New York Islanders should keep 2014 pick, defer Buffalo pick to 2015

Matt Larkin
Snow

My overlord esteemed colleague Brian Costello laid out a compelling case for the New York Islanders giving their 2014 first-round pick to Buffalo as part of the Thomas Vanek trade. He makes some excellent points, but I disagree. The Isles should work with what they have and use their selection this June. Here’s why;

It’s far easier to plan a team’s future working with what you know. No one can take away that the New York Islanders possess a high first-round selection in the 2014 draft. That pick can end up as high as first and no worse than sixth, depending on the draft lottery. Mr. Costello is correct to say the 2014 draft class is weaker than 2015′s projects to be, but that only applies once you leave the top 10. In the top five or six picks, there are plenty of talented players with superstar upside. Does 2014 have a potentially once-in-a-generation find like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel? No, but there’s no way of knowing the Isles can land those two anyway. What we do know is they are guaranteed a player from the talented group of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Leon Draisatl, Michael Dal Colle, Brendan Perlini, Willie Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, among others. Why throw away a sure thing for a maybe?

The Islanders will almost certainly be better next year. In the shortened 2012-13 campaign, this team (albeit with Matt Moulson and Andrew MacDonald still there) was good enough to make the playoffs and give Pittsburgh a healthy six-game fight. Next year, John Tavares should be fully healthy and reunited with Kyle Okposo on a powerhouse line. The Isles should also have Ryan Strome in the lineup all season. He’s the No. 5 overall prospect in THN Future Watch and has little left to prove at the American League level, having ripped up the circuit for 49 points in 37 games with Bridgeport. He tallied a respectable 18 points in 37 NHL games this season, too, and will give the Isles a legit secondary scoring threat. A center core of Tavares, Strome, Frans Nielsen, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson ain’t half bad. Maybe hulking blueliner Griffin Reinhart, No. 11 in Future Watch, makes the jump by next year, too.

Read more

Why an Evgeni Malkin for Alex Ovechkin trade makes sense

Matt Larkin
Malkin Ovechkin

Look at the headline. Take a deep breath and count to 10. The idea is preposterous, yes, but try to entertain it for a few minutes.

If and only if the Pittsburgh Penguins bow out earlier than expected for the fifth straight post-season after winning the Stanley Cup in 2008-09, an Evgeni Malkin for Alex Ovechkin trade could benefit the Penguins and Washington Capitals.

In Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Pens have been blessed with two future Hall of Famers and two of the top five players of this generation. They’ve combined for four scoring titles (including Crosby’s this season), two Ted Lindsay Awards, seven First-Team All-Star selections, a Rocket Richard and a Conn Smythe. Crosby and Malkin rank fourth and 11th, respectively, in NHL history in points per game. Add up all those amazing accomplishments and it’s mildly disappointing they’ve yielded but one Cup five years ago.

Sooner or later, it’s going to feel like the Pens are “wasting” these prime years.

And what about Washington? Ovechkin is just as decorated as Crosby and Malkin, if not more, minus a championship. ‘Ovie’ is a three-time MVP, soon to be a four-time goal-scoring king and he belongs on that same short list of this era’s greatest players. But to say he’s been a polarizing figure in D.C. this season is an understatement. He’s been called out for a lack of effort by coach Adam Oates, and Ovie’s defensive ineptitude has made his 50-goal campaign the most criticized in NHL history. First in goals with 50 but 870th in plus-minus at minus-36, Ovie is entertainment incarnate, ain’t he? You know some team is scoring whenever he’s on the ice.

After missing the playoffs, the Caps are in desperate need of a shakeup. If the Pens flop this year, they will be, too. Swapping Malkin and Ovechkin straight up would rock each franchise’s foundation without robbing either of elite talent. Here’s why the trade works a lot more than you may think:

1. There’s a precedent for it. Not just for a superstar trade, but for a trade between division rivals. Edmonton dealt Wayne Gretzky within the Smythe Division in 1988. As the cliché goes, if he can be traded, anyone can. Other superstars dealt while still at the peak of their abilities or close to it: Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Pavel Bure and Jaromir Jagr. Yes, those trades were largely contract-related, but they still happened and shifted the balance of the league.

2. Money is not an issue, at least cap-wise. Malkin, 27, is due $9.500 million annually for the next eight seasons. Ovechkin, 28, is due $9.538 million annually for the next seven seasons. Remarkably similar situations, meaning the swap would have no impact on either team’s salary cap structure. Ovechkin’s actual salary for the rest of his deal is $500,000 higher at $10 million, but Malkin is due $5-million signing bonuses in 2020-21 and 2021-22. Those payouts are far enough away that they shouldn’t deter the Caps in this fictional deal.

3. Malkin is better than Ovechkin at making others around him better – and Malkin plays his best sans-Crosby. As dynamic a talent as Ovie is, he’ll never be mistaken for a complete player. On top of the defensive deficiencies, he has assisted on just 27 goals all season. Malkin is more capable of controlling the flow of a game. His most dominant season was arguably 2011-12, when he tallied 50 goals and 109 points, won the Hart and was widely considered the best player on the planet. That came in a year when Crosby played just 22 games. ‘Geno’ has never needed Crosby’s help to dominate and they have rarely been linemates, anyway.

