Cross Checks: Eastern Conference
The Blues were the most cited among responses from 10 GMs on Thursday, their blockbuster acquisition of netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott solidifying St. Louis as a Cup contender. Blues GM Doug Armstrong got lots of kudos from his peers in our little survey Thursday.
"[Armstrong] gave up a lot, but he got the goalie he needed," said a Western Conference GM. "He’s got conviction. He went for it. I admire him for that."
Added an Eastern Conference GM: "St. Louis for sure got better. Ott is a bit overrated, but [coach Ken Hitchcock] has had him before and will get the best out of him. Miller obviously is the key guy there, a huge upgrade in goal."
The Habs and Wild were tied for the second-most mentions after Montreal nabbed Thomas Vanek and Minnesota got busy over a 48-hour period, adding goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and scorer Matt Moulson.
"Bergevin did a really good job on Vanek," said a Western Conference GM in a comment that was repeated by many.
The two Florida teams also got a few mentions and for the purpose of this survey would rank tied for third.
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had only one team to deal with in meeting the trade demand of his captain, Martin St. Louis, but Yzerman still got a decent deal out of it from the New York Rangers.
"I thought Steve did an excellent job managing that situation. He got a nice return," said a Western Conference GM.
Said another Western Conference GM via email: "To me, Steve Yzerman did the best job. He was dealt a bad hand. And nobody could have played that hand any better. Plus he did it with class (as always)."
Panthers GM Dale Tallon also got some attention for stunningly getting Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver. "Dale Tallon had the best deadline of all," said one Eastern Conference GM.
The Penguins were mentioned by one Western Conference GM, with Pittsburgh adding forward Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. "Pitt was strong with quality, under-the-radar players," a GM said via email.
Buffalo Sabres rookie GM Tim Murray has been busy over the past week, beginning a rebuild and getting a vote from one Western Conference GM for his efforts.
"Tim Murray certainly added a lot of long-term assets," said the GM.
The Anaheim Ducks struck out on Canucks center Ryan Kesler but did add veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas. Ducks GM Bob Murray got a vote from a fellow Western Conference GM.
"[Murray] always sees the big picture. He is two steps ahead of what is in front of him," said the GM. "No one has come close to doing the job he has done the last five years. He inherited a very difficult situation and executed flawlessly."
Other post-deadline notes and thoughts:
• Interesting to find out from a source Wednesday night that Toronto was among the teams that inquired about Vanek. Imagine the Leafs’ reaction when rival Montreal got him, especially given the modest price the Canadiens paid.
• Needless to say, the Canadiens were never going to get Vanek if the Islanders’ asking price continued to include a first-round pick, which it did for quite some time. Once the first-round pick was eliminated from the equation, the Habs jumped in with both feet.
• Vanek is on record saying he’s going to the free-agent market on July 1, and at this point there's no reason to think that won't happen. Still, in the back of my mind I wonder whether this is a repeat of the Alexei Kovalev situation, with a presumed rental player ending up staying around because he falls in love with the electric market that is Montreal. Food for thought ...
• The Penguins made an effort on Kesler and also had a line in the water on Ales Hemsky, the Edmonton Oilers forward who went to Ottawa instead. I thought Hemsky would have been a nice fit in Pittsburgh, but Goc and Stempniak are solid additions. Goc is versatile and provides depth at center while Stempniak could surprise some people after being given a fresh start, like Jussi Jokinen has done since joining the Pens at last year’s trade deadline.
And this, from our friends at Bovada:
We start off this week talking about the revamped, 16-team Eastern Conference.
Realignment is going to take a minute to get used to. There is still an Atlantic Division, but it is actually the former Northeast Division with the Wings, Bolts and Panthers added in. And the Metropolitan Division is the old Atlantic Division plus the Caps, Canes and Jackets.
Will these changes make any difference come playoff time?
The Red Wings exceeded all expectations in the postseason after fighting their way into a playoff spot. Less travel combined with more time for the veterans to jell with the young players could make Detroit a contender in the East. And Daniel Alfredsson certainly didn't change teams so he could help the city's economy.
The Boston Bruins aren't going to give up their standing as the conference champion too easily, but they could be sluggish to start the season after a short offseason. And the Pittsburgh Penguins do still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
How will the old Southeast Division teams do without one free ticket into the playoffs? I wouldn't be surprised to see Alex Ovechkin and company start summer vacation early, especially since the Olympics could take a lot of focus and energy away from the NHL season.
Maybe more interesting than who finishes on top is where the wild cards will go. Looking at last season, you could foresee the Atlantic Division producing five playoff teams. But it is never that easy, and a shortened season may not be the best barometer of future success.
So it is time for you to make the call: Who will reign supreme in the Eastern Conference?
It is very possible, although not quite a guarantee, that Vincent Lecavalier will choose his next team by the end of the day Wednesday.
The UFA center, who is allowed to speak with teams earlier than other UFAs because his contract was bought out, has been deliberating with family where the best fit might be for him to continue this career.
The likes of the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are among the teams that have shown interest.
The decision for Lecavalier begins with Montreal. He has to decide whether he wants to go home and deal with both the perks and detriments of playing in his native town. And if he goes home, it’s not going to be for the same kind of money or term other clubs would have offered. If he’s a Hab, it’s more because he really, really wants to be one. Montreal definitely has interest in signing him, but it’s going to have to be on a reasonable deal that fits within its cap and payroll structure.
But no one should fault Lecavalier if he decides to avoid that situation; that’s his choice as a UFA.
I still think Dallas is a solid possibility for Lecavalier if he wants to remain in a quiet, nontraditional hockey place such as the environment he has experienced his entire career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And I think the Stars are willing to go five years on a deal.
While it’s true to a degree, as Nashville Predators GM David Poile suggested to his local media Tuesday, that Lecavalier would prefer to stay in the East, it does not preclude him from playing in Dallas, I can tell you that.
Detroit is a great fit, too, and so is Boston. We’ll know soon enough.
As a reminder, beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday (so basically Tuesday night), a wrinkle in the new CBA kicks in that NHL fans haven’t seen before: Free agents have the right to speak with other teams in the 48-hour lead-up to the opening of the market Friday.
So for teams trying to re-sign their free agents, Tuesday was their last day of exclusivity to do so. For example, it was the last day for New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello to be the only voice in David Clarkson’s ear. Clarkson recently turned down an offer from the Devils and most likely is headed to the market. Then again, maybe Uncle Lou has another last trick up his sleeve.
• Traded texts Tuesday morning with UFA forward Danny Briere. He says he’s talking to teams as he’s narrowing his focus. We should know more Wednesday.
• The Devils and pending UFA center Patrik Elias were close to a deal, but it wasn’t done as of noon ET Tuesday, agent Allan Walsh said. Walsh also represents winger Pascal Dupuis, another pending UFA, and the agent said talks with the Pittsburgh Penguins were continuing.
• Pending UFA winger Damien Brunner was a day away from being able to speak with the 29 other teams. His agent, Neil Sheehy, told ESPN.com via email Tuesday morning that he planned to talk again with Detroit but wasn’t sure where it was all headed.
• The Predators put veteran blueliner Hal Gill on waivers. He has one year left on his deal at $2 million. GM David Poile said via text that the blue line is a little crowded given the drafting of Seth Jones, and the hope is to find a new home for Gill. If no one claims him on waivers, another possibility would be to buy him out.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Talk about a blur of humanity.
