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With the 2021-22 NHL season launching Tuesday, here are five intriguing questiond with answers.
Should we be rooting for Alex Ovechkin to break Wayne Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals in a career?
Gretzky said on his first appearance as a TNT analyst that he hopes Ovechkin breaks that record. But Gretzky's fans won't see it that way.
I was a teenager when Hank Aaron chased down Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974. I see similarities here. Ruth's name was synonymous with his sport. Some folks wanted to see Ruth remain on the top. Certainly there was a racial component to some people's opinions. Aaron received hundreds of racially-charged letters during his pursuit of the record.
Gretzky's name is also synonymous with hockey and some will want to see him stay on top. We will undoubtedly see a nationalistic component to some fans' rooting interest. Some proud Canadians, with a deep passion for international hockey, will not want to see a Russian player take away a Canadian-held record.
But for most of us, rooting for, or against, Ovechkin will simply come down to which player we like best. That may not be easy to sort out, either.
I covered Gretzky in his best seasons. He was a magical performer, possessor of superhero abilities and magnificent showmanship. Every time you watched Gretzky it was like everyone was playing checkers and he was competing in three dimensional chess.
But I've also written about Ovechkin from his first days in the NHL. He has never received credit for what he has accomplished offensively in era when defense is king. At at time, when it became increasingly difficult to score 20 goals, he was able to net 50.
Think about that.
What I know for sure is that the chase will be entertaining to watch over the next five seasons. Ovechkin needs 165 goals to pass Gretzky. If he fulfills his five-year contract, he will have to net an average of 33 goals per season
This seems plausible, but not a slam dunk. What will Ovechkin's playing level be at when he turns 40? No one can answer that. But it's going to be fun to see.
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning possibly win three Stanley Cups in a row?
Possible, but unlikely. Maybe a 10-15% probability. The Lightning lost their depth in this offseason. They still have the NHL's No. 1 goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy and one of the top three defensemen in Victor Hedman. They still have a quality offense. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point are still difference-makers. Their coaching (Jon Cooper) gives them an edge.
The last team to win three in a row were the New York Islanders who won four in a row from 1980-83. But comparing the Islanders' experience back then to the Lightning experience today is like comparing the telegraph to the internet. Everything is different. Helmets. Fighting. Physical play. Salary Cap. Travel. The NHL had 21 teams back then, compared to 32 today.
However, the Islanders' fourth title came when they were not the NHL's best regular-season team. They were sixth overall in the standings. But they used their experience and drive to secure one more Stanley Cup. The Lightning probably won't be the best regular-season team, but that squad knows more about winning in the postseason than any other team.
Should the Vegas Golden Knights aggressively pursue a trade for Jack Eichel?
It depends on what the Sabres want and whether Eichel has the surgery before the deal is finalized. But my take is acquiring Eichel makes more sense for the Golden Knights than other teams.
Let's not forget Eichel was among the league's top No. 1 centers before all of this drama unfolded. He averaged 28 goals per season in his first five seasons leading up to last season's injury season. He averaged 80 points in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
The Golden Knights are a Stanley Cup contender, but lack a noteworthy No. 1 center.
As long as team doctors were comfortable with his medical report, I'd push to acquire him. I'd give up Peyton Krebs and a first-round pick in the deal. The Sabres will want more. But it's a good starting point. The window is open for the Golden Knights to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Acquiring a 24-year-old dominant center makes sense for this team.
Would you rather be the GM of the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings?
: I purposely made this difficult by choosing two teams that are roughly in the same stage of rebuilding. It's probably a flip of the coin.
Here's the way I see it: The Red Wings have defenseman Moritz Seider and the Senators have Jake Sanderson. A wash. The Senators have Tim Stutzle and the Red Wings have Lucas Raymond. Before they all develop, that looks even. I'd take Dylan Larkin over Colin White. The Senators have Brady Tkachuk, 22, and the Red Wings have Tyler Bertuzzi, 24. I'd take Tkachuk all day. The Senators have Josh Norris, 22, and Shane Pinto, 20, and I'd take them over Joe Veleno, 21, and Jonatan Berggren, 20. Norris and Pinto are farther along in their development. Norris is playing on Ottawa's first line,
The Red Wings don't have a younger defenseman who measures up to super puck mover Thomas Chabot, but 2021 first-round pick defenseman Simon Edvinsson could develop into a Victor Hedman style top pairing defenseman. Defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (North Dakota) is another quality Senators prospect. The Red Wings believe prospect defenseman Shai Buium, a second-round pick, has first-round skill.
I'd take the Red Wings' prize goalie prospect Sebastian Cossa over Ottawa's Filip Gustavsson.
In final analysis, I'd want the Senators' younger talent.
What are the best and worst case scenarios for the Seattle Kraken?
It's unfair to compare the Kraken to the Golden Knights' inaugural seasons. The drafting format was the same, but league GMs didn't offer the Kraken as much to keep players as they did when the Golden Knights were drafting. As a result, the Kraken didn't get the extra players the Golden Knights received.
Best-Case scenario would be the Kraken make the playoffs, out-dueling the Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks for one of final two playoff spots. The Kraken will have to rely on defense and goaltending to get it done.
Worst-case scenario would be the Kraken finishing as the Pacific Division's second-worst team, just above the Anaheim Ducks. The Kraken may not score enough goals.