Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Who won and lost at the 2015 trade deadline

Yesterday was the NHL’s trade deadline day. If you’re not familiar with it, deadline day is the one date on the hockey calendar when fans from around the world come together, gather around their TV and computer screens, and spend hours talking about all the trades that were made over the previous week that resulted in nobody who’s any damn good being left for the final day.

So yeah, yesterday may have been a bit of a bust. But if so, it was largely because the league’s GMs had been so busy over the previous week. Before we turn our attention to the stretch drive, let’s hand out some awards for this year’s deadline maneuvering. We’ll define our cutoff for a “deadline” deal at the last seven days, which works out pretty well — after a week or so without any moves at all, the trades started up again on February 24 and continued at a pretty steady pace right through yesterday.

Biggest Trade: The Rangers and Coyotes Pull Off a Blockbuster

While yesterday saw 24 deals come in before the deadline, none was bigger than Sunday’s trade between the Rangers and Coyotes. That one saw New York acquire Keith Yandle along with Chris Summers and a fourth-rounder, with John Moore, prospect Anthony Duclair, a 2016 first, and a 2015 second going to Arizona.

Yandle is a top-pairing defenseman. He’s also signed through next year, and with the Coyotes agreeing to eat half his salary, he’ll represent phenomenal value for the Rangers’ tight cap situation. But the price was high, costing the Rangers an excellent prospect in Duclair and yet another first-rounder to add to the long list they’ve traded away in recent years. In a league where everyone always seems to be hedging for the future, the Rangers are going all in on the short term.

And you know what … I like it. This team went to the Cup final last year, and could have won it with a little more puck luck. The Eastern Conference remains wide open. They have a pair of aging star forwards in Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. And maybe most importantly, they have a generational franchise goalie who turned 33 yesterday. Goalies age in unpredictable ways, and maybe Henrik Lundqvist is a Hasek type who’ll be good forever. But maybe he’ll be like most guys, which would mean he has only a few elite-level years left. And if so, now’s the time for his team to swing hard for the fences.

If the Rangers don’t win a Cup over the next two years, it’s possible we’ll all look back on this deal and call it a disaster. That’s the gamble. But there’s such a thing as a smart gamble, and I think the Rangers made one here.

Most Surprising Theme: All of Those First-Round Picks

It’s a mantra that has been beaten into fans’ heads over recent years: In the salary cap world, you win by building through the draft. Trading is hard. Free agency is awful. You need to hold on to your picks, draft well, and then turn those prospects into serviceable NHLers who can fill out your lineup on cheap entry-level and bridge deals. The days of flipping first-rounders for rentals was supposed to be over. It had to be.

And yet when the deadline appeared on the horizon, NHL GMs started tossing first-round picks around just like they used to do in the good old days. Going back to the David Perron deal on January 2, eight teams included first-round picks in trades. That development was especially surprising given how deep this year’s draft is expected to be.

None of those picks is likely to be a lottery pick — in fact, teams like the Kings and Rangers have now taken to lottery-protecting their choices. That’s been standard practice in the NBA for years, but it’s a relatively new tactic in the NHL, one that could make first-round deals even more common in years to come.

Draft picks outside the top five or 10 may be somewhat overrated these days, and the drop-off down to the end of the round is steep, but it was still surprising to see a quarter of the league moving their top picks, often for short-term rentals. If the trend continues, it will be good news for next year’s sellers.

Most Perplexingly Quiet Team: Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins are hanging in the playoff picture by a thread, they’re just coming off a depressingly cold stretch of games, and their CEO has made it clear that failure is not an option. And yet when the dust had cleared on Monday afternoon, all GM Peter Chiarelli had managed to do was add Brett Connolly, who didn’t come cheap, and swap depth guy Jordan Caron for depth guy Maxime Talbot.