Shortly after 3 p.m. ET Sunday, the Colorado Avalanche made good on their word to pick Halifax star Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick of the NHL draft, and some seven hours later the Chicago Blackhawks closed the draft circle by selecting Robin Press of Sweden with the 211th and final pick, bringing to an end the league's annual feast of hockey's "what-if and what might be."
Not long after the lockout ended with the league and its players agreeing to a 48-game schedule, it was decided that the draft -- normally a two-day event with the first round held on Friday night and the remaining six rounds the following day -- would be jammed into one frenzied day at the Prudential Center.
As always, it was a day that began with wild rumors and speculation about mega-deals and ended with something less exciting unfolding. That said, it was an important day on a number of fronts for a number of teams.
Here's a look at those teams that stepped forward and those that stepped in something else, or maybe stepped in a different direction altogether:
NEW YORK -- Of the many memorable hours leading up to the epic gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 between Canada and the United States, this is one that has stayed with us.
It was a conversation with then-U.S. associate GM David Poile the day before that game.
He had spoken earlier in the process about the importance of the Olympics, specifically the impact a strong showing might have on future generations of U.S. players. About how the 1980 Miracle on Ice team became a beacon for a generation or more of American players as well as -- to a lesser degree -- the U.S. team that defeated Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship.
As the gold-medal game approached, it was hard not to be swept up in the emotion of what lay ahead.
“I don't think anybody knew how good we'd be. We didn't know how good we'd be,” Poile said that Saturday. “Let's call it like it is.”
The Americans would be denied a shot at Olympic immortality by the slimmest of margins, a Sidney Crosby goal in overtime, from a bad angle at that.
We were reminded of the legacy -- or at least the potential legacy -- of that team Saturday, when we were swept up once again in the quest for Olympic glory as Poile was formally announced as GM of the U.S. team for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Part of the charm of the Vancouver team was the fact it was the youngest team in the tournament. As GM, Brian Burke was fond of repeating that no one gave the Americans a spit of a chance to earn a medal, let alone battle for gold.
No question the dynamics will be dramatically different in Sochi on a host of fronts.
“In Vancouver, we were turning the page,” Poile told ESPN.com on Saturday.
That team was the first that didn’t hearken to the glory days of Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Keith Tkachuk et al. The idea was that if the team had any success at all, it would provide a good base on which to build for 2014.
The Americans’ run to the silver (going 5-1 in the tournament) means they will not sneak up on anyone in Sochi. Not with the past two Conn Smythe Trophy winners on the roster in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Quick. Throw in top-end talent like Ryan Suter, who in our book was the hands-down best defenseman in the NHL this season (finished second to P.K. Subban in Norris Trophy voting), Minnesota Wild teammate Zach Parise, David Backes, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown and there will be a strong core returning from the Vancouver squad.
Still, trying to handicap Olympic contenders based on results from a tournament four years in the past is a mug’s game. Yes, some continuity is important. Understanding the routines of an Olympic tournament, the media, the schedule and the ebbs and flows of a short, high-drama competition is critical to how a team comes together.
But each tournament represents a different world, and that is where the management structure and coaching staff are so critical to a team’s success.
USA Hockey neatly sidestepped a potential public relations problem early on by structuring its management team in the manner it did. Poile moved up the ladder and will be joined by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, who will act as associate. The two worked together for the Nashville Predators and were part of the U.S. management committee that helped put together the 2010 team.
But Burke, the architect of that team, has been kept in the fold as director of player personnel. He will accompany the team to Sochi.
It was Burke who came up with the idea of opening the process of selecting teams for international competition to American GMs. He invited colleagues like Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia Flyers), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles Kings), Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks), Dale Tallon (Florida Panthers) and former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell to join in the process.
The openness and inclusiveness established by Burke was universally praised by those involved, and as Poile pointed out Saturday, the validation of the process was in the result -- a silver medal.
That Burke, dismissed from his post as GM and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs on the eve of the lockout-shortened regular season in January, continues to have a strong voice in the building of the 2014 team is an important nod to what he’s accomplished. To have marginalized him would have sent a disappointing message.
“He will have a big part in the formation of this team in 2014,” Poile said.
But a nod to the past is also being balanced by a nod to the future, which is critical given that neither Canada nor the U.S. medaled in the two Olympics held away from North American soil since the NHL began participation in 1998 in Nagano. (2006 in Torino was the other.)
A bigger ice surface, time issues and different cultures will conspire to make life in Sochi exponentially more difficult than it was in Vancouver and, before that, Salt Lake City in 2002, when Canada defeated the U.S. for the gold medal.
The committee, which represents 150 years of NHL GM experience and six Stanley Cup championships, will have to keep all those things in mind, Poile said, when making selections, just as it did in choosing the Pens’ Dan Bylsma as head coach.
Burke built a team that could play an NHL-style game with a blend of hard-nosed forechecking, strong defense and goaltending mixed with opportunistic scoring, but the style of play in Sochi may make some of those qualities less important.
Clearly, skating and puck movement will be at a premium on the big ice surface, which suggests players like Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk and perhaps Matt Carle or John Carlson may be more attractive than other, more physical defensemen.
What about a speedy, skilled forward like Alex Galchenyuk, who had a strong rookie campaign for the Montreal Canadiens?
“Our philosophy is going to be a little bit different because this is in Europe,” Poile said. “We have to tune up our thinking a little bit.”
One thing Poile made clear is that, while a résumé of strong play has historically been a factor in inclusion on the final roster handed in late in December, getting off to a good start next fall will be key in the committee’s final decisions.
In introducing the management team Saturday in New York, president of USA Hockey Ron DeGregorio suggested that an American team is no longer the stuff of miracles but rather the stuff of expectations.
A fine sentiment, and after Vancouver, it would seem it is true. Now it’s up to Poile and the rest to meet those heady expectations.
“This is the ultimate honor and challenge,” Poile said.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Boston Bruins appeared ready to shake things up Saturday on the eve of the NHL draft.
All confirmed by sources:
• Nathan Horton's camp informed Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli on Saturday afternoon that the unrestricted free agent winger was leaving the organization.
“Nathan Horton has informed the Bruins that he is going to explore his options via unrestricted free agency," agent Paul Krepelka reiterated to ESPN.com, a statement that he first gave to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
• Tyler Seguin’s name was making the rounds in trade chatter, with the Bruins willing to listen.
• The Bruins would like to move up in the draft.
• And add Boston to the long list of teams that have inquired about UFA center Vincent Lecavalier.
The Bruins have a lot of balls in the air, a rival team executive told ESPN.com, and they are talking to a lot of teams about a lot of things. Chiarelli was spotted at one point Saturday chatting closely with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Could it have been about Seguin? Hard to say. Maybe Chiarelli was getting a scouting report on Lecavalier. Or maybe they were making a dinner date.
Meanwhile, Lecavalier and agent Kent Hughes were in the process of reducing their list of suitors. The expectation was that they would have a short list by the end of the night or early Sunday.
Hughes was also meeting with interested teams Saturday. Aside from Boston, other confirmed teams that have expressed varying degrees of interest for Lecavalier include the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. As reported Friday, some 15 teams have called.
