Tag Archives: Thomas Vanek

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

Is Player Usage Costing Jackets a Playoff Series?

Most of the focus in analyzing the playoff performance seems to focus on Sergei Bobrovsky.  This is understandable given Bobrovsky’s history of giving up three or more goals in playoff games, but it ignores another reason that the Jackets may be struggling against the Capitals as their series has progressed and that is player usage.

The Jackets played 82 games prior to the playoffs and that data tells us a lot about which players were making positive contributions to the team and which players weren’t.  Yet, John Tortorella’s player usage in this series suggests that some old school thoughts about playoff hockey may be leading to the Jackets deploying players in a sub-optimal manner.  In a series defined by close games and, more importantly, overtime games, choices in player deployment can be the difference between being up 3-2 and being down 3-2.

Let’s take the case of Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Bjorkstrand finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% of 51.64 percent and was fifth on the team with 40 points.  Furthermore, Bjorkstrand had become a very solid player at both ends at the ice, something that Tortorella had him focused on at the start of the season.  Yet, through five games of this series, the only players with less time-on-ice than Bjorkstrand were Alexander Wennberg (who has only played in two games due to injury), Mark Letestu, and Sonny Milano (a healthy scratch for Game 5).  After scoring a goal in Game 5, Torts finally started playing Bjorkstrand more in the rest of the game and the result was a number of solid shifts where the puck was held in the Caps zone–something the Jackets have struggled with in this series. Bjorkstrand’s line had two of the best opportunities in the overtime period of Game 5.

One of the players getting less ice time than Bjorkstrand is Milano, who was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but played little to no minutes in the prior four games.  Like Bjorkstrand, Milano had a positive 5-on-5 CF% of 50.91 percent.  He put up 14 goals in only 55 games and his return to the lineup was one of the things that helped the Jackets down the stretch.  In fact, Milano was paired with Bjorkstrand on a line centered by Nick Foligno that provided a scoring threat when the top line wasn’t on the ice during a part of March.  That line was scuttled by Foligno’s injury.

So, who has been getting ice time over Milano and Bjorkstrand?  Thomas Vanek, for one.  While Vanek had positive possession numbers in 19 games for the Jackets, his possession numbers in Vancouver were less than stellar with a 45.01 percent 5-on-5 CF%. Seven goals and eight assists in 19 games was also probably not a sustainable pace for the 34 year-old Vanek.

You have to wonder how much of the decision to play Vanek more than Bjorkstrand and Milano comes down to an antiquated view of “playoff hockey.”  Neither Milano nor Bjorkstrand are known for a gritty or grinding style.  They aren’t veterans.  And, while Bjorkstrand is solid in his own end, Milano is still a work-in-progress in this respect.  However, none of this changes the fact that the team is better off with them in the lineup and playing.  The fact is that Milano is a dangerous player in both good ways and bad and the good still outweighs the bad based on what the advanced stats tell us.  Given Vanek’s own unforced-errors in Game 4, it hardly seems like playing him more has solved anything and it has, arguably, taken a more skilled player off the ice and certainly taken a quicker skater off the ice.

With Wennberg back in the lineup, one of Brandon Dubinsky or Letestu should be out of the lineup to make room for Milano.  The sole reason this apparently hasn’t happened would seem to be face-offs.  Wennberg is clearly being sheltered from this part of his duties, while Boone Jenner is actually being put in for spot face-off duty.

I’m not sure this is good enough justification to keep them both in.  Jenner has been strong enough in the face-off dot, as has Foligno.  Letestu been so-so this series and Dubinsky has been strong, though Dubinsky has taken three penalties while Letestu has taken none.  Flip a coin, but one of these two should sit instead of dividing minutes and taking a roster spot that could be held by a better player.  If you want to see how smart coaches can make dumb decisions about players based on overemphasizing face-offs, take a look at Jay Beagle‘s possession stats sometime.  Woof.

That’s another thing, here.  The Caps have dog crap for depth.  They had six forwards who played regularly who finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% above 50 percent.  One of them–Burakovsky–is out for the series.  How many regular forwards did Columbus have above that mark?  Eight, all of whom who are available to play in this series.  That means the Jackets are one line deeper than Washington.  Josh Anderson is playing bottom-six minutes for the Jackets.  I’ve got no problem with that as long as (1) the right people are getting more minutes than him and (2) the Jackets more evenly divide the minutes.

Why should the minutes be divided more evenly?  Because the Caps have dog crap for depth AND these games are going into overtime.  The Jackets should be taking more advantage of their depth by spreading minutes more evenly.  Keep the legs fresh.  This isn’t the old days.  Penalties are called regularly in the playoffs now and the old grind and hold game doesn’t work.  The team with fresh legs is best prepared to capitalize on mistakes in overtime.  You look at the last shift yesterday and the Jackets’ top line was gassed and the Caps took advantage on the cycle.  Divide minutes more evenly and the story might end differently.  The Jackets can afford to do it because the skill difference between their third and second lines isn’t as pronounced as it is for Washington.

