The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.
The Edmonton Oilers fired their president of hockey operations and General Manager, Peter Chiarelli (April 2015-January 2019). The club officially made the announcement after the DTFR Duo finished recording this week’s episode.
There won’t be a 2020 World Cup of Hockey and there were a few milestones to go along with a bunch of minor trades made this week.
Thoughts on the conclusion and controversies of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as a look at the schedule around the league as we near the All-Star Weekend festivities and bye week(s). Nick puts Connor on the spot and asks him some trivia questions that only went so well.
42-32-8, 92 points, 6th in the Central Division
Subtractions: Head Coach Ken Hitchcock (retired), D Andrew Bodnarchuk (signed, DEL), F Brian Flynn (signed with STL), D Dan Hamhuis (signed with NSH), G Mike McKenna (signed with OTT), F Curtis McKenzie (signed with VGK), D Greg Pateryn (signed with MIN), D Brent Regner (signed, Austria), F Antoine Roussel (signed with VAN)
Still Unsigned: G Kari Lehtonen, D Andrew O’Brien, F Cole Ully
Offseason Analysis: After missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by a few points, Ken Hitchcock finally hung up the pen and paper(?) behind the bench. Hitchcock’s one-year reunion with the Dallas Stars proved two things– that the Stars weren’t a playoff caliber roster in the long run and that Hitchcock’s coaching style had run its course in the contemporary NHL.
Outside of John Klingberg and Marc Methot, Dallas’s defense didn’t scream high-caliber. Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin alone couldn’t generate enough offense to ease the barrage of pucks Ben Bishop faced in net.
Whatever the reasoning, the fact of the matter is the Stars didn’t have a complete team in 2017-18, so General Manager Jim Nill had some cracks to fix.
First, Dallas brought in 49-year-old head coach, Jim Montgomery, out of the University of Denver and into the National Hockey League. Montgomery expects to bring a new-age pace to the Stars, but there’s always a catch– rookie NHL coaches rarely exceed expectations in their first season, especially if they’re coming from college hockey straight to the NHL level of the professional game.
Second, Nill didn’t make any trades. Instead he opted to let Antoine Roussel and his 17 points in 73 games last season walk in free agency, along with Curtis McKenzie and other bottom-six role forwards. Also gone are Dan Hamhuis– once thought to be a steal from free agency not so long ago– and Greg Pateryn, who, after all things considered, played a durable bottom-pair worthy role on the Dallas blueline.
Nill signed 32-year-old Roman Polak to a one-year, $1.300 million contract to appease veteran presence on the backend with a friendly short-term deal while the Stars look to implement Miro Heiskanen in the North American game.
Blake Comeau, Erik Condra and Michael Mersch will all file down the line of bottom-six “glue guy” roles on the depth chart all the way to being a healthy scratch most nights– let alone emergency call-up go-tos.
The fact of the matter is the Stars need to get younger and it could start with Heiskanen, but it should also include Jason Robertson among the forwards. Past that, there’s not much going on in the Big D.
After Kari Lehtonen, 35, couldn’t hold his weight as a starter, Dallas brought in Ben Bishop– a surefire number one goalie– to lead them back to glory. Bishop’s year didn’t fully go as planned, but Lehtonen actually improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in his more limited role.
Lehtonen’s 2.85 goals against average and .902 save percentage in 59 games played in 2016-17 dropped to a 2.56 GAA and rose to a .912 SV% in 37 appearances last season. The Atlanta Thrashers 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft rebounded quite nicely and is still unsigned.
Meanwhile, Nill brought in Anton Khudobin, 32, most recently from the Boston Bruins on a two-year contract to become become Bishop’s backup. Khudobin’s can be streaky at times, but when he’s good, he’s
great good. Just good.
Case in point, Khudobin bounced back from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 16 appearances with the Bruins in 2016-17 while bouncing back-and-forth between Boston and Providence (AHL) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games last season with the Bruins.
Khudobin’s GAA last season was the same as Lehtonen’s in six fewer games. He faced almost 100 fewer shots than Lehtonen and allowed seven fewer goals. His save percentage was .001% better than Lehtonen.
If Nill’s getting really technical, he “improved” Dallas’s backup option. Sure he’s not paying a guy $5.900 million to play fewer than 40 games, but Khudobin’s making $2.500 million for… pretty much the same results if he’s playing well.
If Lehtonen was going to re-sign, he surely was going to have to sign for much less than what he was making ($5.900 million) and wouldn’t have been able to capitalize as much as Khudobin did on his comeback (Khudobin more than doubled his salary from his last contract with Boston to his current one with Dallas).