Don't sleep on Dallas. The Stars have serious interest in Lecavalier. They want to make the playoffs next year, and new GM Jim Nill sees Lecavalier as a perfect addition.
But you can scratch the Chicago Blackhawks off that list. A source told ESPN.com on Saturday that the Hawks are not interested. Some fans may have dreamed of having Lecavalier fit in as the team’s No. 2 center, but the Hawks aren’t going to enter the fray, instead focusing on trying to re-sign winger Bryan Bickell. The Hawks and Bickell’s agent, Todd Diamond, have had constant dialogue throughout the week and spoke again Saturday.
The reasoning behind the Lecavalier camp wanting to produce a short list in quick order is that the teams involved need to know as soon as possible. For whichever teams are seriously in the hunt, it could have a domino effect on what needs to be done with the rest of their rosters and potentially in the draft.
So in fairness to that reality, the Lecavalier camp is keen to try to expedite the process this weekend.
He can’t officially sign with a team until July 5, but all the leg work can be done now.
Schneider in play
Saturday got off to quite a bang in NHL circles with my colleague Darren Dreger of TSN breaking the story via Twitter that the Canucks were suddenly putting Cory Schneider in play.
After trying without success for a year to unload Roberto Luongo and his monster contract, could it be the Canucks figured they had to move the younger goalie instead?
“To be honest, it makes sense in a way,” a rival GM told ESPN.com on Saturday after the news broke.
With a lack of trade interest in Luongo, the thinking is that if a team pays big for Schneider, the Canucks can improve and still have a world-class goalie in net.
Another player who generated a lot of calls toward Vancouver is defenseman Alex Edler. His no-trade clause kicks in July 1, but teams are already calling.
Schneider would be a good fit on teams like the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers.
“He’s definitely in play,” an agent told ESPN.com on Saturday afternoon.
Schneider has two years left on his deal at $4 million per season.
Thing is, dealing away Schneider wouldn’t necessarily solve the Luongo mess. I believe Luongo wants out regardless. Trading Schneider, I don’t think, would change his feelings on that.
Oye, stay tuned ...
• Hearing positive vibes out of the talks between pending UFA netminder Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes. GM Don Maloney and some of his staff met with Smith in Vancouver last week to have a heart-to-heart session. Still a factor is the future of the franchise, so I wouldn’t expect Smith to be willing to sign until after that July 2 Glendale lease vote. But the re-signing of coach Dave Tippett was an important move in terms of Smith wanting to stay. If he does sign, I believe it will be a six-year deal.
• Hughes, the agent for Kris Letang, was slated to meet with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero on Saturday afternoon in the N.Y./N.J. area. In the wake of Letang rejecting Pittsburgh’s $56 million, eight-year offer Thursday, sources around the league confirm that Shero made some calls to other teams Friday to lay the groundwork for potential trade talks. But Saturday’s meeting, I think, is being viewed by both sides as a chance to salvage the situation and find common ground on keeping Letang in Pittsburgh. We shall see.
• The Canadiens hold the 25th pick in the first round Sunday. I’m told they would like to move up and have made some calls to that effect. But I think the Habs will wait until the draft has begun and see how it progresses before making a move in that regard. It will depend on whether certain prospects they have circled on their scouting list are still available.
• The Flyers are taking calls on blueliner Braydon Coburn, multiples sources confirm. He has three years on his deal with a $4.5 million cap hit.
• USA Hockey announced its coaching staff for the Olympics on Saturday, and the Penguins’ Dan Bylsma gets the nod as head coach. If the NHL and NHLPA can wrap up the Olympic deal at Monday’s meeting with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation, the plan is for Hockey Canada to announce its coaching staff shortly thereafter, perhaps within a day or two. As I reported in April, the Canadian coaching staff will have Mike Babcock at the helm again, along with Ken Hitchcock, Lindy Ruff and newcomer Claude Julien (who replaces the retired Jacques Lemaire).
While the 33-year-old center technically can’t sign with anyone other than the Tampa Bay Lightning until July 5, league rules allow his camp to talk to other teams until then. And that process started in a hurry.
"We have been reached out to by a number of teams, easily a dozen or more," Kent Hughes, Lecavalier’s agent, told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. "This is the beginning of the process in trying to understand the various situations and trying to narrow it down."
It was still way too early, Hughes said, to declare any potential front-runners. The process will need some time before that becomes clear.
But it’s an important time for the Lecavalier camp. The ability to speak to teams right away gives him a leg up on regular UFAs, who have to wait until the July 3-4 window. Hughes will want to get a lot of the legwork done before getting ready to sign his client to a new team July 5.
In the meantime, Lecavalier is organizing his thoughts right now, trying to figure out what markets would best suit him, etc.
During a media call Thursday, Lecavalier mentioned the Detroit Red Wings as a team he liked growing up (along with the Montreal Canadiens). Well, the feeling is apparently mutual. A source Friday said that the Wings have interest in Lecavalier, although certainly not at any cost. It’s going to have to make sense both in salary and term. And the Wings know they won’t be alone in a courtship of Lecavalier.
Pending UFA Stephen Weiss is another potential option for the second-line center job in Detroit, but there will be lots of competition for his services as well.
The Wings are not approaching their buying season with any kind of desperation. They feel they’re in good shape. They’ve got youth coming up, their AHL team just won the Calder Cup, and they’re not going to go out of their way to overspend in free agency for the sake of it.
And if they can’t find a center in free agency or via trade, they can always put Henrik Zetterberg in the No. 2 slot, separating him from Pavel Datsyuk.
This is all pending the expectation that Valtteri Filppula is headed to market. The pending UFA forward is not close to a new deal with Detroit, and while the Wings and his agent were slated to speak again this weekend, odds of a new deal don’t seem great.
And that is why guys like Lecavalier and Weiss could be options in free agency.
Keep an eye on former Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill, by the way. I hear the new Dallas Stars GM also would like to add a veteran forward, and Lecavalier and Weiss are on his radar. He could be competing with his old pal Ken Holland for some of the same players.
The Stars have the long view of wanting to key on drafting and development, but in the short term they also want to shore up the roster with a few more veterans in order to contend for the playoffs next season. They already began that process by trading for and signing defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
• In the wake of my report Thursday night that the Kris Letang camp had rejected a $56 million, eight-year offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins, both sides were mostly quiet Friday.
Penguins GM Ray Shero declined to comment on the situation when reached by ESPN.com Friday. His quiet demeanor leads you to believe that perhaps he has begun to look at the trade market on Letang. Mind you, it’s also expected that Shero and Hughes, who is also Letang’s agent, would speak this weekend at some point to see where they can take this after so far failing to find the right number for an extension.
“Our goal remains to see if there’s a deal that can be worked out,” Hughes told ESPN.com Friday afternoon.
• I’m not surprised the New York Rangers decided to not buy out Brad Richards. With a new coach in place, it behooves the Blueshirts to see if Alain Vigneault can get Richards back on track. (Vigneault and Richards met for a 90-minute chat recently.) Richards has been working out with Martin St. Louis in Connecticut lately, and in speaking to him the other day, Richards sounded like a man hell bent on proving to people he’s still an elite player.
This was the right call by the Rangers. Besides, if Richards doesn’t bounce back, the Rangers can use their last compliance buyout on him next summer.
