Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Deadline preview, part two: The buyers

Welcome to part two of the VICE Sports NHL trade deadline preview. Yesterday, we took a look at the league's sellers. That wasn't easy given where the market stands right now, and we had to stretch the definition a bit to find enough teams.

We won't have the same problem today, as we look at the buyers. In theory, you could probably make a case for as many two-thirds of the league's teams falling into this category. They won't all be able to find a dance partner, but they'll be trying—or at least, for the more timid among them, pretending to try.

Instead of giving you 20 identical capsules that all say some variation of "They'd like to add some depth in the middle six and on the blueline," let's narrow the field down to the teams that could be the most interesting over the next week.

Florida Panthers

Where they're at: Back in a playoff spot, albeit barely. That's still a big step forward after a terrible first half that cost the coach his job, painted the picture of a front office in chaos, and had this looking like a lost season. Now they're telling fans they're "all-in" and making it clear that they want to be buyers.

In a perfect world: They need help on offense; the powerplay has struggled and they rank in the bottom third of the league in goals scored. So, in theory, they'd want to be in on someone like Patrick Eaves, Radim Vrbata or Thomas Vanek. Maybe even more than one of them.

But it's more likely that: The team is red hot, and recently welcomed Jonathan Huberdeau back to the lineup after he'd missed the entire season. Aleksander Barkov also returned after an extended absence. That gives the Panthers room to claim that getting those guys back counts as their deadline additions, and they wouldn't be wrong. But GM Dale Tallon has been clear that he wants to do more, so some sort of rental deal to boost the offense seems like a sure thing.

Los Angeles Kings

Where they're at: Hanging around the playoff bubble despite looking like a team that could win it all. So, the usual.

In a perfect world: Dean Lombardi has made big midseason trades that helped the team win a Stanley Cup twice, so he's always a guy to keep an eye on. He's also never been shy about trading first-round picks, and still has this year's in his holster. There may not be many players out there that would be worth that price, and the Kings don't have any obvious holes. But they do have a little bit of cap room to work with, so Lombardi will be sniffing around bigger names that might shake free.

The other question is goaltending. Jonathan Quick has been expected back before the playoffs, but his recovery has been slow and there's a chance he won't make it back this year. If that's the case, the Kings will probably want an experienced backup for Peter Budaj.

But it's more likely that: Only the Kings know what's really up with Quick, but a deal for a goalie wouldn't be a surprise, and an addition up front seems likely.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

This year's five toughest buyer/seller dilemmas

We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.

Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.

But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.

As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.

And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.

The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.

Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.

Philadelphia Flyers

The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.

The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Deadline preview, part one: The sellers

We're now just over one week away from the annual NHL trade deadline. Any and all deals involving NHL roster players must be done by 3:00 ET on Wednesday, March 1. And with just eight days to go, the market is heating up.

We hope. Please let it be heating up. Because Lord, nobody's doing anything right now. When you're breaking down the big Viktor-Loov-for-Sergey-Kalinin blockbuster, you've found yourself in a sad place. Save us, Michael Stone, you're our only hope.

But that can all change quickly. In a league infested with parity, one big move somewhere could be the one that gets all the dominoes falling. And with just eight days to go, pressure is mounting around the league to get something—anything—done.

So which teams are worth keeping an eye on? Not everyone will be busy, but most of the league will do something. So over the next few days, we're going to take a look at which teams should be facing a busy week. Tomorrow, we'll look at the league's buyers. And today, we'll start with the all-important sellers.

Colorado Avalanche

Where they're at: The Avalanche aren't just bad. They're not even just "dead last place" bad. There's actually a decent argument to be made that this could be the worst team we've seen since the start of the salary cap era.

All of which makes them sellers in the traditional sense, meaning they'll be moving veterans with expiring deals like Jarome Iginla, John Mitchell and Rene Bourque. But the Avalanche are facing something far bigger. Much like the Oilers of recent years, the Avs have built a talented young core that, for whatever reason, just doesn't seem to add up to winning. It's time to move on from someone like Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, and those deals could happen this week. GM Joe Sakic is apparently asking for plenty, but he's not being unreasonable; if he moves on of his key young pieces, he'd better hit a home run.

