Bernier injury reminds us Leafs were smart not to trade Reimer

Matt Larkin

We know hindsight is 20/20. But can foresight ever be 20/20?

It apparently was for Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis, at least in one case. Two weeks ago, backup goaltender James Reimer may or may hot have been on the trading block. He was and still is a restricted free agent to be and he’d gradually lost the starting gig to Jonathan Bernier, who has carried the Leafs of late. Reimer also appeared to have fallen out of favor with coach Randy Carlyle. Remember the staredown after Carlyle yanked Reimer from a game against Detroit Dec. 21? Reimer had started 18 games from October to that point in December. In the three months since, he’s started six.

Considering how many goalies changed teams at the trade deadline last week, there had to be a market for Reimer. Minnesota acquired Ilya Bryzgalov as “insurance,” for Pete’s sake. So Nonis must have been tempted to move Reimer, whose days as the true No. 1 in Toronto are clearly done.

But Nonis didn’t and showed commendable foresight in that moment. The Leafs are not Stanley Cup contenders, but they are all but in the playoffs at this point. Over their last five games, they’ve won crucial conference matchups against the Rangers and Flyers and seemingly unwinnable games in Anaheim and Los Angeles. It usually isn’t pretty, but this team finds a way to win and, in a wide open Eastern Conference, there’s no telling what it might do.

If you’re a fringe playoff contender and a young team, it’s not smart to overextend yourself with a major deadline trade designed to help you win now. But it’s equally dumb to deal away important pieces when you know you’re competitive enough to make some noise in the East. The Leafs may lose Reimer this summer, whether they deal his rights before free agency or let him walk, but Nonis wisely retained him for the short term. Now, the Leafs reap the rewards.

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Flyers, Rangers are carousel creations that aren’t close to Cup-ready

Martin St-Louis

There they are, with virtually identical records, closer to the tail end of the Eastern Conference playoff race than the top: the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Two longtime division rivals. Two teams with rabid fan bases. Two teams bankrolled by owners who want desperately to win a Stanley Cup, yet whose consistent impatience kneecaps their development. Two teams that still don’t look anywhere close to being capable of beating the Boston Bruins to get out of the Eastern Conference, let alone take on one of the beasts from the West in a Cup final.

In many ways, all teams would be fortunate to have owners like Philly’s Ed Snider and the Rangers’ James Dolan. They’re not stingy when it comes to the salary cap and they’re unafraid to make changes when they deem it necessary. Unfortunately, they’re serial changers who look at rosters much like restaurants look at soup: the more variation, the better.

This season is no different for either the Flyers or Blueshirts. The former went out and threw five years and $25.5 million at Vincent Lecavalier; changed up their goaltending for the seven billionth time; fired their coach; signed former Islanders defenseman Mark Streit; traded Max Talbot for Steve Downie; and acquired ex-Isles blueliner Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline. The latter canned their coach; brought in a well-traveled super-pest (and former Flyer); dealt a once highly-regarded young d-man to Nashville; and made the biggest move at the trade deadline by consummating the Martin St-Louis/Ryan Callahan blockbuster with Tampa Bay.

Despite all those moves, neither team is a lock to make the playoffs. The Rangers and Flyers have talent and can put together hot streaks to mask the truth for a stretch of time. But many hockey people believe both teams have significant flaws that are likely to prevent them from doing any significant damage if they do qualify for the post-season. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Sabres won’t stop trading

Drew Stafford (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Buffalo Sabres rookie GM Tim Murray was very busy in the days leading up to the March 5 trade deadline. His biggest move was shipping goaltender Ryan Miller and winger Steve Ott to St. Louis for a return that included goalie Jaroslav Halak and right winger Chris Stewart.

Other moves included dealing left winger Matt Moulson and center Cody McCormick to the Minnesota Wild for center Torrey Mitchell and draft picks, plus flipping Halak to the Washington Capitals for netminder Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla. And Murray intends to continue pursuing deals in the off-season.

“I’m not done,” Murray told The Buffalo News’ John Vogl following the deadline. “There’s a lot of building to do.”

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St. Louis Blues goalie coach dishes on new Miller-Elliott tandem

Matt Larkin
Miller Blues

What happens when 1A and 1B become 1 and 2?

The St. Louis Blues’ goaltending landscape has changed dramatically in the last two weeks. In came Ryan Miller, out went Jaroslav Halak and adding Miller to be the unquestioned starter drastically changes Brian Elliott’s role.

The turnover in the crease means Blues goaltending coach Corey Hirsch has to alter his approach and handle each netminder differently. No longer is this a Halak/Elliott model in which each guy pushes the other for playing time. I was curious as to how the Blues will manage Miller and Elliott as a tandem, so I asked Hirsch. Given how insightful Hirsch was, I’ll present our talk as a Q&A.

