Chat with EJ Hradek
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN The Magazine's EJ Hradek will stop by to chat about the NHL season.
Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.
Keep up with what Hradek has been up to through his blog on ESPN.com.
Send your questions now and join EJ to chat Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
More EJ Hradek: Chat Archive
Buzzmaster (3:01 PM)
We've got EJ!
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
EJ, why were the Bruins so keen on trading Phil Kessel? Just ask Ray Shero, 22 year old wingers with 40-50 goal potential are not just growing on trees. If the cap was the only issue, couldn't they have gotten rid of someone older. Or was there a deeper rift going on?
EJ Hradek (3:08 PM)
It was really more than anything else the salary cap. He was kind of a salary cap casualty. The Bruins have stockpiled some good young players and a core group. They basically decided that he was not in their core and thus they weren't ready to give him the kind of contract he was getting from Toronto. They made the determination that while he's a talented guy that they didn't want to pay him so much that they'd be limited in signing a guy like Lucic. He'll come up next year and they view him as a core player.
EJ Hradek (3:09 PM)
If you want to know more on my thoughts on the Kessel trade, check out my Insider blog. I wrote about it on Monday.
Do you think Marc-Andre Fleury will ever be recognized as an elite goalie? Even here in Pittsburgh, many people doubt him as a long term solution, even with his performance in the finals?
EJ Hradek (3:10 PM)
Well, I don't know about other people, but Marc-Andre was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He's now led his team to the finals twice and won a Cup. I don't know what else he can do in his career to impress people. He's certainly in the top 10 goalies in the league right now. At his age, he has a chance at a terrific career.
Chris (South Pasadena)
Between the ownership fiasco in both Phoenix and Tampa Bay, should the NHL improve their 'due dilligence' efforts in evaluating viability of these ownership groups?
EJ Hradek (3:12 PM)
I think that's a fair statement. Some of the things that have happened with a couple of the different owners would lead you to believe that maybe some of these things could have been avoided with some research into the financial viability to be an owner. I think the league tries to do that, but it's a process that can be improved. With a potential new owner, the background needs to be done.
Mike (St. Louis)
Is this the year the Blues return to prominence and challenge for the Central division?
EJ Hradek (3:13 PM)
I think the Blues are on the upswing. The fact that they were able to make the playoffs was huge for them. Whether they can challenge for the division title, I don't think I'm ready to make that declaration here. They're getting Erik Johnson, their former No. 1 overall pick back from injury after a freak injury before training camp even started. I think the Blues will be even better as their players continue to mature.
2002 - Salt Lake City Olympics, Canes go to the Finals2006 - Turin Olympics - Canes win the Cup2010 - Vancouver Olympics - ...So its pretty safe to say the Canes are going to win the East, right?
EJ Hradek (3:15 PM)
Uhhhhhh, no. I don't know if I buy into that logic. Although, I can't argue with the facts involved in this case. I think Carolina had a terrific playoff run last year. They have some really key young players who have had a lot of success in their career. They'll be a team that will be in the mix of about five teams in the conference that will stand out a little bit more. But as far as whether they can win the conference or a Cup, I think they want to take it one game at a time and qualify for the playoffs again.
Gerry (San Francisco, CA)
Which coaches are in danger of losing their jobs this season, if any?
EJ Hradek (3:18 PM)
Hmmmm. One guy that I think needs to have a good start is John Stephens in Philadelphia. He's had two full seasons there and almost a third, because he came in early that first year. Philly made some changes in the offseason. They've reshuffled their goalie situation again. If the Flyers don't get off to a good start. There could be some pressure right away to make a change. John has done a good job there, but he doesn't have a long history of success. If they were to struggle out of the gate, there might be some pressure to make a change. I think another guy who needs his team to get off to a strong start is Lindy Ruff in Buffalo. There was some pressure in the offseason to make a move. They're another team if they get off to a slow start, the fans will be edgy for a change.
Craig G. (Fairfield, California)
Hey EJ, I enjoy your insight and columns. I was a huge fan of Jonathan Cheechoo with the Sharks. He had a disappointing season and Heatley is a potential 70 point per season player. Do you like the trade more for either team?
