Monday, February 18, 2019

Weekend power rankings: A dozen deadline week predictions

One​ week to go.

We’re​ just​ seven​ days​ away​ from​ the trade​ deadline, and historically,​ this is when​ things​ really start to​​ get busy. Fans love to talk about deadline day, and that’s still the main attraction. This time next week, we’ll all be fake-coughing our way through calling in sick to work and settling in to watch the various deadline day shows struggle to fill airtime until the flood gates open. It’s always a fun day.

But in recent years, the process has evolved to the point where we should really be referring to deadline week. We typically see almost as many trades during the week-long lead up to the deadline as we do on the day itself. And that means the wait is pretty much over. It’s go time.

Let’s crunch some numbers. In 2016, there were 21 trades on deadline day and 16 more in the week leading up to it. The 2017 deadline was nearly identical, with 23 deals on deadline day and another 16 the week before. Last year, the numbers dropped slightly, with 18 deals on deadline day and 12 in the week leading up to it. (All totals are from the various trade tracker pages.)

So in terms of the number of deals made, last year was quieter than a typical recent deadline, both on deadline day and in the week before. That could be a blip or the start of a trend. And if it’s the latter, we might expect that this week is relatively quiet too.

But something else stands out. In 2016, almost all of the action came in that final week; there were just four trades made around the league in the rest of February. In 2017, there were five. But last year, there were nine. Again, maybe that’s a blip. But it suggests GMs weren’t actually that much quieter last year after all — they were simply getting their deals done earlier.

So what about this year? It looks a lot like last year. We’ve already had eleven February trades. And that’s not counting the unusually busy January, which we talked about at the time. Back then, we wondered if the flurry of moves might predict a busy February. And in a sense, it already has, with more trades than usual over the last 17 days. But does that many deals already being done mean we’re now in for a quiet final week?

There are a few reasons to think we might be. The most obvious is the standings – the Western turtle derby has resulted in a scenario where virtually the entire conference is still in the race, or at least close enough to it that a delusional GM could try to talk himself into it. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like teams like the Kings and Ducks will make that mistake. But if the rest of the conference still thinks they have a shot, there may not be enough sellers to support a busy market.

This year’s deadline also feels somewhat unique, in the sense that there are at least three or four players on the block who would be considered major stars who are still in their prime. Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene are bigger prizes than what we usually see available at the deadline. But they’re also the kind of names who could cause other teams to play wait-and-see. Are you really going to settle for Micheal Ferland as your big deadline acquisition if there’s a chance you could get Stone or Panarin? Maybe, but not until the last minute.

The good news, at least for fans who want to see some action, is that the last minute is almost here. And maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think we’re in for an especially quiet week. The situations in Columbus and Ottawa should come to a head soon, one way or another, and most of those Western wannabes are one or two more losses away from having no choice but to get real. The dam isn’t exactly going to burst, because it’s already been leaking steadily for weeks. But it’s probably not going to hold for much longer.

So this week, let’s do the regular top and bottom five rankings. But we’ll mix in a prediction for each of those teams along the way. Will I be right about any one them? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped me before, so let’s do this.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed toward a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

The Carolina Hurricanes broke out a few new post-win celebrations this week, and Don Cherry criticized them for it. That meant we all had to spend the weekend playing yet another round of that game where we pretend that this is some sort of raging and divisive controversy, and not something that 95 percent of the hockey world already likes and supports. You’re being criticized by Don Cherry and Brian Burke and like three random dudes on Twitter, Hurricanes fans. Everyone else has your back. You’ll be fine.

In other news, the Hurricanes are going to make the playoffs, which will be good, and somebody is going to try to claim that they did it because they played duck-duck-goose after their games, which will be terrible.

5. New York Islanders (35-17-6, +33 true goals differential*) – Saturday’s win may have spelled the end of the Barclays Center era. The team doesn’t have any more regular-season games scheduled there, and they’ll play the first round of the playoffs at Nassau Coliseum. They’d be back at Barclays for the second round, though, meaning Islander fans are in the weird position of hoping to get a return to an arena they all hate.

As for the prediction, I admit that I love the theory that Lou Lamoriello will go out and land Panarin. It makes more sense than most of the other Panarin rumors.

But as much as I’d love to make that my prediction, I don’t think it happens. The hurdle is the Blue Jackets, who we’re told still want to make a playoff run. Would they really send Panarin to a team they have a good chance of facing in Round 1? Maybe, but I can’t see it. So instead, let’s pencil Lou and the Islanders in for a consolation prize from among the lesser names. Maybe Gustav Nyquist?

4. Winnipeg Jets (36-19-4, +30) – The schedule served up three winnable games, but the Jets only came away with three points. They didn’t lose any Central ground to the struggling Predators, but it was a missed opportunity to build a cushion. And now that Jordan Binnington and the Blues are unbeatable, the division no longer feels like a two-team race.

Prediction: Given their roster and cap situation, the Jets should be all-in on the biggest rentals. I’m with Murat Ates when he identifies Mark Stone as their best fit. It will cost a ton, but I think they might get him.

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