If the Jackets want to take it to Washington tomorrow, John Tortorella needs to face his fears and embrace the fact that speed and skill is what wins games in hockey in 2018, even in the playoffs.  Yes, Milano will make mistakes, but so have the guys who have played in place of him.  Show faith in your young players.  They are the future of this team and they didn’t let you down for the 82 games that preceded this series.  Don’t abandon them now because of fear, embrace them as your hope.  Depth is your advantage, press your advantage.  Divide playing time more equally not just because you expect these games to go to overtime, but because it is to your advantage even over 60 minutes of hockey.  Torts needs to think about his own motto in a new way.  When it comes to coaching playoff games in 2018, Safe Is Death.

Costly penalties abound; Jackets win 4-3 in overtime

 

In a contest filled with a combined 29 penalty minutes and four power play goals, the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 4-3 overtime victory to beat the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in Game 1 of their first round matchup.

With the exception of this being the first overtime match of the 2018 postseason, easily the biggest story coming out of this game is RW Josh Anderson‘s boarding penalty against D Michal Kempny with 2:37 remaining in the first period. Kempny struggled to return to his skates after the hit and never returned to the game, earning Anderson a match penalty (and a probable call from the Department of Player Safety if D Drew Doughty‘s one-game suspension is any indication) and the Capitals a five-minute power play.

Having managed only four shots on goal in their first two power plays against Columbus’ (t)fifth-worst regular season penalty kill, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov took matters into his own hands to score two goals in the first 58 seconds of Anderson’s infraction. Both markers, which set the score at 2-0, were a result of primary apples from C Nicklas Backstrom and hockey assists by Third Star D John Carlson.

However, the man-advantage didn’t just favor the hosts, as the Blue Jackets also earned themselves a pair of power play markers in the third period – including the tally that forced overtime.

RW Tom Wilson was caught charging D Ryan Murray 1:18 into the third period, and W Thomas Vanek (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and First Star LW Artemi Panarin) needed only 13 seconds of the man-advantage to tie the game at 2-2 with a wrist shot (C Alexander Wennberg [F Boone Jenner and Vanek] got the Jackets on the board with a second period even-strength goal).

Even though Washington regained a one-goal lead at the 5:12 mark when W Devante Smith-Pelly (LW Jakub Vrana and Carlson) scored a wrister, another Capitals penalty – this one an W Andre Burakovsky tripping infraction against D Seth Jones – proved to really send the hosts off the rails.

Burakovsky was sent to the sin bin with 5:05 remaining in regulation with a two-minute sentence, but Jones (Panarin and RW Cam Atkinson) – the very man he tripped – found it in him to post his bail after serving only 39 seconds of confinement by scoring a wrister.

Forgiveness is a fickle thing in the NHL, isn’t it?

Speaking of forgiveness, the Capitals will be begging for it from Head Coach Barry Trotz before too long considering how easily Panarin (D Ian Cole and Dubois) was able to get into position to rip his overtime wrister over G Philipp Grubauer‘s left shoulder.

Upon receiving Cole’s falling pass from Columbus’ zone, Panarin sped along the left boards – dodging D Dmitry Orlov in the process – to end up on Grubauer’s front porch. Instead of being patient and attempting to drag the play across the crease, Panarin elected to elevate his wrister from the slot to beat the netminder to the far post.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Grubauer, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

With the obvious goal of limiting penalties in Game 2, the energy levels of both teams – specifically Columbus’ offense and Washington’s defense – will be of much interest. Playing almost the entire game short a skater can be extremely taxing, and everyone involved will surely be grateful for the extra day off before returning to Capital One Arena.

Speaking of Game 2,  it’s scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to Capital One Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS2.

March 31 – Day 171 – Flower Power vs. everybody

Including today, only nine days of regular season hockey are left this year! Are you excited for the playoffs yet?

Play starts at 1 p.m. today with Florida at Boston (SN), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Detroit (SN1/TVAS). Columbus at Vancouver (SN360) completes the afternoon’s matinees, as the next four tilts (Winnipeg at Toronto [CBC/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey, Montréal at Pittsburgh [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. mark the puck drop of a pair of tilts (Buffalo at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas), while St. Louis at Arizona waits an hour before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN/SN360) gets green-lit at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vegas. All times Eastern.

A few of the games that stuck out to me – at least at the beginning of the season – include:

  • Florida at Boston: Welcome back to Beantown, F Frank Vatrano! Let’s see if you can get an important two points for your new team against the one that traded you.
  • Columbus at Vancouver: Speaking of trades, the deadline swap that sent W Thomas Vanek to Ohio might be among the most impactful this season.
  • Buffalo at Nashville: Another return will occur in this game, but this one features Phil Housley at Bridgestone Arena, the place he’d been an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: Even though both of these sides are ineligible for the postseason, don’t expect the nastiness to see any sort of decline.

