Rumor Roundup: Where will Ryan Kesler be traded?

Ryan-Kesler-VAN

With the Vancouver Canucks having hired a new GM (Jim Benning) and coach (Willie Desjardins), the focus returns to center Ryan Kesler, who remains the target of recent trade speculation.

Earlier this month it was reported Kesler informed Benning he still prefers a trade. There’s been some recent confusion, however, over where the 29-year-old prefers to be dealt. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch claims the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are Kesler’s only preferences, prompting The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek to note the difficulty that would create for the Canucks to move him.

The Blackhawks have limited cap space ($4.6 million) for 2014-15 and restricted free agents (Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and Antti Raanta) to re-sign. They’ll have to either do a dollar-for-dollar swap with the Canucks or convince them to pick up part of Kesler’s salary to squeeze him under their cap. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp has been mentioned as a trade candidate, but Sharp has a modified no-trade clause, meaning he’ll have to agree to the deal. Read more

New Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston will play fast

Ryan Kennedy
Mike-Johnston

For a second there, it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins would lose a game of coaching musical chairs. But with Mike Johnston reportedly signed to a three-year pact now, the franchise can get back to the job of winning the Stanley Cup.

That has been rather difficult since the team last pulled off the feat in 2009, despite having two of the best centers on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Under previous coach Dan Byslma, the Pens had a great deal of success in the regular season but haven’t been able to get back to that Cup final, flaming out in various rounds for various reasons.

Structurally, Pittsburgh was not a great possession team in 2013-14, despite the two previously named assets. Kris Letang’s absence due to a stroke didn’t help matters, but ending the campaign with a middling Fenwick close of 50.2 percent has to be seen as a disappointment.

One of Byslma’s mantras for the team in the past was “Hunt,” meaning that the Pens should be hunting the puck down when they didn’t have it, but clearly the team had gotten to a place where they were the hunters way too often.

Johnston, who comes from the Western League’s Portland Winterhawks, hasn’t had that problem in junior. No team even came close to the 338 goals his squad put up this season en route to a fourth straight appearance in the WHL final and in an interview conducted two months ago, the coach told me his strategy.

“Our template is puck possession,” Johnston said. “Skating, up-tempo play. We want to play with pace from our defense to our forwards.”

Johnston will certainly have the tools to continue that philosophy in Pittsburgh. Along with Letang, the team also boasts Paul Martin and Olli Maatta on the blueline and I wouldn’t be surprised if Derrick Pouliot, who has played in Portland the past four years, joins his old coach as a rookie. All four of those D-men can move the puck with ease.

GM Jim Rutherford’s job now will be to bring in some reinforcements up front. The Penguins have been notoriously top-heavy in recent years, but even those Crosby and Malkin lines have been criticized for not having enough talent on the wings.

Johnston’s success in Portland did come with controversy and the back story will surely be mined in the early days of his Pittsburgh tenure. A WHL investigation unearthed alleged recruiting infractions such as extra flights for parents and giving the captain of the team a cell phone. Johnston was suspended for the second half of the 2012-13 campaign and the team lost a bunch of future draft selections. There was also a $200,000 fine levied. Some believe the investigation was a witch hunt orchestrated by the league’s old guard owners, who were sick of Portland and new owner Bill Gallacher winning so often.

Either way, Johnston served his sentence and watched right-hand man Travis Green step up and lead the team to a WHL championship and berth in the Memorial Cup final, where they lost to Nathan MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads. Green went on to coach the American League’s Utica Comets this season and now Johnston is following him to the pro ranks – albeit with a loftier title.

And if Johnston can continue his up-tempo, winning ways in Pittsburgh, the Penguins may just find themselves hoisting another Cup in Steeltown.

Seven centers who could move this summer – and where they’ll end up

Joe Thornton

It’s an unusual year for centers. When you build a team these days, this is a position you really need to be strong in. The Kings are deep down the middle, just as the Hawks were when they won and the Bruins in 2011. It’s a key spot on the depth chart, so when you get a good center, you tend to want to hang on to him.

This summer, though, there are more than a few pivots who are potentially available. Whether it’s by trade or free agent signing, if you’re looking to fill a center spot on your roster, there are actually options this off-season. They’re not all equal, but they’re all available.

Here is a look at seven centers your team may be able to acquire this summer and the most likely destination for each.

