Craig Custance of ESPN The Magazine and Insider and ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, fresh off a snowy weekend in Ottawa, are back and ready to handle the hot topics. Here we go!
CUSTANCE: Hello, Pierre! What a weekend, eh? Great time at the All-Star Game in Ottawa, where the city and its fans put on a heck of a show. Lots of passion for hockey in that city led to great moments, including multiple standing ovations for Daniel Alfredsson. Busy weekend, too, with off-ice news surrounding Tim Thomas, Ryan Suter and Sidney Crosby. But thankfully, we're playing hockey real games again Tuesday night. Thirteen games in all on tap, and there are plenty of big ones to look at.
I wrote about it in my Insider blog, but Tuesday night's schedule kicks off some important games for franchises that aren't clearly identified as buyers or sellers before the trade deadline. The Lightning host the Capitals and entered the break on a four-game win streak. They must keep winning if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
"We're not in the position we want to be in, we're out of the playoffs looking in," Lightning star Steven Stamkos said when we chatted over the weekend. "We don't want our team broken up because of where we are in the standings."
The Capitals have been awful on the road this season and are still without key players Alex Ovechkin (suspension), Mike Green (injured groin) and Nicklas Backstrom (concussion), making this a very winnable must-win game for Tampa. You think it's too late for the Lightning to make a run?
LEBRUN: Yes, I do believe it’s too little, too late for the Bolts. Not only are they nine points out, but they’ve also got four teams to climb over to sit in the eighth spot. Three-point games in this league just make the math incredibly difficult for teams to make up that gap in the final two and a half months. You saw massive second-half runs by New Jersey, Toronto and Calgary last season, but they all fell short. According to Sportsclubstats.com, Tampa has a 5.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. So at some point, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman will have to begin selling. One player who could be of real use to a playoff-bound club is center Dominic Moore, whose two-way play is a welcome addition. He was effective for Montreal in the spring of 2010 and for Tampa in last year’s playoffs. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and would be a good rental pickup.
CUSTANCE: Agreed. He's the ultimate rental pickup for a contender. You don't have to give up the farm, but he can win you games in the postseason.
"Those are the type of players who help you win in the playoffs," Stamkos said. "He has the experience, he's been deep in the playoffs before."
Moore had four goals during Montreal's run to the conference finals in 2010 and came up even bigger for Tampa last season, registering 11 points in 18 playoff games for the Lightning. Tampa's third line of Moore, Sean Bergenheim and Steve Downie was a big reason the Lightning got out of the first round against the Penguins, with Moore setting up Bergenheim twice with no-look passes. It was fun to watch, but I agree, chances are we won't see a repeat performance out of the Lightning.
The Ducks are another streaking team that still hopes to have a chance of staying in the playoff race. The Ducks' odds are even higher playing in the West, and they travel to Phoenix for a big game Tuesday against the Coyotes, who are one of a large group of teams fighting for that No. 8 spot. What the Ducks have that the Lightning don't is goaltending. Jonas Hiller seems to have found his game, and January has been his best month of the season. In January, he is 6-2-1 with a .942 save percentage. As you know, Bruce Boudreau has guided a team on an unlikely run to make the playoffs before.
LEBRUN: I feel for Ducks GM Bob Murray. Where was this level of play two months ago when the season was still salvageable? I just can’t see the Ducks bridging that gap. All this run is doing is ruining Anaheim’s draft pick for June. Unless Anaheim somehow gets back into the race, the Ducks will be sellers come the trade deadline. One name to keep an eye on is veteran blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky. He’s got another year left on his deal past this season at a $5.6 million cap hit -- maybe too rich for most teams -- however, his actual salary next season drops to $3 million. He remains an effective power-play quarterback. Another player possibly on the move from the Ducks is veteran winger Jason Blake, who is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. He’s had a resurgence of late and could be a good spark-plug addition for a playoff-bound team.
CUSTANCE: If it makes Ducks fans feel better, they're still 28th in the league, so the Fail for Nail [Yakupov] campaign isn't quite dead yet. Problem is, there's too much pride and talent on that team compared to some of the others at the bottom of the standings.
A couple of other things to watch Tuesday: A huge test for the Senators, who entered the break on a three-game losing streak. They were one of the biggest surprises of the first half of the season, and here comes a big test for them in the second. They travel to Boston to take on the Bruins, who have dominated the Senators lately, winning six consecutive against Ottawa.
I also have to mention Detroit visit to Calgary on Tuesday night, because the Flames plan to honor the late Brad McCrimmon, who had a huge impact on both franchises. During warm-ups, Calgary will wear jerseys with McCrimmon's name and number on the back. Players will wear a logo honoring McCrimmon on their helmets as well. Should be a special night for a special person.
LEBRUN: Kudos to the Flames organization for doing that. That’s a beautiful gesture. Of course, once the puck drops, this is a big game for the Flames, who begin the stretch run three points out of a playoff spot in a race with Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas and Phoenix all vying for that eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. The Flames have played the most road games (28) of any team in the West, so a friendlier schedule over the final two and a half months should help their chances.
Enjoy the action tonight, Craig.