Of those, the Panthers-Bruins game is obviously the most impactful on this postseason. However, there’s also the Jets-Maple Leafs and Sharks-Golden Knights games taking place today, both of which are certainly worthy of our attention.

Though I would recommend watching all three, we may only feature one in this column. As such, let’s make the trip to the Silver State to get a preview of a potential second round matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a wild ride for the 49-22-7 Golden Knights this regular season, and much to the delight of them and their fans, there’s still at least one more chapter to be written in the playoffs.

However, it doesn’t seem like Vegas is looking too far ahead into the playoffs, as they’re still playing some exemplary hockey down the stretch even though they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Since March 18, Vegas has posted a wildly impressive 4-1-2 record to hold on to its spot atop the Pacific Division.

Is it any surprise that a three-time Stanley Cup champion is the one leading the Knights down the stretch? 28-12-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenomenal in his last five starts, even despite a defense that has allowed an average of 33 shots against per game since March 18, the 11th-most in the league in that time.

Even facing that almost constant pressure, Fleury has managed an imposing .964 save percentage and 1.14 GAA over that stretch that’s even better than the .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA he’s posted for the entire regular season, both of which are second-best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.

With 12-3-2 G Malcolm Subban playing in Vegas’ 4-3 overtime victory last night against the Blues, Fleury will be totally rested and prepared for whatever San Jose throws at him tonight.

Speaking of, if we want to talk about teams closing the regular season on a hot run, the 44-24-10 Sharks have to enter into that conversation. San Jose has managed an 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games, due in large part to its unstoppable offense.

None have been able to keep the Sharks under control lately, as they come to Vegas averaging 4.2 goals per game since March 12, the best attack in the Western Conference and second-best in the NHL.

What might be the most impressive thing about San Jose’s attack is that, short of D Brent Burns‘ 1-9-10 marks in his last 10 games, no other skater is averaging at least a point per game during this run. That means that instead of one Shark dominating the game, it’s instead the entire offense contributing.

That’s no more apparent than when we look at who has been on the receiving end of Burns’ last nine assists. With the exception of F Logan Couture and F Joe Pavelski both scoring two goals following passes from Burns, no player has scored more than one goal with an assist from the defenseman in San Jose’s last 10 games. In total, seven different players have benefited from a Burns helper, representing all four lines of forwards.

Much to the disappointment of hockey fans, tonight marks the finale of the regular season series between these two squads. Having earned five points against the Sharks to their three, Vegas has had the upper hand so far this year when taking on San Jose, but the visitors could level the series tonight with a regulation win.

San Jose and Vegas first squared off on November 24 at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights held on to win a wild 5-4 game in overtime (F Jon Marchessault scored the game-winner). Game 2 wasn’t until February 8 at SAP Center, but home ice didn’t help the Sharks avoid a 5-3 loss (Fleury earned First Star honors with his 35-save effort).

Most recently, the Knights returned to San Jose on March 22 – only nine days ago – to finally suffer their first defeat at the hands fins of the Sharks, who won 2-1 in overtime (that game-winner belonged to Couture).

Should San Jose be able to earn a regulation win tonight, it would level the season series against Vegas at five points apiece.

Of course, that’s not the main reason the Sharks want to win this game. Currently trailing the Golden Knights by seven points, there’s still technically an outside shot they could dismantle Vegas from atop the Pacific Division. After tonight’s game, both clubs will have three games remaining on the schedule, meaning the Sharks would need to effectively win out while Vegas also loses all three tilts in regulation.

What a matchup we are about to witness! No one has been able to slow down the Sharks’ attack lately, yet no offense has been able to beat Fleury. Even though they’re on the road, I like the Sharks to win this game since they’ve been able to find offensive contributions from their entire team lately. That constant pressure should be enough to wear Fleury down.


In a defensive affair that surprisingly featured only one penalty, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Honda Center.

The Kings wasted no time in finding their regulation goal, as D Drew Doughty (C Anze Kopitar and W Dustin Brown) scored a wrist shot 6:01 into the game to give Los Angeles the advantage.

Anaheim didn’t respond until 3:05 remained in the second period. Third Star of the Game LW Nick Ritchie (D Francois Beauchemin and W Ondrej Kase) banged home a backhanded shot to level the game at 1-1.

The defenses really amped up their games in the third period, as only a combined nine shots made it on goal in the final 20 minutes. In particular, the Kings’ D-corps played especially well, limiting the Ducks to only two scoring opportunities to keep the game tied at the end of regulation.

That defensive theme continued through most of the overtime period, as it took 4:41 of three-on-three play before First Star F Rickard Rakell (D Brandon Montour and Kase) scored his third game-winner of the season.

Montour and Kase earned assists, but this goal was all about Rakell. He carried the puck from blue line to blue line, even with F Trevor Lewis doing his best to maintain a defensive presence. Once Rakell finally reached the right face-off dot, he used D Alec Martinez as a screen to rip an elevated snap shot to the far post, beating helpless G Jonathan Quick before he could even react.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).

