Monday, February 25, 2019

Weekend rankings: Trade deadline day edition

Welcome​ to the deadline​ day​ power​ rankings.​ Please​ read​ them quickly,​ since there’s a good​ chance that at​ least​ a few of them​​ will be completely out of date within a few hours.

But first, let’s do a quick round up of what’s happened so far. The star of the deadline show has been the Columbus Blue Jackets, who pulled off a pair of deals with the Senators for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel while standing their ground on Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. That means that as of this morning, at least, the Blue Jackets’ roster features four of the top pending UFAs in the league. And they may not keep any of them past this season. As things stand right now, Jarmo Kekalainen hasn’t just pushed all his chips into the middle of the table, he’s also tossed in his watch, wedding ring and his childhood teddy bear.

On one hand, that seems insane. If a team like the Lightning want to go all-in, sure, you could see that. Maybe somebody like the Sharks or Flames too. Those teams are legitimate Cup contenders. And maybe you could even talk yourself into it for someone like the Bruins or Penguins, where cap pressure and aging curves mean there’s a window of opportunity closing. The Blue Jackets’ window isn’t closing, because it was never open to begin with. This is a franchise that’s never won a playoff round and has spent the last few weeks barely hanging onto a wildcard spot in the East. This is the team that’s going to double down?

But on the other hand … well, yeah, maybe this is the team. Look at the Metro right now. The Penguins look worn down. The Capitals have too, at least for long stretches. The Islanders are a great story, but they’re not a team you just take a knee and concede the division to. The Hurricanes might be as good as anyone, but they’re also the Hurricanes. If you’re the Blue Jackets, and you still haven’t won that first playoff round after all these years, and you’re staring down this sort of field, why not take your shot? How many times can you kick the can down the road? Maybe more importantly, how many times can you ask your fans to let you kick the can down the road? If not now, when?

Maybe it doesn’t work and you lose in the first round or even miss the playoffs altogether. (As Ian Mendes pointed out, a last-weekend playoff miss could even come at the hands of the Senators, which would be just about the nightmare scenario for Columbus.) This is exactly the sort of gamble that can cost a GM his job. But that’s why it’s hard not to admire it. In today’s NHL, most GMs would rather play it safe than stick their neck out. Instead, Kekalainen is going old school. He’s pretty much burning the boats.

And he might not be done. We could still see a Panarin trade today, although that’s seeming less likely. At the very least, he won’t be traded for futures. Could we see an old school hockey trade instead? In theory, adding Duchene and Dzingel could give the Blue Jackets the flexibility to at least consider it, although time may have run out.

Outside of Columbus, we’ve still got lots of stories to sort through today. Mark Stone is the biggest name left on the block, and barring a last-minute change of heart, he’ll be traded within the next few hours; Pierre LeBrun has the favorites as “Winnipeg, Boston, Calgary and Nashville in there and perhaps to some lesser degree the Islanders and Vegas.” That’s also a pretty good list of the buyers we’re still waiting on for power moves and there may not be enough big names left for everyone to come away with an impact player.

Another name to keep an eye on: Wayne Simmonds, as the Flyers take the better-late-than-never approach to deadline selling.

We’re also watching the Rangers, who have more selling to do, and the Red Wings, who should. The Hurricanes still seem like a team with something up their sleeve. And what do the Stars do after landing Mats Zuccarello, only to see him break his arm in his very first game?

We’ll know by 3 p.m. ET. Until then, let’s get to the final pre-deadline edition of the rankings.

Road to the Cup

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

There was an outdoor game on Saturday, a fact you had no doubt been looking forward to for weeks or only realized when you looked up from trade rumors and wondered why Gritty was running around naked. The novelty has certainly worn off these games, but this one ended up being a pretty good one despite some less-than-great conditions. The Flyers’ late comeback and overtime win probably won’t end up mattering all that much for them, but it could be the point that keeps the Penguins out of the playoffs.

In other news, we were this close to the pre-game shootout scenario. Maybe next time.

5. New York Islanders (36-18-7, +34 true goals differential*) – At least a few of the warning lights are starting to blink just a little brighter. The Caps are back within two points, and the Islanders haven’t looked great over the last few weeks, even as they’ve continued to earn wins. One of their Metro rivals has just improved, at least for now, and if others follow suit then Dennis Seidenberg isn’t likely to make up the difference. It’s possible that they have a quiet deadline and don’t belong in this spot by Monday afternoon. But it’s not Monday afternoon, and we don’t bump teams based on worst-case scenarios, so they’re still here for now.

4. Boston Bruins (36-17-9, +27) – They haven’t lost in regulation in over a month and have opened up a little bit of ground on the Maple Leafs for home ice in the Atlantic. The presence of the Lightning makes it hard for them to move much higher, but for now, their hot streak is enough to get them into the top five for the first time all season. Now, is it enough to convince Don Sweeney to pull the trigger on something big?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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