I mean, Lehtonen improved much like his former teammate with the Stars, Antti Niemi did, but without the immense failures in Pittsburgh and Florida before being picked up off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens.
But enough about subprime goaltending, lack of offense and not enough drive from a mediocre defense outside of John Klingberg.
The Stars aren’t on the rise and that should concern fans deeply.
You see, there’s another guy wearing No. 91 in the NHL that’s a pending-UFA in July 2019 and nearly every armchair GM has already set their sights on him. His name is Tyler Seguin and he’s Dallas’s biggest star.
After talking about an extension before the 2018 NHL Draft– conveniently held in Dallas– Seguin’s heard nothing from the Stars front office. Another season without a postseason might just be enough to push the 26-year-old center over the edge and into the waters of free agency next summer.
Offseason Grade: D+
There’s areas of concern that go further than just shaking things up behind the bench in Dallas. It’s not that Montgomery won’t be a great coach, but rather that Nill hasn’t pulled off the necessary moves with the roster to really set them over the bar and into the playoffs.
Betting on other teams regressing to the mean, while counting on your stars to perform better than they did last season isn’t safe if you’re not actually improving. Plus there’s the whole “they might lose Tyler Seguin for nothing next offseason a la the New York Islanders and John Tavares“. First impressions for the future are everything, and Nill and the Stars aren’t sending the right one(s).
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Dallas Stars and their outlook for the summer.
Ken Hitchcock reunited with the Dallas Stars for one last ride in 2017-18, amassing 92 points on the season, finishing 6th in the Central Divsion with a 42-32-8 record. Despite missing out on a wild card spot by three points, Hitchcock announced his retirement from the NHL as a head coach.
General Manager Jim Nill brought in Jim Montgomery from the University of Denver Pioneers as the next head coach and the Stars are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 next season.
With names like Ben Bishop, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg and Marc Methot on the roster, Dallas is looking for more than just another exit in the Second Round like in 2016, but they’ve got some work to do this offseason to make the jump from playoff bubble team to Cup contender.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Nill and the Stars have the 13th overall pick at this year’s draft and won’t have far to travel, thanks to American Airlines Center playing host to the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in a week.
Dallas will have plenty of talent to choose from in any of the best available players with a mid-first round pick in Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno or Serron Noel.
Similar to 2017 3rd overall pick Miro Heiskanen, the Stars won’t expect their 2018 first round pick to make the roster coming out of training camp this fall.
Pending free agents
The Stars have about $17.700 million to spend this summer, keeping in mind the salary cap ceiling is expected to rise.
By how much? That’s to be determined, so at least account for a little extra money to work with in all of these offseason previews, if you haven’t already figured that out on your own by now.
Nill has one pending-unrestricted free agent forward to consider re-signing in 28-year-old Antoine Roussel. His production was down 10 points from 2016-17 to 2017-18, notching 5-12–17 totals in 73 games with Dallas this season.
The Stars should likely pass on another year of Roussel, unless they view him as a fourth line winger with the potential to snag a third line spot from time-to-time.
Smith, 24, had six goals and five assists (11 points) in 46 games. That’s good enough over the course of a season as a fourth liner, but also might not be enough to stick around at the NHL level, depending on the team and how serious of a playoff contending run they intend on pursuing.
One good thing for Smith’s future with the organization is that he’s still young enough to sign on a small, bridge deal and give one more chance at NHL success (or scratch every night/send down the Texas Stars (AHL) if necessary).
Shore, 23, had 11-21–32 totals in 82 games played this season, falling short of last season’s offensive outcome by one point. If Dallas’s front office comes down to deciding between Shore and Roussel the choice is clear this offseason. Keep Shore for his consistency alone, let alone his five additional years of youth.
Janmark, 25, scored five points more this season than his 29-point rookie season. He had a career-high 19 goals and 15 assists for 34 points in 81 games played. It should be a no-brainer to keep Janmark around.
Hamhuis had his best season since 2014-15 with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring three goals and 21 assists (24 points) in 80 games with the Stars this season. At 35, he isn’t getting any younger, but he’s worth having as a veteran presence on the blueline.
Pateryn, in his first legitimate full-season, had one goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 73 games. If Nill is content with Pateryn as a top-six defender, then he should be back. Otherwise, there might be other options within the organization or outside of Dallas for the bottom-pair defense.