Another DtFR Game of the Day, another home victory. The Ducks are the seventh-consecutive host to win their game in the featured series, and they also extend the 97-53-21 home teams’ point streak to nine games. Hosts in the series now have a 44-point lead on the roadies.

March 11 – Day 151 – I’Monahan-d it to ya, today’s slate would be more interesting after a few glasses of Bailey’s.

For those of you who expected less cringe-inducing puns with @connorzkeith on the IR, these past 3 days have surely been painful. My gracious cohorts have blessed me with the weekend’s slimmest pickings on this 4-game Sunday, so let’s just have a rundown of the games on the slate, shall we?

At 12:30pm EST (so that’s 11:30am local, on the morning of the time change, so let’s see how well the legs get moving at a typical morning skate timeslot on short rest) we have the scorching-hot Boston Bruins taking on 2003’s Chicago Blackhawks (for those of us who can remember a time where they were a bad team). An Original 6 matchup at the Madhouse on Madison would normally get the nod for Game of the Day (NBC gave it to them) but the Hawks are a shell of their former selves and are limping home to lick their wounds in the offseason while Boston runs roughshod over nearly every opponent they come into contact with. I’m not expecting a barnburner here.

At 7:30pm EST we have a tilt that could be fun, with two high-flying offenses squaring off in Pittsburgh as the Penguins host the Dallas Stars. The Penguins’ balanced attack will attempt to counter the OP Benn-Seguin-Radulov combo in a showdown that wouldn’t actually shock me if the final score was 9-8. But the possibility of a blowout snoozer (in either direction) definitely persists with a pair of teams that occasionally lay absolute eggs defensively, so I’m going to pass on this one for today’s honor.

At 9:00pm EST we have the very, very bad Arizona Coyotes hosting the ‘so bad we traded Thomas Vanek for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte‘ Vancouver Canucks in the ‘Duel for Dahlin’. I…I just cannot be bothered to care about this game.

So then we are left with just one option, and the matchup that has earned the nomination for my first (and hopefully only) Game of the Day matchup:

Yes the old bitter rivalry between the Islanders and Flames is well-documented, and this one should live up to all the hype! [/sarcasm]

Alright, but really, this has the potential to actually be sort of fun.

Calgary is returning home after winning two straight on the road (a 5-1 thumping of Buffalo and a 2-1 victory over the Sens) for the start of a brief homestand, and are currently neck-deep in an absolute knock-down, drag-out, bare-knuckle brawl for the Western Conference wild card spots (5 points seperate 5 teams) and also trail San Jose and Anaheim by just 3 and 2 points respectively for 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division.

Meanwhile, in Long Island (Brooklyn), the Isles are clinging desperately to their playoff dreams, as they haven’t won a game since February 16th, but have managed to snag pity points in 4 of the 8 losses. They’re a solid distance off of the final wild card spot, but the Devils team they’re chasing has been a bit shaky recently, and with their next 4 games against divisional opponents, with 3 coming on home ice (in fact they play 7 of 10 at Barclays to close out March), they desperately need to use this game to grab some momentum if they hope to mount any sort of a charge at sneaking into the postseason.

In the ‘fun-to-watch’ department, both of these squads give you no shortage of reasons to tune into this tilt. Calgary boasts a trio of 20-goal men in Michael Ferlund, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk, along with 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan. The latter is probably the most underrated pure sniper in the league today, possessing the kind of shot that leaves jaws agape and goaltenders waving hopelessly at thin air. Gaudreau is as shifty and entertaining as anyone, and routinely makes plays that make you question his relationship with physics. Throw in the young trio of offensively talented spark plugs in Ferlund, Tkachuk, and Sam Bennett (55 goals, 111 points, and 134 penalty minutes between them), and you have a fun group up front.

Even on defense the Flames have no shortage of entertainers. Captain Mark Giordano continues to make his case for the best defenseman in the league that no one has heard of, joining the flashy TJ Brodie and power play specialist Dougie Hamilton as Calgary’s trio of 30+ point d-men. Plus you can always count on some bone-jarring hits from Travis Hamonic to liven things up.

For the Islanders, the offense borders on the overpowering. New York has 3 players at point-per-game paces (okay, fine, Tavares has 67 in 68 games, whatever) and a host of others scoring more than their fair share. Captain John Tavares and linemate Anders Lee are both sitting on 31 goals this year, with Tavares’ aforementioned 67 points slightly overshadowing Lee’s 51. Josh Bailey continues his breakout campaign posting 65 points in 64 games, while new addition Jordan Eberle has posted 47 points so far, himself. But the biggest story is without a doubt rookie sensation Mathew Barzal. The diminutive youngster has posted 69 points in 68 games and is the hands-down favorite for the Calder Trophy this year.

The Isles can’t boast the same defensive firepower as Calgary, but Nick Leddy‘s 38 points outdo any single member of the Flames’ big three (although his Mike Commodore ‘Green Jacket’-worthy -33 rating beggars belief). Ryan Pulock and his 105mm Howitzer of a point shot come 2nd on the team at 21 points, but possibly most impressive has been young Thomas Hickey, who’s 20 points are accompanied by a +15 rating. On a team with a -24 goal differential, that’s immensely impressive.

