Trade market soon to be fueled by Eastern Conference also-rans
Off The Draw
While the gimmicky challenges and no-hit shinny draw all the headlines during All-Star weekend, the real fun in Columbus will unfold behind the scenes.
That's where the groundwork is being laid for the pending swaps of picks, prospects and players that can alter the balance of Stanley Cup contention or give a struggling team hope for the future.
And this year could be more interesting than most. With the math suggesting the race for the playoffs is all but over in the Eastern Conference, there's an earlier definition of buyers and sellers. And that could kick the trade market into gear sooner rather than later.
With an eye on the teams that are all but eliminated in the Eastern Conference, here's a look at what might lie ahead:
Sabres: Turns out that the Sabres Fire Sale of 2014 might not have been a once-in-a-lifetime event after all. With nine UFAs now ready to come off the books, no reasonable offer will be refused by GM Tim Murray as he looks to rebuild the franchise through the draft.
Seems likely, though, that those offers will come later rather than sooner. Buffalo has some interesting pieces—Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, Drew Stafford, Torrey Mitchell, Chris Stewart—but they're all players whose middling value is more likely to be maximized in the waning hours of deadline day on March 2. Don't expect to see the Sabres do much until then. And no, Tyler Myers isn't going anywhere.
Hurricanes: Eric Staal has made it clear he wants to stick it out in Raleigh and, armed with a no-movement clause, he pretty much controls his fate. The team could always ask him to reconsider but at this point that seems unlikely. Cam Ward's contract (a $6.3 million cap hit through 2016) has long been a barrier to any deal, but with decent numbers (2.45 GAA, .911 save percentage) and growing concerns over the health of several starters around the league, he might be in play. The Hurricanes have had talks with pending free agents Andrej Sekera and Jiri Tlusty regarding new deals, but GM Ron Francis won't wait much longer to get them done. With reliable blueliners in high demand, Sekera could return a second rounder and a prospect from a contender. Tlusty isn't quite as valuable, but his ability to run red hot makes him an interesting option for teams that are looking for secondary scoring.
Devils: The Devils have several pending UFAs and the whispers suggest that New Jersey would like to be active in the trade market. The question is, will anyone want to buy what the Devils have to sell? Jaromir Jagr is their most intriguing asset and he's reportedly willing to accept a move to a contender, but no one's forgotten his disappearing act for the Bruins back in 2012. The return might be a second rounder, at best ... and that's if they can find a suitor that has room for him under the salary cap. Marek Zidlicky is another possibility, although he's made it clear that he'd like to stay in New Jersey. They also have Martin Havlat, Steve Bernier, Michael Ryder, Bryce Salvador and Peter Harrold on expiring contracts, but at best they'd be seen as options of last resort in the final minutes before the deadline.
Blue Jackets: The surprising emergence of winger Josh Anderson could make Cam Atkinson and/or Matt Calvert available ahead of the deadline. Atkinson has top-six skill, but isn't a good fit for the top-six in C'bus. He's also an RFA this summer and it's easy to see how different perceptions of his value could make him a tough player to sign. Calvert might make more sense for a contender. He's a high energy player who can add some offensive pop in a bottom-six role. Mark Letestu is another depth option that might have some appeal to a team looking for insurance down the middle. The Jackets could have eight NHL-ready defenders when Ryan Murray returns from his knee injury, but don't expect GM Jarmo Kekalainen to thin the blue line herd. He knows too well what it's like to be caught short. The wild card here: Artem Anisimov. Size and two-way ability could make him an intriguing third-line spark.
Flyers: GM Ron Hextall would love to rebuild his underperforming blue line corps ... but that would require him to move underperforming blueliners. Good luck with that. There may be a market for Luke Schenn, Andrew MacDonald, Nicklas Grossman and Braydon Coburn, but it won't reveal itself until just before the deadline when other options have evaporated. There's also talk that Matt Read might be available. He could be moved as soon as this weekend, but mired in a career-worst season (just three goals in 48 games) his value is at an all-time low.
Senators: The Sens are looking to be buyers rather than sellers ahead of the deadline, with GM Bryan Murray focusing on the acquisition of a top-six forward. They'd like to move Colin Greening, but the winger is owed nearly $6 million during the next two seasons. In other words, they're stuck with him.
Maple Leafs: The opinion of one scout: “There are no untouchables on the Leafs. You want someone, make an offer.” That might be a bit hyperbolic—players like James van Reimsdyk, Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy and Jonathan Bernier should be part of the solution in Toronto moving forward—but it's just a matter of time before this team is torn down. Smaller deals are more likely at first, with depth players like James Reimer, Stephane Robidas, Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik already drawing some interest around the league, but a bolder move involving Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner or even Phil Kessel is a possibility. But with so many organizational needs, will management be paralyzed by fear of blowing their big chance? Considering this team, it wouldn't surprise me.
What you missed last night
• All-Star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky left last night's tilt against the Jets with an undisclosed injury, though it appears the Blue Jackets goalie will have to watch the festivities in Columbus from the sidelines.
• Adding to the upcoming outdoor game announcements, reports say the NHL will have contests in Colorado and Minnesota next season.
• Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo waived his right to an in-person hearing for Tuesday's hit on Kris Letang. Rinaldo is no stranger to the NHL's disciplinary system, and even said he expects to be suspended for the hit.
• This may be the first time in 10 seasons that the NHL won't have a 100-point scorer. The folks at 120 Sports take a look at the where the offense has gone.
The numbers game
• The Blackhawks' victory against the Penguins on Wednesday night was only their third win in Pittsburgh since the 1992 Stanley Cup Final, leaving Chicago at 3-9-3 there during that time span.
• The Ducks, who are 22-0-5 this season when scoring first, have not have now beaten the Flames in 20 consecutive meetings in Anaheim dating back to April 4, 2004, their longest home win streak against any NHL team.
• During the last 18 regular season meetings between the Kings and Sharks, the home team is 15-2-1.
• For decades, the Minnesota Way developed some of the country's best players. Now its treasured system is under assault, changing the way the game is played in the State of Hockey. This long-form gem is a must-read.
• Even Ryan Getzlaf needs a little inspiration now and then. Meet Hawken Miller, the young man whose courage and strength motivates the Ducks captain. A bit heavy on the schmaltz, but a terrific video feature.
• Sure, seeing this hockey dad smash the glass with one slap is amazing, but the deadpan reaction from a woman in the crowd is the golden nugget buried in this video.