• Hearing that goalie Jonas Hiller could be available for the right price. He’s got one more year on his contract at $4.5 million, so this is the time to move him for maximum value. From talking to sources around the league, the sense is that the Anaheim Ducks are not really shopping Hiller, but given their depth in goal -- 19-year-old John Gibson is a highly rated prospect, plus Viktor Fasth proved himself this past season -- a good offer on Hiller would probably make the team think, at the very least.
• The Ottawa Senators got great news Friday with captain Daniel Alfredsson informing them he’d be returning for another season. And they got the news in a timely fashion, before the offseason really got going.
“He brings to the table not only talent, but the intangibles are just as important for the most part: leadership, character, the willingness to work with young players,” veteran Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. “It’s nice to hear that he wants to play. Now it’s just a matter of getting a contract done with him.”
Well, there is that. Alfredsson will be UFA July 5. His agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, was slated to speak with Murray later Friday to get the ball rolling in talks.
It’s funny. Most people view this as a formality given that Alfredsson has never played anywhere else. Thing is, even at his age, Alfredsson was third in team scoring this past season with 26 points (10-16) in 47 games, albeit on an injury-ravaged team. He’s not going to sign for peanuts, is what I’m saying.
• The Senators, by the way, would like to move up in the draft from their current 17th overall spot. Murray has made a few calls to see if there’s any possibility of ending up in the 5-10 range.
• The Carolina Hurricanes are taking calls on the No. 5 overall pick and are willing to move down for the right price. The Canes are on the lookout for a top-four blueliner this offseason.
• Bill Zito, agent for star goalie Tuukka Rask, expects to meet with Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli on Saturday here during draft weekend. Rask, of course, is an RFA July 5 and is going to rake it in.
• Perhaps a hint of what’s to come for Thomas Vanek? The Buffalo Sabres have yet to approach his camp with any word of a contract extension. With one year left on his deal, either you sign the player this summer or trade him. Makes no sense to let him enter next season on an expiring deal and have the asset diminish in value.
And I leave you with some food for thought:
One thing to look for over the next week, according to one NHL player agent: If talks break down between pending UFAs and their respective teams, the possibility exists of a sign-and-trade to take advantage of the CBA rule that allows teams to sign their free agents to eight-year deals, whereas players can get only seven years on the open market.
Both the player and team would have a potential gain. The former team could get more value in a trade if the player is signed, and the player gets an extra year in term with his new team.
Speaking of gifts, could the New York Rangers have scripted their big day any better? After unloading their top pure scorer in Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets in an effort to redefine their personality, the goal-starved Rangers poured six past the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to a 6-1 shellacking of the Eastern Conference leaders. And wouldn't you know it: Three newcomers, Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard and John Moore, figured prominently in the win by combining for four goals and four assists -- and this after racing from Columbus and, in Clowe's case, San Jose to join their new team.
The goals were the first two of the season for Clowe, who illustrated the sometimes bizarre nature of the trade-deadline period as he became one of the hottest properties available in spite of the goose egg in the goal column. No more. And now the Rangers hope this makeover in midstream will carry them not just to the postseason but to something more grand come playoff time. Certainly the earliest returns are sparkling, as they jumped into seventh in the conference, although they have same number of points as the eighth-place New Jersey Devils and ninth-place New York Islanders.
Speaking of the Penguins, that’s two lopsided losses in a row for a team that began the week on a 15-game winning streak and with an eye toward making history. Didn't happen, of course, as they were whipped 4-1 by the Buffalo Sabres at home Tuesday, then were spanked at Madison Square Garden after GM Ray Shero added another piece to the Pens' arsenal in the form of veteran forward Jussi Jokinen.
Probably not a bad thing to have a few stinkers down the stretch, just in case anyone in that locker room was thinking the 15-game win streak meant they could just throw their sticks on the ice and come away with a W. We were in Chicago recently and talked to some there who weren't all that disappointed to see the Blackhawks' record 24-game point streak come to an end, what with all the media attention.
Sometimes it's easier for a coach to get his team's attention when it's facing a little adversity. But the twin Pittsburgh losses also highlight the challenges in integrating a handful of new, prominent faces into your lineup with a dozen or so games left in the season. The Pens are also battling the injury bug, with captain Sidney Crosby out indefinitely with a broken jaw, Kris Letang recuperating from a toe injury and defenseman Paul Martin out until playoff time or longer with a hand injury.
Lots of moving parts for coach Dan Bylsma to figure out in the next 3½ weeks.
The curious case of Steve Mason
It wasn't the classic Paul Holmgren "holy cow" move, a la obtaining Chris Pronger or moving Mike Richards or Jeff Carter, but the Philadelphia Flyers GM did not disappoint Wednesday, even if the move he made was a little more subtle. The acquisition of former rookie of the year Steve Mason from the Blue Jackets for Michael Leighton (remember him from Game 6 of the ’10 Stanley Cup final?) and a third-round pick has the potential to create an interesting ripple effect in Philly.
Never mind the roller-coaster Mason has been on since bursting onto the scene with 10 shutouts in his first season (2008-09). In fact, if you're a fan of irony, one of the reasons the Blue Jackets were surprise buyers Wednesday was the play of former Flyers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who was dealt to Columbus in the offseason. Bobrovsky may win the Vezina Trophy and the Blue Jackets may make the playoffs, so Mason was deemed expendable. Go figure.
Now Holmgren is going to give Mason a look in the final weeks of the season as he wrestles with a rather huge decision regarding Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been OK this season. With two amnesty buyouts available to him, Holmgren will have to look hard at what remains on Bryzgalov's nine-year, $51 million contract. There were multiple reports Thursday that Mason was on the verge of signing a new deal with the Flyers, which means Holmgren's plan is to give Mason a chance -- if not as a starter than certainly to replace the depth that went out the door with the Bobrovsky deal.
If Mason impresses, does it change Holmgren's mind about Bryzgalov?
For the record, Bryzgalov got the win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, as the Flyers kept their playoff heart beating faintly. They were four points out of eighth place with 12 games remaining heading into play Thursday.
Kudos to Sharks GM Wilson
We have often been critical of the San Jose Sharks for their inability to capitalize on what is a perennially talent-laden lineup. But you have to tip your hat to GM Doug Wilson, who appears to have navigated the competing waters of trimming fat and maintaining a competitive team with great skill. The Sharks are the hottest team in the NHL with six wins in a row, the latest coming Wednesday night over the Minnesota Wild. The win moved them into a tie with the Wild and Vancouver Canucks with 44 points and gave the Sharks a good shot at getting home-ice advantage in the first round as the conference's fourth seed, something that seemed implausible even a month ago.
Meanwhile, Wilson got good return for Clowe: a second-, a third- and a conditional second-round pick from the Rangers. He also obtained a fourth-round pick from Chicago for Michal Handzus, and got two more second-round picks from Pittsburgh for Douglas Murray (the second of which is conditional). And then Wilson added some grit and tenacity in the form of Raffi Torres.
The moves give Wilson all kinds of options in terms of assets with which to help restock a barren prospects cupboard, as well as additional cap space. That doesn't even take into account the potential for a long playoff run. That's a pretty good bit of work.
Can Sullivan restart Devils?