The biggest divider between the two squads comes in net.

Mike Smith has been everything the Flames and their flashy-but-risky style of play could have hoped for. Posting a .921 save percentage and 2.53 GAA on the year, he has been just the steadying influence the Flames have asked him to be.

Now…for the Islanders…basically the entirety of their problems can be traced to their goaltending situation. As I wrote in my season preview article many months ago, for New York it was going to come down to either Jaroslav Halak takes over the net and leads them to success, or they’re going to have a bad time.

They’re having a bad time.

Halak has managed just a .908 save percentage with a 3.23 GAA in 47 contests this year, and while backup Thomas Greiss does possess a seemingly-fine 11-7-2 record, many of his appearances have been in relief and his numbers are even more abysmal at .891 and 3.84. If the Islanders had even average goaltending, that offense would have them firmly in the playoff picture. Instead, they’re clinging to hopes and dreams.

Two hungry teams with flashy offenses and risky styles of play should make for a fun game, so I’ll put my stamp on Islanders @ Flames for today’s DTFR Game of the Day.

In yesterday’s Game of the Day segment, @nlanciani53 told you that you should watch the Washington Capitals attempt to right the ship on their west coast swing against the San Jose Sharks.

I assume he’d like me to apologize for that.

On a day full of fun games, the Sharks and Caps played to a bit of a snoozer, with Washington eventually winning 2-0 in the Shark Tank.

Philipp Grubauer managed a 23-save shutout, but teammate Alex Ovechkin was also shutout once again in his pursuit of 600 career goals. In fact, aside from Nick Backstrom tally in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd period, nobody managed to beat a goaltender the entire game, as Lars Eller‘s 2-0 dagger was scored into an empty net in the 3rd.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #95- Call The Ex-Sturm-inator

Nick and Connor recap the 2018 trade deadline, 2018 Winter Games and 2018 overall even though it’s only March. Marco Sturm is worthy of an NHL coaching job, but will anyone take the risk? Hint: They should. Also, more thoughts on the Erik Karlsson saga.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

TRADE: Vanek panic hits Columbus

F Thomas Vanek is packing his bags once again this trade deadline, as he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for F Tyler Motte and F Jussi Jokinen.

Once a first-round selection by Buffalo, 34-year-old Vanek is slated to wear the eighth new sweater of his NHL career and fifth different crest since the 2015-’16 season (MIN, DET, FLA, VAN and CBJ).

The Vienna, Austria native has enjoyed much success over his 14-year NHL career, posting 350-388-738 totals in 946 career regular season games (.78 points per game), but the one thing that has eluded him has been the Stanley Cup.

With that in mind, he’s bringing his 17-24-41 totals to the Jackets to help them improve on their current position as the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. His impact will surely be felt immediately considering Columbus’ anemic 2.53 goals per game this season – the third-worst effort in the NHL.

Vanek is earning $2 million this season on a one-year deal. He’ll be a UFA this offseason barring an extension signed with Columbus. Should he impress, that is entirely possible considering the Jackets’ projected $17.7 million in cap space.

In return for Vanek, Vancouver is receiving Jokinen and Motte.

Jokinen was included in the deal mostly to alleviate Vanek’s $2 million cap hit, as the Finn is earning $1.1 million for this one-year deal. The 34-year-old has posted only 1-6-7 totals this season between three different clubs, as he has already been traded and claimed off waivers this season.

Instead, the Canucks must be more interested in Motte, a native of St. Clair, Mich. – a town northeast of Detroit right on the American-Canadian border. Originally drafted by Chicago in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Motte is a natural center that will turn 23-years-old this March.

Motte has spent little time in the NHL – only 64 games in the past two seasons, to be exact – but he has shown promise in limited time, posting 7-5-12 totals. This season, he played 31 games with the Jackets, earning 3-2-5 marks.

In 17 games with the Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Cleveland this season, Motte has posted 9-2-11 marks. His goalscoring in the minor leagues indicates to me that his development is currently somewhere between the NHL and AHL level, but if he can continue to improve he could mesh well with Brock Besser and Bo Horvat with the Canucks.

Making $925 thousand per year, Motte is under contract through next season, after which he’ll be a restricted free agent.

2018 NHL Trade Deadline Recap

Today– Monday, February 26, 2018 for those of you who have yet to look at a calendar– is the annual NHL Trade Deadline. All 31 NHL teams have until 3:00p ET to get their trade calls into the league office before they can get approved (or rejected).

@connorzkeith and I are tackling the challenge of updating this here DTFR Trade Deadline Live Blog while also writing quick recaps and analysis for every trade that occurs.

So gather around your TVs, phones, laptops, tablets or whatever let’s you refresh Twitter all day and chill with us as we all try to survive the inevitable Ottawa Senators-Erik Karlsson debacle madness that is the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline.


