Friday January 8th, 2016

Every Friday, a trio of staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. This week, Sam Page, Michael Blinn and Al Muir hash out the season’s biggest trade, the future of Jonathan Drouin, second-half surprises and the moment that will define Jaromir Jagr’s season. First up:
It’s impossible to tell at this point if there’s a winner in the blockbuster Ryan Johansen/Seth Jones trade, but on a gut level which side do you believe benefits the most?
Michael Blinn: In the immediate future, it seems to me that needle tilts toward the Predators. They still have an elite-level defense with plenty of depth and a pair of Norris Trophy candidates in Shea Weber and Roman Josi, and they finally get the top-line center that they’ve desperately needed. I’m guessing Johansen finds some respite with an offensive-minded coach. And he'll be inspired by getting another shot at the postseason. Couldn’t say that about his situation earlier this week. Seth Jones may give the Blue Jackets the win in the long run, but for right now, the Preds get better in an ultra-competitive Central Division. Also, based on how these roundtables have gone for me, I’d like to apologize to our in-house Preds fan Sam for the jinx.

Blue Jackets, Predators pull off a blockbuster in Johansen-Jones swap

Sam Page: I think the Preds obviously benefit more in the short-term … but I bet the Blue Jackets get more value out of Jones in the long-run. Top-line forwards truly are the harder to acquire than top-pairing defenseman, but Jones is unlike the average No. 1 defenseman in terms of tools. He could become the best player in the league at his position for a decade. Does anyone reasonably expect the same from Johansen? His ceiling seems to be more that of a Ryan Getzlaf, which is no small consolation prize. The rub is that the Blue Jackets have to put themselves in a position to win when Jones reaches his prime. The Preds already have a team that is set to be competitive through Johansen’s prime years. Hence, the trade.

Al Muir: You know, that’s a rational and even-handed response from a guy who’s probably wearing Predators Underoos at the moment. Bravo, Sam. And I’d agree with you in principle, especially your point about Johansen’s place on a team that’s already in position to contend, but I’m going to take the big picture view and say the Jackets got the better end of the deal. Johansen has that Getzlaf-type ceiling, but there are questions about whether or not he’ll reach it. Ask around about Jones, though, and you’ll have a hard time finding any doubters. He’s a guy who eventually will play 25-plus all-purpose minutes a night, who can make things happen with his mobility, his vision and his nimble thinking. He’s as close to a sure thing as there is. I’ll take the sure thing.

• The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 29. Where will Jonathan Drouin be on March. 1?

Lightning have plenty of options in dealing with frustrated Drouin

MB: Tampa Bay. Steve Yzerman is a pretty shrewd GM, and he realizes Drouin’s value as a player with lots of potential who’s on an entry-level deal for another season-and-a-half at a sub-$900k cap hit before becoming an RFA. Stevie Y holds all the cards here, and Drouin’s cost-effectiveness could go a longer way in trying to re-sign Steven Stamkos than as a trade chip.

SP: Anaheim. The Ducks’ offense has been horrible, and GM Bob Murray has been opportunistic at grabbing players who have needed a change of scenery. I don’t know who or what is going the other way. I’m also ruling out all other Eastern Conference teams getting involved.

AM: Tampa Bay. My gut says he’s gone eventually, but I think Yzerman holds on to him at least until the draft, by which point he’ll have a better understanding of all the pieces in play, including Stamkos. Drouin would be a nice asset to have in his pocket if he decides he wants to move up in the draft

• Hard to believe, but we’re already at the midway point of the season. Who is your first-half MVP?

MB: Braden Holtby is this season’s Carey Price. He’s among league leaders in wins (1st, 26), goals-against average (3rd, 1.90) and save percentage (4th, .933). He’s the brick wall behind one of the NHL’s top offenses, and his rise into the elite category of goaltenders makes the Capitals the most legitimate Stanley Cup frontrunner. 

NHL's 2015-16 NHL midseason awards: All hail Braden Holtby

AM: Blinn, you beautiful genius. I made my case for Holtby the other day, so I'm sticking with him. You mention Price, who is coming off one of the greatest years ever for a goaltender. Holtby's numbers are as good or better than his were. Price ended up winning 44 games in 66 starts last season. If Holtby makes as many—and no reason he wouldn't, barring an injury—he's on pace to win 52, which would obliterate Martin Brodeur’s record of 48. I think we’re seeing something truly special here.

SP: Since you guys have the contrarian pick covered, I’ll go ahead and say what everyone else is thinking: Patrick Kane.
• The Panthers have been the unexpected success story of the first half. Which team will catch everyone by surprise on the back nine?
MB: Has anyone noticed the Maple Leafs are 8-3-2 since December 5? Or that Jonathan Bernier got his groove back? He’s stopped 117 of his last 120 shots, a .975 save percentage. That’s clearly not sustainable, but the improved structure around him and partner James Reimer has the team showing up on the right side of some of the fancy stats. And while they may not have the depth of talent to make a playoff run, we’re clearly seeing Brendan Shanahan & Co.’s plan taking some shape in Year One of Mike Babcock’s tenure.

NHL Power Rankings: Upstart Panthers pounce on top spot

SP: The Oilers could have a nice second half, especially if they get Connor McDavid back sooner than later. They’re in striking distance of third place in the pitiful Pacific Division—only four points out. They have a talented netminder in Cam Talbot who could go on a run, bringing his numbers closer to last year’s. And most crucially, they have a new management and coaching regime in place that knows the days of fading down the stretch and looking forward to the lottery have to end.  

AM: Both excellent choices, boys, but I'm here to issue a Hurricane warning. Coach Bill Peters is quietly doing exactly what his old boss Babcock is earning heaps of praise for in Toronto. Like Babs, he doesn’t have a lot of talent to work with, but he has this team buying into a sound defensive structure and focusing on the details. The Canes have allowed just 19 goals in their past 11 games (1.73 per) and that’s with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack between the pipes, for cryin’ out loud. No, they can’t score worth a lick, but they’re just a few bounces away from going on a tear. And if you’re a believer in the predictive value of the PDO stat, they sit second last at just 97.6. Those breaks are overdue.

Rise of Hurricanes fueled by six American defensemen

• Speaking of the second half, it’s a good bet that Jaromir Jagr will find his way into the news at some point. Predict his signature moment.

Who deserves an All-Star Game spot from the Atlantic and Metro Divisions

AM: I say he drops the gloves with John Scott on his opening shift of the All-Star Game, earns a game misconduct after getting abusive with the official on the way to the penalty box, and is on a plane to the Bahamas for a relaxing 48 hours of sun and surf before returning to South Florida to help the Panthers extend their 19-game winning streak.

MB: After spending the season bringing back his glorious mullet, he chops it all off in the most celebrated donation Locks of Love has ever received.

SP: I think Jagr will embarrass some top young defenseman in the playoffs and people will go crazy, because no one outside of Florida watches Florida during the regular season. 


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