Mailbag: Should the NHL have an NBA-style summer league?

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Mark Stone is a perfect fit on Paul Stastny's wing. (Reuters)
Mark Stone is a perfect fit on Paul Stastny's wing. (Reuters)

Let’s go:

Christopher asks: “Should the NHL have an officially sanctioned developmental Summer League like the NBA?”

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Yup. Pretty easy decision.

You probably couldn’t have it in Las Vegas, where the NBA Summer League is, because there aren’t enough good-sized rinks, but you could have it in just about any Traditional Hockey Market — the major Canadian cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal seem obvious, as does Boston or the New York metro area — and there would be at least some interest.

It stops you from having to run these tournaments in Penticton, Traverse City, and so on, gets more teams involved, and maybe even whittles down the need for the development camps teams host. Obviously there are some issues here with, say, unsigned college or junior players being involved, but they can be smoothed over without too much difficulty. An NHL Summer League is a no-brainer overall, which is why I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon.

Trayton asks: “Should the Golden Knights put William Karlsson and Mark Stone on the same line?”

I guess the idea here is that you would have an elite shutdown group with these two and whoever plays the other wing, but I don’t really see the need for it. Karlsson has a ton of chemistry with Marchessault and Smith, even if they didn’t score as much as they did in their first season together, and Stone is the perfect anchor for Pacioretty and Stastny.

That doesn’t preclude Gerard Gallant from putting these two guys together in shutdown situations — say, up a goal with three minutes left, facing an extra attacker, etc. — but I don’t know how much more help you need to give Stone as an elite defensive player. It’s hard to put your eggs in one basket with this group, given its depth, but it’s still a better idea to spread the wealth.

Deej asks: “Are the Rangers better off buying out Staal or trading Kreider? If the trade is the answer, what kind of return should they be looking for and with whom?”

I got like three questions about Chris Kreider this week so let’s just get it out there: I don’t think the Rangers are looking to trade him because he would be detrimental to them, but rather because he’s entering the last year of his contract and the team doesn’t have much use for him long-term, but doesn’t want to lose him for nothing.

I think Kreider helps a lot of clubs (though he does have an 11-team no-trade), but given the tightness of the cap, I think the Rangers would have to take back some salary. Maybe not the best thing if they want to be more competitive this season, as the Panarin contract and Henrik Lundqvist’s age suggests.

With so much smoke around this stuff it seems as though there’s got to be some fire as well, but it’s also worth noting that Jeff Gorton is under no obligation to do any of this before re-signing Jacob Trouba. Once that happens, then other dominoes can fall.

With that said, I buy out Staal because he’s cooked and, if you’re trying to be competitive this season, keeping Kreider is preferable to trading him unless you get roughly equivalent value, which you probably can’t.

Kevin asks: “What is the best case for Columbus if the goalies are good?”

I guess it depends how we’re defining “good,” but for my money right now it’s the worst tandem in the league. Joonas Korpisalo is an .893 goaltender over the last TWO seasons, and Elvis Merzlikins has never played in North America.

Even if you think Merzlikins, who’s 25, has a future in the league, putting it on him to be good in his first season against NHL talent is a big ask. So “good” relative to expectations would be, “maybe around league average” and if that’s the case I can see Columbus being a borderline playoff team as an absolute best-case scenario.

They were a borderline playoff team last season with plenty of elite talent. Now they have considerably less and, as I’ve said before, Gus Nyquist doesn’t paper over that problem. I honestly think Columbus is a good darkhorse bet for “bottom five team in the league” if the goaltending goes as sideways as I think it might. I don’t know what’s going on over there, but this team took a big hit and doesn’t seem like it’s in a good position to recover.

Brodie asks: “Who’ll have the better season, Smith or Anisimov?”

Probably Smith because he’ll have some talent around him. But they are both quite bad.

Smith has been below replacement level each of the last three seasons, Anisimov each of the last two, and he was so bad then that he wiped out the positives of 2016-17; his overall WAR for those last three years was comparable to Smith’s.

But as far as Ottawa is concerned Anisimov has to have the better season because he costs less money and that’s all they care about.

Tyler asks: “What's more valuable to the Flames, Sam Bennett's cap space or Sam Bennett?”

The problem Flames fans have with Sam Bennett is that he has not lived up to the hype promised by his rookie season (18-18-36 as a teenager) or his draft position (fourth overall in 2014, well ahead of guys like Willy Nylander, Nik Ehlers, Dylan Larkin, and so on). Also, he had a really bad season in 2017-18, which I thought he recovered ably from last season in a more limited role.

Like, Bennett is a below-average NHLer but he is still an NHL player who can help your power play a bit and won’t get buried at 5-on-5 if you use him right. The question becomes what that is worth to you. If he wants a raise from his $1.95-million AAV — and he probably does because that’s how this works — then he’s not going to be worth that deal. But if you can get that number to stay even or even drop a little bit, I don’t see a problem with him as a bottom-sixer who can play on your second power play unit.

That said, the Flames are tight against the cap because of that Neal contract and what they’re going to have to give Matt Tkachuk (basically all of the $9 million in space they currently carry) so yeah, probably the cap space.

Jonathan asks: “Should the whole Pacific Division be jumping up and down ecstatic that Seattle picked Ron Francis as GM?”

I know Francis has a bad rep now that he got fired from Carolina and the team was bad under him and he didn’t hire Rod Brind’Amour, but I’m trying to remember who acquired, drafted, and developed almost all the guys who were big contributors to last season’s run to the Conference Finals and why the team looks so well-positioned for the future as well.

One person suggested to me he’s taking credit for what AGM Eric Tulsky did and that reads to me, a) like internet smart guy stuff; like whenever the Maple Leafs under Lou Lamoriello made a good deal it was Dubas’s idea and whenever they made a bad one, it was Lou’s, and b) besides the point.

The reason Francis works as a hire in Seattle is that, because of how closely he worked with Tulsky et al, he has a feel for the “language” of advanced stats and all that sort of thing. He’s familiar with it, he understands it, etc., and that’s probably why Alexandra Mandrycky and Co. made the decision to bring him aboard.

A lot of times, these decisions are made by committee, and the GM can either accept that or not. That’s the way it is in Carolina. Francis is just the guy who gets the big check and picks up the phone to make a trade call. Frankly, given all the potential options for a GM hire, I was worried they’d go with a Dave Nonis type. I don’t want to say they hit the ball out of the park with Francis, but it feels like a solid line drive to the gap.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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