NHL Mailbag: Will [insert bubble team] be any good?

Everyone wants to know what happens next.

That’s the big thing this week as we round the bend into September and stare down just 10 days before training camps officially start. Whether bubble teams are gonna be any good is important to consider because bubble teams obviously make up the vast majority of the NHL.

There are, what, six or seven actually elite teams, five or six teams that are objectively going to be terrible, and then somewhere between 18 and 20 clubs somewhere in the middle. Odds are, then, that most people are going to be very invested in a team in that miasmic goo of teams ranging from could-be-good-I-guess to perfectly-alright-but-not-gonna-make-waves-barring-a-PDO-bender.

Let’s just get right into it then:

Megan asks: “Predictions models have the Oilers finishing between 19th and 24th. Why are they all so optimistic about Edmonton’s chances?”

Obviously you’re doing a joke here but the Oilers are the definition of “they need their goalie to be good to be competitive.” That’s true for most teams, right, but look at the two full McDavid seasons. Talbot is good, Oilers kick ass all year. Talbot isn’t good, Oilers are a total disaster.

There were some mitigating circumstances in there, too (trading Jordan Eberle was, uhh, not advisable) but if Talbot and the backups face the exact same shot volume and stops them at even the league-average level, the Oilers probably pick up about six points in the standings. That gets them to 84, which still doesn’t put them in the playoffs, but we’re also not having a “could they be one of the worst teams in the league this year” discussion either, y’know?

I mostly liked what they did this summer and maybe with more games out of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom, plus some better shooting luck, they can get back into the middle of the pack and put themselves into playoff contention. Without really digging into it I can see them being the last team in from the Pacific.

The Oilers and Wild could go either way this season. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Teej asks: “Is there any reason to believe in spite of their surprising season last year that New Jersey can really compete for the playoffs again next year?”

Yeah, sure.

Some of the young guys can keep improving, Taylor Hall can have another MVP-type season, Cory Schneider (coming off yet another offseason surgery) can get back to his previous level of performance.

I don’t see any of those things being enough to get them back into the playoffs individually, but if two of the three happen it’s definitely possible. But like I’ve said for the last little while here, they didn’t really improve here and Florida, who they barely barely barely beat to make it last year, improved a lot.

I don’t see the Devils making it this year, but I said the same thing last year. Hockey’s weird.

Pietro asks: “What’s the ceiling for the Flyers this year? Can they actually win a playoff round?”

I mean if you make it and aren’t playing an absolute juggernaut in the first round, your chances to win are mostly gonna be somewhere between 48 and 52 percent. Anyone can win four games out of seven in this dumb sport. I literally JUST said hockey is weird.

What do you figure? They’re like the fourth-best team in that division? Pittsburgh, Washington, and Columbus all seem better, so Philly is likely to either draw one of those teams or whoever wins the Atlantic, and I would really only be worried that it’s too steep a hill if they pull Tampa out of that group.

I dunno, I think the Flyers are fine but that’s about it. Seems like we’re in the same boat.

MDS asks: “Quick, Jones, and Talbot: If you had to pick one to start a new franchise who would it be?”

Jones and it’s not really that close.

He has a $5.75-million AAV and is a league-average goalie pretty much every year, and he’s also only 28 (turning 29 in January). He’s signed until he’s 34, which isn’t great, but you might be able to deal with that later, and his actual salary winds down for each of the last three years of his deal.

Quick is certainly a little better on the balance, and costs only slightly more — $5.8 million against the cap — but he’s 32 (turning 33 in January) and signed until he’s 37. Much bigger concern, even if his contract back-dives more than Jones’ does.

Talbot, meanwhile, just turned 31 and is only signed for one more season at $4.167 million AAV, which is great if you have a whole different goalie ready to go. If you don’t, well, that makes the whole “new franchise” thing a bit tricky to handle. That’s leaving aside his, shall we say, up-and-down performance.

I think Jones gives you a nice window in which he’s still pretty good without the uncertainty of Talbot’s situation and the anchor-like qualities of Quick’s.

Yann asks via email: “Which college hockey conference(s) do you think will be the strongest? Best teams in each?”

Yann, first of all, thanks for asking a college hockey question.

Second, let’s just go real quick: The NCHC and Hockey East will, as ever, probably be the strongest conferences top-to-bottom, but I think the Big Ten could edge ahead of the latter.

As for the best teams in each: Canisius in Atlantic Hockey, Michigan in the Big Ten, Princeton in the ECAC, Providence in Hockey East, Minnesota-Duluth in the NCHC, Minnesota State in the WCHA. See ya.

Brad asks: “Why the hell won’t a single NHL team employ Cody Franson?”

This is effectively the Mark Arcobello argument from several years ago. The numbers are good but the eye test isn’t, and that’s something that some guys just can’t overcome. I think it’s maybe a crack in the player market through which some guys occasionally slip, but Franson has never done much to prove the doubters wrong, either.

Could he be a good No. 5 defenseman on most teams in the league? Sure. But why use a roster spot on that when you could have a guy you already have under contract do the same thing, especially if he’s a kid?

I will say this, though: He could be the next Kevin Dallman of the KHL and just absolutely speedbag it. Wouldn’t be surprised at all.

David asks: “When do the wheels fall off in Minnesota? Do you feel like they’re next to have a collapse as the rest of the Central got better around them?”

I can totally see them making the playoffs but that’s about it just because of how good that division is and who they’d have to face in the first round.

Yes, basically everything went right for Eric Staal and Jason Zucker last year and I can’t necessarily see that holding together next year even if I think both those guys are perfectly good. I’m not sure who really scores a ton of goals for them beyond that; they combined for 77 goals last season.

On the other hand, it seems Devan Dubnyk is always going to be a little above average so that keeps you more competitive than you otherwise might be. Plus, maybe you say a full season of Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter makes up that goalscoring difference if (when?) Staal and Zucker don’t clear 30 goals.

I’d buy that.

And if you get into the playoffs, like I said, you can beat anyone. But the odds are getting slimmer all the time for this group. Another first-round exit won’t surprise literally anyone.

Brandon asks: “Create a team of three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie. You can’t have two players from the same country. Who ya got?”

I love questions like this. Real quick here: I stuck with handedness mattering for defensemen and assumed this was a one-off game and not, like, “starting a franchise” stuff:

Patrik Laine – Connor McDavid – Nikita Kucherov

Zdeno Chara – Erik Karlsson

John Gibson

This team is good. Thank you.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey 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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