NHL Mailbag: Are the Stars really this good?

The Stars are rolling right now. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

U.S. Thanksgiving is the cutoff.

If you’re not at least within a win or so of a playoff spot at this point, you might as well just trade all your guys on expiring deals. Unless you’re the Blues I guess. Anyway, because the week of hockey news has been largely depressing, let’s talk about all the teams instead.

Let’s go:

Carl asks: “Are the Stars as good as they have looked?”

No one is “14-2-1 every 17 games” good. But with that having been said, the Stars have plenty of talent at every position (though maybe not as much depth as you’d like) and they’re well-coached.

In their last 17 games, they have the third-best expected-goals share in the league (56.2 percent) at 5-on-5, adjusted for score and venue. They’re dominating games. And unlike the Wild —second over that same stretch! — they have the talent to convert offensively and, more importantly, stop the puck at the other end. That probably doesn’t translate to a consistent ability to outscore you opponents an average of 3.2-1.9 every night, but hey, they’re doing it.

So while they had to make up the ground on their slow start, they are at least now to the point where they resemble the team everyone had such high hopes for to start the year. I still don’t all the way believe it, but they make a stronger case all the time, and that’s generally what you want.

Ian asks: “Make me feel better about the Maple Leafs’ chances at digging themselves out of this hole.”

This isn’t a question.

Their disadvantage is that they’ve played 25 games and a bunch of the teams in front of them have better records and fewer games played. But as we’ve seen in San Jose, Dallas, Tampa, and so on: Teams with a lot of talent that got off to bad starts can go on runs.

The Leafs’ problem is obviously that the runway is shorter because they underachieved for a month and a half instead of a few weeks or so. But given the way they’ve opened the floodgates under Sheldon Keefe, you do wonder how much of it was “trying to get the coach fired” since almost every major player on the team now has a nice, comfortable contract.

You never want to draw too many conclusions from two, three, 10 games, but they’ve always had the talent level to absolutely speedbag teams. Now that they don’t actively hate their coach, maybe they’ll start.

Ryan asks: “Thoughts on Charlie Coyle extension in Boston for six years?”

He’ll be 28 when that contract kicks in. For a guy with exactly one season north of 50 points (though he’s on pace for that neighborhood this year), that seems like a big commitment.

Six years is an awful long time for a guy that age with that offensive profile. He does add some value defensively, and maybe that doesn’t break down like his offense probably will, but the Bruins even three years from now are going to look very different from how they do now. Will they need an aging, just-okay 200-foot middle-six forward who still has three years left on his deal? I dunno. But probably not.

Shawn asks: “The Jets and Blake Wheeler have looked much better since he dropped to center on the second line. Is Wheeler a long-term option there?”

The above thing about Charlie Coyle — who has obviously never been as good as Wheeler — is kind of true here: Wheeler’s 33, signed for too long (through 2024) and too much (an $8.25-million AAV) but because of who he is and what his contract looks like, they gotta pay him and play him.

So it’s nice to have a plan and the roster flexibility to drop your aging star down a line. I’ve said it a million times but it’s all about putting guys in the roles where they’re going to succeed. Paul Maurice didn’t try to cram that square peg into the round hole because of who Wheeler is or any of that. They found something that worked for all involved. 

It’s the smart approach, and as long as he keeps finding success there, yeah, you’d rather have him as a successful second-line center than a first-liner who can’t keep up anymore.

Robotplekanec asks: “Should we expect to see any decline from Draisaitl and McDavid towards the end of the season/playoffs if they keep up these huge minutes every game?”

If the Oilers are able to get themselves into a reliable playoff position for the rest of the season, Dave Tippett would be wise to start employing load management ideas from the NBA. At around the 65-game mark, if the Oilers are still at or near the top of the division, give one of the two the night off every other game.

Otherwise, yeah, the miles catch up to you, no matter who you are.

LJ asks: “How much time does Devils coach John Hynes have left? It’s gotta be like, days, at this point?”

I watched that entire game against Minnesota on Tuesday night and hoo boy they look bad. Just no life in the offensive zone at all against a low-skill team that is, admittedly, well-coached.

I’m not sure Hynes has the answers to solve it, but given the makeup of the roster, maybe no one does. I don’t see the point of firing the coach right now just because, y’know, what does it get you?

Chris asks: “Most likely outcome on the Turris situation?”

I bet the new coach gives him more of a chance.

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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