In a perfect world: One or more of the teams sniffing around Duchene and Landeskog decide to stop playing PR games with friendly media and start getting serious, and somebody meets Sakic's price tag. Meanwhile, Iginla's reputation as one of the most respected veterans in the league overrides his middling performance this year, and Sakic is able to flip him for a first-round pick. Mix in a few smaller rentals, and the Avs come away from the deadline with a haul of picks and prospects, and the future looks bright.

But it's more likely that: Sakic plays the "it's just too hard to make a big deal during the season" card, as he's already started to do, and kicks the Duchene/Landeskog can down the road to the summer. Iginla only brings in a second-round pick (if that), and Avalanche fans come away questioning whether the team's best chance to turn a corner just slipped away.

Arizona Coyotes

Where they're at: Well ahead of the Avalanche, but that's about where the good news ends. They're going to finish 29th, missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Worse, they've taken a significant step back in what was supposed to be a year of progress.

As a team that's already been solidly in rebuild mode for years, there aren't a ton of big-name veteran assets here to move. But rookie GM John Chayka will need to find a way to extract some value in his first crack at the deadline. He got started Monday, sending Stone to the Calgary Flames for a third and a conditional fifth. That's not bad, but there's plenty more to do.

In a perfect world: Captain Shane Doan agrees to waive his no-movement clause to join a contender, and gives the team enough options to stoke a bidding war. Chayka manages to get someone to meet his sky-high demands for Martin Hanzal, and also does well on deals for Radim Vrbata and maybe even struggling prospect Anthony Duclair.

But it's more likely that: The Coyotes should do reasonably well. Vrbata will bring back something, and Hanzal has enough buzz around him that somebody might actually pay up even though he's, you know, Martin Hanzal.

Doan could be trickier, since he still doesn't seem completely sure that he wants to go, and could also give the team a list of destinations that's so short that all Chayka can do is find him a good home and wish him well, without much coming back the other way.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Assembling history's all-deadline team

We’re down to eight days until the deadline, and so far the market has been… a little slow. Just a bit sluggish. Did you bet the under? You’re probably going to win.

Maybe GMs around the league are just saving up for the big finale. Or maybe they’re all big wimpy babies. But there’s another possible explanation. Maybe they just need a little extra motivation.

Let’s provide some. Today, let’s put together a full roster of the best trade deadline–week acquisitions in league history. We’re only looking at what each player did with his new team here, and we’re not counting draft picks that turned into stars (we covered a few of those last week). But that still gives us plenty of big names to choose from. Consider it a reminder that every now and then, a smart and/or lucky GM can land a major difference-maker with the right deadline move.

Will this year’s deadline add anyone to the team? Time will tell. But for now, let’s meet our roster.


Ron Francis, Pittsburgh Penguins (March 4, 1991)

The 1990–91 Penguins were already stacked, boasting future Hall of Famers like Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier, not to mention a team-leading 113-point season from Mark Recchi and a rookie with funny hair named Jaromir Jagr. But with his team hovering just two games over .500 and coming off a four-game losing streak, GM Craig Patrick apparently decided that they needed something more.

And so, a week before the 1991 deadline, Patrick swung one of the biggest trades of the era, sending John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski to Hartford for Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings. It was, to put it mildly, a questionable move for the Whalers. Francis was the franchise, and seeing him dealt away devastated the fanbase.

Francis would go on to have some of the best years of his career in Pittsburgh, and his arrival was a key to the team winning back-to-back Cups.

Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues (March 7, 1988)

The trade that sent Brett Hull from Calgary to St. Louis might hold the distinction of being the most lopsided trade in sports history that neither team is all that unhappy with.

From the Blues' side, it was a heist. Hull would go on to record three straight 70-plus goal seasons and win an MVP in St. Louis, and they got him and Steve Bozek for a pair of solid-but-unspectacular veterans in Rick Wamsley and Rob Ramage. It's the best trade in franchise history, and it's not close.

