. They’re in an enviable position because no matter what happens they will have a young goalie to ride into the future.
Why is it so difficult nowadays in the NHL to win multiple straight Stanley Cup championships unlike the other North America leagues, where even in a salary cap era we have seen recently some streaks? And, in your opinion, which NHL team would have the best odds to open a dynasty? — @statslotta
One of the biggest reasons it’s so challenging to repeat in the NHL is the randomness of the game itself. A puck off a body part that goes into the net and ends up as the game-winning goal. A goalie who unexpectedly gets hot and steals a win that ends up being the difference in a series. An ill-timed penalty that saps momentum. None of these can be predicted. They’re all random events that happen within a game that change the game. We are seeing an important and significant rise in underlying statistics that create more insightful predictive measures in hockey, but it’s still a game that lends itself to randomness because it’s fluid and fast. Baseball and football are stagnant, stop and start games, so there is less randomness. Basketball can have more predictive measures with fewer players who see the court.
For example, in the past five NHL seasons, the lower-seeded team has won a first round playoff series or the Stanley Cup Qualifiers 37.5 percent of the time (18 of 48), while in the NBA that number is 12.5 percent (five of 40).
I can throw out a lot of other reasons, including the salary cap being the great equalizer as it drives parity into the NHL, goaltending highs and lows that make it challenging, injuries playing a role, and the mental and physical grind it takes to win the Stanley Cup. All are valid, especially the last one. I don’t think there is another sport where it’s as physically and mentally demanding on an athlete to win a championship. The NBA also requires 16 wins, but there are typically more days off during an NBA playoff series, and the game, while certainly physical, is not as taxing on the body as hockey. It also requires three elite players and a well-constructed group of role players to win. We saw that with the Golden State Warriors, who played in the NBA Finals for five consecutive seasons (2014-19) and won three NBA titles. Three elite players might help you get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but a hockey team needs everyone to win.
The Lightning have the best odds to open a dynasty because they won the Stanley Cup last season and their core players are between the ages of 22 and 31 and signed to long-term contracts that run at least through 2023.
Do you think the interim tag on Don Granato will be removed and that he’ll be the Buffalo Sabres’ coach next season? — @TrishTheMiddle
It’s premature to go down that road. Granato has gotten the Sabres to play harder and better than they were in the final days under former coach Ralph Krueger, but we don’t know what kind of changes are coming in Buffalo before the trade deadline and in the offseason. Is center Jack Eichel going to stay? What about defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen? How will general manager Kevyn Adams and the front office try to make over this team to improve, change the culture and start winning? What is Buffalo’s vision for the next coach? There are so many questions to answer and it’s too soon to say it’s Granato, especially when there is a strong pool of available veteran coaches including Gerard Gallant, Bruce Boudreau, Claude Julien and Mike Babcock, and some promising coaches who haven’t been an NHL coach, like Nate Leaman from Providence College.
Why are the New York Rangers sacrificing the development of their young forwards when their roster isn’t even close to a Cup contending team? — @DCarabin77
I don’t understand the insinuation that the Rangers are sacrificing the development of their young forwards when they have regularly played center Filip Chytil, 21, right wing Kaapo Kakko, 20, and left wing Alexis Lafreniere, 19, in top-nine roles all season. They recently added 21-year-old forward Vitali Kravtsov to the mix too. Each of the four was a Rangers first-round draft pick.
It seems to me they’re giving their young forwards an excellent opportunity to not only develop in the NHL but excel in significant roles. Kakko has played on the second line with center Ryan Strome and left wing Artemi Panarin, and on the third line with Lafreniere and Chytil. Lafreniere is not going to move ahead of Chris Kreider or Panarin at left wing. His play doesn’t warrant it and it doesn’t make sense for the Rangers to move him to right wing when he’s more comfortable on the other side. But he’s playing almost 14 minutes per game. Chytil won’t play ahead of Mika Zibanejad or Strome, but he too is playing nearly 14 minutes per game. They’re developing in the NHL and learning from veteran players ahead of them on the depth chart. To be quite honest, I think it’s a perfect situation for Lafreniere, Chytil, Kakko, Kravtsov and the Rangers.