Mailbag: Maple Leafs, Oilers under pressure, Rangers' chances in playoffs

Mailbag: Maple Leafs, Oilers under pressure, Rangers’ chances in playoffs

Here is the April 13 edition of the mailbag, where we answer your questions asked on Twitter using #OvertheBoards. Tweet your questions to @drosennhl.

Which teams have the most pressure on them to win heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Which teams make drastic changes in the offseason if they do not win? – @TheMillsyMan

The pressure is on the Toronto Maple Leafs, specifically forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. The Maple Leafs are built to win now even if their goaltending is easily called into question. They can’t be one round and out again. General manager Kyle Dubas said before the season started that if the Maple Leafs again fail in the Stanley Cup Playoffs it’s fair to say that changes will be coming and it’s possible his job could be in jeopardy. The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff round since 2004. The pressure in Toronto is sky high.

The pressure is on the Edmonton Oilers, specifically forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. External expectations on the Oilers aren’t quite the same as the Maple Leafs, but McDavid and Draisaitl have to start having some playoff success or their ability to raise their team up a level in the big moments will be called into question. Fair or not, that comes with the territory these two are in, especially as the past two winners of the Hart Trophy voted as the most valuable player in the NHL.

The pressure is on the Colorado Avalanche to finally break through. They haven’t gotten out of the second round for three straight seasons. They have been the best team in the NHL this season after winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season. It’s Stanley Cup or bust for the Avalanche. It’s time. A playoff flop could lead to some changes in Colorado.

There’s some pressure on the Florida Panthers to prove their regular-season success can carry into the playoffs, especially after a six-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup First Round last season. The Panthers have not won a playoff round since 1996.

The Carolina Hurricanes have some pressure. They’ve been a playoff regular since 2019, when they reached the Eastern Conference Final but were swept by the Boston Bruins. They lost the Stanley Cup Second Round in five games to the Lightning last season. They feel it’s their time to break through.

What do you make of people not wanting the New York Rangers to win the Metropolitan Division because it gives them a harder matchup for the first round? Who is your ideal matchup for the Rangers going into the playoffs? – @ MattFitz2838

I get it. It’s reasonable why people, and we’re talking fans here, would want the Rangers to finish second in the division and the Pittsburgh Penguins third. That gives the Rangers a matchup in the Eastern Conference First Round against a team they’ve defeated three times since March 25. The Rangers are faster than the Penguins. They can push them back. Their power play is better, which says a lot about how far they’ve come with the man-advantage. They have better goaltending than the Penguins and I think they have a better top-four defense group too. There’s a lot to like about that matchup from New York’s perspective, but it’s dicey to look at the situation and try to pick your opponent in the playoffs. I don’t like that.

No matter what it’s going to be a tough opponent. The Penguins, based on what we’ve seen, are probably the best matchup for reasons I laid out above, but they have more playoff experience than the Rangers. They have a coach, Mike Sullivan, who has gotten his team to raise its level in the postseason. Gerard Gallant did that with the Vegas Golden Knights, but he’s in his first season with the Rangers. The fact is home-ice advantage matters and the longer you have it during the playoffs the better off you are. A first-place finish in the Metropolitan Division will give the Rangers home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds. That’s important and it’s why finishing first makes a difference.

Video: CAR @ NYR: Kreider records first career 50-goal season

What’s the most favorable (plausible) first-round matchup for the Washington Capitals? – @ANDRWCLRK

The Capitals will likely face either the Hurricanes, Panthers or Rangers. They have won three out of four games against the Hurricanes, twice at PNC Arena, where they’d be starting the series. I won’t go as far as picking the Capitals to win a first-round series against the Hurricanes, but I think they have a better shot than if they were to play the Panthers or Rangers.

The concern is how the Capitals’ goaltending will hold up against the high-end talent of the Panthers or Rangers. With Florida it’s in all situations. With New York, it’s the power play that would concern me most. The Capitals have a better chance of playing a more physical series against the Hurricanes than the other two. That’s the style of hockey they want to play. The Rangers and Panthers would try to go up and down the ice and neither is afraid of a trade-chances type of game. The Hurricanes don’t play that way, but that’s good for the Capitals, who would rather play a grind-it-out type of series. I think Carolina is better but given the choice of opponent that matchup might be the best for Washington.

With a lot of good candidates who are your three nominees for the Jack Adams Award? – @punmasterrifkin

Darryl Sutter, Calgary Flames
Gerard Gallant, Rangers
Bruce Cassidy, Bruins

Sutter has guided the Flames to first in the Pacific Division and they play with structure, discipline, and a whole lot of physicality without taking away their skill. You could argue Calgary’s most skilled players – forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane – are having their best offensive seasons. Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Lindholm and Mangiapane are all 30-goal scorers, and the Flames are the second-best defensive team in the NHL behind the Hurricanes. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Gallant took over the Rangers with the goal of competing for a playoff spot and believing they were good enough to get in if things broke right and the goaltending was as solid as it was expected to be. Forward Chris Kreider is having his best season by miles. Goalie Igor Shesterkin should win the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL and be a candidate for the Hart Trophy. Though Adam Fox likely won’t repeat as the Norris Trophy winner voted the best defenseman in the NHL because Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators and Cale Makar of the Avalanche have had better seasons, he’s been excellent in his encore season. But it’s Gallant who got the Rangers to buy into his coaching style and play to their potential. They have not lost three games in a row since Nov. 2-6. They are arguably the most resilient team in the NHL with a League-high and team record 26 comeback wins.

The Bruins did not have a No. 2 center or a true No. 1 goalie entering the season. Forward Jake DeBrusk then asked to be traded. There were questions about their run of excellence and if it was going to end this season. It’s not. They will be in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season under Cassidy. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have been one of the most successful goaltending tandems in the NHL. DeBrusk has played well and re-signed even though his trade request has not been rescinded. Charlie McAvoy has elevated his game and should be considered one of the top defensemen in the NHL. The Bruins have gotten offense from all over their lineup; nine players have at least 30 points. They’ve won 23 games on the road, tied for second in the NHL, and are 31-13-3 since Jan. 1.

If the Vegas Golden Knights don’t make the playoffs does the Jack Eichel trade win “bad trade of the year?” – @officebrian

No.

The Golden Knights acquired Eichel for the long term, not just for this season. His impact on them will be felt for years. His contract goes through the 2025-26 season. If they acquired him as a rental player that would be different, but regardless if they make or miss the playoffs this season, Eichel will remain a significant core piece for the Golden Knights, a true No. 1 center they have never had and one they can build around.

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