But while the Flames got robbed in terms of long-term value, they made the deal with a purpose: Load up on experience to win a Stanley Cup. In 1989, they did, taking home the franchise's first and only championship. Would you trade that banner to get Hull back? Probably not, but Hull still gets a spot on our first line.

Markus Naslund, Vancouver Canucks (March 20, 1996)

Naslund reunites with Francis on our top line. The two were teammates in Pittsburgh in the mid-’90s; Naslund had actually put up 52 points in 66 games in his first full NHL season in 1995–96. But the Pens already had plenty of skill and wanted some toughness, so they sent the young Swede to Vancouver in exchange for bruiser Alek Stojanov.

That move worked out OK for Vancouver; Naslund would go on to become the franchise leader in goals and points.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, February 20, 2017

Weekend wrap: Big changes in Montreal, strange times in St. Louis, high prices in Colorado

This feature runs just about every Monday during the season, maybe about 25 times in all, and one of the things we try to do is spread the attention around. Nobody wants to read about the same teams over and over, so we try to make sure that just about everybody gets some time in the spotlight. If we focus on a given team one week, we try not to come back to it again for another month or two at least. Fair’s fair, and all that.

But sometimes, as we’ll see today, that just doesn’t work. One week ago, we spent a section diving into the slumping Montreal Canadiens and their tenuous hold on the Atlantic Division, so in theory we wouldn’t circle back to them for a while. But after the week they just had, there’s really no way to avoid it, even if it breaks the “don’t focus on the same team” rule.

Then again, maybe that rule doesn’t apply here, because you could argue that the Canadiens are no longer the same team they were a week ago. Tuesday’s decision to fire coach Michel Therrien wasn’t exactly a shock – he was on indisputably shaky ground heading into the bye. But his replacement raised eyebrows. The Canadiens didn’t promote from within or go the interim route, like every other team to fire its coach this year has done. Nope, Marc Bergevin went big, bringing in Claude Julien on what’s rumoured to be a massive contract.

And just like that, there was hope again in Montreal. In a season that seemed to be spiraling into a demoralizing repeat off 2015-16 – unbeatable in October, mediocre beyond, outright free-fall down the stretch – the team had yanked hard on the wheel and skidded into a new direction. Bergevin had delivered a clear message that nothing, be it friendship, loyalty or the bottom line, was more important in Montreal than winning.

Not a bad week for a team that was supposed to be on vacation.

On Friday, it all led to the sight of a practice feeling like a bigger deal than most regular season games. Hundreds of fans showed up to watch the team run through drills. Julien mixed up the lines, answering the prayers of Habs fans by moving Alex Galchenyuk back to centering the top line. And afterwards, key players like Carey Price were talking about the coaching change being a wakeup call.

Add it all up, and you may have expected the Canadiens to come out for Saturday afternoon's game against the Winnipeg Jets looking like the 1977 version. Instead, after a decent start, they fell flat on their way to a 3-1 loss. It was their third straight defeat and seventh in their last eight, and they've scored two or less in all seven of those losses. Combined with Ottawa splitting a pair of weekend games, it left Montreal's lead on top of the Atlantic at just two points.

It wasn't all bad, with Price in particular looking as sharp as he has in weeks. And the Canadiens certainly aren't the first team to look sloppy coming out of the bye. But any hopes that a coaching change would provide the sort of instant turnaround that teams like the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues have seen took at least a temporary blow on Saturday. And the Canadiens are looking more and more like a team that needs exactly that sort of reversal to regain their status as Cup contenders.

Montreal returns to action Tuesday night against the New York Rangers, kicking off a busy stretch that sees them play five times in eight nights. That takes the Canadiens right up to the trade deadline (which Bergevin is suggesting could be quiet) and then it's on to P.K. Subban's homecoming with the Nashville Predators on March 2.

It won't be boring. And when it's all over, we'll know a lot more about this team than we do right now.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favorite status.

5. New York Rangers (38-19-1, +43 true goals differential*): They had their six-game winning streak snapped, then responded by knocking off the Caps. They're gaining ground on third spot in the Metro. But based on the playoff format, is that really a good thing?

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-16-5, +43): They're off this week, returning to action on Saturday against the Islanders.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet