Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Should we expect the Devils to regress?

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Should we expect the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/njd" data-ylk="slk:New Jersey Devils">New Jersey Devils</a> to fall back out of the playoff picture? (Getty)
Should we expect the New Jersey Devils to fall back out of the playoff picture? (Getty)

Now we’re just kind of picking through the rubble.

All the speculation is pretty much over and we’ve seen pretty much every notable player land somewhere. There are a number of restricted free agents that still need to be signed but, this being the NHL, it’s not like there’s any real concern anywhere regarding an offer sheet.

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The questions, then, are pretty much all over the place, with people worrying about keeping players long-term, having let guys walk, and the general path forward for a number of teams that might have designs on actually doing something next season.

Let’s go:

Louie asks: “A lot of Flyers fans/commentators say they’d rather lose Simmonds in free agency than trade him at the deadline due to the effect that trade would have on the locker room. To what extent should GMs consider ‘leadership’ and ‘chemistry’ versus asset management?”

One need look no further than what the Canucks and Islanders have done so far this summer when it comes to adding intangibles to understand that yeah of course most GMs probably overvalue those things.

But the specific argument around Simmonds isn’t a particularly good one because unless you feel like you’re absolutely on the verge of winning a Cup, or at least having a reasonable shot at doing so, then there would be no real point to losing a player that good on July 1 for nothing.

Simmonds is really good. Had a bit of a down year and he’s almost 30, but hey that happens. He would absolutely be an asset to the Flyers down the stretch. But the Flyers aren’t likely to be Cup-competitive, so the idea that you’d keep Simmonds around when another, more competitive team (or at least one with a more inflated sense of self) might give you a pick and a prospect for him? That’s silly.

Maybe it’s a thing where you go “well the other players would think you’re throwing in the towel on them,” and that might be true. But your job as a GM is to make the team better not keep your players feeling good 100 percent of the time.

You can’t let coveted players walk. Period.

Jason asks: “What three teams will be the worst this upcoming season and which one will turn it around first?”

As of right this second, the bottom three looks something like Ottawa, Vancouver, and Detroit, I think. Definitely Ottawa (the absolute bottom of the barrel), but you could talk me into a couple of teams for that second- and third-worst spot. Vancouver might have enough young talent to keep them from being really really awful but I’m not betting on it.

And with that said, yeah, gimme the Canucks as the first team to “turn it around” from that group. Not that they’re gonna win a Cup or anything but getting back to “being watchable” seems in the cards for them given the good young players they have in the pipeline. You just need to hope management doesn’t sign four more bottom-six forwards on multi-year deals to crowd the talent out of the lineup too much.

John asks: “If Tampa lands Karlsson is it fair to call them the Golden State of the NHL?”

Yes insofar as no team has had a collection of talent like that in the cap era, with the exception of the 2006-2009 Red Wings teams. With Karlsson, they would have three legit first-pairing defensemen, four or five legit first-line forwards and an All-Star goalie.

The Warriors, of course, have probably two of the top three (Durant and Curry), three of the top 15 (Thompson), and four of the top 25 players (Green) in the world. And not that I’m counting on Boogie Cousins being anything resembling his former self but he was in the starting lineup for his team last year so if he’s anything close to like 85 percent of his abilities — which, again, I doubt — he could be a top-50 player as well.

The Lightning don’t have that. Because the nature of hockey dictates that nobody really can.

Steve asks: “What do the Boston Bruins need to do to win The Cup?”

I’m not being facetious here: Their best path comes in finishing fourth in the Atlantic but ahead of the fourth-place Metro team.

If they have to play, say, Toronto in the first round then Tampa in the second, that’s going to be almost impossible for them. It would be for any team. I’ve said it before but the divisional playoff format screws them very hard; they’re a top-five team in the league but they happen to play in a division with two other top-five teams. Not particularly fair but that’s life.

To win in those first two rounds, they would probably need someone besides the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line to score in the playoffs. Just a thought.

Southern Point asks: “How truly impactful are Calgary’s offseason moves?”

They added one of the worst coaches in the league whose team quit on him in Carolina, so that’s probably not a great move to start out.

I like most of their UFA moves here. They lost aboslutely no one of consequence, and I like the additions of Czarnik, Ryan, and Neal (though maybe not so much on those specific contracts). I think all those guys help shore up the Flames’ forward depth problems.

So does Elias Lindholm, for that matter, but the loss of Micheal Ferland chips away at the size of that upgrade, and the Hanifin-for-Hamilton exchange is very unflattering to Calgary.

Overall I think they improved on the ice, albeit not as much as they probably believe, and maybe took a bit of a step back behind the bench (which, that’s bad because Glen Gulutzan was horrible too).

Their real problem is that their goaltending is still likely to be quite bad next season and I don’t know what they can do to address that. So even in a division that still isn’t very good, I don’t know that this is gonna be anything close to a playoff team.

Katie asks: “Why aren’t the Golden Knights going harder after Erik Karlsson when the have the cap space?”

They know what the price is and didn’t seem comfortable paying it when they thought they were an insanely good team.

You can argue about whether they overvalued their own assets in that alleged deal (which they 10000 percent did) but if they weren’t comfortable paying it then, they probably are even less comfortable negotiating it with Tampa and Dallas (at least) in the picture.

Maybe George McPhee is confident that these other teams will drop out and he can get a decent price for a player Ottawa absolutely positively has to move. Maybe McPhee, who stayed relatively quiet in free agency this summer, just realizes that adding mega-talents isn’t the best long-term option for his still-building club. Maybe he liked Karlsson as a one-plus-year rental but not as a guy they’d keep around long-term.

I’m just speculating there but none of those answers would really surprise me. As always, just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you have to use it. And besides, even if the Golden Knights get involved in the trade as one of those third-party teams to facilitate Karlsson-to-Tampa-or-Dallas, gets a guy like Bobby Ryan and a pick or prospect out of it, that’s not a bad way to go about things.

Jonathan asks: “What teams botched their chance at the worst record next year?”

I think the only answer here, as a team that could have been really bad but probably won’t be, is Montreal. Buffalo probably wasn’t going to be bottom-of-the-barrel again with Dahlin and some of the other additions they made this summer anyway (although, ya never know I guess).

The Habs have had an abysmal offseason and the fact that they’re probably going to have to trade a really good player in Max Pacioretty is only going to make things worse. The reason I say they’re screwing up their chance at a top pick, then, is that they aren’t likely to trade Carey Price.

When you have an elite goalie, it’s almost impossible for even the worst team to be as truly bad as they could have been, and he’s gonna be worth at least 12 points in the standings if he’s anything resembling his career average.

Jen asks: “Have the Devils gotten significantly worse this summer”

*Obama voice* Well look.

They haven’t added anyone of note. Eric Gryba, that’s about it. He’s not good. The problem is what they lost: Brian Gibbons (perfectly okay bottom six guy), Michael Grabner (overrated but scores a lot), John Moore (let the Bruins have him at that price), Jimmy Hayes (who cares), and Patrick Maroon (who I like!).

While none of those guys are particularly great, the collective loss is a tough one to absorb. More problematic, though, is that the Devils made the playoffs (by a hair, mind you) mainly because Taylor Hall had the best season of his career.

Can he do anything like what he did last year again? I mean maybe. And probably Nico Hischier will improve. And maybe Cory Schneider will stay healthy and be his above-average self again.

But also, ehh, I’m not holding my breath.

Marcel asks: “Instead of a NTC how bout a Must Trade Clause where a player can demand to sent to one of a certain number of teams after a few years if he’s not happy. “

Yeah this would be very good but I don’t know why a team would agree to it.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy 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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