EJ Hradek (3:22 PM)
Under the circumstances, the Senators were really in a tough spot. It wasn't an appetizing situation for them to have Heatley as an unhappy player in training camp. His wanting to move would have been a huge distraction as they prepared to get themselves back on track for the season. In listening to Brian Murray, once he talked to Heatley, he knew he had to make a move. From that standpoint, he didn't have a lot of options. He ended up with a couple of good players. Cheechoo is a good player, but I don't think we can expect anything close to that 60-70 mark again. He comes in and plays hard shift in, shift out and should help the team. They have some player that can come in and play for them. Then for Heatley, he goes to San Jose. For fantasy players, this is a dream duo to have Thornton and Heatley on the same line together. Heatley has already scored 50 goals twice. I could see him getting to that mark again, maybe even 60 goals. I'm still not really convinced that they'll go that much further in the playoffs after the trade. When I look at the Sharks, I think they need some additional help on defense, which would really be a key element in a long Cup run for them.
EJ: How on earth did the Aves get this bad. -Steve
EJ Hradek (3:24 PM)
I would have to say really it comes from within the management group. Overall, they didn't draft, in the big picture, well enough to bring in players to replace the ones they lost. In some of the trades they made to make runs at Stanley Cups, they traded away high picks and talent and at some point that catches up with you. So, not doing well in the draft and some of the gambles they took has caught up with them. Also, once Patrick Roy left, they've struggled to find consistent goaltending. That will sink you pretty quickly. That's pushed them way back in the West. Now it's time to rebuild.
Jeff (New Jersey)
Do you think the coaching change to Jacques Lemaire will help the devils finally get past the first round of the playoffs?
EJ Hradek (3:25 PM)
I don't know. I'm a guy who likes Jacques Lemaire. He's a good coach and a sharp hockey guy. They always find a way to be competitive. I look at their team and I see a thinner group. On defense, they're certainly far away from a powerhouse group of defensemen they had in the past. They'll be good as long as they stay healthy. But he's a good coach and Marty Brodeur is healthy. No one's made a lot of money betting against him over the years.
Whats your take on the red wings this year? With the loss of of 3 good scoring threats it could be interesting
EJ Hradek (3:28 PM)
I think people who have followed me and my thoughts about hockey over the years know that I've been impressed with the Red Wings organization and not just in hockey, but they are right there with any franchises of any of the four major sports. They played a ton of games the last few years, having gone to the Finals. This year with the Olympics and starting the season overseas, this year will be a real challenge for them. Mike Babcock is a great coach. But they have some young guys moving up. They're going to need a better regular season from Chris Osgood, because they don't have that good backup with them with Ty Conklin leaving.
Johnny (Long Island)
In your opinion, will the Islanders still be playing in New York within the next 5 years? Or will they be moved to Kansas City?
EJ Hradek (3:30 PM)
That's a good question. It comes down to whether or not the owner is able to get the approval for the project that would include a totally rennovated Coliseum. If that happens, and I know they're having some discussions within their local government today, it would seem they have a pretty secure future. But if that doesn't come to fruition, it's anybody's guess if they stay on Long Island or move somewhere else. The answer to that question stems on if they get approval on that lighthouse project.
EJ, what are the chances we see another Cup rematch this year?
EJ Hradek (3:31 PM)
I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility. With the Penguins and their young talent and Ray Shero's terrific job keeping under the cap, I could easily see the Penguins getting back. On the flip side, the Red Wings aren't going away. They might not be as talented offensively this year, but this is still a very good team with some terrific players. I kind of doubt we'd have another rematch, but I don't rule it out because these are two strong franchises.
Christian (Staten Island, NY)
Couldn't the Stars potentially be much better this season? Last year, they were missing 3 of their best players for a long period of time. With everyone healthy and no internal drama, they have to be good again, right?
EJ Hradek (3:33 PM)
They don't have to really be anything. But with Dallas, it's really going to depend on Marty Turco in goal. I think he'd be the first to admit that his year was below his expectations. Turco is in a contract year, so he's certainly going to be looking to bounce back. If he comes back and is the guy that's one of the top goalies in the league. If he struggles, I think that puts too much pressure on the team. Like NJ, they're not the same defensive team they were a few years ago. They're still a team that's in transition.
Will the Wild be more of a run-and-gun, or was there something to Jacques hinting that they played a defensive style because that is the type of players he had to work with?