Jason Spezza: He’s already requested a trade and since he’s one year away from unrestricted free agency, he’ll be gone somewhere this summer. Where is the most likely landing spot for the Senator? Even though I think Ryan Kesler is the better fit in Anaheim, I think the Ducks are the most likely destination for Spezza. They’re in the West, well away from Ottawa, and they have piles of young assets with which to barter. Exactly what the Sens need. The Ducks have a pile of cap space and it’s no secret they are going to chase after a second line center this off-season. A 1-2 punch of Ryan Getzlaf and Spezza would make up one of the better playmaking center combos in the league.

Joe Thornton: A lot could happen in San Jose this summer and Thornton has been at the forefront of those rumors. A superior playmaker and solid possession player, Thornton may be 35 at the start of next season, but he’s coming off a 76-point year. He’s also got a fresh new three-year contract kicking in that, inconveniently for the Sharks, has a no-movement clause. So even if you did want to trade Thornton, you’d have to do it on his terms – and he’s not likely going to want to go to a team that won’t win the Cup in the next three years. The Sharks committed to Thornton and Patrick Marleau when they re-signed them this season. If a big shake up is what needs to happen in San Jose, GM Doug Wilson should explore trade options for Brent Burns and even Joe Pavelski first. But Big Joe needs to stay for a ton of reasons, not least of which is that the market would be narrow. Most likely destination for Thornton? Right back in San Jose. Read more

Brad Richards, Marc-Andre Fleury lead list of contract buyout candidates

Marc-Andre Fleury (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the NHL’s 2013-14 season at an end, teams will immediately embark on making changes to their roster. In addition to trades and free agency, GMs will have, for one last summer, the option to buy out contracts with no salary cap penalty.

The amnesty buyout period, which began last off-season but starts again today, provides each franchise with the opportunity to buy out two contracts; four teams (Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia and Toronto) used their two buyouts last season, while ten (Detroit, Edmonton, Minnesota, Nashville, New Jersey, the Islanders, Rangers, Tampa Bay, Vancouver and Washington) have bought out one contract. That leaves 16 teams (Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Winnipeg) with two buyout options), but there’s no guarantee any of those franchises will utilize them.

That said, it’s a virtual certainty a handful of players signed to expensive contracts will be amnestied. In reverse order, here are the top five NHLer contracts likely to be bought out:

5. Anton Volchenkov, Devils. At $4.25 million per season for the next two years, Volchenkov is the fourth-highest paid player on New Jersey – ahead of goalie Cory Schneider ($4 million) – and their top-earning blueliner. However, the 32-year-old Russian plays an average of just 16:47 per game – dead last among Devils D-men. He’s also missed at least 10 games every season since 2006-07.

The Devils currently have $57 million in used salary cap space for the 2014-15 campaign; if they hope to bring back unrestricted free agent defenseman Mark Fayne – and when they need to sign Schneider to a new deal next summer – using Volchenkov’s money will be a big help. Read more

Trading Spezza will spell end of an era in Ottawa – but that’s the circle of NHL life

Jason Spezza (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The expected trading of Senators captain Jason Spezza in the coming weeks spells the end of an era in Ottawa. Seven years after the Sens won the Eastern Conference, Spezza and fellow key cornerstone Daniel Alfredsson (who left via free agency last summer) will be gone – and only two players (Chris Phillips and Chris Neil) from that Stanley Cup finalist roster will remain with the franchise.

But that’s about the maximum life cycle of a Cup frontrunner in the modern era. If you’re an NHL GM talented and fortunate to build an elite team, you get seven years – if you’re lucky – to win with a particular group of players before you have to almost completely reboot your system.

Go back 10 years to the then-champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They thought they were set for a long time with two 24-year-olds (Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier), but only four years later, the team’s struggles and cap imbalances forced them to trade Richards to Dallas and the slow dismantling began. Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis lasted longer than most in one market, but they too eventually moved on. It was unthinkable at the time to picture them in other uniforms, but it should’ve seemed inevitable.

History shows us how fleeting ultimate success in the NHL can be. Read more

What would a 1-16 Stanley Cup playoff format look like?

Tyler Seguin

Since the Stanley Cup championship became a best-of-7 in 1939, there have been 20 sweeps. That’s 27 percent. And Scotty Bowman was a coach in nine of them – five series wins, four series losses.

But it hasn’t happened for a while. The last four-game sweep in the Stanley Cup final was completed by the Detroit Red Wings over the Washington Capitals in 1998. Bowman’s team did it to Philadelphia in 1997 too.

We’ve been lucky that 12 of the past 14 finals have extended beyond even five games, including six Game 7s. The post-2005 parity era has given us some pretty good championship rounds that have been tightly contested between West and East.

