Monday, February 4, 2019

Weekend power rankings: It’s time to start getting excited about the trade deadline

Trades are the best.

I mean, not for the players, who have to pack up on short notice and move to new cities, severing friendships and disrupting family lives. And not for the GMs, some of whom are going to make a mistake that ultimately gets them fired over the next few weeks.

But for fans? Yeah, for us, trades are the best.

We all know the song-and-dance that goes on in the NHL. You can’t make trades after free agency, because everybody likes their roster. And you can’t make them in training camp, because everybody’s healthy. And you can’t make them early in the season, because we can’t overreact to a few weeks. And you can’t make them in the middle of the season, because the salary cap makes that too hard even though it doesn’t.

But the trade deadline? Yes, you can make trades at the deadline. It can be done. So get to wheeling and dealing, boys. Let’s see some moves.

Granted, we’re still three weeks away from deadline day, and in a typical year, we might be getting ahead of ourselves. But the trend in recent seasons has been away from the do-it-all-on-one-day approach, and more toward spreading out the action over the days and weeks before. That’s not good if you’re a TV producer with a 10-hour deadline day show to fill, but it works for the rest of us. And we’ve already seen two fairly big deals in the last week, so it’s possible that the deadline crunch is already here.

The first of those deals came on Monday, with the Leafs adding Jake Muzzin from the Kings. The Penguins and Panthers got into the act over the weekend, with Pittsburgh landing Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann in exchange for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and three picks. That one was really the best kind of pre-deadline deal, in that it gave us plenty to talk about without actually taking a big name out of play since the Panthers are expected to flip Brassard again in the coming weeks.

We’ve still got plenty of big names on the board, including perhaps the biggest we’ve seen out there at deadline time in years. Artemi Panarin sure sounds like he’s going to be moved, even if there are arguments to be made that the Blue Jackets should keep him. Columbus has lost five straight and are in danger of falling out of a wild-card spot, so the situation there is getting to the critical stage. Patiently waiting three more weeks to see how everything shakes out may not be an option.

The Senators aren’t under quite the same pressure, but their decisions over the next few weeks will be just as important. There’s still no extensions in place for Mark Stone or Matt Duchene, or even really all that much buzz that they’re close. The latest word is that it may be trending towards both players being traded, which makes the Senators one of the key teams to watch.

We’re all still waiting for the Rangers to start making moves, with the Jets apparently a leading contender for Kevin Hayes. The Kings still have Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez. The Flyers will move Wayne Simmonds, if and when they stop winning every game they play. Micheal Ferland has becomes this year’s annual “guy that everyone is treating as a superstar so you just kind of go with it even though you didn’t think he was that good” deadline name. The Blackhawks might be open to moving Duncan Keith. And then there’s Jimmy Howard, Dougie Hamilton, Jay Bouwmeester and whatever hijinks the Oilers might get up to.

Not all of those guys will get moved, but it’s shaping up to be a fun few weeks. And now that it’s February, we can stop treating the deadline like some far-off destination and start talking about it in the present tense. It’s here. Or at least, it’s close enough. Let’s get crazy.

Road to the Cup

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

Good news, hockey fans: We’ve made it past the bye weeks. Group high-five.

This was the first year that the NHL grouped everyone’s byes into the two weeks surrounding the all-star game. It resulted in huge chunks of the league being off at the same time, but it made a certain amount of sense. And it had the advantage of making it easier to ensure that we wouldn’t get those matchups where one team is coming off of their bye while the other has already been back in action.

Except that, well, it didn’t do that after all. Almost half the league still got those type of matchups. That seems odd and is further evidence that none of us will ever understand how the NHL schedule works.

5. Nashville Predators (31-19-4, +27 true goals differential*) – Their next five are against the Coyotes, Stars, the Blues twice and then the Red Wings. Arizona’s playing well and they lost to Dallas just a few days ago, but that’s a stretch where a team like the Predators should pick up some serious points. If they can’t, we might be getting close to the point where we can call the race in the Central.

4. San Jose Sharks (30-16-7, +24) – Brent Burns scored a nifty OT winner on Saturday to help the Sharks keep pace with/gain ground on the Flames. But the bigger news in the Pacific these days is the Knights, who’ve lost four straight. We spent the last month watching these three teams pull away from the pack, and wondering which one would blink first. Now we know, and the question becomes whether the Knights get an opportunity to regain that ground, or whether we pencil them in for third spot and a road opener in the playoffs.

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