How to prevent teams from tanking late in the season

Ken Campbell
Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

You might be surprised that there is absolutely nothing – nada, zippo, zilch – the NHL can do about a team tanking its season. There is not a single league by-law that mandates roster quality in any way, shape or form. And there is nothing the league can do to veto any trade if that deal is made within the confines of the salary cap.

“So if the Toronto Maple Leafs want to trade their three best players for a bag of pucks,” said one NHL GM, “as long as those pucks are standard size and the team is salary cap compliant, there’s nothing the league can do.”

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Maple Leafs ship Spaling, Polak to Sharks for Torres, two second-round picks

Jared Clinton
Roman Polak (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s still one week remaining before the trade deadline, but the Maple Leafs are already getting their fire sale started. First, Toronto completed a deal to ship Shawn Matthias to the Colorado Avalanche, and now Maple Leafs fans can say goodbye to Roman Polak and Nick Spaling, as both have been dealt to the San Jose Sharks.

In the early hours of Monday morning, the Maple Leafs announced they’ve traded Polak and Spaling to the Sharks for second-round picks in 2017 and 2018, as well as veteran winger Raffi Torres.

Aside from the Maple Leafs bringing on Torres, nothing about the trade is too surprising. Toronto has plenty of expiring contracts, most of which are expected to be moved at or near the deadline. Both Polak and Spaling, like Matthias, are set to become unrestricted free agents at season’s end. Read more

Father of Flint Firebirds star: ‘They have to take this team away from that man’

Ken Campbell
Will Bitten (right) (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

The father of the Flint Firebirds top scorer this season said his son will not return next season if the Ontario League does not do something about Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen. Michael Bitten, the father of Firebirds leading scorer Will Bitten, said his son would have probably left the team immediately, but has been advised by his agent to remain with the team for the rest of this season.

But Michael Bitten said there is “no way” his son will return to the Firebirds next season if Nilsen still owns the team. “If there are not changes there, my son will not go back, and I don’t think many others would as well,” Michael Bitten said. “It’s probably out of (OHL commissioner) David Branch’s control to a certain extent, but he must have the power to rectify it and I don’t know what that is. But surely they have to take this team away from that man. How can you go on long-term?”

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Down Goes Brown: Five players who were repeatedly traded for Hall of Famers

Sean McIndoe
Craig Berube. (Getty Images)

With the trade deadline less than two weeks away and the rumor mill churning at full speed, hockey fans are dreaming of all the potential blockbusters that could be on the way.

Chances are, we won’t get any. The true blockbuster trade is a dying art in the NHL, as the salary cap, no-trade clauses and league-wide parity have rendered them all but obsolete. Instead, fans are left to look back fondly on past eras, when it wasn’t uncommon to see a future Hall of Famer or two swap teams in a jaw-dropping deal.

But while the superstars get all the attention, there’s another important piece that shows up in most major blockbusters, even if it usually passes by without much notice. It’s the throw-in – that depth player or backup goaltender who gets tossed into the deal to balance it out. He’s the guy who makes the trade work, the handful of spare change that evens out the ledger. And you may even get a glimpse of him, quietly cleaning out his locker in the background as the media crowds around the bigger names.

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With Stamkos staying, Lightning must go for broke at the trade deadline

Matt Larkin
Jonathan Drouin and Steven Stamkos.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If the Tampa Bay Lightning are all in…they better be all in.

They made a resounding statement Monday when GM Steve Yzerman announced captain Steven Stamkos, hockey’s most talked-about free agent to be, would not be traded before the Feb. 29 deadline. Retaining ‘Stammer’ obviously buys the Bolts more time to negotiate a new long-term contract with their star – and to improve on the lowball offer they reportedly made, which would’ve paid Stamkos $8.5 million annually. To anyone believing Tampa still has a shot to retain him, Monday’s news is reason for hope.

More importantly, though, standing pat on Stamkos gives Tampa the best chance possible to compete for and win the Stanley Cup this June. Whatever great return Stamkos might have netted in a trade, it’s doubtful that package would’ve made the Bolts better in the short term. Stamkos allows the Lightning to be the best Lightning right this second. He’s like an unrestricted free agent rental they just acquired without surrendering assets.

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Development key for new Maple Leafs prospect Tobias Lindberg

Tobias Lindberg  (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Toronto Marlies have a luxury not many, if any, teams in the American League enjoy. When the parent team is out of town, the Marlies have access to two ice surfaces in the same building. And they use them. At one point during practice, coach Sheldon Keefe splits the groups up, with one going to one rink for skill development, the other on another sheet working on systems.

And what exactly does that have to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring prospect Tobias Lindberg in the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Dion Phaneuf? Actually, quite a bit. Because how Lindberg develops under the watchful eye of Keefe will go a long way to determining how good he’ll be as an NHL player. And how good he’ll be as an NHL player will go a long way to ultimately deciding how well the Leafs did in the trade.

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Phaneuf trade shows exactly why the Leafs went out and got Lamoriello

Ken Campbell
New teammates Chris Neil (left) and Dion Phaneuf (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Back on July 23 when the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they’d hired Lou Lamoriello to be their GM, it was fair to wonder whether or not they had made the right move. In a way, it actually seemed a little counterintuitive at the time. After all, Lamoriello was approaching his 74th birthday and had presided over a New Jersey Devils franchise that was in an on-ice decline. It was at least reasonable to debate whether he’d lost his touch or had the chops to oversee a painful rebuild.

Question answered, accompanied by a conga line of exclamation marks. The Maple Leafs, who have gotten very adept at trading untradeable players and contracts, did it again, moving a veteran, middling defenseman with five years and $35 million remaining on his deal in Dion Phaneuf in their division to the Ottawa Senators and getting back a young defenseman with a ton to prove in Jared Cowen, a second-round pick in 2017 and a 6-foot-3, 215 pound prospect who has been a pleasant surprise wherever he had played in Tobias Lindberg. Milan Michalek, who has one year left on his deal at $4 million, will be long gone by the time the Maple Leafs become a competitive team. Colin Greening has spent most of this season in the minors and carries a cap hit of $2.65 million, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to play on this NHL team as a bottom-six player until his contract runs out after next season.

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Leafs trade Dion Phaneuf to Senators in nine-player blockbuster. Let’s sort through it

Matt Larkin
Dion Phaneuf (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Whoa. Whoa. A nine-player trade? Between two teams historically characterized as bitter divisional and geographical rivals? Involving one of the team’s captains? Let’s breathe and try to sort through the blockbuster between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.

Credit to Bob McKenzie for being first on the story. The official trade:

Toronto Maple Leafs receive…

Jared Cowen, D
Milan Michalek, LW
Colin Greening, LW
Tobias Lindberg, RW
2017 second-round pick

Ottawa Senators receive…

Dion Phaneuf, D
Matt Frattin, RW
Casey Bailey, C/RW
Ryan Rupert, C
Cody Donaghey, D

Before we dive into the specifics of each piece, let’s get to the point and examine what this trade is really about.

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