4. Ovechkin on Crosby’s wing? Are you kidding me!? It’s the equivalent of uniting Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. If they fought for one side, our brains and televisions would melt from sheer awesomeness. (Maybe they do, eventually? I haven’t read the books. No spoilers, I beg of you.) And any talk of Crosby and Ovechkin’s alleged dislike for each other would rapidly evaporate the minute Sid started feeding Alex the biscuit. I’d set the over/under for Ovechkin goals at 65.5.

5. Pittsburgh could fill its void at center with Ryan Kesler. If the Penguins pursued Kesler already, we know they can afford his $5-million cap hit. Ovechkin only puts $38,462, a.k.a. a decent luxury sedan, more than Malkin toward the cap, so that wouldn’t change much. In my zany hypothetical world, the Pens would only make the earth-shattering Ovie deal once they’ve acquired Kesler, whose talents would be wasted in a No. 3 role behind Malkin anyway.

6. Massive void on Washington’s wings? Move Evgeny Kuznetsov to Malkin’s wing. Pairing them on the first line and, say, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson on the second looks pretty dangerous to me.

While “hockey trades” of this magnitude simply don’t happen anymore, the deal could genuinely improve both teams. It’s a tougher sell for the Pens, who don’t exactly have trouble scoring and would be adding the one league’s weakest defensive players to a team that already ranks in the middle of the pack in important advanced statistics like Corsi and Fenwick. Adding a Kesler type first would make Ovie more than worth it, though.

A hilariously far-fetched idea, of course. Agree or disagree? If you vote nay, constructively tell me why it’s dumb in the comments.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

Ask Adam: Myers to Edmonton?; Vanek re-signing in Montreal?; and Red Wings’ youngsters

Tyler Myers (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Yes, THN’s mailbag is back. What, you were expecting something different, maybe? It’s Friday. This is what happens on Fridays. Prepare yourself accordingly.

Adam, what are the possibilities of the Oilers acquiring Tyler Myers?? I realize you are going to give up a lot to get him, but could a trade similar to the Phil Kessel trade be a good deal?? I know Buffalo is loaded in terms of picks (this year and next), but could they go for a first-round pick in 2015 and a 1st round pick in 2016? I only say this because I would love to see the Oilers’ future with Tyler Myers and (possibly) Aaron Ekblad together, and a supporting cast of Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Martin Marancin. I would also love to see the top six forwards not change. If you were Tim Murray, would you accept my proposal and trade Tyler Myers?
T.J. Zielman, Exeter, Ont.

T.J.,

Not only would I accept your proposal, I’d also jump into your arms and hug you for a long time, because two first-rounders for a blueliner whose stock has fallen as much as Myers’ has since he won the Calder Trophy in 2010 is a major overpayment. First round picks are far too valuable to expend on a player who has regressed and who also comes with a bulky contract that has five years left with an annual salary cap hit of $5.5 million.

Now, Edmonton may have more interest in a Myers deal centered around Sam Gagner, but that’s another story altogether. Murray and coach Ted Nolan might look at Myers – who still is just 24 years old – and decide they’d rather not give up on him just yet, especially if it means taking on Gagner’s $4.8-million salary for the next two seasons when Buffalo is on a long-term rebuild. Further complicating matters is Myers’ limited no-trade clause. So I wouldn’t get overly excited about him joining the Oilers just yet. Read more

Will the Capitals trade Alex Ovechkin? Not a chance – at least, not anytime soon

Adam Proteau
Alex Ovechkin

Trading Alex Ovechkin would do a number of things: it would send shockwaves throughout the hockey world; it would send many Washington Capitals fans to the local emergency room, sick with worry their beloved team had cut loose the best player in franchise history; and it would signal the beginning of a basement-to-roof rebuild of a disappointing Caps team that, in all honesty, could probably use it.

But let’s be as clear: we can debate it all we want, but the Capitals aren’t trading Ovechkin. At least, not at this stage of his career. Given that Ovechkin has failed to demonstrate he can make his teammates better and that Adam Oates is the fourth coach of his nine years in the NHL, there won’t be a number of GMs bombarding Washington colleague George McPhee with phone calls to try taking him off the Capitals’ payroll. Even if they were able to find a trade partner, the Caps likely would have to take back bad contracts and/or eat a portion of Ovechkin’s deal to make it palatable. (Think Roberto Luongo going from Vancouver to Florida.) There’s no trade out there that’s a perfect tonic for what ails either the Caps or their captain.

