NHL Mailbag: Which fanbase should be most afraid in coming weeks?

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Scott Laughton is an RFA this summer. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Scott Laughton is an RFA this summer. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

This is the best week on the NHL calendar bar none. So many decisions are being made right now — many of them absolutely insane — and a lot more will come before the first round of the draft ends on Friday night. I’m so excited, and so are a lot of other people. So now we sort through the potential wreckage of the next few days together.

Let’s go:

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Billy asks: “Who does Vegas trade away to create cap space and what’s the return?”

It’s starting to look like one of them is David Clarkson, and they would be wise to make sure Cody Eakin and Ryan Reaves get gone, too. That frees up almost $12 million in cap space, and maybe puts them $11ish million under the cap.

They probably need to free up more than that, though, and that’s where things get tough. Most of the high-cost players on their team either have full or limited power over where they go (Stone, Pacioretty, Stastny, Smith, Marchessault, Schmidt, Fleury), or are valuable in ways that make dealing them unwise (Tuch, Theodore). That probably leaves you with Colin Miller as your only legit wide-open trade option.

And for a team that needs to re-sign William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek, and Malcolm Subban as RFAs, and probably a run at Nikita Gusev to get him out of the KHL, cap space is crucial. Gusev theoretically makes one of those high-cost forwards disposable, so that’s probably where you go with it. Smith seems like the most likely candidate to go.

But the return, then, can’t be that much in terms of what they actually cost against the cap. Maybe it can’t be anything. Picks and prospects seem like the most desirable thing for Vegas, above and beyond the cap space. I think Reilly Smith probably gets you a good amount even with the understanding of the cap situation as is.

JR asks: “Is there any chance Duchene gets $10-million AAV?”

Probably not because that’s an insane number, and so is the $9.5 million rumor circulating right now. But would I be shocked to see him get $8.5 million or even $9 million? I would not. Did you see what Kevin Hayes just got? Duchene is certainly better than him (though also older) and that’s the kind of contract that sets the market. Seems like prices will be high this summer, despite the cap increase being smaller than expected.

Rich asks: “How do you feel about the fast-track-but-legit rebuild the Rangers are pulling off?”

Can it really be called a fast-track rebuild given that they don’t have a single high-end forward on the roster right now? I like Adam Fox, but he’s a rookie. I like Jacob Trouba a ton, but he’s not going to be the one filling the net.

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad are good forwards. A couple other guys like Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and Pavel Buchnevich look like they could become that, but you need a few high-high-high-end forwards in this league, and I don’t see a ton of those — beyond Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko (probably Kakko) — getting dropped into the lineup next season.

I know I’m not allowed to say I’m not hyped about Vitali Kravtsov like everyone else is, but he doesn’t quite strike me as the high-end prospect some people think. Yes he played on a bad team so his production suffered, but he also only scored eight goals in 50 games, which I’m dubious about. And, more importantly for the Rangers, even if he’s the next Artemi Panarin, there’s only one of him.

So let’s pump the brakes on “They’re pulling it off” for now, even if everything is definitely moving in the right direction under Jeff Gorton.

Gabriel asks: “Based on career points to date and the aging curve of their stars, is it possible that no one from the 2019 Blues will make the Hockey Hall of Fame?”

It’s possible, yeah, but Vladimir Tarasenko is only 27 and has scored 30-plus goals each of the last five seasons, and does well in international competition. If he keeps it up for another three or four years, I can see an argument for him.

Same goes for Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo, though I think both would probably get in on the basis of being Canadian rather than being two of, say, the six or seven best defensemen of their era. They’re both really good and Pietrangelo in particular is heavily decorated internationally (gold at World Junior, the World Cup, and the Olympics). Parayko could get there as well with a little more recognition coming out of this Cup Final, where he was the Blues’ star on the back end.

Everyone else? Eh, not so much.

Andrew asks: “In the upcoming weeks of NHL madness, what fanbase should be most excited? Which should be scared?”

Most excited should be the Rangers because it seems like they have a few more irons in the fire and Gorton has, as mentioned above, done just about everything right so far. They’re also well positioned to take a run at some quality free agents.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I think the only positive for the Flyers is that they’ve torched most of the ample cap space they had coming into the offseason. They still have like $22 million to spend, but a bunch of that will (hopefully) go to RFAs. Otherwise, their fans should be real frightened about another shoe or two dropping.

Duxfan asks: “Is any team dumb enough to trade for Perry?”

This question got asked before the buyout was announced, but it’s worth talking about Perry having completely hit a wall and what utility he might have to the next team that signs him at a potentially steep discount.

Can Perry still play in the NHL? Maybe he’s a lower-end guy but I’m really not convinced he can keep up at his age and speed. He only played 31 games last season and did almost nothing with them, and there’s been a steep decline in his value over the last few years (from 5.9 goals above replacement to 5.2 to 1.8 to minus-3.4) and now he’s 34.

The good news is you can probably get him somewhat cheaply since the Ducks will be cutting him a big check, but it would have to be a low-risk, one-year deal to convince me it’s worth pursuing. I think he’s just cooked. It happens.

Brandon asks: “How would you re-draft the 2017 top five today?”

If we’re just going by best player available, it’s pretty easy: Pettersson, Heiskanen, Hischier, Makar, Patrick.

If we’re drafting for need, flip Hischier and Heiskanen because Philly doesn’t need more very good young defenders. Especially since they have to make room for all those “tough assignment” 32-year-olds who cost $5 million against the cap.

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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