There’s no doubt that the Bruins were in on bigger deals, and sometimes there’s just not a fit no matter how much you may want to find one. Maybe Chiarelli deserves credit here for refusing to make a panic deal that would hurt the team in the long term just to save his job right now. Or maybe he just played his cards wrong. Without tapping his phones, we don’t know. But the Bruins were expected to be right in the middle of things, and instead they mostly stayed nailed to the bench.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Monday, March 2, 2015

Weekend wrap: Deadline day arrives

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: Deadline Day Arrives

Today is trade deadline day, with a 3 p.m. ET cutoff for teams looking to make a deal. And after a very busy weekend, there may not be much excitement left.

We ran a full preview on Thursday. Here’s a quick roundup of the deals we’ve seen since then.

The Rangers went all-in: New York landed arguably the biggest name available, acquiring Arizona’s Keith Yandle in a blockbuster. But the Rangers paid a big price, giving up an excellent prospect in Anthony Duclair and next year’s first-rounder. The Coyotes retain half of Yandle’s salary, which makes him an excellent value, and he’s signed through next year, so this isn’t a straight rental. But it feels like an all-or-nothing gamble for New York, and maybe that makes sense for a team that was just a few bounces away from a championship last year. The Rangers also acquired James Sheppard from San Jose, sent Lee Stempniak to Winnipeg, and have reportedly agreed on a new deal with Mats Zuccarello.

The Blackhawks loaded up: Chicago added two of the top players available, in Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen. Vermette is a solid two-way player who won’t replace the injured Patrick Kane, but will play strong middle-six minutes. Timonen hadn’t played a game for the Flyers this season due to blood clots, but is reportedly healthy now, and if he can play at the same level he was at last year, he could be the deadline’s best acquisition. He’s a gamble, sure, but a high-reward one that certainly looks good from the Hawks’ side.

The Lightning made their moves: Steve Yzerman stayed up late last night, pulling off a pair of deals. He sent Brett Connolly to Boston for two seconds, and then flipped a first, third, and Radko Gudas to Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn. That’s a pretty clear net gain for the Lightning, who remain one of the co-favorites in a hard-to-call East.

The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: Hours after I wrote that it was impossible, the Leafs found a way to trade the league’s worst contract on Thursday. And somehow, it made perfect sense. The Blue Jackets had Nathan Horton’s contract clogging their books; Horton isn’t expect to ever play again due to back problems, but his deal was uninsured, so the Jackets were on the hook for every dollar of it. So they swapped him for Clarkson, a player who’ll actually suit up for roughly the same money. And the Leafs get eventual salary-cap relief thanks to the LTIR. It’s brilliant.

The Panthers (?) got Jaromir Jagr: We expected Jagr to be moved, although the idea was that he’d go to a contender and the Panthers sure don’t seem like one. But Jagr winding up in Florida, even at the cost of a pair of decent picks, could put the Panthers over the top in the chase for the East’s final wild-card spot.

Washington added Curtis Glencross: The Flames forward was expected to be on the move, and he didn’t come cheap, with the Caps giving up a second and a third in this year’s draft. With Washington all but locked into a playoff spot, the team is thinking postseason depth here.

The Red Wings landed Erik Cole: Having lost six straight to fall out of the race, Dallas sent the veteran forward to Detroit for a pick and a pair of decent prospects. The Wings still need blue-line help and may not be done.

The Habs added Jeff Petry: There may not have been a more divisive player available; the old school doesn’t like his game much, but analytics types love him. The Habs got him for a second and a fifth.

The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: I know I mentioned that already. I just really enjoy typing those words. I promise it won’t happen again.

The Ducks added Tomas Fleischmann: The Ducks get a useful player. The Panthers get a draft pick. The rest of us get to say, “Wait, Dany Heatley is still playing?” I’d call that a win all the way around.

A few other smaller deals: Tim Gleason! Spencer Abbott! Adam Cracknell! Carl Klingberg! You are vaguely aware of who some of these people are!

The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: I lied.

So with all of those deals done, what’s still left on the table for today? Well … not much, to be honest. But here are a few names to watch.

