NHL mailbag: Karlsson, Canucks and a retro jersey wishlist

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/4491/" data-ylk="slk:Erik Karlsson">Erik Karlsson</a> trade rumours have picked up steam. (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Erik Karlsson trade rumours have picked up steam. (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Though the rumors — maybe a bit silly but here we are — of Vancouver kicking the tires on Erik Karlsson seemed to cause some intrigue yesterday, it seems most people are still firmly focused on the coming season.

One imagines that Vancouver is doing what any smart team with a bunch of picks and prospects would do: Weigh its options. One also wonders why Vancouver, after months of Karlsson being pretty openly available, would only start kicking the tires now, in mid-August but hey maybe they thought the price would come down.

Anyway, that was a mild distraction and mostly people just want to know what’s gonna happen next season because we can’t all be in the “Trading a king’s ransom for Erik Karlsson before he refuses to sign an extension and goes to Tampa on July 1” business.

So let’s figure it out:

Mike asks: “What established starting goalie other than Pekka Rinne is most likely to lose his job this year?”

Well Rinne was the easy answer here and I was looking forward to saying that one and calling it a day.

But OK. Obviously it looks like Colorado is ramping up to replace Semyon Varlamov with Philipp Grubauer at some point. Varlamov — and this is a thing that kind of snuck up on me — is already 30 and in the final year of his contract, and Grubauer’s a little old to be a pure backup at 26. If Varlamov can’t stay healthy, I can easily see Grubauer getting the No. 1 job and never giving it up again.

Other guys you say, maybe Cam Talbot (hips ground into dust), Roberto Luongo (older than dust), maybe Jacob Markstrom (if you want to call him an established starter, which…) but for the most part the league is teams where there’s no clear, long-term No. 1 or teams where the No. 1 isn’t being challenged.

But like I said, Rinne is the clear choice here. For making it harder on me, I will see you in hell.

Morgan asks: “Is Vancouver’s prospect pool really as improved as they say it is or is it another case of every fan thinks their team has the best prospects?”

Improved compared to when? Because it’s pretty good right now and a few years ago it wasn’t.

Obviously, as I’ve discussed before, Jim Benning saying the team has a half-dozen Grade-A prospects is an insane instance of the standard-issue overrating every team and fanbase does of its own players. But with that having been said, you gotta keep in mind that the trio of Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and Elias Petterson alone is potentially franchise-changing if Petterson sticks in the middle of the ice, plus having lower-level (but still good) young contributors like Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette really helps.

If Thatcher Demko can be an NHL goalie, that seems to put them in a pretty good position, for me.

Over at The Athletic, prospects-knower extraordinaire Corey Pronman has them in the top-seven in the league (at least … as of this writing he’s up to No. 8 and hasn’t gotten to Vancouver yet) and that feels about right. In his 2015 ranking, Pronman had Vancouver 15th. So that’s a sizable step forward, and I guess that’s where drafting high for three years straight gets you.

Kolby asks: “Wouldn’t Colorado be the best fit for a Karlsson trade? They’re actually on the rise, they could use a right-handed D like him, and *maybe* Ottawa could get that first-rounder back.”

I disagree with a few key points here.

Is Colorado actually “on the rise?” I dunno. They made the playoffs last year (by a single point) and needed an MVP-type performance from Nathan MacKinnon to do it. They certainly have some good young players but I’m not sold on this group being a playoff team as a going concern quite yet. Obviously if they add Karlsson without giving up too much from the current roster, that changes a lot for them, but as it stands right now, ehh.

Second, every team in the league could use a right-handed D like Karlsson because he’s the best defenseman alive. Even if you have the second-best right-handed D in the league (and who is that? Doughty or Subban probably?), Karlsson is an upgrade by definition.

Finally, I would have to think that any Colorado-Ottawa trade for Karlsson would necessarily require the Sens getting their own pick back. Why do it otherwise?

I still think the “best fit” is Vegas because they have a great prospect pool (if relatively shallow, because of their age as a franchise), almost closed the same deal last year, and all the cap space in the world to add Karlsson both now and going forward.

If you’re Pierre Dorion and you’re looking at competing offers of the other team’s two best prospects, third-best roster defenseman, and a first-round pick, it seems to me like Vegas is the choice, maybe narrowly.

CF asks: “What team of the bubble group of CBJ, FLA, NJD, and PHI gets left out of the playoffs next year and which team has the best chance of separating themselves from the pack?”

I don’t love New Jersey getting back into the playoffs here, and I’ve said a bunch of times that I really like Florida to overtake them there. As with Colorado last year, the Devils’ success was highly dependent on an MVP performance from an elite forward and also Keith Kinkaid inexplicably going off. Hard to see those conditions coming together again as they did last year.

That said, Columbus has some very real potential to be a 100-point team if guys can stay healthy and all that stuff.

In order of “likelihood to make it,” then: CBJ, FLA, PHI, NJD.

Brandon asks: “How would you rank the pillars of a good hockey team? Is a top center most important? Goalie? No. 1 defenseman?”

When was the last time a team won a Cup without at least two of those things? It’s been a long time. But even the ones that occasionally win with just one of them all have a clear No. 1 center, and usually an elite one.

The Pens won without a defense a couple years ago. Chicago and Detroit won without a goalie. But go down the list in the salary cap era and tell me a team that didn’t win without a No. 1 center. Carolina had Staal, Detroit had Datsyuk, Pittsburgh had Crosby (three times), Chicago had Toews (three times), Boston had Bergeron, L.A. had Kopitar (twice), Washington had Kuznetsov and Backstrom.

The only outlier is that Anaheim had Andy McDonald. That’s the team I’d say bucks the trend here, but they also had two all-time elite, Hall of Fame defensemen, so…

Also worth noting that any goalie can have two and a half good or even elite months and get there. Look what Vegas almost did this year.

In order of importance, I’d probably go top center, top defenseman, top goalie.

Dog asks: “Early Hobey prediction(s)?”

First of all, thank you for asking a college hockey question. Second of all, I’ll give you five real solid candidates and maybe one or two dark horses.

The four guys off the top of my head — unless any of them signed recently and I missed it — in alphabetical order, are Western Michigan’s Wade Allison (if he can stay healthy), Colorado College’s Nick Halloran, Michigan’s Quinn Hughes, and Ohio State’s Mason Jobst. One other guy who I had to think about a bit but got there eventually who I also think has a real good chance if his team is halfway decent: Princeton’s Max Verroneau.

That’s a good tentative top five, I think, but I’d throw two other guys into longer-shot odds. BU’s Patrick Harper, if he’s healthy and has some decent linemates this year, has the talent level to put up a ton of points. Likewise, if former No. 4 pick Cale Makar can take a step with UMass Amherst’s should-be-improved offense, I can see him getting into the conversation as well.

Tom asks: “What retro jersey would you want to see most as a team’s third jersey this year?”

I wish the Ducks were doing a straight-up Mighty Ducks throwback jersey instead of the crappy hybrid they’re going with. I also really want just a regular Fisherman jersey for the Isles. Those are criminally underrated.

All the other good retros are already rumored to be coming back: psychedelic Coyotes, red-and-yellow Flames, Christmas tree Devils. Hell yeah on all those.

I’d also like to see Buffalo go back to their early-90s jerseys but they are too afraid of people liking them or something I think.

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

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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