Mailbag: Hurricanes’ trade options, Lafreniere’s next contract

The Hurricanes biggest strength is that they play hard every night. Their biggest weakness is that they don’t have extra gear for the playoffs. What is available in scoring that they can get to put them over the hump? — @LouisMurrayJr1

Great question because you are right. The Hurricanes are one of the toughest rivals in the NHL. They are relentless. They defend hard. They give up very little. They trouble like bandits. They get quality goaltending. They are typically strong on both the power play and penalty kill, though this season they have been just that. They have high skills with players like strikers Sebastian Acho, Andrei Sveznikov, Teuvo Teravainen and Martin Nekas. Their defense picks up on the rush. But they are missing a gamebreaker. It could be Svechnikov, but he’s more of a power forward. I think more along the lines of a versatile, quick, offensive player who can score and set up plays, the kind of player that when you put the Hurricanes lineup on the board, you show him first and go, “This guy scares us.”

Patrick Kane and Bo Horvath.

The Hurricanes will bring Max Pacioretty back into their lineup before the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so they need to be sure they have the NHL free cap space to activate him. He missed the entire season with an Achilles injury. But depending on what the Hurricanes see, they should be in the market for Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kane or Vancouver Canucks center Horvat.

Horvat might make more sense because the Hurricanes need more production from the center position behind Aho, who has 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 26 games. Add in Horvat, who has 22 goals this season, and the Hurricanes might make a splash Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the wing or down into the bottom six, making him a fourth-line center behind Aho, Horvat and Jordan Staal. They would add a legitimate scorer, which they need, and have the inside track to sign him before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

But if it’s not Horvat, let’s look at Kane. I still don’t know why there isn’t more talk of Kane going to the Hurricanes before the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. His quickness, ability to handle the puck, skill and production would make him a perfect fit in Carolina.

The Hurricanes’ window to compete for a Stanley Cup won’t stay open forever. They have to make it, which means they have to go all out this year. They have a clear need for goals and the transfer market is strong.

The Predators had lost six straight (before beating the Edmonton Oilers on Monday). Can they get back on track and if so, how? — @ImMeJoB

It’s not a matter of whether they can get into orbit, it’s a question of whether they will get into orbit? They can. They have the ability. They are loaded with skill and goals, but it hasn’t really clicked this season offensively for the Predators and I’m not sure why. They won’t last long in a playoff race if they continue to score at a rate of 2.47 goals per game, which ranked seventh in the eight-team Central Division and 29th in the NHL entering Tuesday.

It could be said that the Predators were burned by poor defense and finishing early in the season. He was 3-6-1 in 10 games, allowing 3.50 goals per game, and Juuse Saros, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, was 2-5-1 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. But they conceded 2.60 goals per game, so even if the goalkeeping was slightly better, it wouldn’t change the results much.

Saros and the defense have improved, with the Predators dropping to 2.85 goals against per game and the goalie going 8-4-3 with a 2.67 GAA and .918 save percentage since Nov. 2. But the offense is worse, scoring 2.40 goals per game in the 20 games they have played. Nashville is 10-7-3 in those games because of Saros, the backup Kevin Lankinen (2-3-0, 2.49 GAA, .927 save percentage) and an improved commitment to defense. But where is the goal and what happened to the power play that is 31st in the NHL (15.1 percent) after finishing tied for fifth last season (24.4 percent)?

The only way for the Predators to get back on track is if their top players start producing more. Front Matt Duchene (43) and Filip Forsberg (42) along with 85 goals last season. they have both played in all 30 games and yet have combined for 17 goals this season, and neither has more than nine. Roman Joshi led all NHL defensemen with 96 points last season. He wasn’t going to repeat it, but Josi is tied for 13th in scoring at the position this season with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists). He needs to be more of an aggressive driver. Ryan Johansen (17 points) and Mikael Granlund (20 points) are also lagging behind offensively.

Video: [email protected]: Duchene puts Predators ahead with a PPG

What will the Devils do? Mackenzie Blackwood? — @buckstang02

Blackwood returned from his stint with Utica of the American Hockey League and Akira Schmid was sent down to the AHL on Monday. He made six saves on seven shots in one stint of relief Tuesday against the Hurricanes. That is, it was and remains the Devils’ only game for now. It doesn’t make sense for them to bring in three goalies when they could send Schmid to Utica without exposing him to waivers and he can play there. Blackwood is an NHL goaltender and can be a good one if he can stay healthy. That’s been a big problem for him the past two seasons, but he deserves a chance to compete for the No. 1 job with Vitek Vanecek. Schmid was solid, going 5-3-0 with a 1.96 GAA and .932 save percentage in eight games. This is good for the Devils as they can now have confidence in the 22-year-old should they need him again this season. Ideally, they won’t. The Devils’ faith in Blackwood runs deep. Martin Brodeur called him New Jersey’s No. 1 in a conversation I had with the Hall of Fame goaltender earlier this season. However, Blackwood’s long-term future with the Devils is murky. He may be a restricted free agent after this season. The Devils signed Vanecek for two more seasons after that. Schmid is obviously a goalkeeper they like. It’s possible that Blackwood will eventually be traded, but the Devils will hurt their depth at the most important position if they do so this season. There’s no reason, so the right play was to bring back Blackwood, assign Schmid, and go from there.

At this point in the season what is Alexis LafrenierWhat will the next contract look like? — @tomhark10

At this point I don’t think Lafreniere has earned more than a bridge deal similar to the one the Rangers gave him Kaapo Kakko after last season; two years and $4.2 million, average annual value of $2.1 million. But so much can change in the next six months. Lafreniere has been producing more and making a bigger impact in recent weeks. He gained confidence by stepping up to play in the front line with a center Mika Zibanejad and the goals followed. He is not playing in the front row at the moment, but his confidence has not diminished. He had six points (two goals, four assists) in the Rangers’ seven-game winning streak that ended Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in the first 26 games. Lafreniere saw no doubt that forward Tim Stutzle signed an eight-year, $66.8 million ($8.35 million AAV) contract with the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 7 despite having one year remaining on his base contract. Stutzle was the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Lafreniere was the No. 1 pick. Lafreniere also wants the eight-year deal, but Stutzle is in a different position with the Senators. He was quickly elevated to a top-six role out of necessity. Rangers’ depth is stronger and Lafrenier, a left winger, is blocked by Artemis Panarin and Chris Kreider. He has more to prove and Rangers can be patient. So unless Lafreniere just takes it from here and ends up with 25 goals and close to 60 points, numbers he looks like he might reach this season, I see a bridge deal.

Video: [email protected]: Lafrenier scores goal in 3rd

What is the one rule change you would like to see for next season? — @NedRyerson1957

I don’t think that will happen, but I’ve said it many times and will repeat it to the general managers I talk to before their annual meetings in Florida in March:

Stop allowing penalty killing teams to ice the puck without a whistle.

Icings should be invited to the tight fisted team. If you commit a penalty, why give yourself a chance to do something the power play can’t do? If the PK wasn’t allowed to send the puck up the ice without a whistle, it would force the players to make a play to get it out of the zone and into the red line before putting it in. This could lead to turnovers, which is advantageous on the power play. But it could also lead to more offense from the PK, which in turn could lead to tighter goals. We are seeing more and more skillful players killing penalties these days. They don’t want to freeze the puck, but it’s the default mechanism to take time off PP. Remove that option and make them play a game.

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