Pending-RFA Stephen Johns is the only pending free agent of the restricted variety on Dallas’s blueline. Johns set career highs in goals, assists and points with 8-7–15 totals in 75 games.
The problem with the Stars is they have a lot of lower pair defenders, meaning while Johns deserves a new contract, how new head coach Jim Montgomery envisions utilizing his defensive corps may play a hand in who gets renewed and who doesn’t.
In net, the Stars are looking at Ben Bishop as their presumptive starter through the end of his contract after the 2022-23 season with a cap hit of $4.917 million.
Bishop, 31, posted a 2.49 goals against average and .916 save percentage in 53 games played in his first season in the Big D, compiling a 26-17-5 record.
Backup netminder, Kari Lehtonen, 34, is a pending-UFA this July and secured a 2.56 GAA and .912 SV% in 37 games this season– his first as a full-time backup in Dallas. Lehtonen had a 15-14-3 record and improved in GAA and SV% as a result of the decrease in workload.
In fact, over his last few seasons as a starting goaltender, Lehtonen’s goals against average and save percentage were all over the place (2.94 and .903 in 2014-15, 2.76 and .906 in 2015-16 and 2.85 and .902 in 2016-17).
The main purpose of a backup goaltender is to stop pucks and give your starter a rest, while hopefully stealing more wins than losses in the meantime.
If Dallas can tighten up their defense, then Lehtonen can easily surpass the .500 mark as a winning backup goaltender next season– if he gets an extension, that is.
Considering how the Stars don’t have someone readily available in the system and the potentially weak market for goaltenders this summer (ignoring the hot commodity that is Stanley Cup champion Philipp Grubauer), Lehtonen should be back.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Curtis McKenzie (UFA), Andrew Bodnarchuk (UFA), Andrew O’Brien (UFA), Mike McKenna (UFA), Brian Flynn (UFA), Dillon Heatherington (RFA), Cole Ully (RFA), Jason Dickinson (RFA), Remi Elie (RFA), Philippe Desrosiers (RFA), Reece Scarlett (UFA), Brent Regner (UFA)
Buyouts on the books: Antti Niemi— $1.500 million through the end of 2018-19
Day 1 of our offseason preview series reaches a close with the third lottery-winning team, the Montréal Canadiens.
After finishing the season with a 29-40-13 record good enough for fourth-worst in the NHL, there’s little doubting the league’s most-storied franchise is in a bit of a funk right now. The offense was anemic (averaging a third-worst 2.52 goals per game), the defensive zone was equally as bad (allowing a seventh-worst 3.15 goals against per game) and the defense did little to make G Carey Price‘s life any easier (Montréal allowed a 12th-worst 32.3 shots against per game).
What can General Manager Marc Bergevin do to fix this mess?
2018 NHL Entry Draft
I’m of the firm belief that, barring select and rare circumstances, teams of any sport should always draft the best player available. Should Bergevin – as well as Buffalo and Carolina with their own selections – prescribe to that theory, I’d bank on Czech W Filip Zadina continuing to study his French after a season with QMJHL side Halifax.
Having played only one season with the Mooseheads, the 18-year-old was far and away the brightest rookie in his league. In 57 regular season games, Zadina posted wildly impressive 44-38-82 totals for 1.44 points per game, the fifth-best mark of any player in that league that played at least 51 games.
The tough predicament with Zadina is figuring out if he’ll join the Canadiens and begin his rookie season immediately, or if he’ll return to Halifax to develop another year in juniors. He certainly has the talent on his own, but the answer to that question has a better chance of being discovered after taking a look at how Montréal tackles free agency.
Pending free agents
The Habs have five forwards with NHL contracts that expired at the culmination of the regular season, but only RW Ales Hemsky is of the unrestricted variety. LW Daniel Carr, F Phillip Danault, F Jacob de la Rose and F Logan Shaw are all RFAs.
Turning 35-years-old before the 2018-19 season gets underway, there’s a chance Hemsky’s playing days could be behind him. In the last two seasons, he’s appeared in only 22 NHL games and hasn’t registered a point since his goal against the Devils on March 26, 2017. If anything, I’d expect the Oilers to offer him a one-day deal so he could retire with the team that drafted him 13th-overall in 2001.
Without a doubt, Carr and Danault should be seeing some of the Canadiens’ available $12 million slid their way, as the club’s struggles were far from a result of their play.
In the contract year of a $1.825 million, two-year deal, Danault posted decent 8-17-25 totals in 52 appearances (made only better in light of Montréal’s overall poor offense) for .48 points per game. At 25-years-old, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign another two-year deal – this one worth at least $1.5 million per year.