EJ Hradek (3:35 PM)
They definitely want to have more of an uptempo approach with the new coach. They want to try and move away from the defensive approach. I tend to agree with Jacques, you can only play the style to which your players are suited to have. They made some big changes at the top of their organization at GM and coach. I think they want to try and go that route, but whether they'll be successful at it right from the start is to be seen.
In your opinion, would it be good or bad for the NHL to have another Cup rematch this year?
EJ Hradek (3:38 PM)
Some people last year, and I would say even some people in the league, thought that it would be better for the league for Pittsburgh to win. I don't agree. Whatever happens in the playoffs happens. For Detroit to get there again for three straight years, the roster change, the start of the season overseas, I think it would be great for them if they can beat that challenge. The same for the Penguins. They lost some playes. I'm not one of the guys that feels anything is necessarily is good or bad for the league. It's good to have big stars in those games, because it creates a national story, but in the small markets, the fans are just as excited. I'm not one that buys into whether one matchup is good or bad against another. I'm anxious to see what happens this spring.
Sid breaks the 40 goal barrier this year, yes or no?
EJ Hradek (3:40 PM)
Hmmmmm. That's a really good question. Crosby has proven, at least in his early years, this being his fifth, if he stays healthy, he's proven that aside from being a great talent, he's always trying to improve his game. He has a great shot at it. He's another guy that you don't really make any money betting against him. I think this is the year he gets there. I think for the most part, he'll be a real competitive guy from shift to shift.
what 3 things are you most looking forward to as the new seson begins??
EJ Hradek (3:42 PM)
Just to see the new players in the league, the rookies. Teams that have made dramatic changes. Certainly Montreal, for example. They've really re-tooled their roster. Tampa. Out West, it's so competitive. St. Louis are improving. Columbus too. The Kings, I don't know if they make it to the playoffs this year, but they're improving. There are so many moves in the offseason, but to see which teams gel.
Am I crazy to think the Thrashers may be alot better this season? Their first two lines are very solid and I like the D now w/ Bogosian, Kubina and Enstrom.
EJ Hradek (3:45 PM)
I don't know about a lot. A lot is a lot to ask for. But it seems like they're going to be better. John Anderson in the back end of his first year there as coach, and with some challenges with the roster, I started to see some improvement there and some comraderie within the group. They're in the right conference, because in the East, after the first 4-5 teams, the next 6-7, I can't separate them. I'd say they have one of the most dynamic players in the league in Kovalchuk. They made some additions and changes. They added some defense. I think they have a chance to get better. They'll be fun to watch this year. They really need to have a good start. If they can get some points in October, that will be something to build on. But if they don't, then we get into the same ol' Thrasher and that's not good.
Jon (Jay, Vermont)
How do you think Martin will do as coach in Montreal?
EJ Hradek (3:47 PM)
I guess what I've been saying about the whole situation is they've made a whole bunch of changes. The guys they brought in are night to night more competitive. You can rely on them to be more consistent. They are guys like Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, they have something they want to prove to some of their former employers that they have more worth. Some of that will help Martin. But it will come down to whether or not Carey Price can give them the consistent goaltender night in night out. There was a bad goal in just about every game down the stretch. But if Price doesn't continue down his path of maturity, that would undermind anything they did. Martin has shown that he's the guy. I'm not a huge fan of Martin when it comes down to the end and winning, but he's shown the ability to get to the playoffs.
Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta, GA)
EJ, where am I playing at the end of this season? Do you think Scott Burnside will want to buy my house in Atlanta come mid-March? I probably won't need it any more.
EJ Hradek (3:51 PM)
Well Scott Burnside is very wealthy, so he might be one of the few that can afford a luxury home. I'll check in with him about that....I think the Thrashers will try to do what they can to keep him. It's not like Ilya has made a statement that he wants to leave. It might just come down to how they start. If they win some games early, that might make him want to stay in Atlanta. But if the team struggles out of the gates and come December they're falling out of things, he might decide that he wants a shot to play for a good team. I'm sure everyone in the league wants this guy, but it depends on if you have the cap room and the assets to make a move. For example the Bruins just acquired a bunch of draft picks. That would be an organization that would have the assets to make a pitch. It's not a great situation to be in, you'd either like to move a guy before the season or secure him. But it's a situation we'll keep an eye on in December and January.
EJ Hradek (3:51 PM)
Thanks for a lot of great questions. We'll get it going soon. Get it ready!