Every Wednesday, a trio of SI.com staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world's hot-button issues. This week, Sam Page, Sarah Kwak and Al Muir talk about NHL trade deadline, a massive contract commitment by the Islanders, the NHL's new enhanced stats, and a playoff surprise.
• We're less than a week away from the NHL's trade deadline and the heat already is being turned up under a few general managers. Who's under the most pressure to make something good happen before the end of business on Monday?
SAM PAGE: With so much turnover in the league's GM ranks last off-season, there's surprisingly few people I'd put on the hot seat. Rutherford is a good pick and I'll add Bob Murray, who has had a lot of regular season success during his seven seasons with Anaheim, but not much in the playoffs. He made the big move to bring in Ryan Kesler during the off-season. And now with the injuries to Sami Vatanen, Matt Belesky, and Frederik Anderson, he can't afford to sit on his hands at the deadline. Of all the GMs in win-now mode, Murray is dealing with much higher preseason expectations than teams like Nashville are, and he has less success to fall back on if things go wrong than, say, the Kings' or Bruins' front offices have.
AL MUIR: It's not just the buyers who are feeling the heat these days. How about Dave Nonis? Now that there's a corporate appetite for a rebuild in Toronto, he's under the gun to get the ball rolling as quickly and significantly as possible. Fair or not, there's some anticipation that he'll move Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf and reap significant packages in exchange for both. But with those two big-ticket items more likely to be dealt during the summer, he really has to make something out of his other assets, guys like Joffrey Lupul, David Booth, James Reimer and possibly Roman Polak. He took a strong first step, flipping Winnik for a second, a fourth and prospect Zach Sill. Grabbing multiple picks seems to fit Toronto's vision. The more kicks at the can the Leafs get, the more likely they are to score the young talent they need to turn the franchise around.
• How about a GM who should turn off his phone and leave his team as is?
PAGE: I think Steve Yzerman sits tight, and rightly so. The Lightning's core is so good and so young, they can wait to make trades in the off-season when the prices come down and more impact players are available.
MUIR: Seriously? I couldn't disagree more. Not that I think he's inclined to mortgage his future, but even with Matt Carle coming back Tampa Bay's blueline has some issues. I expect that Yzerman has identified a couple of veteran defensemen who could help the Bolts and he'll be in hot pursuit of at least one of them. But getting back to someone who should sit on his hands, I'll go with Doug Armstrong. I love the forward mix in St. Louis and the defense will be in great shape once Kevin Shattenkirk returns. I get that there are concerns about the goaltending, especially the way Brian Elliott has wilted since the All-Star break, but there's no one out there who looks like an obvious upgrade. The smart move for the Blues is to ride it out.
• You've had a few days now to take a look at the NHL's enhanced stats section. What do you think?
league-leading 7.02 penalties drawn per 20 minutes of ice time … in all of two games. And are there enhanced goalie stats available yet? At least to see goalies' numbers in certain situations. I haven't seen anything there either.
MUIR: That minutes-played filter is something that the hardcore sites like Hockey Analysis offer and it makes for stats that are much easier to negotiate and understand. That should be part of the equation in one of the upcoming phases both for the enhanced and the traditional stats—anything that gets Thomas McCollum and McKenzie Skapski out of the top spot in the save percentage leaders makes for a more valuable tool. And while I think it probably vastly under-delivered for the numbers nerds, it's a good first step toward legitimizing this data for the more casual fan. Speaking of which, probably the best thing they did was ditch Corsi and Fenwick and the other silly inside-joke names and adopted terms that are comprehensible for the average fan. Though I'm guessing that won't go over well with everybody ...
PAGE: Those new names are giving me a headache, but I guess I'm not the target audience. I'm actually more interested in the data that's not under the "enhanced stats" section, specifically the ultra-granular, situation-specific stuff. It'll probably lead to some bad analysis in the short-term (the Sharks are 4-0-1 while wearing their green socks on a Saturday) but could yield some useful, previously hard-to-find data in the future.
• The Isles went all in to secure Nick Leddy to a seven-year deal on Tuesday. Your thoughts?
KWAK: Honestly, I think this is another example of a player signed largely on hope and promise. His new $38.5 million contract is one that will be evaluated in hindsight—either positively or negatively. Leddy has been a very good player for the Islanders, yes. But after 61 games, he's good enough that it's imperative to lock him in for seven years? Is he a franchise player? Because that's to whom seven-year contracts should be awarded. Yes, he's only 23, and he could certainly grow into a franchise defenseman for the Islanders, but I also have a hard time with the fact that he'll be paid on par with John Tavares until 2018.
PAGE: I think Leddy is a franchise player today. He reminds me of Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, who just needed to get out from under Chicago's depth chart to emerge as stars. He's a terrific puck-mover—one rival team blogger called him a "one-man neutral zone trap-buster." I like that description. While we're on the topic of advanced statistics, guess the only defenseman in the NHL with a Fenwick% over 60. His name rhymes with Stick Teddy.
MUIR: And Stick Teddy isn't the only winner here. There are a number of pending free agent defenders who are going to benefit from having this deal out there as a comparable. Have to think that guys like Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton and Cody Franson are going to benefit from this rising tide.
• Finally, how about a team on the outside of the top eight now that you feel will make the playoff cut. We'll check back next week after the deadline and see if you feel the same, or if something's happened to change your mind.
MUIR: Yeah, I like Calgary to get in at the expense of the Wild, a team that's really benefited from a soft schedule over the past month or so. Minny's home stretch will be a lot tougher, with 14 of its final 15 opponents currently in playoff position. And I'm not really sure that Sean Bergenheim is someone who answers the Wild's need for second-line scoring.
PAGE: Can I wait for Minnesota drop back to ninth and then pick the Wild? If not, I'll go with San Jose.