Where is Martin Brodeur headed in his NHL swan song?

Boston Bruins v New Jersey Devils

This free agent season will be like none we’ve seen before if only for the simple reason the winningest goalie in the history of the game is making himself available to the open market.

If the NHL were run by an advisory board of mentors and guidance counselors rather than businessmen, there would be a meeting to discuss how best to handle this potentially sticky situation.

Isn’t it best served to have Martin Brodeur one day retire in all his glory as a member of the New Jersey Devils? Is it really necessary for 42-year-old Brodeur, with his game in decline, to play another season? How does it look having a goaltending icon serving as a backup, playing just three or four times a month?

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

Jason-Spezza-OTT

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

Barry Trotz: Chance to coach Caps is “surreal but invigorating”

Matt Larkin
Barry Trotz

Unless your name is Lindy Ruff, it’s hard to imagine how Barry Trotz will feel when he steps behind the Washington Capitals bench for the 2014-15 season.

Will it be like the first day at a new school? That doesn’t do it justice. It’s the equivalent of changing schools after spending 15 years in one class, with one teacher. The Nashville Predators were all Trotz had ever known as a head coach, and vice versa. He and GM David Poile had been joined at the hip since the dawn of the franchise in 1998-99.

“When you’re there in one spot from day one, forming a lot of the culture, making a lot of decisions in a lot of areas when you’re an expansion team, it’s basically four empty walls,” Trotz says. “Being there 17 years, making Nashville your home, and all of a sudden you’re going somewhere else, it is a little bit surreal. At the same time, it’s invigorating.”

The marriage between Trotz and Poile ended amicably. It’s not like Nashville finished last overall and Poile angrily showed Trotz the door amid public calls for the coach’s head. The Preds only missed the playoffs by three points after a late-season surge, but it was simply time for something new.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you know, I’m done here,’ or David saying, ‘Hey, you’re not doing a good job, ‘ ” Trotz says. “It was just, they needed a little change, and it was time. You can see that, by the way we split it, both sides were very kind to each other and still remain friends.”

Peter Laviolette now helms what will be a more up-tempo Music City team, while defense-minded Trotz will try to improve a Washington squad ranking in bottom half of the NHL in goals against three seasons running. It’s an especially challenging task, because this isn’t a low-stakes hire for a team openly rebuilding and not expecting to contend for years. The Caps lack an identity and still intend to push for the playoffs next season, relying on Alex Ovechkin as their star. They hope Evgeny Kuznetsov becomes an impact NHL forward in his first full season, that Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer or some free agent gives them reliable goaltending, that John Carlson continues to develop as a workhorse blueliner. Owner Ted Leonsis’ oustings of coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee says the Caps knew the situation was broke – but this team intends to fix it immediately.

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Mikhail Grabovski signs with soccer team in Belarus

Rory Boylen
Mikhail Grabovski

After a 13-goal, 35-point season in 58 games with Washington, Mikhail Grabovski will be a UFA this summer. He has favorable Corsi numbers, good speed, a decent offensive touch and is trustworthy in defensive situations (39 percent D-Zone starts in 2012-13 with Toronto, 32.2 percent D-Zone starts in 2013-14 with Washington).

So ‘Grabbo’ will be a nice fit down the middle for any number of teams looking for some center depth, but the first team he signed with this summer wasn’t even a hockey team – it was a third-tier soccer club in Belarus.

But this doesn’t mean he’s changing careers. Read more

Alex Ovechkin to KHL would be blessing in disguise for Capitals

Adam Proteau
Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

At first blush, the idea of Alex Ovechkin leaving the NHL to go home to his native Russia and play in the Kontinental League seems screwy. Unfortunately, after nine NHL seasons, Ovechkin has failed to live up to expectations – if not as an individual, then certainly as the driver of a team.

His Washington Capitals are awash in mediocrity and have moved from being a bona fide Cup contender to a draft lottery candidate. He won his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy, but had the NHL’s third-worst plus-minus (minus-35). Where once he was the Hockey Elvis, he’s now the King in his unhappy later years, surviving on what he’s always been good at, but never growing as an artist.

So now when you wonder if Ovechkin could actually leave the NHL for the KHL, the question doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. Increasingly, it’s near-fetched. And to this writer, it seems like the best solution for the star and the Capitals. Read more

NHL draft combine: New GMs dive right in

tim-Murray

The NHL draft combine is officially underway right now in Toronto, giving teams a chance to get to know more than 100 of the top prospects available this summer. But for a cohort of new GMs in the league, they also have to get familiar with their new scouting staffs.