Chris Stewart: The Sabres power forward has been on the block for a year now, and should have several bidders.1

Most of Toronto’s roster: It sounds like the odds of a Phil Kessel deal are close to zero, while a Dion Phaneuf move is unlikely but still in play; action around both players could pick up near the draft instead. Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and maybe even Jonathan Bernier are in play, although it’s possible that nobody of any significance gets moved.

Patrick Sharp: Well, this one was fun while it lasted, at least. First the Blackhawks star was on the block. Then he wasn’t. Then he was threatening legal action. So, nothing to see here, apparently.

Zbynek Michalek: Oh, right, the other Coyotes defenseman. He’ll probably go somewhere, and the way Arizona GM Don Maloney is going, it will be in exchange for a lot more than you’d think.

The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: I may need help.

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. Detroit Red Wings (35-15-11, plus-21) The top of the East remains a pick’em, but an impressive road win over Nashville earns the Wings a temporary spot.

4. Anaheim Ducks (40-17-7, plus-12) This Corey Perry goal is so filthy. You really need to stick around for the last slow-motion replay to appreciate it.

>> Read the full post on Grantland





Friday, February 27, 2015

Grab bag: When deadline deals go bad

In this week's grab bag:
- Gary Bettman doesn't think the fans liked CapGeek
- A tough anniversary for Canadian hockey fans
- The week's three comedy stars
- An obscure player who was once traded for Jaromir Jagr
- And let's watch a bunch of sad Hartford Whaler fans deal with the Ron Francis trade

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trade Deadline Preview

The NHL trade deadline arrives on Monday. As always, hockey fans are salivating at the idea of a busy day of blockbusters. As always, the reality will probably be underwhelming.

This year doesn’t even feature as many big names in play as we saw last season, when players like Martin St. Louis, Marian Gaborik, and Thomas Vanek were moved. Unless something unexpected happens, Monday’s deadline isn’t shaping up to have much star power. Even the NBA’s deadline will probably end up being more fun. Stupid NBA.

But history tells us that we’ll still see plenty of deals, and maybe even a surprise or two, between now and Monday afternoon. So here are 10 key questions as we count down the final days to the 2015 NHL trade deadline.

1. Will the Coyotes steal the show?

The Coyotes could be this year’s team to watch. They’re clearly sellers, having fallen out of the Western race early and never really threatening to climb back in. They’re ice-cold right now, having lost seven straight, so they’ve got a real shot at dropping into Jack Eichel territory. But they’re also apparently looking to add players with time left on their deals, which opens them up to doing more than just the typical rental-for-prospect trade.

And maybe most important of all, they’ve got several attractive pieces that could move. Unlike a team like Buffalo, which has largely already finished stripping down to a bare-bones roster, the Coyotes still have most of their cards left to play.

Let’s start with the names who will probably move. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek and center Antoine Vermette are both pending UFAs, and Scott Burnside says they “might be the top straight-up rentals that are available.” Michalek doesn’t put up big offensive numbers, but he’s defensively responsible and can eat minutes. Plus he’s right-handed, which these days is just about the single most important trait a defenseman can have. As for Vermette, he’s a versatile two-way center and a great candidate to be this year’s guy who gets $30 million on July 1 for reasons nobody can remember by July 2.

And then we get to the Coyotes’ bigger bait. They’ve shot down the Shane Doan rumors so often that we might as well write that idea off, but that still leaves some big names on the blue line. Keith Yandle is the guy to watch, a top-tier defenseman with another year left on a very reasonable deal. The Coyotes don’t have to trade him, but he’s the best defenseman who’s likely to be available. In fact, there’s a good chance he’s the target of so many teams that he clogs up the trade market, and that once he’s dealt, we get a rush of secondary deals as teams switch over to their backup plans.

And if the Coyotes really want to get crazy, there’s also Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a 23-year-old stud the team kinda-sorta dangled out there last month. Normally, a guy like Ekman-Larsson is exactly the sort of player a team like Arizona looks to build its future around, so a trade seems exceedingly unlikely. But every deadline needs a few wild cards, and this is a fun one.