The Hockey News: The Blues gave up a lot (Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, 2015 first-rounder, conditional pick) for Miller and Steve Ott. How does Miller make the Blues better?

Corey Hirsch: He’s got obviously more experience. He’s been to the conference final twice, he’s been a Vezina trophy winner. I also think Ryan brings a little more size. He’s 6-foot-3. Even though he’s a lanky guy, that height really helps. He’s proven he’s very durable over the course of time and that’s what we’re looking for. And he brings a confidence to your team, that we have a guy who takes the goaltending out of the equation. We have a guy who can do it if we play well for him.

THN: The recent Blues teams are famous for allowing so few shots. How did you mentally prepare Ryan to see a lot less rubber?

Hirsch: Over the course of his career, I know in Buffalo he got a lot of shots. But he played for the U.S. national team and there were nights when he didn’t get the work. You still have to be ready. We still give up quality chances – we just don’t give up a lot of them. We block a lot of shots, but we just don’t give up those easy ones from the outside. So, typically when a team gets a shot on us, it’s a pretty good chance. He has the capabilities to handle it. That’s all the mental side of the game.

THN: What are your early impressions of Miller technique-wise? Has he impressed you? Surprised you?

Hirsch: He’s actually quieted his game down a little bit, meaning he’s not as aggressive as he was in the past, which is good. He thinks the game differently. I sat down and did video with him. I’ve done video with lots of goalies and it was interesting how his mind works because you’d think he’s going to think the way I do, but when we sat down for video he actually opened my eyes up to a couple of things I had never thought about. It was pretty neat just to sit and listen to him and how he thinks the game. He’s a very intelligent goalie.

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Fantasy Pool Look: Trade deadline impact, Part I

Darryl Dobbs
Martin St-Louis

So much has happened around the NHL over the past 72 hours that to effectively analyze the impact on fantasy-relevant players, I’ll be breaking it into three columns.

Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning
Callahan has been playing on a line with Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. With Tampa, he could get an early look with Steven Stamkos. But the consolation prize is either Val Filppula or Tyler Johnson at center and Alex Killorn or Ondrej Palat on the far wing. Either way, I consider it an upgrade offensively. His current pace this season suggests that he will post 11 points in the final 20 games. Instead, look for 13 or 14 plus a big bump in hits. My guess is that Callahan will play with Stamkos and Killorn, with Palat and Johnson staying together on another line. Read more

Stamkos Era in Tampa Bay will be thrilling, productive

Adam Proteau
Steven Stamkos (Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

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

Who will be this season’s unsung trade deadline hero?

Matt Larkin

Flash back to last year’s trade deadline for a moment. It paled in comparison to the hoopla we’ve witnessed over the last week, but still featured a few significant deals designed to boost contenders’ Cup hopes. Boston brought in Jaromir Jagr. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, Pittsburgh rented Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow.

In the end, though, a seemingly insignificant trade proved the most influential on the playoff picture:

Chicago acquires center Michal Handzus from the San Jose Sharks for a 2013 fourth-round pick.

The Blackhawks had Jonathan Toews as an elite top pivot and David Bolland as a championship-caliber third-liner. But with Marcus Kruger still maturing, Chicago was starved for a bona fide No. 2 center. Handzus didn’t fit the bill on paper as a broken-down 36-year-old, but somehow inherited the role for the playoffs. He averaged 16 minutes a game and played a key two-way role en route to a Stanley Cup, amassing 11 points in 23 games. He did it all with a broken wrist and torn MCL, to boot. Handzus has struggled this year, but no one can take away how crucial of an acquisition he was last season.

Flash to the present. Let’s sweep aside Martin St-Louis, Thomas Vanek and the other big names for a second. Who is this year’s version of the sneaky Handzus acquisition? Let’s look at a few candidates.

Lee Stempniak, right winger (acquired by Pittsburgh Penguins)

Stempniak isn’t the most popular player in cities he used to play in – Leaf fans will always remember him as the guy they got for Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo – but he can make an impact as a top-six forward in Pittsburgh. With Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett out long-term, Stempniak has an excellent shot to play regularly with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and should see time on at least the No. 2 power play unit. He’s never had teammates of this caliber passing him the puck.

And while Stempniak didn’t light it up in Calgary, he’s been a goal scorer in the past. He’s finished with double-digit totals 10 times in his career and 27 or more twice. Most notably, the last time he was traded at the deadline, he went nuts. The Leafs shipped Stempniak to Phoenix in 2010 and he exploded for 14 goals in 18 games. Stempniak has just two points in 11 career playoff games, but those appearances were with Phoenix. This is Pittsburgh.

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Capitals’ deadline moves prove management remains in denial

Adam Proteau
George McPhee (Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

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