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Morning Skate: A Rift in Sochi?

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

From: Janet Eagleson

To: Dan Pennucci

Sent: Wednesday, March 12

Subject: Moscow on the Potomac

First off, let's just thank our lucky stars that Rich Peverley is still alive. The footage of team staff carrying him by the hands and feet back the hallway toward paramedics and medical staff was stunning. I'm glad they postponed the game -- it shook everyone to the core. I heard that Alex Chiasson was treated at hospital for anxiety because of it. I'm honestly surprised there weren't more guys in that same situation. Your life tends to flash in front of your face when someone else's actually does. It sure puts things in perspective.

Talking about perspective, I want to send RotoWire's condolences to the family and friends of junior player Terry Trafford of the Saginaw Spirit. He went missing March 3 after being sent home from the team and his body was found in his truck. There's more to life than hockey, but that's not always the case for some. It's a tragic day.

Moving on. I saw P.A. Parenteau's name flash across the IR wire. He's gone for four-to-six weeks. Paul Stastny is also out with a wonky back. The Avs look secure in a playoff position, but what kind of impact will the absence of these two guys have on them and their seeding?

What do you make of the possible rift between Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin? Is there fire under that smoke? The Olympics showed those two have zero chemistry and Malkin said the same after Monday's game. The Russians sure looked like a team full of individuals. Maybe there is something to the idea of a rift.

So, Evgeny Kuznetzov, stud or stiff? I saw part of the Caps-Pens game Tuesday and there he was with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But I didn't see the fit -- did you? And what's the over-under on Braden Holtby starting five more games this season? Is he still their goalie of the future?

Lastly, who are your three nominees for the Hart trophy? Is Phil Kessel on your list? Take a look at his impact on his team and you'll see that the team has only won five games when he hasn't gotten a point. He's on a tear right now and while he certainly won't win -- although that acceptance speech would be priceless -- I think he deserves some consideration. And it's not because I'm a homer.

From: Dan Pennucci

To: Janet Eagleson

Sent: Thursday, March 13

Subject: The Hart Of The Matter

That scene in Dallas was scary. It brought me back to the Jiri Fischer game and when Kari Lehtonen collapsed on ice while he was still with Atlanta. That Saginaw story was Some events will put things in perspective.

On to hockey.

Two Russians not getting along. I am utterly shocked. I don't want to believe all the stereotypes about Russians players, but sometimes they're unavoidable. That said, those two weren't the only Russian players who looked like they couldn't mesh in Sochi. They do appear selfish at times and not entirely committed to the team game, but it does get overblown. The players on that Olympic team are utterly skilled. I wonder how much would be made of the situation were it two Canadian stars talking about how they can't play with one another.

Staying in Washington and Russian players perceived to be showboats, Kuznetsov and his 2012 World Junior "showboating" are now in the NHL. I saw some high-end skill from him in the bits of Washington's two futile efforts against Pittsburgh, I just don't know if it will make the Caps any better. I've long held the position that scoring isn't the issue in Washington. Systematically, they have trouble defending and allow too many shots from high-traffic areas and it's a reason why Jaroslav Halak won't do terribly well there. It's not that he isn't good, but playing in front of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Barrett Jackman will cover up a few more holes than Washington's second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green. Halak bolts at season's end for a better team and Washington doesn't make the playoffs. As for Holtby, sure, he's Washington's future, but it won't matter.

I looked up some of those stats about Phil Kessel, and it's a great point, but you're right, he won't get the consideration he deserves. It's been enjoyable watching him all season and you get the sense that he can literally change a game whenever he has the puck with how he blows through the neutral zone and fires off that disgustingly quick shot. The Leafs won't get enough respect due to the "lucky to win" tag they've inherited over the last two years based on the hockey metrics that point to that outcome.

I tend to look at the Hart and most valuable as where the team would be without that player, so it was Martin St. Louis until last week.

1. Ryan Getzlaf- Not a sexy pick, but he's been a beast on one of the league's best teams. Who's Anaheim's No. 2 center? Exactly.

