Thursday, April 4, 2013
Putting deadline day in deeper perspective
By Scott Burnside
The day after the trade deadline is often like the day after a big family wedding. Lots of stuff to sift through. Maybe you'll find an unexpected and unopened gift, or maybe you'll be reminded that the gift you thought stunk the day before still stinks today.
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.