If ever there was a team that's all about bringing things full circle, it's the Devils. And so it was that GM Lou Lamoriello brought home veteran winger Steve Sullivan almost 19 years after the team selected him with the 233rd pick in the 1994 draft. Sullivan played in 16 games for the Devils in 1995-96 and 33 the next season before he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that would see iconic Leafs captain Doug Gilmour and defenseman Dave Ellett go to the Devils. Gilmour would go on to finish a Hall of Fame career while Sullivan, 38, continues his hockey odyssey after being dealt for a seventh-round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday.
We've had the opportunity to catch up with the Timmins, Ontario, native (dubbed by some the "Timmins Tornado") at various stops along the way, and he has proved to be unfailingly upbeat even in the face of injuries that threatened his career a few years back. Although it hasn't been a banner year for Sullivan, who signed with the Coyotes after a one-season stop in Pittsburgh and had just five goals in 33 games, there's something about the Devils' culture that allows guys like Sullivan to thrive. He'll need to, as the Devils are sliding their way out of the playoff picture without the injured Ilya Kovalchuk.
No easy answers in Buffalo
Say what you will about the state of the Sabres, but GM Darcy Regier did well to maximize his return for captain Jason Pominville on Wednesday. He coaxed a first- and a second-round draft pick and two prospects out of Minnesota (the Wild also got a fourth-round pick from the Sabres). That's two years in a row Regier has done a nice job in making the most of what has become an unsightly mess in Buffalo by bringing in young players and draft picks.
But there's the rub, no? Who made the mess?
It's not just Regier; every year, a GM of an underachieving team sets about trying to restock the shelves with picks and assets after plans go awry. If it's a blip on the radar kind of thing -- as we saw with playoff bubble teams Phoenix and Nashville shedding assets in recent days after being competitive playoff teams the past few years -- that's one thing. But what if it's a systemic kind of thing?
Given that the Sabres fired longtime coach Lindy Ruff already this season and look likely to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, there is an expectation that owner Terry Pegula will finish the top-end makeover by relieving Regier of his duties after the season. If that's the plan, then where is the logic in having Regier make these kinds of significant moves (he also traded Robyn Regehr to the Los Angeles Kings)? It's not easy to replace a GM in midseason, although the Blue Jackets showed it can be done with impressive results.
Buffalo is not unique in dealing with this dynamic, and there are certainly lots of problems that will be left over for a new GM to deal with if a change is made. But it remains an annual curiosity in the NHL as some GMs' final moves may end up having significant long-term impacts on teams they're about to part company with.
The league in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association has worked diligently over the past two weeks on realignment, including a meeting in Toronto Tuesday morning between the two sides.
"The last two weeks we’ve been in constant communication with the NHLPA on realignment issues," deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com Tuesday. "We’ve been exchanging information and we’re trying to get to a resolution as soon as possible." The NHLPA, through a spokesman, confirmed that there has been communication between the sides over the last two weeks, adding that it is committed to continuing to work with the league in an effort to reach an agreement.
Time is of the essence because the league’s schedule-maker needs to get going on next season’s matrix.
If all goes well between the NHLPA and NHL -- the two sides are slated to meet again next week -- the NHL could have a realignment framework for the 30 owners to vote on the week of Feb. 25. Similarly, the NHLPA would run the realignment plan past its executive board (30 player reps) for approval.
Several team executives and governors contacted by ESPN.com Tuesday were in the dark about what the league was determining for realignment. And just what exactly the league and union have been working on the past two weeks, neither NHL nor NHLPA officials would divulge Tuesday. But it’s believed the framework is a slight variation from the December 2011 realignment format. And when I say variation, I believe there are a couple of teams that have been switched around from the original December 2011 format.
Here’s how the board of governors realigned the league in December 2011:
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
The realignment plan in December 2011 was quashed by the NHLPA, which is why the league this time is working alongside the union before bringing it to a board vote.
Realignment, the union argued, affects the players’ terms and conditions of employment, and the CBA requires the league to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation.
The two key bones of contention for the NHLPA at the time: (1) whether the new format would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.
My guess is the NHL has altered the playoff format or criteria in some form or other to help ease the NHLPA’s concern over the inequity of having seven teams each in two conferences and eight teams apiece in the other two conferences.
The timing of realignment talks between the NHL and NHLPA is no coincidence, with Olympic meetings scheduled for Thursday and Friday in New York with the IOC and IIHF. The NHLPA and NHL need to figure out realignment and how the Olympics fit within that schedule next season, if indeed all parties involved can agree on terms for NHL players to participate in Sochi.
So the whole thing is kind of tied together, beginning with realignment.
No NHL club, meanwhile, needs realignment to happen more than the Winnipeg Jets.
Traveling more than any other Eastern Conference club this season, playing in the Southeast Division as the former Atlanta Thrashers for a second straight season, the Jets need to find new friends to hang out with.
"It’s our hope obviously that we get out of the Southeast Division and we end up in something along the lines that we agreed to [in December 2011]," Jets chairman and governor Mark Chipman told ESPN.com Tuesday. "But I’m not aware of what, if any changes, are being contemplated."
Detroit, Columbus, Nashville and Dallas were among the clubs that had the most to say in the last go-around when realignment was a hot topic, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets being a pair of Western Conference clubs in the Eastern time zone with obvious travel complaints under the existing format. The Red Wings have longed for a return to the East, which the Jackets would also like.
"I know our fans have spoken loudly about wanting to be in the East," Blue Jackets president John Davidson told ESPN.com Tuesday. "Whether that’s feasible or not, the league will tell us. We’re waiting to find out what they have to say. We’re an organization that wants to do what’s best for us and our fans, but we also realize we have to do what’s best for the league."
Dallas has long wanted out of the Pacific Division, annoyed by its massive travel plus late starting times for TV in its divisional road games.
So the December 2011 model certainly works for the Stars, who would play more clubs in the Central time zone.
"We’re fully on board with it," Stars president and CEO Jim Lites told ESPN.com Tuesday. "It needs to happen. You have to take care of Winnipeg, the Jets can’t run around in Carolina every night. That’s got to be fixed.
"Listen, there will always be issues no matter what," Lites added. "But what you can’t do is put your head in the sand about the Dallas Stars playing in a division that is two time zones away and the Detroit Red Wings playing playoff series every year against teams three time zones away. You have to address those issues, they’re anti-competitive."
In the end, the majority of clubs were appeased by the December 2011 model because of the schedule matrix, which called for all 30 teams to play each other at least twice in a home-and-home series.
"You have to play every team every year, you just have to," said Lites.
Not every club was thrilled. It’s believed the Tampa Bay Lightning rejected that realignment plan in December 2011, unhappy with the increased travel in their new grouping with Northeast clubs.
And then there’s the Phoenix situation to deal with. It’s doubtful the league will know for sure where the Coyotes are playing next season before it wraps up realignment plans. So the new format will most likely have to go ahead without knowing what lies ahead for the Coyotes. If the Coyotes have to relocate after this season, whatever new locale the franchise moves to, it will have to live in its new conference for at least a season before the NHL can accommodate it. No different from the Jets franchise playing in the Southeast the past two years after moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta.
The four-conference model from December 2011 isn’t perfect, with two seven-team groups and two eight-team groups. But it also invites future expansion to 32 teams -- thus four eight-team conferences -- which I would guess will happen within the next five years or so, whether that’s to Seattle, Quebec City or a second team in Toronto.