In a similar strain, I’d also be just fine with seeing Carr sign for $1 million, even if it was only a one or two-year contract. Carr only played in 38 games this season, but he posted 6-10-16 totals to average .42 points per game. Carr may never develop into a top-six player, but most teams will gladly take that kind of production from a third-liner.
Back on the blue line, there’s exactly zero pending NHL free agents. That’s not exactly a good thing for Montréal considering its miserable defensive performance this season, so I would expect at least one of the Habs’ D-men to be on the move.
Even though he’ll turn 33-years-old this August, D Shea Weber is still the Canadiens’ best defenseman, but his attractiveness on the trade front is severely hampered by the eight remaining years on his $110 million contract (yes, your math is correct: Nashville signed Weber until he is 41-years-old).
Instead, D Jeff Petry might fetch a very nice return from a team lacking defense but wants to win now. He has three years remaining on his $5.5 million AAV contract and would likely fetch a similar, if not higher, price the Habs paid for him three years ago (a second and fourth-round pick).
Similar to the defensemen, Montréal has little to worry about in the goaltending department. This season is the first of Price’s eight-year, $84 million contract extension, and G Antti Niemi still has one year left on his sub-$1 million deal. Especially in light of Niemi posting a .929 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Canadiens last season, I doubt much will be changing here.
The only way this situation might be altered is if a team wants to trade for Niemi, but my guess is that sort of transaction is better suited for the trade deadline given his lackluster performances over the last few seasons.
It’s a Wednesday, so the NHL doesn’t have too many games on today’s schedule.
Like most nights, this evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Arizona at Buffalo and Montréal at Pittsburgh [RDS/SN]), followed an hour later by Boston at St. Louis (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Anaheim at Calgary (SN360) closes the night out with their fixture at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
Throughout the season, I’ve jotted down some notes about a couple of tonight’s games.
- Montréal at Pittsburgh: It’s rare that a player can be so remembered in only three games with a club, but every Pens fan can tell you about G Antti Niemi‘s short three-game tenure with the squad to start the season.
- Anaheim at Calgary: Playoff rematches from a year ago aren’t so important at this point in the season, but this is the Flames’ last chance to exact any revenge against the Ducks this campaign.
Now, there’s certainly important games in terms of playoff implications being played tonight (looking at you St. Louis and, to a lesser extent, Calgary). However, for the last few days, my eyes have been drawn to the bottom of the league standings to what should be a better game between the Coyotes and Sabres than meets the eye, even if both clubs have a good chance at snagging the first-overall draft pick.
While the 24-37-11 Coyotes are still a ways off of challenging Vegas for the top of the Pacific Division, they have not been playing as poorly as their position as second-to-last in the Western Conference would indicate. In fact, Arizona has posted a 6-3-1 record in its 10 games this March.
The biggest reason for the Yotes’ most recent success goes by the name 16-16-6 G Antti Raanta. Even in the face of a defense that has allowed 31.3 shots against per game this calendar month (the 14th-fewest in the league in that time), Raanta has posted an impressive .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. This solid run has improved his season marks to a .925 save percentage and 2.41 GAA.
Even with the Coyotes traveling to Raleigh after tonight’s game for a tilt against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it appears Raanta will man the pipes tonight as Joe Yerdon reported he was in the starter’s crease at this morning’s skate.
Similar to Arizona, 23-37-12 Buffalo also hasn’t been as bad as last in the league would indicate lately. Not only have the Sabres posted a 3-4-1 record since March 2, but they’ve done it in light of facing a tough schedule (at Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Calgary, vs. Vegas, vs. Toronto and vs. Nashville) that even the best of teams would struggle with.
That being said, the biggest reason Buffalo still has a losing record over this eight-game run has to be its struggling defense. Even with F Ryan O’Reilly (10 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Rasmus Ristolainen (three hits per game and 1.8 blocks per game since March 2) pouring their hearts out on the defensive end, the Sabres are still allowing 36.75 shots against per game since March 2, the third-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
As would be expected when faced with that kind of assault, the Sabres’ goaltenders have struggled to keep up. In his last three starts, 8-11-3 G Chad Johnson – tonight’s starter – has managed only a .9 save percentage and 4.11 GAA. While that save percentage is slightly better than the .897 he’s managed for the entire season, the sheer quantity of shots faced means his recent GAA is well over his 3.27 season mark.