2. Jonathan Quick- The Kings are not exactly lighting up the scoreboard. Quick has been outstanding in keeping this team relevant and among contenders in the bitter Western Conference.

3. Tyler Seguin- Sure, he's binged a few games, but Dallas is a playoff team right now and Seguin has been outstanding. Sure, Jamie Benn is there too, but Seguin has shown the type of talent he has in being seemingly unstoppable at times for a club most expected to be on the outside looking in. That said, there’s as much an argument for Benn.

But let's face it, Sidney Crosby is going to get the award.

There are a handful of players who won't get as much consideration as they should, either because of the team they're on or there are too many good players on their team, such as: David Backes, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, Zach Parise, Blake Wheeler (Jets are near the playoffs, still can't believe that), Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski.

The Avs looked fine on Wednesday against Chicago thanks to man-child Matt Duchene. Nine-game points streak for him, even more impressive with Stastny and Parenteau out of the lineup. Considering what Nathan MacKinnon has done this season and Landeskog-O'Reilly, the Avs can weather it without those two, but it won't last. Obviously, MacKinnon lit up the CHL for Halifax and it's clear why he was the No. 1 pick, but were you expecting this level of production?

Speaking of Anahiem- not the Ducks' best stretch this week with losses to Tronna and Calgary. They'll figure it out, but I was surprised to see Wednesday's 7-2 loss to the Flames.

-Watching the Columbus-Sharks game right now and the Jackets are an easy team to root for, even if the Devils are chasing them. The Sport Coats have character, grit and Goalie Bob. Convince me why Columbus shouldn't scare the East's "elite?" (ie: Boston).

-Which trades have been paying off so far? Failing to work? It's only been a week, but Ryan Miller has not lost in regulation for the Blues and the Tim Thomas deal looks more and more sage every day. Tuomo Ruutu is showing great chemistry with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac too.

From: Janet Eagleson

To: Dan Pennucci

Sent: Thursday, March 13

Subject: Mac and Tim

Nathan MacKinnon? No way I thought he'd deliver the way he has this early. But there is something to be said about Patrick Roy's handling of that team. I think he deserves consideration for the Jack Adams trophy as best coach. He "gets" young players, but isn't afraid to be in anyone's face (much like he was as a player). He's been far more restrained than I ever thought -- he looks like a saint compared to Torts. And he has figured out how to get Semyon Varlamov to focus after his personal issues and a miserable Olympics -- that guy came out after the Games and he was flying. MacKinnon has been deployed the right way -- he wasn't tossed to the hounds as a team savior, but was instead allowed to learn the ropes on a lower line. This guy has a bright, bright future. I had Jonathan Drouin ahead of him on my draft list. Not any more.

Columbus will scare someone in the playoffs -- hey, they might even do the thing the Leafs couldn't last season. But their lunch bucket approach will only go so far. They don't have the elite offensive players who can split a seam and change a game in a fraction of a second. But then again, the East is a real crapshoot at this point. Boston and Pittsburgh are the class of the conference, but any of a half-dozen teams could theoretically catch lightning in a bottle. I wouldn't bet on Columbus, but I wouldn't bet against them, either. But does it really matter? Any one of six teams in the West is better than anything the East can offer. #roadkill

Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo have to be the most talked-about trades of them all. And the Marian Gaborik move to the Kings give them multi-line depth, just in time for a potentially long playoff push. But the Stars are looking mighty smart for flipping Dan Ellis for Gunrack and Freedom Tim Thomas. Honestly, the Stars are Texas toast without that move. That's the deal of the deadline for me, followed closely by the two that sewed up Edmonton's goalie problems. Now all they need is Aaron Ekblad, Darnell Nurse and two top-four veterans on the back end. But that's like finding a unicorn with a leprechaun beside a pot of gold.