In the end, it’s impossible to satisfy all 30 teams in realignment. But the current format must change, that much is certain. And it will.
- The Rangers posted a .682 winning percentage when outshooting opponents, the highest of any team in the league.
- The Rangers blocked 1,338 shots this season, fourth-most in the NHL and the highest total of any playoff team.
- The Senators allowed 32.0 shots per game, second-most in the NHL (Hurricanes, 32.4). The Rangers allowed 27.8 shots per game, sixth-fewest in NHL.
- Jason Spezza took 35.5 percent of his team’s faceoffs this season, the second-highest percentage of any player in hockey. Spezza was especially called upon with the man advantage, winning 159 power-play faceoffs (second-most in NHL).
Boston Bruins (2) vs Washington Capitals (7)
- The Bruins had the top five players in the NHL in plus/minus. Patrice Bergeron (+36), Tyler Seguin (+34), Zdeno Chara (+33), Chris Kelly (+33) and Brad Marchand (+31) were the only five players over +30 in the league.
- Boston had the highest 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio of any Eastern Conference team. Boston’s 1.32 ranked third in the NHL.
- Capitals forward Brooks Laich blocked 92 shots this season, most of any NHL forward.
- Third period comebacks won’t be expected in this series. When leading after two periods, neither the Bruins nor Capitals lost in regulation this season. Boston was 32-0-0 this season (1.000 winning percentage, best in NHL), while Washington was 25-0-1 (.962 winning percentage, third in NHL).
Florida Panthers (3) vs New Jersey Devils (6)
- New Jersey (0.93 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio) and Florida (0.88) are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs to be outscored in 5-on-5 situations during the season. In the Western Conference, Los Angeles posted a 0.98 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio.
- New Jersey had the third-highest winning percentage in the NHL when conceding the first goal (.421).
- Ilya Kovalchuk had 120 giveaways in 77 games during the season, 25 more than anyone else in the league. As a team, the Panthers had 602 takeaways, third in the Eastern Conference and ninth in the NHL.
- New Jersey doesn’t mind shorthanded situations. The Devils not only had the highest penalty kill percentage in the league during the season (89.6 pct), but also scored a league-high 15 shorthanded goals.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Philadelphia Flyers (5)
- The Flyers (65) and the Penguins (56) ranked first and tied for second, respectively, in power-play goals this season.
- The Flyers averaged 16.1 penalty minutes per game and 3.9 shorthanded situations per game, both most in the league. The Penguins averaged 10.7 penalty minutes per game (12th-lowest in NHL) and 3.3 shorthanded situations per game (15th).
- The Penguins have the two most prolific shooters in the NHL. Evgeni Malkin (339 shots) and James Neal (329 shots) ranked first and second respectively in the league.
- Claude Giroux won more power-play faceoffs (191) than any player in the NHL. Giroux won 32 more than the next-closest player (Jason Spezza, 159).
1. Claude Giroux, F, Flyers
3. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Red Wings
5. Daniel Sedin, F, Canucks
7. Erik Karlsson, D, Senators
9. Corey Perry, F, Ducks
11. Kris Letang, D, Penguins
13. Patrick Kane, F, Blackhawks
15. Marian Hossa, F, Blackhawks
17. John Tavares, F, Islanders
19. Tyler Seguin, F, Bruins
21. Logan Couture, F, Sharks
23. Jordan Eberle, F, Oilers
25. Brian Campbell, D, Panthers
27. Henrik Lundqvist, G, Rangers
29. Keith Yandle, D, Coyotes
31. Kimmo Timonen, D, Flyers
33. Jimmy Howard, G, Red Wings
35. Zdeno Chara, D, Bruins
37. Carey Price, G, Canadiens
39. Milan Michalek, F, Senators
41. Jason Pominville, F, Sabres
|Team Where's Ovie?
2. Evgeni Malkin, F, Penguins
4. Steven Stamkos, F, Lightning
6. Henrik Sedin, F, Canucks
8. Shea Weber, D, Predators
10. Ryan Suter, D, Predators
12. Jason Spezza, F, Senators
14. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Senators
16. Marian Gaborik, F, Rangers
18. Phil Kessel, F, Maple Leafs
20. Joffrey Lupul, F, Maple Leafs
22. Jamie Benn, F, Stars
24. Alexander Edler, D, Canucks
26. James Neal, F, Penguins
28. Dion Phaneuf, D, Maple Leafs
30. Jarome Iginla, F, Flames
32. Jonathan Quick, G, Kings
34. Dennis Wideman, D, Capitals
36. Tim Thomas, G, Bruins
38. Scott Hartnell, F, Flyers
40. Dan Girardi, D, Rangers
42. Brian Elliott, G, Blues
First period: Lundqvist
Second period: Price
Third period: Howard
|Team Where's Ovie
First period: Thomas
Second period: Elliott
Third period: Quick
Just a day after spouting off about his frustrations with the way the team was playing, Cammalleri was gone.
Was it a rash move by embattled Habs GM Pierre Gauthier?
Consider this: One NHL GM told ESPN.com Thursday night he wished he would have known Cammalleri was available because he had some interest in the player.
Whether or not the Canadiens informed a lot of teams, the Flames say this deal was not done overnight.
"It's been percolating for quite some time, we've been having a lot of conversations," Flames GM Jay Feaster told reporters in Calgary after the deal was announced.
The Habs also dealt goalie Karri Ramo and a fifth-round pick in 2012 in exchange for forwards Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland and a second-round pick in 2013.
The Flames got the better player in Cammalleri, but the Habs will save cap space; Bourque has a $3.3 million yearly cap hit, while Cammalleri is at $6 million.
Will the trade spark more moves? Another NHL GM told ESPN.com before this trade that he thought the chatter had more volume this early on compared with other years.
Let’s start in Boston with the Stanley Cup champs:
Bruins looking with cautionWhen you’re leading the NHL in goals for and goals against, and blowing away the opposition on some nights, just what exactly do you need ahead of the trade deadline?
"Obviously we have a lot of cap room, so there’s a lot of flexibility," Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Thursday. "I would like to add depth-wise on the forward front and depth-wise on the defenseman front. But I don’t want to subtract anything."
A year ago, Chiarelli was a busy man, adding Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle ahead of the deadline en route to a Stanley Cup championship.
This year, while willing to add again, Chiarelli is treading more carefully.
"The difference between last year and this year is that I’m a little more certain about the chemistry at this point," said the Bruins GM. "So I have to be a little more careful about adding. I don’t want to subtract in order to add. If I can add, I want to be careful about chemistry."
Chiarelli declined, like all GMs, to name any possible targets, so I’ll do a little sleuthing on my own.
I think two names that bear watching are forward Tuomo Ruutu and/or defenseman Tim Gleason in Carolina. Both are slated to be unrestricted free agents July 1.
But those are just two possibilities. Like any buyer at this time of year, the B’s would have more than a dozen names on their shopping list.
Parise's futureThere has been lots of chatter this past week about Zach Parise and his future. The Devils' star captain is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
I’m not convinced the Feb. 27 trade deadline means a whole lot to Devils GM Lou Lamoriello in this particular case. Normally, when a pending UFA star like Parise hasn’t signed an extension yet and has the potential to walk away July 1 without compensation, the team will try to move him before the trade deadline to maximize his remaining asset value -- much like the former Atlanta Thrashers did with both Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk and the Nashville Predators may be forced to do with Ryan Suter this season.
