Off The Draw
Asked for his reaction to the blockbuster deal that sent troubled Jets winger Evander Kane to the Sabres on Wednesday, one NHL team executive laughed. “We kind of looked at each other other and said, ‘Geez, if [Kevin Cheveldayoff] is making a trade, what are we waiting for?’ ”
The joke, of course, is that Cheveldayoff was notorious for his failure to pull off a single player-for-player swap during his first three years as general manager in Winnipeg. So if he’s jumping into this year's market with both feet, what does that mean for the rest of the league? Will this deal kick off a burst of activity in the next couple of weeks, or will it take until the March 2 deadline before we start to see more bodies moving?
Odds are, we’re going to see more trades, and sooner rather than later.
“There’s a lot of tire kicking going on,” the same team executive told SI.com. “There's a clearer picture of who’s in [the playoff mix] and who’s out than there usually is at this point of the season. We know who the buyers and sellers are going to be. That might have an impact.”
What was most interesting about Wednesday’s blockbuster—outside of Cheveldayoff’s ability to quickly and effectively deal with his the messy problem that Kane had become—was that it involved multiple players with significant salaries and terms. Such deals are a rarity in the cap era. The Kane trade was a reminder that, if all involved have a bit of creativity and courage, they are still possible.
That’s good news for teams like, say, the Maple Leafs, who are interested in off-loading some of their contract-heavy stars. Toronto isn’t so quietly shopping players who have the potential to be late season game-changers, including Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel.
Phil the Thrill has six years remaining on a deal that carries an $8 million cap hit. He also has a no-trade clause that requires him to submit an annual list of eight teams to which he’d accept a move. At this point, there are probably 27 clubs (let’s go ahead and scratch the Bruins and the Canadiens off the list) that would work just fine for Kessel, but any town with a less voracious media presence would probably top his list. Nashville has been rumored as a possible destination, as has Long Island.
Phaneuf is also more appealing after Wednesday’s Kane trade, despite being signed through 2020 at a cap hit of $7 million.
“Maybe there's a little more urgency now, especially teams that may have been looking at Tyler Myers as an option,” the team exec told us.
Myers, a viable top-four defenseman who went from Buffalo to the Jets as part of the deal for Kane, was seen as a prime target for many teams. Now that he’s off the market, there’s more demand for defensemen than there is supply. Teams like Boston, the Red Wings, the Lightning, the Stars, the Ducks or the Kings would prefer to acquire blueliners with expiring contract options such as the Hurricanes’ Andrej Sekera, the Leafs’ Cody Franson, the Coyotes’ Zbynek Michalek, and possibly the Senators’ Marc Methot. But don’t rule out anyone (other than cap-crunched Boston) taking a shot at getting Phaneuf, a player who could excel in a diminished second-pairing role.
Toronto has a pair of forwards who could be moved quickly as well. Daniel Winnik is a big body who could add a nasty bottom-six edge to a contender. Mike Santorelli is a nice depth center option who can provide some offensive spark and help on the penalty kill.
Ultimately, it will come down to teams identifying the player who best fits their needs, and then pursuing him immediately rather than waiting to see how things shake out.
“We saw last year more trades happening earlier in the cycle,” the team exec said. “There’s value in bringing a guy into your system as early as possible. And no one wants to be scrambling for something they need at the last minute. No one wants to be stuck holding onto an asset, either.”
Something to remember as we steam toward the deadline.
What to watch tonight
Flames at Kings (10:30 p.m. EST; SNW, FS-W)
There are a number of reasons why Los Angeles heads into Thursday night’s game trailing Calgary by five points in the race for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, but none are more telling than this: The two teams have played three games this season and the Flames have won them all.
The inability of the Kings to make hay against divisional rivals (7-3-6 overall) is killing them. So are games that go beyond 60 minutes. They have lost twice to Calgary in overtime this season. But while the extra sessions meant that L.A. picked up a couple of valuable points on its rival, the defeats also added to the Kings’ NHL-worst 12 losses in OT.
Fortunately, they have something to build on coming into this game. They beat the Blue Jackets 4–3 on Monday, giving them their first two-game winning streak in almost two months. It was a fairly hungry effort offensively, one that L.A. will need to duplicate tonight against Flames goalie Jonas Hiller. The Swiss veteran has owned the Kings, going 4-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average in his last five starts against them.
Rest of the schedule: Maple Leafs at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; TSN4, MSG+); Ducks at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; PRIME, SPSO); Oilers at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; SNW, RDS, SNE); Penguins at Senators (7:30 p.m. EST; ROOT, RDS2, TSN5); Blues at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, TVA, FS-MW, SUN); Panthers at Wild (8 p.m. EST; FS-F, FS-N, FS-WI); Jets at Predators (8 p.m EST; TSN3); Rangers at Avalanche (9 p.m EST; SN360, MSG, ALT)
What you missed
• Carolina and the Islanders will play at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a 2015 preseason game.
The numbers game
• With 320 career goals, Daniel Sedin now ranks second on the Canucks’ all time goal scoring list with 32, behind Markus Naslund (346). Daniel’s twin brother, Henrik Sedin, has 19 career overtime assists, which ranks second among active NHL players, behind Patrik Elias of the Devils (21).
• Sidney Crosby’s 825 career points are the ninth-highest total by any player through his first 600 NHL games, ranking him behind such luminaries as Wayne Gretzky (1,451), Mario Lemieux (1,215), Mike Bossy (921), Peter Stastny (901), Bobby Orr (864), Jari Kurri (848), Bryan Trottier (830) and Denis Savard (827).
• Center Mark Arcobello—who was claimed off waivers by Arizona on Wednesday after stints with the Oilers, the Predators and Pittsburgh—is about to become only the third player in NHL history to play for four different teams in one season. The other two: defenseman Dennis O’Brien in 1977–78 (North Stars, Rockies, Barons, Bruins) and center Dave McLlwain in ’91–92 (Jets, Islanders, Sabres, Maple Leafs).
• Toronto bench boss Peter Horacheck has one weapon to get his point across to struggling forward Phil Kessel. Based on Kessel’s off-day efforts on Wednesday, the message still isn’t getting through.
• Buffalo columnist Mike Harrington calls Evander Kane “an anti-Sabre” and means it in the best possible way, but also still thinks GM Tim Murray heavily overpaid to acquire the controversial forward.
• Meanwhile in Winnipeg, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is being hailed as a hero for his part in the blockbuster deal.
• Detroit hates analytics. And yet the Wings still win hockey games.
• The NHL has a new leading scorer.
• Mike Heika calmly explains that there’s a lesson to be learned about social media and a new age of acceptance in the wake of the imbroglio involving Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and the Sedin twins.