2. Will the Maple Leafs finally blow it all up?

Much has been made of Maple Leafs ownership giving the green light to a full-scale rebuild, which occurred after team president Brendan Shanahan ventured into the bowels of MLSE headquarters to the foul lair of the Faceless Beast of Many Pockets, performed the sacred ritual of supplication, and was granted permission to actually go ahead and do the job he was hired to do.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

California Dreaming: The NHL Takes It Back Outside

On Saturday, they played a hockey game outdoors in California, and it says something about the evolution of the NHL that the whole thing didn’t seem all that remarkable.

That’s not supposed to be the case with these outdoor games, and it certainly wasn’t the case last year when the league set up shop at Dodger Stadium. That game felt like something wholly unique, with beach volleyball and a marching band and a performance by Kiss, as hockey fans across the continent tuned in to find out whether the ice would melt. It didn’t. In the end, it all came together perfectly.

This year’s game, played in front of just more than 70,000 fans at Levi’s Stadium, didn’t carry that same first-time curiosity factor, and that may help explain why there seemed to be so little buzz about it. Heading into Saturday, there was as much focus on the standings as on the setting. This was perhaps the league’s first outdoor game where the emphasis was firmly on the “game” part of the equation.

In the last decade, the state of California has won three Stanley Cups, one Presidents’ Trophy, and two MVPs, all while serving up the best three-way rivalry in the sport. The state’s teams have been so good for so long that fans around the league now warily eye their favorite team’s schedule for the dreaded California Road Trip of Doom.

So when it comes to California hockey, there’s an overwhelming temptation to ignore the past, because the present is just so much better. But you’d be missing out if you did, because the history of the NHL in California is rich and deep and completely ridiculous. And it was hard not to think about that on a Saturday night at a football stadium.

♦♦♦

The L.A. Kings arrived in 1967 as part of the NHL’s first wave of expansion, and they weren’t very good. In the ’70s, they were best known for helping to build the Canadiens’ dynasty by continually giving their top draft picks to Sam Pollock. In the ’80s, their main job was to be just competitive enough to occasionally make the powerhouse Oilers (and later Flames) break a sweat. And they looked ridiculous, wearing awful yellow and purple uniforms. If you squinted just right, it looked like Wayne Gretzky and friends were skating circles around a bunch of bruised bananas.

That Gretzky guy turned out to be pretty important a few years later, when he was traded to the Kings in 1988. That move put the Kings on the map. They switched to modern-looking black and silver uniforms, and suddenly, almost overnight, the Los Angeles Kings were cool. But it was an L.A. cool, and in hockey, that’s not a compliment. After all, you still had the B-list celebrities and Barry Melrose’s mullet and that blue bandanna thing that Kelly Hrudey wore.

For most of their first four decades, the Kings were one big punch line. Two Stanley Cups later, nobody’s laughing anymore.

♦♦♦

The San Jose Sharks entered the league in 1991 as a quasi expansion team, part of a complicated split from the Minnesota North Stars that nobody really seemed to fully understand. They played in something called the Cow Palace, took to the ice by skating through a giant shark’s head, and introduced the word “teal” to the hockey world’s vocabulary.

They were also terrible. They finished dead last in each of their first two years, establishing a league record for most losses in a season in 1992-93. But they made the playoffs in 1994 and even won a round thanks to Chris Osgood’s brain cramp. That would start a run of 17 playoff appearances in 20 years. They’ve won six division titles and had seven 100-point seasons.

They’ve also never lost a Stanley Cup final game, which sounds nice except that they’ve never won one either. That’s the reputation the Sharks have forged over two decades: Year after year, they’re good in the regular season and then find a way to fall apart in the playoffs.

And that brings us back to the Los Angeles Kings.

♦♦♦

Until very recently, the Kings had spent the entire season desperately trying to look like a bad team and not fooling anyone.

When the matchup between the Sharks and Kings was announced last summer, it was projected as a grudge match between two of the league’s elite teams. The Kings are the defending champions. The Sharks have been one of the league’s top regular-season teams for more than a decade but just can’t get over the hump in the playoffs, and in each of the last two years that hump has been the Kings. These were two very good teams that didn’t like each other very much. That was the plan.