But from talking to people around the league, there’s a growing feeling that Lamoriello will not move Parise.
"He can’t trade away his captain, the face of the franchise, with the team sitting in a playoff spot," one source told ESPN.com Thursday.
Another factor is that the Devils need Parise to make the playoffs, and the club -- still in an ownership mess -- can really use the additional revenue.
"Don’t discount that part of it," said the source.
The feeling is that Lamoriello will use the remaining months between now and July 1 to try to convince Parise to stay on board.
The other option for the Devils is that if Parise hasn’t signed by the June entry draft, they can move his rights then. It won’t fetch as much as trading him now would, but it’s better than nothing.
Wild hoping to buyThe Minnesota Wild, like many teams, don’t quite know yet if they’ll be buyers or sellers, as it depends on where they sit in the standings come Feb. 27.
They’re certainly hoping to be buyers and, if that’s the case, it’s pretty obvious they’ll be looking to upgrade a 29th-place offense.
"We’ve been talking to teams for a couple of months now," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told ESPN.com Thursday. "We haven’t scored a lot of goals this year. I think there’s room for internal improvement, I think we have guys who will score more goals. But obviously if we could find a way to upgrade our team, we will."
What the Wild won’t do, however, is mortgage the future. Fletcher and his front office have worked hard to replenish the prospect base and minor league system in Minnesota.
"We’re not going to trade any of our top young prospects," Fletcher said. "We think we’ve worked hard to put together a pretty good crop of prospects going forward and we’re not looking to dismantle the whole thing for a quick fix. But if we can find a way to make a good hockey trade here, or move something that isn’t as critical to our future, then we’ll certainly look at that."
My sense is that the Wild would be willing to move a B-level prospect, a draft pick or a player off their current roster if that helps get them a top-six forward.
Fletcher, of course, would not mention any names, but I’ll put this guess out there: Vaclav Prospal, UFA July 1, is available in Columbus and Fletcher had him in Florida. I’m sure the Wild have a dozen targets on their wish list, but I’d be surprised if Prospal wasn’t one of them.
- I can confirm reports that Philadelphia and Toronto have chatted over the past week. The Leafs have long coveted winger James van Riemsdyk. Sources on both teams, however, told ESPN.com Thursday that nothing was close to imminent on any deal. The Flyers' top priority is to get help on defense, and it just so happens that's where Toronto has extra bodies. Still, as I reported earlier this week, Philly's top name on its shopping list is Suter. Tim Gleason of the Hurricanes also interests the Flyers.
- The New York Rangers, we’re hearing, are looking for either a top-six forward who can put the puck in the net and/or a power-play defenseman with a good shot. Like most other contenders, including the likes of Philadelphia and Detroit, the Rangers are keeping a close eye on Nashville and what the Predators are going to do with either Suter (UFA July 1) or Shea Weber (RFA July 1). Needless to say, the Rangers would covet either one of those studs on defense.
- The Detroit Red Wings have more cap space than they’ve ever had since this system was put in place in 2005. They’ll be looking to add, but not at all costs.
"We got cap space, I’m going to work the phones like I always do over the next six to seven weeks," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com Thursday. "If there’s a fit, we’ll do something, but if there isn’t, I don’t feel the urge to do something for the sake of doing something. I like our team."
As I reported earlier this season, I believe the Wings have some interest in Oilers winger Ales Hemsky, who is UFA July 1. I also believe an upgrade on backup goalie Ty Conklin would be a target.
- The Vancouver Canucks are looking for size up front, most likely in the form of a bottom-six forward. Backup goalie Cory Schneider, who is starting material, would need to fetch a big-time offer to move before Feb. 27. My sense is he’s more likely to move in the offseason.
- New York-based rumors this week had Shane Doan possibly on the move with the Rangers a team that would covet him. Well, the Rangers do like him, but he’s not available at this point. "No truth in that whatsoever," Coyotes GM Don Maloney responded via email when asked about those Doan trade rumors. The Coyotes captain is slated to be an UFA July 1.
- The Florida Panthers want to get healthy before they decide what they’re going to do regarding the trade deadline.
"We don’t know yet, hopefully we’ll have everybody back in the lineup in the next couple of weeks and then we’ll see what we have," Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com Thursday. "And then we’ll see where we’re at as well. There’s no rush here."
The Panthers feel pretty good about their blue line, so odds are they’ll be looking to add up front, more specifically in my opinion, a No. 2 center to help beef up the secondary scoring.
- The San Jose Sharks made a lot of their moves last summer but could still use more depth in the form of a third-line forward. They’re also shopping goalie Antero Niittymaki.
That’s the business we’re in, right?
Let’s make one thing clear off the top, however. Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom were not "snubbed" by the NHL. The league wanted them there but both future Hall of Famers politely declined, wanting instead to rest their old bones that weekend.
Selanne was asked by the league and said it should name Corey Perry instead. Lidstrom was proactive, a source told ESPN.com Thursday, informing the league well in advance that he’d rather rest that weekend and spent time with his family.
Both are classy men who have played in plenty of All-Star Games and have given way more to the game than the other way around. They owe the NHL nothing and no one should begrudge them for skipping this year’s event.
Now let’s take a look at who was added Thursday to the All-Star Game, which is Jan. 29 in Ottawa:
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins
Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres
Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames
Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs
Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.
My take: Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals, Kris Versteeg of the Panthers, Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks and Scott Hartnell of the Flyers are the most notable snubs here. Backstrom has been Washington’s best player all season long. He deserves to be there more than any other Cap, including Ovechkin. Hartnell probably fell victim to the numbers game, with many of his teammates picked. The Flyers' All-Star contingent includes Claude Giroux and Kimmo Timonen, as well as Matt Read and Sean Couturier being named to the All-Star rookie group. You'd think the same could be said for the Blackhawks and Sharp, given that Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews all made it from the ‘Hawks. But a source confirmed to ESPN.com that his injury is the only reason Sharp wasn't added.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers
Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Dan Girardi, New York Rangers
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers
Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes
Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks
Dennis Wideman, Washington Capitals
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
My take: Glad to see Dan Girardi make it. He’s been outstanding for the Rangers this season, leading the NHL in ice time. In similar fashion, the league was clever to recognize Dennis Wideman’s season. Really, no real obvious snubs here on defense. I could have made the case for Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues or Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers, but I think the league nailed it on defense.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
My take: Always tough to satisfy folks in goal. There’s about a dozen netminders who deserve to go every year and only six can make it. Among those who likely deserved a shot were Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins, Pekka Rinne of the Predators, Niklas Backstrom of the Wild, Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Mike Smith of the Coyotes. But part of the league’s effort in selecting these All-Stars is to try to ensure most teams are represented. Carey Price was the obvious pick from the lowly Habs.
Luke Adam, Buffalo Sabres
Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
Craig Smith, Nashville Predators
Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils
Colin Greening, Ottawa Senators
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers
Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks
My take: No issue here. One of the handy things about having these rookies around is that should a player pull out of the All-Star Game at the last second and there isn't time for a replacement, the league can find a sub from this rookie list.
