NHL Mailbag: Which player is under most pressure this season?

Yahoo Sports Canada

For what feels like the fifth time this summer, it’s been a weirdly active news week. Not that I’m complaining or anything, because it’s a lot better than combing through some AHL signings looking for anything interesting at all (“The Flames signed Johnny Gaudreau’s brother who was in the ECHL last year!”).

So hey, lots to talk about this week. It’s Aug. 22 so I’ll take what I can get.

Let’s go:

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Dominic asks: “Over/under on how many times the Canucks make playoffs over the next four years with Jim Benning as GM is 1.5. What are you picking?”

I think I gotta take the over, but the potential lockout certainly complicates things. By 2021-22, many of this team’s problem contracts will be off the books (not Loui Eriksson, though!). And guys like Bo Horvat, JT Miller, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko will be in or just barely out of their prime years. Plus a number of the other promising young guys they’ve drafted along the way here (Juolevi, Woo, Lind, DiPietro etc.) will be NHL-ready or already established.

Of course, some of this is contingent on the idea that Benning would be smart enough not to throw away the loads of cap space he’ll get back in the next two summers on equally bad free-agent signings to the ones he’d be offloading. Maybe that’s naïve.

Still, I feel like you’d have to screw up harder than even Benning is capable of to keep a team like that out of eighth in the West at least twice, especially as perennial playoff teams like Nashville or San Jose age.

Stuart asks: “Which player has the most pressure on him this season?”

Apart from the obvious like all the RFA holdout guys or Connor McDavid or something, I think the obvious answer is probably Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers spent big overall this summer and I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that with better goaltending they’re a playoff team last year.

So the fact that Bobrovsky pulled $10 million in AAV out of the club makes him the guy with the most pressure. Even if he’s average, that might not be good enough for the money, or the perception and expectation that comes with the money.

Everyone down there is ready for that team to be great next year, and seem to have forgotten they’re also in the most competitive division in hockey, so tough bounce for Bob there.

Bobrovsky (second from left) has a big contract to live up to. (Charles Trainor/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Bobrovsky (second from left) has a big contract to live up to. (Charles Trainor/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)

Rob asks: “Does Guerin have the stones to do what’s required in Minnesota?”

For me it’s maybe not a question of whether he has the stones, but whether he has the authority. Would Craig Leipold let him get away with trading Parise and Suter? Maybe. But both those guys have no-move clauses. Would Leipold let the effort go even further into a full tear-down rebuild? The Athletic says the Wild have one of the 10-worst farm systems in the league and they have a thoroughly mediocre NHL roster.

So if you want to see this team get better, I don’t really see that as a “sometime soon” thing unless Guerin is a master trader, which I guess is possible but seems unlikely.

Anyway, to answer your question: The Wild better hope so.

Kyle asks: “What’s the last Stanley Cup-winning team that didn’t owe their success in large part to sucking long enough to stockpile talent? Is that a repeatable formula today?”

Maybe you’d say the 2011 Bruins? Apart from Tyler Seguin, who was something of a bit player on that team, and backup-era Tuukka Rask, I don’t think they drafted anyone particularly high. They had a couple later-round picks hit pretty big (not even David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron were first-round picks) but a huge chunk of their talent was actually acquired via free agency and trade.

Even Blake Wheeler, who was a fifth-overall pick and got traded midway through the season came to them after refusing to sign with the Coyotes out of college.

Some people might also say the Blues this year. They were never really, really bad except for when they got Alex Pietrangelo, but they were picking in the middle of the first round and trading talent to get picks a lot. So it’s definitely one of those two.

And as to whether it’s repeatable, even if we’re giving it to the Blues (which I’m dubious about) it’s still a once-every-eight-years thing in the modern NHL. So I’m gonna say no.

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Brodie asks: “Can Ken Holland make some more moves to turn things around in Edmonton?”

I think you might have to take this season as another lost cause, but man you get the chance to start fresh in 2020. The Oilers have all but 10 guys coming off the books this summer, and if you can move Kris Russell at the deadline that number drops to nine, but he has a partial no-trade. If you decide to buy out James Neal (definitely do that) it’s eight. Though if you think they keep Jesse Puljujarvi, it’s back up to nine.

That gives him a group of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, (Puljujarvi?), Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and Mikko Koskinen. Once they re-sign the RFAs that year, they’ll also have Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning as legit NHL contributors. Not bad.

Larsson and Nugent-Hopkins will be on expiring deals and I guess that’s life, but it gives you a lot of roster flexibility and money to work with. Let’s just hope he doesn’t trade for Justin Abdelkader.

Shaun asks: “Would you love it or hate it if all the big name RFAs held out until December?”

I guess it would be pretty funny but overall I’d miss all those guys playing for two months to come anywhere near “loving it.” So it would be bad. Probably won’t happen, so that’s nice.

Tyler asks: “Who are the top overlooked tank candidates for the rich 2020 draft?”

I’m gonna say to you three teams and people will probably be mad about them, but here goes: The Sabres, Oilers, and Blue Jackets.

I don’t think you really even need much explanation here. All these teams have dangerously low floors and not particularly high ceilings. A big injury here, an unexpectedly bad goaltending season there, and hoo boy these guys are in trouble. Not that I think any of them are particularly likely to completely bottom out, but not one would surprise me, either.

Neil asks: “How many points will Marner score in Switzerland next year?”

Well they play like a 50-game season over there so I’m gonna say 125 if he does the full year for some reason.

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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