Tell me what you think of Nail Yakupov's future. He has 95-point skill and a 10-cent head. Zero commitment to own-zone play. Plus he actually thinks he can get by on skill. Sadly, I don't think he actually has elite skill -- good and maybe great, but not elite. I don't think the Oilers can get what they need for him in a trade. Do you? Or do they need to package him in a bigger deal to get their stud defender? If so, what does that look like and who are they targeting? I have to tell you I'm kicking myself for trading Kevin Shattenkirk after his rookie year for the right to draft Nail the fail.

Now inspired by Nail -- rank these guys for keeper value over the next three seasons and tell me why. Do not factor in this season, but start with 2014-15. No special scoring categories.

Tyler Ennis, Jaden Schwartz and Brandon Saad

Morgan Reilly, Tyson Barrie and Justin Schultz

John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin

Jonathan Bernier, Ben Bishop and Semyon Varlamov

Eric Staal, Jordan Staal or Marc Staal

And a parting shot, can Cam Ward recover his career or has his best before date already passed?

From: Dan Pennucci

To: Janet Eagleson

Sent: Friday, March 14

Subject: Oil Bust

To your point about Columbus and it not mattering who comes out of the East. I'm beginning to think the NHL should just put Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose, Colorado, Anaheim and St. Louis (Boston too I suppose) and let them play a round robin followed by the top four teams advancing to a playoff round. I've long stated this season that somehow, the Eastern Conference will have eight playoff teams. These will not be eight viable playoff teams, but the laws nonetheless guarantee eight playoff teams.

Yakupov won't get nearly what the Oilers paid for him. No one's going to give up a viable young defenseman for him. I can see maybe a pick or two for Yakupov, especially with the stigma against Russians. As for your trade of Shattenkirk for Yakupov, it's only slightly worse than the actual Shattenkirk-Chris Stewart for Erik Johnson trade. Yakupov lit up the league in the final month last season but it seems like he's been messed around with in Edmonton, not handling him too well. He's going to be tagged as damaged as won't get a fair return for the Oilers considering his skill.

Now to your list...

Jaden Schwarz in St. Louis. I'm going to list him first as he seems to have less of a block to top scoring chances and less of a star-studded team along with him. I've long been a fan of Tyler Ennis but he's buried in Buffalo despite being a top forward. Saad is a highly skilled player and will have plenty of chances in Chicago, but the Hawks tend to spread the puck out a bit too much. Schwartz, Saad, Ennis.

Justin Schultz worries me simply because he'll be eating minutes on the league's worst defensive team. I like Barrie on the Avs but I'll drink the Morgan Rielly Kool-Aid. Kid has some serious skill. That said, pure offensive production: Schultz, Barrie, Rielly. Barrie could be the lone man dishing the puck to Duchene, Landeskog etc but Schultz has some more gifted offensive mates. This one is too much of a push, but if it were five years, I'd take Rielly. I like what he will do in Tronna.

Considering Stamkos is the league's best pure scorer I'm still going with him in a few years, but I'll have no qualms about taking Tavares over Malkin. Tavares has amazed me simply because he's been able to produce in relative obscurity and with just one solid linemate in Matt Moulson. In 2011-12, Tavares played close to a point-per-game in a season where the Isles were shut out 10 times. Stamkos, Tavares, Malkin.

The goalies I'm looking purely from a team perspective and it has to be Varlamov with what the Avs have done this season and how solid they are defensively. Bernier is in a system which scares me, but I've learned from the Toronto media that allowing a lot of shots doesn't mean anything. Bishop and the Bolts are going to be a competitive team in the Eastern Conference for a few years coming. Varlamov, Bishop, Bernier.

If Marc Staal would produce more offensively and not get his bell rung, I'd put him atop this list. Eric is still the choice of the Thunder Bay boys, as I can't see Jordan putting up 25-plus goals again. Change of mind...I'll gamble: Marc, Eric, Jordan.

If you asked me before the trade deadline, I would have said Cam Ward's best days are behind him. He had a hell of a run in keeping Carolina competitive, but this team hasn't made the playoffs in five seasons, soon to be six. He's had some strong outings in the last week, but it seems like his time in Raleigh is over.