It appears this year will end that streak. Though the New York Rangers put up a valiant effort on the road in Games 1 and 2, they came away winless and were then shut out on home ice in Game 3. Sure, the script playing out in 2014 is very similar to the one in 2012, when Los Angeles won the first two games against New Jersey in OT, shut them out in Game 3 and the series went six games anyway. But, really, that result has no bearing on this series.

The Kings look prepped to wrap this sucker up in four games.

If the Stanley Cup is in fact awarded on Wednesday, it would be a shame to end these playoffs on such a low note. Most people will agree this has been the best post-season in years, so to end with a sweep would be to go into the off-season with a whimper.

This series speaks to the disparity between the competition in the East and West. Aside from maybe the Bruins, no Eastern team would have been a favorite in the Cup final. From the start, it was unlikely we’d get a final that would be better than the Los Angeles-San Jose series or the Chicago-St. Louis series. And while I’m a fan of the current divisional play down format – and recognize it’s the best, realistic option – there is another design that would set us up to get the best possible final more often than not.

The NHL has used a 1-16 playoff format for a few years before, though it won’t likely again because of travel costs. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the league pooled all of the playoff qualifiers into one ranking and re-seeded them each round based on regular season point totals. Rivalries may not be as easily fostered as they are through the divisional lineup, but it would provide fresh and intriguing matchups – and result in more quality conclusions.

What would a 1-16 format have looked like in Round 1 this year? Division winners automatically get the top four seeds. Read more

Top 10 off-season trade candidates, from Ryan Kesler to Evander Kane

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If you judge the potential of this off-season by the trade rumors ramping it up, summer has all the makings of blockbuster heaven.

First, you have a combination of teams that failed to meet expectations, or completely fell apart and are desperate for change. The Pittsburgh Penguins will surely make changes to their lineup this off-season, but with an eye on the present. This will be a team looking to add to improve their chances, rather than dress down with draft picks. San Jose, Washington and Vancouver each had their own kind of implosion and we can expect all sorts of movement in those cities.

Second, you have a few players in an individual situation that puts them on the block. Ottawa’s Jason Spezza finds himself in RumorLand thanks to his expiring contract, while Kesler finds himself there because he demanded it. And what about Evander Kane – is this the summer his tumultuous relationship with the Jets ends?

With so many players to keep an eye on this summer, we take a look at the top 10 trade candidates. Players who will become a UFA on July 1 (whose rights can be traded) do not qualify. Honorable mentions go to Kris Letang, Nail Yakupov, Brent Burns, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner.

1. Ryan Kesler
Kesler reportedly first mentioned wanting a trade out of Vancouver at the Sochi Olympics, but we thought a new GM and a new coach might change the center’s mind. No so. Kesler apparently still wants to be traded out of Vancouver this summer and since the Canucks need change anyway, it’s a good opportunity to inject something new. The question is, will the Canucks want to acquire contributing NHLers, or promising futures? Simply losing a No. 2 center on the level of Kesler could have devastating effects. There will be no shortage of teams interested, from Anaheim to Pittsburgh, but this summer’s trade market is also unusually busy with solid pivots.

2. Jason Spezza
With one season left on his contract at a cap hit of $7 million, the Senators are seeing if they can move Spezza by the June 27 NHL draft. And why not? The draft has become a busy place for big trades and since Ottawa doesn’t hold a first round pick this year, it’s a good time for them to make a transition. The Anaheim Ducks appear to be a contender for Spezza’s services, who becomes affordable for them because he’s only owed $4 million in actual salary in 2014-15. The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek writes about using “trade backs” in a move like this. Could the Sens get a similar return out of Anaheim as they gave up for Bobby Ryan? Read more

Top 5: Points by a defenseman in a single playoff run

brianleetch

At 24, Drew Doughty has already etched himself quite the legacy. The Max Kaminsky Trophy for the Ontario League’s best defenseman, two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup, and perhaps a second league title on the way. At his current pace, leading the playoffs in defenseman scoring, a Conn Smythe Trophy could be Doughty’s next accolade.

With 17 points so far, Doughty’s playoff point total doesn’t quite crack the top 30 all-time highest-scoring playoff seasons by a defender. But with the potential to play six more games (though he’d surely rather play only three more), Doughty only needs four more points to leapfrog his way into the top 10. There’s a good chance he does, but there’s no chance he cracks the top three. Here’s the five most productive playoff runs by defensemen. Read more