The first part of that plan hasn’t really worked out. Both teams have struggled, and instead of Saturday’s game being a showdown for top spot in the Pacific, it was a battle for the conference’s final wild-card spot. Despite a six-game winning streak, the Kings went into the weekend having lost more games than they’d won. They’ve been chasing a playoff spot for most of the last few months. And yet nobody seems to want to count them out, because they’ve been down this road before in 2012 and 2014, and we know how that turned out. A few Stanley Cup rings will buy you some benefit of the doubt.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Monday, February 23, 2015

Weekend wrap: The NHL unveils its new stats platform

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: The NHL Gets Enhanced

It was a bit of an odd weekend in the NHL, in that two of the league’s most interesting stories didn’t come from inside an arena. There was Saturday night’s marquee game between the Sharks and Kings, played outdoors at Levi’s Stadium. And then there was another event, also held at Levi’s Stadium, one day earlier: the unveiling of the league’s long-anticipated project to modernize the presentation of stats on the league website.

OK, so your mileage may vary when it comes to that last one falling into the “interesting” category. There’s still a large segment of fans who tune out immediately when they hear the term “advanced stats” (or, as we’re apparently calling them now, enhanced stats). But for those who’ve followed the game’s winding path toward better numbers, one that began in small corners of the online world and eventually invaded front offices around the league, the announcement was big news.

It’s fair to say that the reviews have been mixed. The league’s plans, as detailed here, are ambitious and long-term. Over the weekend, they rolled out the first phase, which sees a redesign of the league website’s existing stats section and the addition of new categories and tools. Over time, the plan is to have updated stats that cover the league’s history. That’s been a labor-intensive project, with old game sheets being entered by hand by a small team over five years, but it could pay off in some fascinating insights. (And if you think people get angry about this stuff now, wait until the numbers try to tell us that some beloved hockey legend from a previous generation wasn’t as good as we remember him.)

There have been objections to the way the NHL has handled all this, with some feeling as if the league is whitewashing the online world’s contributions while pretending it came up with all this stuff on its own. (The project’s head told me that it didn’t consult with any of the top names in the stats world, although the group was familiar with their work.) Some aren’t happy that the league is renaming a few key stats. And others just don’t trust the league to do right here, assuming it will eventually try to turn all of this into a proprietary moneymaker.

There’s some validity to those concerns. But the bottom line is that the league is pushing forward with something that lots of fans have been asking for. If they can get to where they say they want to go, we’ll have better stats in one easy-to-use spot. They’re not there yet, but even seeing them try feels like a big step, one that would have been hard to imagine even a year ago.

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. New York Islanders (39-20-2, plus-18 goals differential): The top four teams in the Metro are now separated by four points, but I’m going with the Islanders here because I like it when Rangers fans yell about games in hand.

4. Montreal Canadiens (38-16-5, plus-22): It’s time to start having the Carey Price–for-Norris discussion in earnest. Hell, maybe the Calder too.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Friday, February 20, 2015

Infographic: Where do GMs come from?

So we’re a few days away from the trade deadline and you say you don’t think your favorite team’s GM is up to the task. What, you think you can do better? You could be an NHL GM? Well, let me ask you this, smart guy: Did you ever play the game?

No, really, did you? Because according to this handy infographic from friend of Grantland Dan Gustafson of 16 Wins, it’s pretty much a prerequisite for the job.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Grab bag: I hear they want a plickspect

In this week's grab bag:
- Should the NHL have renamed the top advanced stats?
- An obscure player who gets pepper-sprayed
- Comedy stars
- Introducing the "plickspect", for all your trade rumors needs
- And the 1991 San Jose Sharks make a very... odd... NHL debut.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The NHL's greatest almost-happened blockbusters

With less than two weeks to go until the trade deadline and one blockbuster already in the books, hockey fans will spend the days until March 2 dreaming of monster deals that will shake teams to their foundation.

