It was enough of a challenge for Steven Stamkos to make a fast return from a broken leg he suffered in early November. But when he steps on the ice in Tampa Bay Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres, Stamkos will face a new one as he begins a new era for himself and the Lightning.
His Tampa Bay Lightning.
With former captain Martin St-Louis dealt to the New York Rangers prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline, the Bolts are now Stamkos’ team. For the first five years of his NHL career, Stamkos was the heir to the franchise’s throne who could apprentice in the shadow of St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. But with both gone, he is far and away Tampa’s best player and the man who will have to set the tone for the rest of the team. If that sounds like a tall order for someone who is only 24 years old, it is. But few elite young NHLers have been better groomed for this moment than Stamkos. His commitment to fitness under Gary Roberts and willingness to work on all elements of his game has earned him the respect and admiration of his peers and teammates.
Although he no longer has the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner as a teammate and mentor, Stamkos isn’t on an island, scanning the horizon in vain for players who can help him win. Read more
For the second straight season, the Washington Capitals are going full steam ahead with the vision of themselves as a Stanley Cup contender. Well, perhaps “full steam ahead” isn’t the most apt phrase. That suggests they’re a train on a rail line, headed in a linear direction to reach a particular end.
But the more I see the moves Caps GM George McPhee makes, the more I think this team is moving ahead like a speeding car in an action movie, careening over sidewalks and straight through fruit stands, keeping viewers in suspense as to where it will stop. And after trade deadline 2014 came to an end – and Washington loaded up with more veterans – I’m still not convinced they’re a playoff team, let alone a for-real menace to do any post-season damage.
The price McPhee paid to change his team was relatively small – a fourth-round pick to Anaheim for Dustin Penner; disgruntled backup goalie Michal Neuvirth to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak; disgruntled winger Martin Erat to Phoenix for essentially a decent prospect – and they’re not taking on any long-term salary in any deal. Yet for all intents and purposes, the Capitals’ overall picture stays the same. They’ll be expected to push for a playoff spot and then some.
But let’s be honest. With due respect to Washington’s new players, does this team strike you as capable of scaring anybody? Read more
The NHL trade deadline is mere hours away. Here, in no particular order, are many of the players who could be dealt:
Thomas Vanek, Islanders. Vanek hasn’t burned bridges with the Isles, but the 30-year-old’s pre-Olympic break rejection of a contract extension and determination to go to the UFA market has him poised to leave Long Island. He has been linked to signing with Minnesota, but any potential trade partner will need to send some defensive and/or goaltending help back to the Isles in return. “He’s an elite winger, no question,” said a Western Conference GM. “Is he the guy that puts you over the top? I’m not sure at all that he is.”
Ryan Callahan, Rangers. Callahan’s name was shocking to hear in trade rumors, but given GM Glen Sather wasn’t willing to meet his captain’s contract demands and allowed other NHL GMs to negotiate with Callahan’s agent, the chasm between player and management is clear. Any team that acquires the 28-year-old will be gambling on a guy whose physical game makes him susceptible to injury. “He can be a big help immediately,” said an Eastern Conference executive, “but seven-to-eight years for him will scare teams away.”
Matt Moulson, Sabres. is one of the deadline’s most sought-after offensive talents. The 30-year-old has endeared himself to the Sabres since coming over in the Thomas Vanek trade at the end of October. While there’s talk of Buffalo GM Tim Murray signing Moulson to a contract extension, the reality is a number of teams – including the goal-challenged Kings and always all-in Penguins – will make strong pitches for him. “Good guy, great finisher,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “You know what you’re getting with him.” Read more
In a hockey world where the Flyers sign Steve Mason to a three-year, $12.3 million contract after just 40-odd games with the organization, Ben Scrivens’ brand new two-year, $4.6-million contract with the Oilers doesn’t seem like a terrible gamble.
For the most part, it isn’t: although he’s only been a member of the team since the Kings dealt him there in mid-January, Scrivens is a solid fit at a relatively low cost. The 27-year-old’s individual numbers as an Oiler (including a 2.15 goals-against average and .940 save percentage) have been phenomenal and he’s assimilated into a dressing room that includes fellow goalie and noted oddball Ilya Bryzgalov without any problems. His earned status as a solid citizen will carry into next season regardless of whom management brings in to challenge him for the starting role. Read more
There’s no soft-pedalling it: Kyle Okposo was hugely disappointed to be left off the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games. And he has a good case.