It’s at this point where we turn this preview on its head. I’m almost always of the opinion that players have little to no interest in tanking or improving draft odds, hence my struggle with the idea of tanking. Unless they’ve given up on their teammates, players and coaches are always going to put 100 percent effort into their play.
However, I’m very certain General Managers Jason Botterill and John Chayka are keeping a close eye on this game and hoping that things go their clubs’ way… by things not going their clubs’ way. With that in mind, let’s discuss how much winning this game can do to impair either team’s chance at drafting first overall.
As things currently stand, the Sabres are 31st in the league and have the best shot at the first overall pick (in other words, they have an 18 percent chance of drafting
Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov or Brady Tkachuk whomever they think is the best fit for their organization). However, it’s still a tight race at the bottom of the NHL, as the last three teams are separated by only one point. Should Buffalo win this game, it will vault Arizona and Vancouver into 29th in the league. Third-to-last has a 10.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.
Speaking of 29th-place, that is exactly where the Coyotes currently reside since they’re winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it) a games-played tiebreaker with Vancouver. Should Arizona win tonight’s tilt, it will pull within two points of 28th-place Ottawa, the team that has a 9.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.
The last time these teams squared off was November 2 at Gila River Arena, and it was an incredibly entertaining affair. Even though First Star LW Benoit Pouliot had scored two goals and tacked on another assist to give Buffalo a comfortable 5-1 lead, the Sabres allowed Arizona to score three third period goals. Buffalo was saved by the final horn and escaped the Grand Canyon State with a 5-4 victory.
Based simply on defense, it looks like the Coyotes have the upper hand in this game. Mix in the fact that their offense has averaged 2.6 goals per game in March to Buffalo’s 2.25, and it becomes a no-brainer.
In desperate need of two points, the Dallas Stars still sit on the outside of the playoff picture after losing yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day against the Washington Capitals 4-3 at Capital One Arena.
The game started exactly how the Stars would have liked, as they entered the first intermission with a 1-0 advantage. With 3:56 remaining in the first frame, F Tyler Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star of the Game D John Klingberg) took advantage of C Nicklas Backstrom getting thrown into the penalty box for tripping Klingberg to score a power play snap shot.
However, it didn’t take long after the start of the second period for the Capitals to take a lead of their own. F T.J. Oshie (C Lars Eller and Second Star W Alex Ovechkin) got Washington on the scoreboard at the 4:07 mark of the frame with a wrist shot, and D Matt Niskanen followed him with an unassisted wrister only 1:25 later to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
Scoring subsided until 8:12 remained in the period when Radulov (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) leveled the game with a snapper, but Ovechkin (First Star D John Carlson and Oshie) regained a one-goal advantage for the Caps on a power play slap shot only 1:53 later. Benn completed the period’s scoring with a wrister, tying the score at 3-3 1:45 before the second intermission.
As would be expected from a a tie entering the final 20 minutes of regulation, there was tons of action at both ends of the ice. In total, 21 shots on goal were registered between the two teams in the third frame – split as evenly as possible. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Capitals take credit for the remaining shot on goal, and it proved to be the game-winner.
With 4:59 remaining in regulation and the teams playing under four-on-four conditions (C Radek Faksa and D Brooks Orpik were in the penalty box for respective slashing and roughing infractions against one another), Ovechkin collected a centering pass to nobody by Eller in the left corner. After advancing towards the trapezoid, the captain returned the puck to Eller waiting in the opposite corner, who saw Carlson wide open above the right face-off circle and delivered him a perfect setup pass. The defenseman one-timed a nasty clapper over G Kari Lehtonen‘s glove shoulder to set the 4-3 final score.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).
Home teams are trying to reclaim their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, the 89-52-20 hosts now have a 35-point advantage over the roadies.
The Carolina Hurricanes are looking for a new general manager and Nick would like to be considered for the job. Meanwhile, Connor’s riding the hype train that is the Arizona Coyotes (and Florida Panthers, you know for their more realistic postseason expectations). Oh yeah, Petr Mrazek is not a good starter. Also the current playoff format is still bad.
1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)
After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).
It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.
Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?
Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.
If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.
Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik
2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)
After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.
Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).
Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.
Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.
Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.
Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.
But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)
New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.
The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.
First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami Vatanen–Adam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.
Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.
There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).
New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.
The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.
It’s a buyers market.
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)
Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.
Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.
Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.
The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)
After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.
Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.
As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.
That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.
The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.
But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.
For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.
Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)
6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)
The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?
New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…
The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.
Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.
The Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)
New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.
The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?
Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.
Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)
Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.
The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.
They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).
Not every player is washed up.
Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.
Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.
Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.
And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).
Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.
Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)