Monday, January 25, 2021

Weekend rankings: We have a trade to announce

We’ll get to the games in a bit, but this was one of those weekends where the wins and losses weren’t the big story. Instead, we had a trade to announce. And not just any trade, but a legitimate blockbuster that was also an old-fashioned hockey trade.

Sort of. We’ll get to that.

First, the details, just in case you somehow missed them:

It’s not quite a one-for-one, but with apologies to a good young player in Jack Roslovic and whoever gets drafted with that pick, it will probably be perceived that way, at least initially. And that’s where it gets a little bit tricky, because Laine had expressed a desire to move on from Winnipeg and Dubois had made it very clear that he was done in Columbus. Even Roslovic didn’t want to sign with the Jets. Is it really a hockey trade if the main pieces wanted out?

Maybe not, but that’s where the “old-fashioned” part comes in, because the NHL used to have trades like this all the time. Mark Messier went home on the eve of a season to force his exit from Edmonton. Doug Gilmour walked out on the Flames days before the moved him to Toronto. Pavel Bure sat out half a season to get out of Vancouver. Eric Lindros went even further to get out of Philadelphia.

One pattern you may notice in those trades: The team whose hand was forced rarely makes out well in the long run. That’s bad news for Columbus and good news for the Jets, who managed to take a Laine situation that seemed to be on shaky ground and turn it into a deal where they were working from a position of strength. It’s no sure thing that this turns into a steal for Winnipeg, because Laine is no Gary Leeman or Pavel Brendl, but two-way centers are hard to find and they just landed one with a chip on his shoulder.

As for Laine in Columbus, well, it will certainly be interesting to see how he fits in with John Tortorella. You have to be a certain type of guy to succeed in a Tortorella world, and first impressions are that Laine doesn’t exactly give off that vibe. But that’s probably too simplistic. Tortorella has coached plenty of stars who’d have success under him, including offensive wingers like Martin St. Louis, Marian Gaborik and Artemi Panarin. If Laine does his job, however that’s defined for him, he should be fine.

Which leads to the next question: What does his next contract look like? He’ll be an RFA this offseason, so there’s plenty of time and the Blue Jackets control his rights. But long-time readers will know where I’m going with this: The dreaded “shiny new toy” syndrome, in which a team makes a big trade for a pending free agent and then has to figure out what kind of contract to give him. It’s a tough spot for a team to be in, since you can’t exactly play hardball with a guy you just gave up major assets to acquire. And it almost never works out well. Jarmo Kekalainen will have his work cut out for him on this one.

But that’s for down the line. For now, we’ve got two young stars in their prime with new homes and something to prove, and two fan bases who’ll spend the next few years arguing over who got the better of the deal. That’s going to be all sorts of old-fashioned fun.

On to the weekend’s games, which included the Dubois-less Blue Jackets beating the Lightning and the Laine-less Jets taking yet another from the Senators before coughing up last night’s stunner against the Oilers. Yes, it’s still way too early for this, but if NHL GMs can do their jobs then we can too.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that with the best chances of becoming the first team in history to win a Stanley Cup in July.

One team I have no idea what to do with this week: Dallas. They didn’t make their season debut until Friday, and looked scary good in beating the Predators 7-0, a win that gave them the division’s best goals differential despite only playing one game. Last night’s win in the rematch wasn’t as impressive, but they still took the two points.

Last week, we talked about how hard it is to rank teams when everyone has only played two or three games. What do you do with a team that’s played twice while everyone else is four games ahead? I have no idea, which is why the Stars (and 2-0-0 Panthers) aren’t in the top five mix this week. We’ll see where things stand a week from now.

5. Boston Bruins (3-1-1, +3 true goals differential*) – It was feeling pretty dicey through three games, as the Bruins struggled to create anything offensively. That changed against the Flyers, and 11 goals and two wins later, the Bruins feel like contenders again. The Flyers, meanwhile, do not, which opens up a spot from last week’s list.

4. Washington Capitals (3-0-3, +2) – We’ll give that extra spot to the Caps, who are holding down first in the East and have points in every game, including yesterday’s loss to the Sabres. The big story this week was the whole COVID mess that cost them four key players, but that’s a temporary situation that shouldn’t have a long-term impact. It’s still tempting to slip the Islanders into this slot, and maybe we would have if they’d handled the Devils last night. Instead we’ll wait and see how this week goes, as the shorthanded Caps face the Isles twice

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