Faceoff: The trade market finally reopens
From opening night of the 2015-16 season through Dec. 14, hockey fans saw exactly one trade involving zero actual NHL players. It was the longest dry spell in memory, and continued a trend that had been building through the years: the art of the deal was dying. The usual suspects were trotted out—the salary cap, league-wide parity, no-trade clauses—but the situation seemed clear. NHL general managers had simply lost the ability and/or desire to make mid-season trades, at least during the long months leading up to the deadline.
A few minor deals to close out December offered some hope, but with apologies to Ben Scrivens, none involved what you'd call big names. But then, last week, the dam broke. The Flyers and Kings kicked things off with a deal that sent Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to Los Angeles, a move that was primarily a salary dump, granted, but the inclusion of a name as big as Lecavalier in any deal is still enough to raise eyebrows. The week closed with Friday's deal that saw the Rangers send Emerson Etem to Vancouver for a pick and a prospect.
And in between, of course, came the blockbuster, with the Predators and Blue Jackets going gloriously old school with a one-for-one deal that sent Ryan Johansen to Nashville and Seth Jones to Columbus. It was a jaw-dropping move, one that had been suggested for weeks but always seemed too big to ever actually be more than wishful thinking. Both players are young, both are former fourth overall picks, and both have the sort of ceilings that could see them occupying all-star rosters for years to come. And both would have been considered untouchable by most teams in the league, the kind of guys that GMs endlessly assure us they'd never even think about dealing.
Apparently, David Poile and Jarmo Kekäläinen missed that memo, as both saw an opportunity to improve their roster and actually took it. The Blue Jackets have been looking for a stud defenceman for years, and Johansen's apparent stint in the doghouse of new coach John Tortorella nudged him into play. The Predators haven't had a top-tier centre in his prime since... well, ever, and their excellent young blueline was one of the few that could withstand moving someone like Jones. The deal made perfect sense for both sides, which made it no less amazing that both GMs had the guts to pull the trigger.
So what now? You'd have to think that GMs around the league (and especially in the West) will see teams like the Kings and Predators improving and feel some pressure to get to work. And with that whole "You just can't make a big mid-season trade in the salary-cap era" doctrine looking a little less like a reality and a little more like an excuse, there should be more than a few cell phones ringing around the league right now. After all, Jonathan Drouin is still out there, Kevin Shattenkirk appears to have joined the rumor mill, and Travis Hamonic remains in play. And if you want to get really crazy, a resolution to the Steven Stamkos situation still looms in the distance.
There are good fits to be found, and despite what we're constantly told, there's more than enough cap space floating around to make them a reality. History tells us that a league full of timid, risk-adverse GMs will find a way to talk themselves out of actually doing anything. But after all the action of the last few days, that kind of conservative thinking is going to be a tougher sell to anxious fans.
Are the surging Panthers for real? —Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Race to the Cup
The five teams that appear to have the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
5. Florida Panthers (26-12-4, +23 goals differential*)—With yet another win Sunday to extend their winning streak to 12 games, should the Panthers be higher? They probably need to be higher. I don't know what to tell you, I'm just not sold yet. Let's circle back on this next week.
4. Los Angeles Kings (26-12-3, +18)—They could just go ahead and hang the "Pacific Division Champion" banner right now and nobody would mind, right? OK, just checking.