Monday, March 4, 2019

Weekend rankings: Sorting through the trade deadline fallout

The​ trade deadline was​ last​ week.​ It​ feels​ like​ last month.

That’s​ the thing about​ the deadline. It’s​ such​ a hugely important milestone​​ in the season that it almost manages to warp our sense of time around it. The weeks leading up to it seem to drag on forever. The day itself flies by in a blink. And then it’s all over and it almost immediately feels like a lifetime ago. Looks at us, watching Mark Stone play for the Ottawa Senators. We were so young then.

While you might be ready to move on past the deadline, the weekend rankings can’t quite yet. That’s because last week, we were still in pre-deadline mode and trying to figure out how different these rankings might look once the dealing is done. We can’t just leave a question like that open. Let’s dig in and find out how much the deadline day changed the rankings?

Uh, not all that much, actually.

That’s because the deadline saw something unusual this year: The best teams didn’t actually do all that much. Instead, most of the biggest moves were made by teams closer to the mushy middle.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to have your sellers, who are bad and trying to get worse. They do that by selling off assets to the buyers, who are supposed to be the good teams searching for the final piece of a Stanley Cup puzzle.

But this year, we didn’t really see that. In fact, last week’s top five teams – the Islanders, Bruins, Sharks, Flames and Lightning – didn’t do all that much in the days around the deadline. The Bruins got Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle and the Sharks got Gustav Nyquist. But with apologies to Oscar Fantenberg and the Flames, that was about it in terms of meaningful moves. The Islanders and Lightning didn’t do anything at all.

In theory, that should open up the door for other teams to storm in and take those spots. But that didn’t really happen either. The Golden Knights were the biggest winners of deadline day itself thanks to the Stone blockbuster, but they’re not catching the Sharks or Flames so their path out of the Pacific remains brutal. And while the biggest trade deadline week moves were made by the Blue Jackets, they’re barely in the playoffs right now, let alone the top five. After this weekend, if anything, it might be time to start worrying about them.

The teams that could make a deadline-based claim at a spot are two that have spent much of the season shifting in and out of the top five. The Jets landed Kevin Hayes and the Predators got Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund. Spoiler alert: One of them does crack the top five this week but we’ll get to that in a minute.

As for the sellers, the big one was the Senators. But they’ve already been owning the No. 1 spot in the bottom five, and after consulting with The Athletics’ analytics experts, it’s been determined that that’s as bad as I can rank them. I thought about trying to slot them in somewhere like “zero” or “negative three” or “let’s never speak of this again,” but apparently those aren’t options. The Senators stay where they already were and the rest of the bottom five doesn’t see all that much deadline-related movement either.

And that’s it for the 2019 deadline. I promise, after today, there will be no more weekly power ranking columns framed around it.

(But tune in next week for the 2020 trade deadline preview.)

Road to the Cup

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

We all had a chance to learn a new rule yesterday: You can win a shootout without actually putting the puck into the net, thanks to the ultra-rare shootout HORN OF DOOM:

That win also moved the Capitals back into first place in the Metro, as the Islanders lost both weekend games and continue to struggle when they’re not pantsing John Tavares and the Maple Leafs. That leaves us without a Metro team in our top five again, at least temporarily, while making room for a Central team to nudge back in. But which one? Let’s end the suspense …

5. Winnipeg Jets (39-22-4, +28 true goals differential*) – Should this be the Predators? Maybe. But the Jets are still holding down a narrow lead in the Central and maybe more than narrow if you factor in their games in hand. They beat the Predators head-to-head on Friday. And they may have landed the bigger deadline day prize in Hayes, although that’s a close call and probably hinges on whether you think Simmonds has much left. It’s not much more than a coin flip, really. But we don’t do ties here, so the Jets get the spot this week.

4. Boston Bruins (39-17-9, +34) – Their win over Tampa snapped the Lightning’s 10-game win streak and was the sort of statement game that suggests that the Atlantic may not be quite the sure thing it looks like. The Bruins are riding a streak of 16 straight with at least a point, although they still haven’t opened up all that much of a lead over the Maple Leafs for home ice in their almost inevitable first-round matchup. Maybe that comes this week; Boston gets a tough matchup tomorrow with the Hurricanes, but then finishes off the week with home games against the Panthers and Senators.

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