Monday, February 19, 2018

Weekend wrap: One week to go

This time last week, we figured that the NHL’s trade market had been a little too quiet. Seven days later, we’ve seen just three more deals, only one of which would be considered significant. That was the Dion Phaneuf/Marion Gaborik salary swap, one that made sense for both teams but was hardly a blockbuster. Beyond that move, all the biggest chips remain in play with one week left before the deadline.

In other words, if it was too quiet before, it’s way too quiet right now.

And that means it’s probably fair to start wondering if we’re facing down a deadline dud. It’s possible. With so many teams packed into the mushy middle of the standings and so few true impact players expected to be moved, maybe everyone just decides to play it safe with what they have. We know that many modern-day GMs would prefer it that way. Some of them might get their wish.

But those best-laid plans can change quickly, based on a streak here or an injury there. The latter situation has played out over the weekend in Philadelphia, where Michal Neuvirth left yesterday’s 7-4 win over the Rangers with a lower-body injury. We don’t know how serious the injury might be, but it didn’t look good. With Brian Elliott already sidelined for several weeks, any extended absence by Neuvirth leaves the team without an established goaltender.

With the Flyers holding down a playoff spot and even finding themselves within range of the Capitals and Penguins for top spot in the Metro, that would seem to leave GM Ron Hextall with no choice but to go out and deal for a goaltender. But who? Detroit’s Petr Mrazek would be an option. Buffalo’s Robin Lehner could be as well. The question will be whether his fellow GMs see Hextall’s situation getting desperate, and adjust their prices accordingly.

Neuvirth’s injury aside, you’d have to think that yesterday’s game will spell the end of any lingering doubt about what Jeff Gorton needs to do. New York looked awful from start to finish; you never want to say a team has quit, but the Rangers sure look like a team that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. With Rick Nash and Michael Grabner all but sure-things to be moved, the question will be whether performances like yesterday’s will motivate Gorton to think even bigger and deal someone like Ryan McDonagh.

The other sellers aren’t faring much better. Buffalo looks awful, the Canadiens do too, and the Senators, Oilers and Canucks are all treading water. Only the Coyotes are even vaguely hot, and they’re too far back for it to matter. In fact, with the Blackhawks and Red Wings all but out of the race, we’ve got more than enough sellers to make up a decent market. We just need to see when the first domino falls, and who it takes with it.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Vegas Golden Knights (39-15-4, +44 true goals differential*) – We remain a little less bullish on the Knights’ chances than others; some have them as the current Stanley Cup favorite.

4. Boston Bruins (35-13-8, +46) – This was a neat look at a strategic shift that’s helped boost the team’s offence.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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