1. Looking for John Law to get it right
Every week brings more hearings for Judge Roy Bean, er, Brendan Shanahan, and every week some other player loses his mind and tries to decapitate (or in the case of Brad Marchand, maliciously submarine) an opponent. Not all injuries are the result of reckless play but enough are that it’s clear that the league’s new office of player safety, of which Shanahan is the head honcho and hangman, isn’t really getting the job done in the way it needs to get done. Once again, consistency remains the big bugaboo in getting players to fly right. Shanahan himself told us in the fall that his mandate was to hammer repeat offenders, the guys who don’t get it. Does Andy Sutton get it? Apparently not. Does Rene Bourque get it? Nope. Or Daniel Carcillo? Not a chance. But still we pussyfoot around with five- or six-game love taps from the league. (Carcillo got seven for another cheap-shot play that has left Tom Gilbert out of the Edmonton Oilers' lineup long-term.) The talk is tough but ultimately cheap, and until we see players such as Bourque -- whose cowardly elbow to the head of an unsuspecting Nicklas Backstrom left the talented center unable to practice and might ultimately cost the Capitals a playoff berth -- sent to the sidelines for 10, 15, 20 games, then the merry-go-round of eliminating the headhunters and backstabbers will continue to turn in perpetuity. Oh well, maybe the back half of this season will see the league finally make good on its promises, although we must admit we remain doubtful.
2. Shots fired! Shots fired!
Talks between the league and the players’ association aimed at creating a new collective bargaining agreement are supposed to begin after the All-Star break. Of course, the two sides have already scuffled in the dirt, with the players refusing to give consent to the league’s hard-fought plan to realign the 30-team league into four conferences next season. Does that bode ill for the coming talks? Already pundits are predicting a work stoppage for next fall. Surely, though, two men who boast as many battle scars on their labor briefcases as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and new NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr do understand that one skirmish does not a war make. Or something like that. Bottom line is that neither man has a reputation to forge here; no one has to make a statement in dragging the other side into a protracted work stoppage. The game is, in many ways, as healthy as it’s ever been in terms of on-ice product, revenues and profile. The only way to sour that is to keep spitting in each other’s breakfast cereal and deny the fans (Remember them? No? Didn’t think so) the game that they keep alive with their money and attention. We’ll soon see whether cooler heads will prevail or whether the realignment border skirmish was really the harbinger of dark days many believe it to be.
3. Who will be crowned czars of the Central?
The Central Division is the toughest place to play hockey in the NHL right now. Apart from the embarrassing Columbus Blue Jackets, the four remaining teams should be playoff bound and the battle between Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago for the top spot should make for some compelling moments in the second half of the season. Getting home ice is always nice and winning the Central is a pretty big deal because it’s likely going to mean the first or second seed in the West and, more importantly, if you don’t win the Central there’s a pretty good chance the first round of the playoffs will feature a matchup of the second- and third-place teams. Right now that would mean Detroit and Chicago facing off in the first round. Not a bad way to start the postseason if you’re a fan but you can bet all three of Chicago, Detroit and the current Central Division leaders, St. Louis, would like to avoid that kind of road through the playoffs. The Blackhawks and Red Wings fancy themselves Stanley Cup contenders and have the pedigree to support that theory. The Blues, meanwhile, are trying to figure out if they can play with the big boys. Their turnaround under Ken Hitchcock has been exemplary and they are the top defensive team in the conference. The Hawks have defensive issues and a tendency to go completely sideways at times, while the Red Wings have struggled on the road although they've been dominant at Joe Louis Arena. Should be fun, right to the bitter end.
4. Who dat?
There are lots of interesting teams occupying playoff spots at the midpoint that most observers felt weren’t going to be a factor come springtime. The Florida Panthers lead the Southeast Division and the Toronto Maple Leafs are hanging around the playoff fray, and even more surprising, the rebuilding Ottawa Senators owned second place in the Northeast Division at the turn and were actually only a couple of points removed from fourth and home ice in the first round. Go figure. In the West there was Minnesota, although the Wild had already shown signs of significant slippage. Within a couple of points of eighth were Colorado and Dallas, neither of which figured to be in the vicinity of a playoff berth at the outset of the season. So, who hangs around? Well, that’s the beauty of the second half of the season, especially the next four or five weeks leading up to the trade deadline. This is nervous time for GMs and coaches of those teams trying to figure out if they’ve uncovered fool’s gold or the real deal. For us, we like the Panthers to hang around, Minnesota, too. The rest, not so much, even though we tip our hat to Paul MacLean and the Sens, where there is recharged interest in a team that looked to be several years away from being competitive again. And if there are strange interlopers in the mix for a playoff spot, that means some of the mainstays have disappeared, such as Washington, a perennial Cup contender that has lost its swagger. Even firing Bruce Boudreau has done little to restore the fire for a team that was the top dog in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons. Can the Caps make the playoffs? Sure. The Eastern Conference is full of junky teams. But this is a team that lacks confidence and whose best players are either hurt (Backstrom, Mike Green) or struggling (Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Tomas Vokoun). Look for Pittsburgh to join this crew of "can’t-miss" teams on the outside looking in as the Penguins continue to lose bodies at an alarming rate. At the halfway point, the Pens were looking at life without Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Jordan Staal for the foreseeable future. And then there’s Buffalo, a team that went hog wild last offseason, lavishing huge contracts on its own young players (Tyler Myers will have a check for $10 million waiting for him July 1) and free agents galore. And bless new owner Terry Pegula for injecting some much-needed life into the Sabres. Unfortunately, the team has played like a bag of hammers for most of the season and hasn’t managed to win back-to-back games since the middle of November. No way Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff survive this fiasco if the Sabres can’t turn it around in the second half. And given the paucity of leadership shown thus far in Sabreland, there's no reason to suggest anything different is imminent.
5. Should I stay or go?
Ah, The Clash would love the dilemmas facing Nashville’s twin defensive towers Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and New Jersey’s franchise winger Zach Parise. What about class acts Shane Doan or Jarome Iginla? And then there’s Columbus captain Rick Nash, who might or might not be enticed into waiving his no-movement clause to get a taste of respectability given the disaster that is the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Feb. 27 trade deadline might create even more big names on the move than normal, given the end of the collective bargaining agreement. Anaheim GM Bob Murray has said his team is wide open beyond Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu (and who knows whether Selanne might want a shot at playing in the postseason one last time, if indeed this is the last hurrah for the Finnish Flash). Parise is the top forward who could be available. He could be an unrestricted free agent in July and said this week he wants to be where he can win a Cup and make lots of money (OK, we’re paraphrasing), and New Jersey doesn’t really seem to be that place, not with the ridiculous Ilya Kovalchuk contract already in place and the team ensconced in the bottom end of the playoff bracket, assuming it makes it at all. Weber and Suter remain intriguing because Nashville GM David Poile would like to sign both, but Suter is about to become a UFA while Weber will be a restricted free agent in the offseason. If he can’t keep both, would Poile try to add offense for a playoff run while dealing Suter to ensure a prized asset doesn’t walk away for free? Stay tuned, folks.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Will the Washington Capitals finally fulfill their postseason ambitions? Have the Los Angeles Kings made the right moves to rise to the top of the West? Will we see Vancouver and Boston back in the Stanley Cup finals?
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The Penguins were the clear favorite to win the Atlantic Division, but will they be the best team in the Eastern Conference?
Fans predicted the Blackhawks would challenge the Red Wings in the Central, but could they be the best team in the West?