“I’m still in the process,” said Buffalo’s Tim Murray, who was hired way from the Ottawa Senators organization in early January. “The first time I met the whole staff was a couple weeks ago at our amateur meetings. You sit in there and listen and right off the bat you’re trying to put a name to a face. But you’re also trying to evaluate who has strong opinions and who doesn’t.”

While new Washington Capitals GM Brian McLellan was an internal hire, Murray is not alone in having a new crew to depend on. Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving was with the Phoenix Coyotes before his jump in stature, while Jim Benning went from the Boston Bruins to the Vancouver Canucks. With Buffalo, Calgary and Vancouver all picking in the top six at the draft, stakes are high. Murray plans on letting the Sabres scouting staff ask most of the questions in the interview process with the kids at the combine and that will give him insight into both the player and the evaluator.

“Some of the guys without strong opinions may speak when they feel strongly about a player and that’s fine too,” he said. “You’re evaluating: it’s similar to watching players. Who has strong opinions and who can back them up with facts?”

Luckily for Murray, he doesn’t have to change philosophies when it comes to making picks: The Sabres are rebuilding and can’t get position-specific with their marquee selection.

“Hey, we’re a 30th place team, so we have lots of needs,” he said. “We do have some good young players coming up in different positions but we need to take the best player available. There are a lot of immediate needs, but we’re not going to address them. We’re going to go through this long-term, take the best player available and if he has to go back to junior, so be it.”

It’s a veteran stance from a rookie GM, though Murray has tons of experience in an NHL front office. And while Murray is still getting familiar with his staff, he knows his way around a draft table.

 

Washington Capitals hire Barry Trotz as coach, Brian MacLellan as GM – are they the right fit?

Rory Boylen
BarryTrotz

For the past few days, it’s seemed only a matter of time before Barry Trotz was named the next head coach of the Washington Capitals. And Monday evening, that was finally made official. It had also been suspected the Capitals would hire either Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton or former Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero to take the head chair in the front office to do the off-ice roster-shaping for Trotz.

But instead, we got a little bit of a surprise.

Above Trotz, the Capitals announced the internal promotion of Brian MacLellan from assistant GM to GM. MacLellan, who played 606 games in the NHL as a forward, has worked the past 13 seasons in Washington, first as a pro scout and then as George McPhee’s assistant.

On one hand, it’s a surprise to see the Capitals choose an internal candidate, rather than to make a complete move away from the McPhee era and into a fresh one under someone new – especially with Shero available after he was let go by the rival Penguins. On the other, there were signs pointing towards the MacLellan hiring, as the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman noted in his 30 Thoughts column this week:

4. Trotz has a lengthy history with Fenton and Shero, but do not ignore MacLellan. According to several sources, the current assistant GM was involved in the Trotz interviews and helped show him around the U.S. capital. It is unlikely someone on the way out would be so heavily involved. When this process started, his hiring would be a surprise. Not anymore.

What’s next for the Capitals is uncertain. Will these hires fit with the team’s needs, or will it turn sideways the way it did in Vancouver when they stuck by Mike Gillis and added oil to water with the John Tortorella hiring.

Trotz was the hot coach on the market this summer, the guy who would have lots of interest and his pick of jobs. It’s blasphemy to suggest he wouldn’t fit in somewhere, right? Well, it’s possible in Washington. Read more

Ask Adam: Sharks blockbuster trades, advanced stats, and Alex Ovechkin in the KHL

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

This is the latest THN mailbag. If you want to submit a question to be considered for the next one, send me one via this form. Thanks to those who’ve done so.

Adam,

What do you think the chances Sharks GM Doug Wilson moves either Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau before the start of next season?
Eric Semmelmayer, Pleasanton, Calif.

Eric,

I wouldn’t hold your breath on both players being dealt, but after San Jose’s stunning first round playoff collapse against L.A., I think the odds are very good that at least one of the two will be wearing a new uniform next season. I’ve spoken to Wilson often over the years and he’s made it clear his organization doesn’t react to one post-season series loss in a way that would hurt the organization over the long term. But his comments in the wake of the Sharks’ disastrous end to this season indicate he’s no longer interested in recommitting to the same core group.

It’s unlikely Wilson will deal a young star such as Logan Couture, but simply allowing Dan Boyle to leave as an unrestricted free agent and buying out or trading Martin Havlat isn’t enough of a change to that core. The cuts have to go deeper and it might be better for all involved if one of Marleau or Thornton moves on. Both players have no-trade clauses built into the three-year contract extensions that begin in 2014-15, but in his post-playoff news conference, Wilson spoke of “flexibilities and windows” he could take advantage of to make moves happen. So yes, I’d expect something major to take place with one of their veterans. Read more