DTFR Top-10 Best Available Players to Acquire

  1. D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (27)
  2. D Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers (28) TRADED TO TB
  3. LW Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres (26) TRADED TO SJ
  4. LW Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers (29) TRADED TO NJ
  5. C/LW Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes (22)
  6. LW Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens (29)
  7. LW Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes (25)
  8. C/LW Zack Smith, Ottawa Senators (29)
  9. RW Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers (30)
  10. D Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings (32)

In the first deal of the day, the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired D Ian Cole from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 3rd round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and F Nick Moutrey. MORE

The Chicago Blackhawks traded F Ryan Hartman and a 5th round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to the Nashville Predators in exchange for F Victor Edjsell, a 1st round pick and a 4th round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. MORE

F Paul Stastny was traded by the St. Louis Blues to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for F Erik Foley, a 2018 1st round pick and a conditional 4th round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. MORE

D Philip Holm was traded by the Vancouver Canucks to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for F Brendan Leipsic. MORE

Columbus acquired F Ryan Kujawinski from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for F Jordan Maletta. MORE

The San Jose Sharks acquired F Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for F Danny O’Regan, a conditional 2019 1st round pick and a conditional 2019 4th round pickMORE

F Jason Chimera was traded to the Anaheim Ducks by the New York Islanders in exchange for F Chris Wagner. MORE

The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Thomas Vanek from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for F Tyler Motte and F Jussi Jokinen. MORE

The Carolina Hurricanes traded F Josh Jooris to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for F Greg McKegg. MORE

F Tomas Tatar was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights by the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2018 1st round pick, a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2021 3rd round pick. MORE

The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired D Ryan McDonagh and F J.T. Miller from the New York Rangers in exchange for F Vladislav NamestnikovF Brett HowdenD Libor Hajek, a 2018 1st round pick and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2019. MORE

The Ottawa Senators traded F Nick Shore to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2019 7th round pick. MORE

Winnipeg acquired D Joe Morrow from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2018 4th round pick. MORE

F Patrick Maroon was traded by the Edmonton Oilers to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for F J.D. Dudek and a 2019 3rd round pick. MORE

Montreal acquired D Mike Reilly from the Minnesota Wild in exchanged for a 5th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (via Washington). MORE

Columbus sent F Carter Camper to Arizona for future considerations. MORE

The Boston Bruins acquired F Tommy Wingels from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional 5th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. MORE

The Colorado Avalanche traded D Chris Bigras to the New York Rangers in exchange for D Ryan Graves. MORE

Arizona acquired F Pierre-Cedric LabrieD Trevor Murphy and F Derek Army from Nashville for F Tyler Gaudet and John Ramage. MORE

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Atlantic Division

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1. Tampa Bay Lightning– 40-17-3 (83 points, 60 GP)

Though the Tampa Bay Lightning have been on top of the Eastern Conference all season, the Boston Bruins are catching them and sure to give the Bolts a run for their money in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What do you mean that will never happen because of the current playoff format? Way to be a buzzkill, NHL.

Tampa general manager, Steve Yzerman, worked his magic on the ice for years in Detroit and his magic has gotten even better as a GM. The Lightning don’t need older guys like Dan Girardi or Chris Kunitz on the team and yet– here they are– sitting in 1st in the Atlantic Division with those guys on the roster.

The Lightning have about $2.000 million in cap space right now with some pretty important pending-RFAs to re-sign this offseason. Then again, when isn’t that the case for them?

Just try not to make a bad move at the deadline (or any moves, really) and Yzerman will find a way to keep Vladislav Namestnikov and Slater Koekkoek around for a few more years.

Potential assets to trade: F Ryan Callahan (if he’ll waive his NMC), D Braydon Coburn, F Erik Condra, F Adam Erne, D Dan Girardi, F Chris Kunitz

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), D Johnny Oduya (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Boston Bruins– 37-13-8 (82 points, 58 GP)

At the time of this writing, I had the Boston Bruins pinpointed on Nick Holden as an option in case they aren’t able to pull off a Ryan McDonagh trade with the New York Rangers. Holden’s cheaper, a year removed from his best season in his career and a clear top-six defenseman that’ll boost not only Boston’s depth, but solidify their blue line as contenders.

Look, it didn’t cost the Bruins much, considering Rob O’Gara was stuck in the midst of an overcrowded pool of defensive prospects and not every third round pick is making the NHL for more than half a season. Holden has the chance of becoming the next Tomas Kaberle for Boston (and let’s check where Joe Colborne is these days, oh right San Antonio).

Or Holden could stick around for a little longer if things work out just right.

If general manager, Don Sweeney, is confident in his roster, he’s set. If he’s looking to add without subtracting that “necessary” one or two more pieces to put the Bruins over the edge and into Stanley Cup favorites, then sure, he’ll find it.

Sweeney is all about holding onto his cards and being tactically smart. He’s improved in each of his three years as general manager around this time of year.

