NHL Mailbag: Which star is ready to break out in the new year?

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Ryan Lambert
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GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 19: Taylor Hall #91 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the NHL game against the Minnesota Wild at Gila River Arena on December 19, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Wild defeated the Coyotes 8-5. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA -Taylor Hall is among the NHL stars that are looking forward to a fresh start in the new year. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

We’re now in the Christmas break and things have changed a lot in the last month.

The Oilers went from being near the top of the league to being, well, the Oilers. The Bruins have not looked good. The Avs and Golden Knights are rising. The Leafs have fully figured it out. You can go on like this.

Other things are still the same: Spots 3-5 in the Metro are a total coinflip, Bobrovsky is improving but still given to the occasional “5 allowed on 35,” the Red Wings would still need overtime to win if the other team never came out for the third period, etc.

So yeah, let’s see where we’re at before we have a nice little Christmas.

Let’s go:

Mitchell asks: “Of all the stars who have struggled to produce so far this season, who do you think will pop off the most in 2020?”

Johnny Gaudreau seems like an obvious candidate, as he only has 10 goals this season and is shooting less than 10 percent right now. Mikael Backlund is even worse off on this front.

Speaking of which, Joe Thornton doesn’t have a goal and only 12 assists, though he might be a lost cause on this one because the team is bad and he’s 58.

But I think the obvious answer to this question is Taylor Hall, who’s shooting under 6 percent and is, y’know, Taylor Hall. New team, more help, etc., should all get him going. Another former Oiler, Jordan Eberle, is in the same boat with three goals in 25 games so far.

Andy asks: “How much of a case does (read as ‘should’ since he’s a winger) Teuvo Teravainen have for the Selke?”

Little to none. He’s not even the best defensive forward on his own team. Teravainen is certainly an exceptional penalty killer but his 5-on-5 play leaves a lot to be desired here. In total, I would say you’re more looking at Jordan Staal as the elite shutdown guy on that team, although he’s had less success on the PK.

The twins had their top-five recently and while you might have a few quibbles here and there I’d say that’s solid (for me, Connor Brown is a no-thanks, and Anders Bjork doesn’t have the games played right now). I’d throw in a PE Bellemare and JT Miller, personally.

Of course, the fact that Teravainen is a point-a-game-player right now will certainly have him in the conversation, but he wouldn’t be on my ballot.

Christopher asks: “Is there anything to be said for the Tampa fans advocating to fire Cooper midseason or should I continue to pay them no mind?”

Like I said last week, I get it because something has to change and everyone on the roster has no-trade protections. But the questions to ask yourself when making a change behind the bench, in the front office, on the roster, etc., are:

1) What is our goal?

2) Will this new person be an improvement on who they’re replacing?

I don’t know how many coaches you can find who would be better than him, but sometimes you do just need to change the voice and it doesn’t matter how good the guy is. Look at Bruce Boudreau, who wins everywhere he goes but wears out his welcome. Look at Barry Trotz. Look at Pete DeBoer. There are plenty of guys like that, so there’s definitely a case.

But at the end of the day the Bolts are playing about as well as they did last year but their percentages stink. Unless the new coach comes in going “Hey Andrei, try making a save,” and that works, there are bigger issues. But I definitely understand the sentiment at this point.

Duxfan asks: “Will Bob Murray trade anyone or does he ‘still believe in this core group?’”

This core group stinks!

The problem is that outside of a few guys who are just coming out of their primes almost everyone who would normally be a trade candidate and has any value has at least some trade protection.

I wouldn’t be so eager to trade Rakell or Kase just because they’re going to be good for a while, and the same is obviously true of Hampus Lindholm. Those guys are between 24 and 26. If someone makes a great offer, sure, consider it, but otherwise maybe see what those guys can give you when the younger folks like Troy Terry, Sam Steel, etc. are all in their prime years.

You’d love to trade Getzlaf (no-move), Fowler (26-team no-trade list), Miller (24-team), Silfverberg or Manson (12-team), Henrique (10-team), but you can’t, or the market is limited. Those are not only your out-of-their-prime guys, they’re also mostly signed at least one more season and the big-ticket earners. You get those guys off your roster and you’re in good shape to speed up the rebuild.

Point is: Murray has to believe in this core because he’s probably stuck with it for awhile.

Jeremy asks: “Where do you think the Winter Classic should be the next couple of years?”

Carolina seems like an obvious, easy answer. I’d like one in Colorado, too, even though they recently had a Stadium Series game. Bet it would be cool to have the Islanders host one at Belmont, but attendance might be an issue.

People are gonna say your Minnesotas or Vegases, too. Those would be fine with me as well but Carolina is my No. 1 just because I think the team is so fun and nice.

Anderson asks: “Who will Steve Yzerman replace Blashill with when the time comes? Is he waiting for Cooper to get canned?”

Because of all the coaching changes this year, there are actually a few good candidates who might want the job provided Yzerman can carpet-bomb the roster to make it either cheap and bad or expensive and good.

That’ll take a lot of doing, obviously, but doesn’t a DeBoer or Hynes make at least some sense there? There are a couple more coaches or the chopping block right now, like Laviolette, who could work as well. They could also go internal and just hire Dan Bylsma.

If the Wings want to spend a bit of money on this, there are plenty of options. But with that said: “What’s our goal?” kinda means you don’t throw a ton of money at Babcock or someone like that, and “Is he going to do better?” isn’t hard to answer. This team would be absolutely awful with in-his-prime Scotty Bowman behind the bench. This ain’t a Blashill problem it’s a Holland problem. Except not really, since he’s in Edmonton now because of how bad he made the situation in Detroit.

So yeah, make the change or don’t make the change. I don’t think it matters much for another year or two at least.

Shawn asks: “If the Oilers miss playoffs again, will McDavid ask for a trade?”


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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