Q: Whatever happened to all those high-end defencemen like Victor Hedman and Adam Larsson and (Ryan) Murray? They were all thought to be possible first-overall picks, yet you don’t hear much about them. It seems to me other defencemen picked after them in the draft have surpassed them.
A: I think you’re off-base here. Hedman (No. 2 overall pick in 2009, with John Tavares going No. 1 to the New York Islanders) is playing almost 23 minutes a game in Tampa Bay. Sami Salo and Matt Carle provide more offensive pop there, but Hedman is the defenceman coach Guy Boucher leans on. He’s more of a shutdown guy, a 25-point blue-liner. In Hedman’s draft year, the only D-man close to him is the Phoenix Coyotes’ puck-moving Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who plays 25 minutes a night. Dmitri Kulikov in Florida is a top-four guy, too, playing 21 minutes a night. Larsson, No. 4 overall in 2011, has been brought along more slowly by the New Jersey Devils, but that’s their team culture. He played 65 games last year and was a part-timer in the playoffs last spring, but after sitting out some games early this season, he’s in their top four and averaging 18 minutes a game. He’s a shutdown guy, as well. In Larsson’s draft year, Swede Jonas Brodin (Minnesota Wild, No. 10) and Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins, No. 9) are NHL rookies playing significant minutes. Brodin is getting rave notices as Ryan Suter’s partner. Murray (No. 2 overall pick last June) needed shoulder surgery while playing junior with the Everett Silvertips during the lockout and is lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the season.
Q: It’s approaching the one-third mark of the schedule for the Edmonton Oilers and I was wondering if your prediction for the Oilers has changed. Do you you think they will make the playoffs?
A: I said the Oilers would finish eighth in the Western Conference before the lockout season started, but also said they would need about 57 points to do so. I still think they get their first playoff games since 2006, but the next eight games could tell the tale. Edmonton plays four at home, then four on the road in Chicago, Dallas (where they never win), St. Louis and Minnesota. Edmonton may need only 52 or 53 points to make the playoffs because Phoenix is currently eighth with 16 points in 15 games. It’s so bunched up right now with San Jose Sharks sixth with 17, Dallas Stars at 17, the Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota at 16. The Oilers are 11th at 15 points. Determining factor in ties of points at the season’s end is total regulation wins, so it behooves Edmonton to win as many games in 60 minutes as possible, although head coach Ralph Krueger says “in the last 10 minutes of a game, both teams are playing to get it to extra time.”
Q: Can you explain how the 2013 NHL draft lottery works? I understand the 14 teams that miss the playoffs all have a chance at the top pick, rather than before when teams could only move up four spots, but do they get drawn in sequence after the first pick is decided?
A: The lottery draft will take place on April 29, just before the playoffs start, with all 14 clubs on the outside looking in for the post-season having a shot at the top pick, rather than only the bottom five teams in seasonal points as before. After the winning lottery team is decided, that’s it. No more draws. If the 30th-place team in points doesn’t get the right combination of bingo balls, it only moves back to No. 2 and everybody else stays in their pre-lottery slot. The odds of winning go from 30th place (25 per cent), 29th (18.8 per cent) all the way down to 17th place (0.5 per cent).
Q: If the NHL wants more scoring, why do they let teams ice the puck while killing penalties? I say blow it down, bring the faceoff back into the end of the team that iced it, and don’t let them change players. What do you think?
A: I wouldn’t mind seeing that. A few years back, the NHL decided when teams took penalties, no matter where on the ice, the ensuing faceoff was always in the the penalized team’s zone. If you didn’t allow icing during penalties, it would put tremendous pressure on the penalty-killers to get the puck to centre before dumping it down the ice. There would be an awful lot of tired penalty-killers, for sure. The other things is to reinstitute the old rule where a two-minute penalty was a two-minute penalty, no matter how many power-play goals a team scored. You didn’t come out of the penalty box until two minutes was up.
Q: When a player breaks his stick, does it really serve any purpose in his defending zone to skate around helplessly trying to cover the nearest opposing player? Why doesn’t he just skate over to the bench and retrieve a new stick? It would only have him out of the play for five to seven seconds.
Darren in Calgary
A: I couldn’t agree with you more. What you often see is a defenceman breaking his stick and a forward giving him his while he tries to somehow block a shot or make a play without grabbing onto somebody for a penalty. A quick skate to the bench for a new stick makes more sense to me. As it is now, the attacking team just picks away at the guy without a stick, making plays around him.
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