They really shouldn’t part with Jakub Zboril so early, considering he must be next in line behind Jeremy Lauzon. Yet if there’s an offer that’s too good to refuse and all indications point towards finding your next veteran defenseman for the post-Tom Brady 2.0 (at least in terms of age and playing ability) Zdeno Chara days, then sure, go for it.

Potential assets to trade: F Frank Vatrano, D Jakub Zboril

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Derek Ryan (CAR), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR)– acquired on Tuesday, D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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3. Toronto Maple Leafs– 37-20-5 (79 points, 62 GP)

Despite having immense youth and talent, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves at a crossroads. Do they go for it this season (without any cap room)?

Or should they move some pieces to make the future work to their advantage (at a time when Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and crew are ready for their Stanley Cup Final debut)?

With these questions in mind, it seems a guy like James van Riemsdyk‘s time might be running short. Alas, van Riemsdyk has a modified-no trade clause and carries a $4.250 million cap hit– all while being a pending-UFA this July– but that’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

There’s still 21 teams he can be traded to and up to 50 percent of his salary can be retained if that’s a concern for anyone.

Joffrey Lupul‘s contract expires at the end of this season, so the Maple Leafs won’t have to go back and put him on the long-term injured reserve every September. It might be a smart idea to move Nathan Horton‘s contract elsewhere *ahem, Arizona* to try to get something out of it and not have to go through the LTIR motions. Neither of those situations is pressing, just food for thought.

This isn’t the year to cash in if you’re Toronto.

That might be painful for a guy like Patrick Marleau to hear, then again, he did sign a three-year contract last summer. He’s in it for the long haul and so is the Maple Leafs front office as they navigate what Matthews, Marner and Nylander’s second contracts will be.

Nylander, by the way, is a pending-RFA this summer.

Potential assets to trade: F Tyler Bozak, F Nathan Horton, F Josh Leivo, F James van Riemsdyk

Potential assets to acquire: F Antoine Vermette (ANA), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Matt Cullen (MIN), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL)

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4. Florida Panthers– 26-25-6 (58 points, 57 GP)

The Florida Panthers have about $7.100 million in cap space currently and the opportunity to be the best of the worst teams in the Atlantic Division.

They can’t buy in bulk, but they can buy the right pieces to make themselves playoff contenders again since they blew whatever plans they had in the dismissal of Gerard Gallant as head coach and losses of Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights last June.

Another top-four defenseman and one or two of the right top-nine forwards should really make an impact on the Panthers. This is where Florida has a decent chance at being a sleeper pick for Evander Kane.

They’ve got the cap space and the right amount of talent waiting for a complementary player.

Or Florida could become sellers and move on from everything they had built to bring themselves to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, well, nothing since.

Potential assets to trade: F Nick Bjugstad, F Derek MacKenzie, D Mark Pysyk, G James Reimer, F Radim Vrbata

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Evander Kane (BUF), G Jon Gillies (CGY), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ)

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5. Detroit Red Wings– 24-26-9 (57 points, 59 GP)

The Detroit Red Wings have a plethora of no-movement-clauses, expensive cap hits and everything else to sort through as they enter full-on rebuild mode.

As an Atlantic Division team outside of the playoff picture, they’re not going anywhere.

It’d make sense to go for a dive in the standings, but at what cost, since the draft lottery exists? A defenseman from Sweden leading the Red Wings to glory? Stop me if you’ve heard that one before, Nicklas Lidstrom.

Yes, it might sense to embrace the tank and give yourself a shot at Rasmus Dahlin, Detroit. This is your year– until the Edmonton Oilers win another lottery and then have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Dahlin on a team that’s still scraping out of the basement next season.

Everyone’s at play at this year’s deadline– except for Henrik Zetterberg (because he still believes for some reason, a.k.a. he’s the new Shane Doan).

Potential assets to trade: F Luke Glendening, D Mike Green, F Darren Helm, D Niklas Kronwall, F Gustav Nyqvist, D Xavier Ouellet, F Tomas Tatar

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects, F Max Domi (ARI), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Derek Ryan (CAR), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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6. Montreal Canadiens– 22-29-8 (52 points, 59 GP)

The Montreal Canadiens aren’t good.

Claude Julien‘s behind the bench, their scoring is down, Carey Price is fatigued (at times), Max Pacioretty’s probably going to be traded and Andrew Shaw might become the new poster boy in bleu, blanc et rouge as a result.

Nothing makes sense anymore. The Canadiens are rebuilding, about to rebuild or should rebuild.

There’s nothing else to it really. This is more than just a bad year for them, save for Buffalo and Ottawa sitting beneath them in the division. Wait, the Senators are how close?

With almost $7.200 million in cap space, the Habs can make something happen and retool on-the-fly. Though if they’re smart, they’ll try to maximize their return on any trades without jeopardizing their pending-RFAs from re-signing.

