Postbag: Robertson’s future, Islanders offseason, best in Metropolitan

If you were given the keys to an expansion team, where would it be and how would you build the team? Flashy like Vegas? Slow and methodical build like Seattle? Or somewhere in between? — @Rob_Oswald

The NHL is not adding a 33rd franchise anytime soon. But my first thought for the placement of my fictional team:

Cleveland.

It is a good sports market with the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all thriving there. It has been an NHL city before with the Cleveland Barons (1976-78). It’s a city in the American Hockey League now with the Cleveland Monsters, the affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. There is a ready-made arena there, the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, which is home to the monsters. Its main tenant is the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. An NHL team in Cleveland would become immediate geographic rivals with the Blue Jackets. The Battle of Ohio can be a lot of fun.

I would build the team more in line with how the Seattle Kraken is built. That’s no disrespect to the Vegas Golden Knights. How could I? They have been a success. But they were not expected to be an immediate success on the ice. Their success in their first season (2017-18), going to the Stanley Cup Finals and losing to the Washington Capitals, has made them one of the most recognizable teams in the league, but has also put them on a fast track to the Stanley Cup which has left them in a difficult salary frame situation. In two straight offseasons, they changed goalkeepers Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Max Pacioretty for “future considerations”, which equates to moving them for a zero return just to clear salary cap space. The Golden Knights are no closer to being Stanley Cup champions today than they were last season, when they missed the Stanley Cup playoffs. I think they can make the playoffs this season if a lot breaks, including goaltending Robin Lehner are at their best, but they don’t need to go NHL-level depth right now to withstand massive injuries like they had last season.

Kraken manages expectations as they build. They have selected Shane Wright and Matty Beniers in the top four of each of the last two NHL drafts, and they have a chance to be their top two centers for more than a decade. They have been able to sign unrestricted free agents, including goaltending Philip Grubauer last summer and going forward Andre Burakovsky this summer. I love the acquisition of forward Oliver Bjorkstrand from the Blue Jackets. He could become a 30-goal scorer for the Kraken. They have a lot of work to do, especially on defense (they don’t have a No. 1 defenseman), but the Kraken will be improved in Year 2 from what they were in Year 1, and they’re tracking well with manageable expectations. And it certainly seems like their strong fanbase is on board too. Seattle is a great sports town.

Would the Dallas Stars trade Jason Robertson if an agreement cannot be reached by the start of the season? How about a deal to Chicago for Patrick Kane? — @im_that_dude20

I’d be shocked if the Stars don’t get Robertson under contract before they hit the ice for training camp next month. They know how valuable he is to them, a 23-year-old forward coming off a season in which he had 79 points (41 goals, 38 assists) in 74 games, building on his 2020-21 rookie season, when he had 45 points ( 17 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games. It is in Dallas’ best interest to sign Robertson to a long-term contract, something like eight years with an average annual value of around $7.5 million or $8 million. That buys the Stars three years of his unrestricted free agent year. He would be eligible to become a UFA in the summer of 2027 under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement. But it’s possible Robertson doesn’t want to sign for more than five years because of the UFA factor. It is a sticking point Stars and Robertson can work around. There is nothing to prevent them from signing him before the season starts.

I wouldn’t entertain the thought of trading Robertson for Kane because of what I mention above. But if the Stars are going to trade Robertson, they need to get more than Kane in return. You’re talking about a 23-year-old who scored 41 goals last season and is just entering his prime, versus a 33-year-old entering the final year of his contract. Kane is still one of the top players in the NHL, but Robertson’s value with his age, production and future outweighs the short-term Kane gain.

Assuming there is no handshake deal for Nazem Kadri, are there any realistic ways for the New York Islanders to improve this summer? — @Tom_Verde

Kadri to the Islanders makes sense in the fact that they have the cap space and the need for more offense. He had 87 points with the Colorado Avalanche last season. They would be downloaded in the middle with Mathew BarzalKadri, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas. One of them had to move to the wing. If I had to guess, it would be Kadri or Nelson, as they are both left-handed and can play alongside Barzal, a righty, who takes faceoffs to his strengths. Barzal won 46.3 percent of his face-offs last season, the lowest among Islanders centers.

But if Kadri doesn’t make it to New York, the Islanders could still improve by using the cap space they have available to acquire another scorer in a trade. Maybe they swing for the fences and try to get Kane from the Blackhawks or Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues (although as I wrote in the mailbag last week, I don’t think he’ll be traded). They would also benefit from acquiring a left-handed defenseman to play up front Sebastian Aho and Robin Salo. The left-handed defensemen still available as UFAs include Danny DeKeyser, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Murray and Chris Russell.

Are there any players you already suspect will be moved at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline? — @phruitloops420

Looking at the list of potential UFAs in the summer of 2023, I would place the following eight at the top of the list of likely to be traded before the deadline this season:

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, F

John KlingbergAnaheim Ducks, D

James van RiemsdykPhiladelphia Flyers, F

Evgenii DadonovMontreal Canadiens, F

Shayne GostisbehereArizona Coyotes, D

Max Domi, Chicago Blackhawks, F

Nick BoninoSan Jose Sharks, F

Damon SeversonNew Jersey Devils, D

The Blackhawks are rebuilding, so Kane and Domi and potentially Jonathan Toews, are all high-level targets. Toews will be if he’s healthy and playing well. I’m not sure the Blackhawks would trade both franchise icons, Kane and Toews, but with the direction they’re going, it certainly makes sense to get what they can if the plan is not to re-sign them. It remains to be seen.

The Ducks signed Klingberg to a one-year contract. He stays if they like him and sign him to an extension or if they are a legitimate playoff threat. Apart from both, he will be moved. I also struggle to see how a 33-year-old van Riemsdyk fits into Philadelphia’s future plans, but again, it comes down to where the Flyers are at deadline time and what impact he makes.

The Devils are in an interesting position with Severson. I can see them trying to sign him to an extension, but if they can’t get that done, they’ll try to move him as well. They are in the same position as the defender Ryan Gravesand forward Erik Haula, Miles Wood, Andreas Johnson and Thomas Tatar. If the Devils are in the playoffs, I expect them to go for it.

I don’t expect the Canadiens, Coyotes and Sharks to be playoff contenders this season, so keeping their pending UFAs past the deadline doesn’t make much sense.

As of now, who are your top three teams in the Metropolitan Division? — @KREIDERMAN20

1. New York Rangers

2. Carolina Hurricanes

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s the same three as last season, only with the Rangers and Hurricanes switching places, New York moving up to No. 1 and Carolina down to No. 2. I have to give the Rangers the edge because. Igor Shesterkin, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender last season. The Hurricanes suffered a blow Tuesday when they announced Pacioretty would be out six months because he will need surgery to repair a torn Achilles. The Hurricanes lost their center Vincent Trocheck in free agency to the Rangers and thought Pacioretty would be an impact player for them. Instead, he may not play until February at the earliest.

Where it gets interesting for me is after the Rangers and Hurricanes. The Penguins are third because we don’t have a clear picture of the Islanders yet. If Kadri goes to the Islanders and they get another left-handed defenseman, I might be inclined to put them at No. 3 and drop Pittsburgh to No. 4. I have reservations about the Penguins’ defense beyond Chris Letang and I worry about their health as an older team. They had a lot of injury problems last season and didn’t get any younger in the offseason. But the Islanders aren’t whole yet, and frankly, Mike Sullivan’s presence behind the Penguins bench could push them over the top anyway. He is a good coach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.