Your lightning round....fantasy perspective only

Nick Bjugstad or Mikael Granlund

Michael Stone or Hampus Lindholm

Nathan MacKinnon or Valeri Nichushkin

Gustav Nyquist or Thomas Hertl

Brendan Smith or Reilly Smith

Ben Scrivens or Eddie Lack

From: Janet Eagleson

To: Dan Pennucci

Sent: Sunday, March 16

Subject: Lightning Rounds

Oh boy -- you've tossed out some good ones.

I was ready to say Nick Bjugstad, but that didn't really feel right. Both he and Mikael Granlund have similar top ends with elite goal-scoring ability (90 points, 30-35 goals). I think Granlund will have slightly more output over a three-year keeper window. I'd target Granlund in a trade, but only because I think that people will perceive him to have a slightly-lower cost -- Bjugstad is getting a lot of attention.

Michael Stone and Hampus Lindholm -- that decision isn't quite as easy. I will pick Lindholm; he's a complete stud. But Stone has similar offensive upside, maybe even equal. No kidding. And he's a bit more physical. I'd love to own Lindholm, but there's a lot of value in Stone. He'll come way cheaper and that matters in fantasy.

I love Valeri Nichushkin, but it has to be Nathan MacKinnon. It's almost like trying to pick between Jordan Staal and Eric Staal. I think Nichushkin will be a stud, but MacKinnon will be a star. I knew he was good, but wow.

Gustav Nyquist. Hands down. I own Tomas Hertl, but I drafted him to trade him. I tried when he was so bloody hot, but then the injury hit. Nyquist has the talent to be another Pavel Datsyuk. Yum. Yum. Don't get me wrong --Hertl will be a great winger. But nowhere near Nyquist's game-carrying ability.

The Smith brothers. I pick Reilly Smith over Brendan Smith. Reilly is well-insulated in the Boston system and while his upside might only be 60-65 points, I think he'll do that with regularity. I like Brendan and all, but he's going to struggle to find his fantasy peak in the Wings' system.

Eddie Lack. I like Ben Scrivens -- he's smart and talented. And I like the changes he has made with his glove hand positioning -- that's made a big difference. And he could well emerge as they guy who gets 50 starts next season. BUT IT'S STILL IN EDMONTON. Lack is a great technical goalie and there are better parts on the back end ... if they get rid of John Tortorella.

Speaking of Torts -- I'll give you the last word. Does he go? Or Mike Gillis? Or both?

From: Dan Pennucci

To: Janet Eagleson

Sent: Monday, March 17

Subject: Whale hunting

A full house cleaning by the Aqulinis could do nicely for Vancouver. Tortorella’s shtick seems to be wearing thin already, which might happen when you threaten another coach in the hallway in between periods. He’s been abrasive throughout his career and it seems to have worked with younger players, but he seems to lose the room after a bit. Took a bit longer in New York, but if Vancouver isn’t a playoff team he might get one year. He shouldn’t but they’ll look foolish firing him one year into a five year contract.

Gillis, seems like he is done. You mentioned last week about his botched handling of the potential Luongo to Toronto deal last year, the Bobby Lu to Florida trade. The Canucks have their best player, Ryan Kesler, asking out and are stuck with the bloated contracts of the twins, Jason Garrison and Alexander Edler, a player who has not fit in well with Torts, no experienced goalie, the list goes on. Let’s also not forget that this team had two legitimate NHL goalies last June. One was dealt for the ninth overall pick, a player who could be a steady two-way player in several years time in Bo Horvat, and the other was given away to Florida in essentially a salary dump.

Vancouver is closer to their Canadian neighbors Calgary and Edmonton in terms of restructuring than they are to competing in a bear of a conference, especially when you look at the leaps and bounds of teams like Colorado and Dallas.

Come next season, Torts and Gillis are gone along with Kesler and Edler.