Potential assets to trade: F Alex Galchenyuk, F Max Pacioretty, D Jeff Petry, F Tomas Plekanec, F Andrew Shaw

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), G Jon Gillies (CGY), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Michael Grabner (NYR), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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7. Ottawa Senators– 21-28-10 (52 ponts, 59 GP)

If you thought things were bad in Québec, just wait until you see how the Ottawa Senators have been this year.

After nearly reaching last year’s Stanley Cup Final, the Sens thought they had a chance of making “boring” hockey exciting again. There’s just one problem– none of their players are any good, save for Erik Karlsson (who’s slumping this season), Mike Hoffman (who’s definitely going to be traded, even though GM Pierre Dorion keeps indicating he will/won’t), Mark Stone and that’s about it.

Karlsson’s a free agent after the 2018-19 season and surely won’t stick around if Ottawa doesn’t turn things around. Or worse, the Senators just might go ahead and trade their franchise defenseman.

If you thought Montreal was a dumpster fire, you’re right, but Ottawa is a thousand dumpster fires.

With about $1.315 million in cap space approaching the deadline the Senators shouldn’t have to worry. If they’re smart, that is. They’re sellers and they have to admit that they keep messing up.

In a league that’s getting younger and faster, the Sens are doing just the opposite.

Potential assets to trade: G Craig Anderson, F Derick Brassard, G Mike Condon, F Mike Hoffman, D Erik Karlsson (I don’t understand how I should even have to put him here, but I do, because it’s Ottawa we’re talking about), D Johnny Oduya, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Bobby Ryan, F Zack Smith

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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8. Buffalo Sabres– 17-32-11 (45 points, 60 GP)

Figure it out, Buffalo. One of these years.

The Buffalo Sabres have about $5.600 million in cap space approaching Monday’s trade deadline. They’ll likely have more room to work with heading into the offseason, given Evander Kane and his $5.250 million cap hit is all but assured of being on its way out of upstate New York.

The pending-UFA is the biggest prize the Sabres have to offer to a playoff contender or any team with enough cap room looking to reignite their offense.

Other than that, the goalie market looks slim at the deadline– especially after the Philadelphia Flyers already went out and got Petr Mrazek from Detroit– so Robin Lehner probably isn’t going anywhere. Yet.

Lehner is a 26-year-old pending-RFA this July and could certainly prove worthy to a team looking to overhaul its goaltending. If Sabres general manager, Jason Botterill, can’t find the right trading partner now, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so at the NHL Entry Draft in June.

As for the rest of the roster, Buffalo might take a page from Ottawa and the New York Rangers in that everyone– save for Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly— just might be available.

Don’t count the Sabres out (of the trade market, that is). They just might go all in on landing a big name or two looking for a reset.

Potential assets to trade: D Nathan Beaulieu, F Evander Kane, F Zemgus Girgensons, D Josh Gorges, G Robin Lehner, F Matt Moulson, F Benoit Pouliot, F Sam Reinhart, F Scott Wilson

Potential assets to acquire: F Antoine Vermette (ANA), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Tomas Tatar (DET), G James Reimer (FLA), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), D Erik Karlsson (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ)

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Central Division

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1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)

The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.

Oh, and they somehow added to their depth down the middle in the whole Matt Duchene, three-team trade saga that saw Kyle Turris swap out Ottawa Senators gear for a Preds sweater.

They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.

If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.

Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.

Potential assets to acquire: F Derek Ryan (CAR), D Cody Franson (CHI), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)

Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).

But what considerations has Cheveldayoff made with Jacob Trouba out for a signifcant portion of “the stretch”? What’s the game plan if a guy like Kyle Connor or Patrik Laine goes down?

Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.

They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.

And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.

Potential assets to trade: D Ben Chiarot, F Matt Hendricks, F Nic Petan

Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)

There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.

Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.

Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.

It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.

Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.

Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester

Potential assets to acquire: F Derek Ryan (CAR), F Blake Comeau (COL), F Matt Cullen (MIN), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), F David Perron (VGK)

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4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)

The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.

Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?

The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.

So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.

Backup goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, is a pending-UFA at season’s end, so it’s not like Dallas needs to make a move there, but they could help their starter, Ben Bishop, a little more.

While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.

Potential assets to trade: F Martin Hanzal, D Greg Pateryn

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)

There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).

For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.

Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.

If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.

But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.

Still, it’d be a shame to rebuild with Devan Dubnyk in net. Alas, this is the world of the salary cap and bad contracts *ahem, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise*.

Potential assets to trade: D Jonas Brodin, F Matt Cullen, D Kyle Quincey, F Chris Stewart, F Daniel Winnik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)

In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.

They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.

Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.

With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.

After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.

Potential assets to trade: D Tyson Barrie, F Gabriel Bourque, F Blake Comeau, F Rocco Grimaldi, G Semyon Varlamov, F Nail Yakupov

Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)

Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.

Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.

Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.

Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.

If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.

The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.

With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.

Potential assets to trade: F Artem Anisimov (before his NMC/modified-NTC kicks in), D Cody Franson, F Marian Hossa (if he’ll waive his NMC), F Brandon Saad, D Brent Seabrook (if he’ll waive his NMC),

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room