We probably won’t get any, but we can still hope. Trades are great fun, even though they’re largely a dying art in today’s NHL. And maybe even more fun than the completed deals are the near misses, the blockbusters that almost happened and then, for whatever reason, fell apart. We don’t always hear about those, but when we do, it can be great entertainment to look back at them years later and shake our heads at what could have been.

One big caveat: Since none of these deals were actually consummated, and NHL front-office types aren’t exactly in the habit of going on the record about this stuff, we’ll never know for sure how close any of these moves actually came to happening. All the deals below are rumors — well-reported rumors several steps above the usual message-board nonsense — but rumors nonetheless. Please have a large grain of salt or two handy before reading further.

With that out of the way, here are five huge trades1 from NHL history that (allegedly) almost happened, but didn’t.

Detroit trades Steve Yzerman to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin

Today, Steve Yzerman is a Red Wings legend, and the idea of him ever taking the ice in any other team’s uniform seems unimaginable. But as we’ve covered before, there was a time when Yzerman seemed to have worn out his welcome in Detroit. He was a great player, but he just wasn’t a winner, the thinking went, and it was time for the franchise to turn the page and move on. In 1995, the Red Wings almost did just that.

They found a willing trade partner in Yzerman’s hometown team, the Ottawa Senators. The deal would have reportedly centered around young center Alexei Yashin, and while they’d no doubt deny it now, plenty of Red Wing fans thought it sounded like a fantastic idea. One rumor at the time said the deal was actually agreed to, and fell apart only when Detroit ownership stepped in at the last minute and nixed it.

Yzerman went on to captain the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups, while Yashin’s endless holdouts eventually made him one of the most hated players in Senators history. (Luckily for Ottawa, they eventually found a sucker to take him off their hands.) Today, the idea that a team would want to address a of a winning culture by trading Steve Yzerman for Alexei Yashin seems almost too ridiculous to comprehend. But at one point, Detroit came very close to doing exactly that.

Come on, Red Wings. If you have a choice between the Russian embroiled in a contract dispute and the good North American boy, you’d be crazy to choose the Russian!

Detroit trades Pavel Datsyuk to New Jersey for Scott Gomez

Hm. OK, scratch that last thought.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Monday, February 16, 2015

Weekend wrap: The trade market heats up

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: The Trade Market Wakes Up

We’re now two weeks away from the NHL’s trade deadline, and last week brought us the season’s first major deal. While we’re unlikely to see any moves over the next two weeks that rival that Jets/Sabres blockbuster in terms of size and scope, it stood to reason that the transaction page would start getting busy any day now.

“Any day” turned out to be yesterday, when we got our second major deal of the week: the Predators loading up for their playoff run by adding veterans Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Maple Leafs. Both players will be unrestricted free agents in a few months, although either or both could re-sign with Nashville before the offseason. Franson is the main prize, a big right-handed defenseman with decent offensive numbers, while Santorelli is a depth forward enjoying a nice comeback season on a cheap deal.

In return, the Leafs got the Predators’ first-round pick, along with prospect Brendan Leipsic. Neither represents a sure thing, but they’re two decent future assets for a team that doesn’t have many to work with. The deal also signals that the Leafs are serious about finally starting a full-scale rebuild.

Who wins? That’s the beauty of these sorts of short-term rental deals. We get to hem and haw about it now, wait until we see how the season turns out, and then retroactively revise our opinions. If the Predators win the Cup, or at least come close, then they win big. If the Leafs … well, nothing good will ever happen to the Leafs, so we don’t have to worry about that.

We’ll do a more in-depth deadline preview in the days leading up to March 2, but this week, let’s spend a little time sorting out the buyers from the sellers.

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (35-18-4, plus-41 goals differential) The Hawks return to our list, largely based on the horrible things they did to Marc-Andre Fleury in yesterday’s shootout. That stuff will help them in the playoffs, right?

4. New York Islanders (37-18-1, plus-23) Tonight’s game against the Rangers is a first-round preview, because we’ve all agreed to make these teams play in the first round whether or not the standings say they should.

>> Read the full post on Grantland