In a year when little has gone right for his New York Islanders squad, Okposo, 25, is well on his way toward demolishing personal bests in goals, assists and points. The seventh overall pick in 2006 must have looked to Team Canada, saw Jamie Benn go from non-summer-orientation-camp-invitee to Olympic team member in a few short months and wondered why he was passed over for the likes of Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie.
When it settled in that he wouldn’t be in Sochi, Okposo did the best thing possible – he took his frustrations out on the ice. In the Islanders’ first game after the Olympic announcement, Okposo scored the overtime winner against Chicago. Team captain John Tavares recognized loud and clear the message Okposo sent.
“I don’t know if he thought (Team USA GM) David Poile’s head was in the net and he was aiming for it,” Tavares told the media.
As it goes with just about everyone you’ve ever met, Dion Phaneuf isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. He isn’t publicly vulnerable, doesn’t do the social media thing and will only be named to the NHL’s All-Interview Team when every other player removes his name from consideration. He’s arguably not even the ideal guy to be the captain of the Maple Leafs: alternate captain Joffrey Lupul is just as much of a leader in Toronto’s dressing room and is more of a polished and engaging media presence.
That said, Phaneuf is the 18th captain in Leafs history for good reason. He’s not a perfect hockey specimen, but he occupies the seat of power in hockey’s biggest fishbowl environment because of a relentless desire to see this team achieve its mission. If he’s not Toronto’s heart, he’s absolutely its spine. He made that clear at the news conference announcing his seven-year, $49-million extension.
“It’s an honor to be a captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs with the history of the organization,” Phaneuf says. “I’ve said it many times. I’ve definitely grown into the role and I’ve learned a lot. I’d be lying if I sat up here and said I hadn’t. I’m very comfortable in the role. It’s an honor to be the captain of such a storied franchise, but I’ve definitely learned a lot and I feel that I’ve grown as the leader of our team.”
It matters not whether you want to be the president of his fan club or lead the mob trying to drive him out of town. He’s been given a job and intends to see it through. And after the team rewarded Phaneuf during the 2014 Winter Classic festivities with a new deal to keep him in Toronto, it became obvious Leafs management believes he’s the right person to remain in the role.
The Sabres and Blues consummated the first blockbuster transaction of the NHL’s trade deadline season Friday night when Buffalo dealt star goalie Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to St. Louis in exchange for goalie Jaroslav Halak, right winger Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first round draft pick in 2015 and a third round pick in 2016. The mammoth deal immediately vaults the already-impressive Blues to the very top of bona fide Stanley Cup frontrunners, but also serves the 30th-place Sabres well in their rebuilding project under new GM Tim Murray.
Murray’s savvy decision to pair up Miller and Ott allowed him to maximize the return for the two biggest organizational cards he had to deal. But certainly in Stewart (who is under contract through next season) and perhaps in Halak (who will be an unrestricted free agent after this year), he has the ability to make further moves and bring in longer-term assets. And he adds another first-round draft pick to an arsenal that likely will include two first-rounders in the 2015 draft (their own, as well as the Islanders’, presuming the latter defers the first-rounder they owe them in the Thomas Vanek trade). As well, he also brings in Carrier, a 19-year-old Quebec Major Junior left winger the Blues drafted 57th overall last summer, to the team’s prospect pool. Read more
The New York Rangers locked up a longtime team cornerstone Friday and removed one of the few upper-tier defenseman off the trade market when they re-signed Dan Girardi to a six-year, $33-million contract extension.
The 29-year-old Girardi has spent his entire eight-year NHL career with the Rangers, for whom he’s served effectively as one of the league’s top shutdown blueliners. Girardi led the NHL in blocks last season with 125 in 46 games and currently sits 14th overall in that category with 121 in 60 games. The Welland, Ont., native is second on the Blueshirts with an on-ice average of 22:40 per game and is an ironman, having missed just four games since 2006-07. Read more