Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Where will Tavares, Karlsson play in 2018?

Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) tries to take the puck away from New York Islanders center John Tavares (91)in the second period of an NHL hockey game at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Hope dies in late March.

At this time of year it seems like each new day brings with it a team being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and a lot of other teams are just kinda playing out the string. There’s not a lot of excitement at this point in the season for the vast majority of teams.

So we instead turn to insipid, never-ending arguments about value, and pin too many hopes on college and junior free-agent signees. The two or three weeks before the playoffs is arguably worse than the absolute dog days of post-All Star hockey. This is just a slog until the fun begins again in mid-April.

Let’s talk it out:

Josh asks: “Who will John Tavares and Erik Karlsson be playing for next season?”

The interesting thing is that the cap could rise by more than $5 million next season. If that happens, a lot of teams will have a lot of money to throw around on a player like this. Suddenly, it becomes very feasible for, say, San Jose or Tampa to get these guys in under the cap without a major salary dump or swap.

Of course, Karlsson still has to be traded since he’s not a UFA until summer 2019, and there will probably be plenty of bidders given that he’s on such a cheap-o contract. Colorado, Vegas, and Tampa were reportedly heavily involved in trying to acquire him at the deadline, and they might even be willing to take on that Bobby Ryan deal, so let’s say those are the prohibitive favorites for Karlsson’s services.

I’m just gonna throw this out there for Tavares: You know who has at least $14 million to spend next season, no one of any real consequence to re-sign (maybe you say Ryan Hartman and that’s fine with me!), and a penchant for getting great players on sweetheart contracts? Nashville! Just something to think about.

Isabel asks: “My team is solidly in a playoff spot and has been for a while, but I’m struggling to believe in their ability to perform in the playoffs  both this year and in general (the Wild, it’s the Wild). How do I get excited for playoff hockey again?”

Yeah, this is honestly a problem of the NHL trying to make every fan think their team is good. There are very few good teams, and even with the fact that most games between middling and elite NHL teams are almost coin flips, over a seven-game series, The best team wins it far more often than not.

The real problem for the Wild is that, because of the divisional playoff format, they’re going to have to play both Winnipeg and Nashville if they want to get into a Conference Final, perhaps against the extremely hot Sharks. Not a great group of teams to run into.

For the Wild or, hell, any team in the West, getting past one of Winnipeg or Nashville is going to be an incredible feat. San Jose can probably be added to that mix now.

But the problem with this question is a bigger issue for the NHL: Hockey fans often aren’t hockey fans, so much as they are fans of hockey teams. This is why ratings tend to go down throughout the playoffs, because as teams lose, people just stop watching. Few have the brain disease I have that will compel them to watch regardless of outcomes.

You get excited for playoff hockey because playoff hockey is the absolute best kind of hockey. Have you ever see that Jon Bois tweet? C’mon!!!

Zach asks via email: “Which bottom-six team will rebound the fastest?”

For reference, the six teams ranking 26th to 31st are Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver, Ottawa, Arizona, and Buffalo.

Of that group, I don’t see a lot of quick turnarounds. Detroit, Vancouver, and Arizona seem as though they’re in tough to make anything happen any time soon. The other teams are interesting, though.

Montreal’s year was a disaster for a lot of reasons and they could turn it around next year just in terms of not being total crap. It depends what you mean by “rebound,” I guess, but I can see this team being in the playoffs next year. Doesn’t mean they’ll be good, but you don’t gotta be good to make the playoffs if you have elite goaltending, and Carey Price is at least capable of that, historically. But more on them in a minute.

With Ottawa, it depends what happens this summer. If they can somehow convince Erik Karlsson to stick around (big if, and more on THAT in a minute, too) they might not be too far away from being competitive, provided they can actually get goaltending.

Buffalo is interesting, too, because they need defensemen and maybe not much else. If they can add like two guys who can reliably carry the puck out of their own zone, I think this team can be fine.