The best thing they can hope for is the 28-year-old finally heeds the advice of fans and former coaches and endeavors to become a more well-rounded (read: defensively competent) player. Or – and I’m only half-joking here – management and ownership can start dropping Russian tourism pamphlets around the dressing room in the hope he follows Ilya Kovalchuk’s path back to the Kontinental League, thus providing them with immediate salary cap relief from the seven years (at a cap hit of $9.5 million per season) remaining on his contract. Read more

Canucks’ gong-show year should end with Sedins being traded in the off-season

Adam Proteau
Henrik Sedin (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

It was admirable seeing Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin stand up and place the blame for the Canucks’ woeful year squarely on the shoulders of himself and his brother, Daniel. It was as far from the truth as you can get without completely watching the truth disappear over the horizon, but admirable nonetheless.

The reality, of course, is those two are far less culpable for the Canucks missing the playoffs than team owner Francesco Aquillini, GM Mike Gillis and head coach John Tortorella. They’re the ones who’ve made the bowling-shoe-ugly decisions that in less than three years have whittled down this franchise from Stanley Cup frontrunner to a squad that could finish as low as 12th in the Western Conference this season. But, being the dutiful employee and great guy he is, Sedin attempted to defend management and ownership while also tossing out this laugher:

“I don’t think it’s time to panic,” Sedin said. “I still think, yes, you might want to get younger in certain spots and make some changes, but I think we can be successful next year. It’s not about three, four, five years down the road.”

I’ll give Sedin this much – he’s right about this not being the time to panic. Clearly, that was last summer, when Gillis panicked and traded goalie Cory Schneider. It was panic time when Gillis hired Tortorella, who represented the opposite of everything the Canucks were built to be. It was panic time when Tortorella lost his marbles in Calgary and made a mockery of what a modern-day coach is supposed to be. It was panic time when the Canucks dealt Luongo to Florida (while still having to eat some $800,000 a season in salary for the rest of Luongo’s contract) after the coach’s myopic personnel decisions alienated their star goalie once and for all.

The only panic move Vancouver could make at this stage would be to buy into Sedins’ belief the Canucks can be successful next year. They can’t. In fact, the right thing to do would be to send Sedin and his brother (as well as disgruntled veteran Ryan Kesler) out of town in the best trade they can consummate this summer and make “it” about three, four, five years down the road. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Kesler sweepstakes to resume in June?

RKesler

Leading up to the March trade deadline there were reports the Anaheim Ducks pursued Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler. CBC’s Elliotte Friedman said the Ducks were among six teams Kesler was believed willing to waive his no-trade clause for. Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reported the Canucks were reluctant to ship the center to a division rival. They also felt they could get better offers from other clubs come June at the draft.

The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson notes Ducks GM Bob Murray has “the deepest pool of young talent in the league.” He believes Murray will revisit his interest in Kesler this summer. Except for Cam Fowler, rookie Hampus Lindholm and promising goalie John Gibson, Matheson claims it’s likely every one of the Ducks young guns is available. Murray also owns the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick this summer, but Matheson doubts he’ll include that pick in a trade package.

If Murray pursues Kesler he could face a challenge from the Pittsburgh Penguins, who reportedly offered center Brandon Sutter, two draft picks and a choice of defense prospects Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin.  Given the Canucks’ reported reluctance to ship Kesler to a Western Conference club, it could give the Penguins the edge, especially if they’re willing to sweeten the pot.

Read more

Ryan Miller and the St. Louis Blues: a match made in heaven

Matt Larkin
miller blues

It was Jan. 15 at the Air Canada Centre and the Buffalo Sabres were in town to play the Leafs. The game went to a shootout and Toronto prevailed when a Tyler Bozak shot trickled through Ryan Miller for a weak winner.

After the game, the scene in the Sabres room around Miller was grim. He scowled, looking like he would’ve paid a million bucks for an invisibility cloak, as media bombarded him. The questions were about the bad one that slipped past him and, worse yet, the swirling rumors he’d be shipped out of Buffalo, the only NHL city he’d ever known.

As the scrum scattered, I tried to get a word in as Sabres personnel escorted Miller away.

“But Ryan, wait!” I called across the room awkwardly. “It want to talk about something happy! The Olympics! Team USA!”

To his credit, he took a weary step back toward me, but the Sabres staff decided he’d done enough. I came away feeling sorry for Miller – or as sorry as one can feel for a millionaire married to an actress. He was mentally and physically exhausted.

Read more

Five reasons why the Flyers are better off without Jeff Carter, Mike Richards

Jeff Carter Mike Richards

When the Philadelphia Flyers sent franchise cornerstones Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively, on NHL draft weekend in 2011, it was a questionable and confusing call by GM Paul Holmgren.

The Flyers were one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup final and just that spring were eliminated in the second round by the Boston Bruins, who went on to win the thing.

The trouble was Philadelphia had fallen behind Boston in consecutive series 3-0 and though they managed to make history and recover from the first one, they were bit by inevitability the second time. Goaltending was still perceived to be a big problem in Philadelphia and free-agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov was still perceived to be the answer. So, the team needed to clear space to sign him to the infamous nine-year, $51 million deal. If the Flyers made a severe mistake anywhere, it was investing so much in the wannabe cosmonaut and later trading future Vezina winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, for draft picks. Read more