All of this, by the way, comes with the caveat that we’re assuming any of these teams doesn’t get Dahlin by winning the draft lottery. If that happens, their futures get very different, very quickly. That might be especially true for Buffalo, to be honest.

The 41-year-old Chara will make $5 million next season.

Mike asks: “How do you like the Zdeno Chara extension?”

I think it’s fine. The term is perfect at one season, since he’s a million years old. The money ($5 million) might be a little higher than you’d like, but it’s not a significant raise from his current $4 million, and the Bruins don’t really have any pressing expenses coming up this summer.

Hell, the Bruins are in such a good place financially right now that they can do a lot more than give Chara $5 million, carry a buried contract and two buyouts, and go get a backup goalie. In theory, they can probably add a $7-million player comfortably. I don’t think they necessarily would because of whose contracts are expiring in the next few years, but they could. And that’s scary as hell.

Megan asks: “If the Oilers weren’t a raging dumpster fire, would there be any actual debate about the Hart trophy?”

No, of course not. McDavid is the best player in the world and people want to hold it against him that Peter Chiarelli hates high-end talent. I understand where they’re coming from even if I don’t really agree.

But if the Oilers were even remotely playoff-competitive I don’t think we’d be having all these screaming matches about it. We certainly wouldn’t have people universal-braining their way into saying 10 guys league-wide are better MVP candidates than McDavid.

Aniket asks: “You are the Habs GM this summer. What are your moves? Try once again throwing the kitchen sink at Tavares-plus or tear it down?”

My understanding is that the Tavares-to-Montreal thing comes because Bergevin has some kind of pre-existing relationship with the player, his agent, or both. Anyway, supposing I could have that same kind of pull with Tavares and his camp (and who’s to say I wouldn’t????), my approach would of course be “burn it to the ground.”

If anyone wants to take that Carey Price contract off my hands, hell, I’ll pay for half of it. You want to give me picks and prospects, plural, for anyone on the roster, you can have ’em.

Of course, I wonder how open management would be to such an approach (my guess: not at all) but if I had carte blanche, I would honestly do a tear-down rebuild with like 40 percent of the teams in the league. I’m not the guy to ask this question.

Noah asks: “What’s your objection to defensemen diving to block shots with their body?”

I don’t know that it’s an objection so much as I just think if we’re trying to increase goalscoring, that’s a good way to do it.

You hear all the time that guys block too many shots or whatever (I don’t know if I agree with whatever that assessment of “too many” is, but that’s beside the point), and if we’re going to say it’s a problem then a great way to curtail the practice is by making it illegal to leave your feet to block shots. More shots get through to the goalie, maybe more get tipped in by his own team, whatever.

Plus, y’know, the fewer guys who put their faces at ice level, the less likely they are to be concussed or lose teeth trying to block a shot. Just something to think about.

Chad asks: “What are your thoughts about the Motzko hire at Minnesota?”

First of all, thanks for asking a college hockey question.

Second, obviously Bob Motzko is a great coach. Everyone thinks so; the heights to which he took St. Cloud over the past several years, number of high-end pros his program produced, etc., are all testament to that.

He’s almost certainly one of the top potential candidates that would have been available, so locking him in quickly after St. Cloud got bounced from the NCAAs is a good move for the Gophers. That said, everyone always complained about Don Lucia not winning in the tournament, and specifically not winning a title since the early 2000s. Motzko hasn’t exactly posted a great track record in that regard. One Frozen Four in 13 years, and they got smoked by Quinnipiac. St. Cloud also only has one postseason conference title in that time, despite eight NCAA tournament appearances and three regular-season title.

Maybe you say he gets an extra mile with Minnesota’s recruiting power, budget, etc., but that lack of postseason success is the only real concern I’d have for an otherwise amazing college coach taking over the biggest-name job in the country. No reason to expect he won’t do great there, but will “great” be enough for the freaks who spent a decade trying to run Lucia out of town?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.

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