Kari Lehtonen of the Thrashers makes a save during a game against the Capitals. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)
Kari Lehtonen of the Thrashers makes a save during a game against the Capitals. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)
A “hockey trade” to help St. Louis compete for a playoff berth would’ve been nice, but it wasn’t available. The Blues did the next best thing: trade Shattenkirk without losing him for nothing.
The Kevin Shattenkirk trade obviously signalled a massive Stanley Cup push for the team acquiring him, the Washington Capitals. And it felt like a white flag wave for the team sending him away, the St. Louis Blues.
It’s not like the Blues received a high-impact roster player in exchange for their prized pending unrestricted free agent defenseman. St. Louis got Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional 2019 second-rounder for Shattenkirk. That’s a classic sell-off package. St. Louis knew it couldn’t afford to retain Shattenkirk this summer as a UFA given he’d command something in the range of $7 million annually at a seven-or eight-year term. Defenseman Colton Parayko is a restricted free agent this summer, Robby Fabbri next summer, and the Blues just extended center Patrik Berglund last week for five seasons at a $3.85-milllion cap hit. Per capfriendly.com, GM Doug Armstrong has 20 players signed for next season already and only about $7 million in cap space remaining, with Parayko left to re-sign. Even if the expansion draft plucks away a piece, it likely won’t be an expensive one – say, Nail Yakupov or Dmitrij Jaskin – so there just wasn’t going to be money left to extend Parayko and re-up Shattenkirk.
We all knew it, as did Shattenkirk’s suitors, which likely hurt Armstrong’s leverage. The package he received from the Capitals is thus respectable. Still, it’s not like Sanford and Malone project as major difference makers for this franchise. Sanford, 22, possesses great size and flashed some scoring potential with Boston College and in the USHL. Malone, 27, is AHL depth and nothing more. At the very least, it’s clear nothing St. Louis received will help much now.
That would be fine if the trade followed typical seller parameters, with the Blues mining the depths of the standings hoping for a lottery pick. But, geez, they currently occupy a playoff position. They hold down the second Western Conference wild-card spot at 67 points and have a game in hand on the L.A. Kings, who sit two points back. St. Louis won seven of eight games after Mike Yeo assumed head coaching duties with Ken Hitchcock let go, but they’ve now lost three straight. Did that mini skid cause Armstrong to declare his team’s Cup hopes dead?
It’s more complicated than that. Ideally, the Blues would’ve found a “hockey trade” for Shattenkirk, one that would’ve helped them stay competitive, but it was likely difficult to achieve. What team would surrender an important roster player, especially one with term left on his deal, to rent Shattenkirk? An extension would’ve had to be worked out between Shattenkirk and his new team for that to work, and it may have proven too tall of an order.
That left Armstrong with the decision to either keep his asset for the playoffs knowing he’d lose him in the summer – or seek the type of return typically reserved for a team with no playoff hopes. The guess here is the organization decided the fan base could not stomach losing another prized UFA for nothing. David Backes and Troy Brouwer walked in the summer, and the Blues are not nearly as good a team as they were a year ago. Having Shattenkirk depart would’ve been a public relations disaster, especially if the Blues ended up missing the playoffs with him in the lineup. Hey, it was possible. They occupied the lowest seed with an outstanding player like Shattenkirk.
The trade Monday night, then, was about saving face. It wasn’t the sexy return Blues fans likely hoped they’d get for Shattenkirk. The first-round pick could well be 31st overall if the Caps win the Stanley Cup. But the one thing we know about what St. Louis acquired for Shattenkirk and goalie Pheonix Copley: it was not nothing. That’s what St. Louis needed to ensure after losing Backes and Brouwer.
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Brian Boyle. Image by: Getty Images
In the middle of a close playoff race, the Maple Leafs managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate of building for the future.
The day Mike Babcock was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, team president Brendan Shanahan was asked whether he’d abandon the franchise rebuild if Babcock came to him saying they needed a veteran to help them make the playoffs, but it would cost a prospect and a second-round pick.
“I can tell you that was one of Mike’s questions for us and it was the opposite,” Shanahan said at the time. “It was, ‘If we’re four points out, are we still willing to stick to the plan?’ That was an important answer for him to get, especially from our board.”
Things were a little different Tuesday when the Leafs made a deal that netted them veteran center Brian Boyle. First of all, the Leafs aren’t four points out of the playoffs. They’re clinging to the last spot, one point behind the Boston Bruins with a game in hand for third place in the Atlantic Division. It’s a race that will likely go to the dying days of the season. And even though they did give up a second-rounder, it’s pretty safe to say Byron Froese isn’t really considered a prospect. (Although Babcock did seem to have a strange fascination with him last season when the Leafs were tanking the season.)
This is a deal that looks as though it has Babcock’s fingerprints all over it, but the best part of it is that they managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate. And they can thank their work at last year’s trade deadline for that, when they dealt Roman Polak and Nick Spaling to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick in 2017 and picked up another from the Ottawa Senators in the Dion Phaneuf trade. One of those picks is now going to Tampa Bay and another is going to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Fredrik Andersen trade, which still leaves the Leafs with one second-rounder.
And in return, the Leafs get a player who can play down the middle for them, complementing a center ice corps that now looks formidable with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Boyle. The 6-foot-6 center has played exactly 100 playoff games, 95 of them over the past five seasons. In fact, no NHL player has seen more post-season action than Boyle has since 2012.
The Leafs are flush with prospects and young players and had a plethora of second-rounders, which seems to be the going rate for big-name rentals these days. In addition to the three they had in 2017, they also have two in 2018. With the success rate for second-round picks varying wildly, it was a small price to pay for a team that needed an upgrade on the Frederik Gauthier/Ben Smith tandem on the fourth line.
More importantly, it gives the Leafs an experienced player who knows what it’s like to play in meaningful games. Whether the Leafs ultimately make the playoffs or not, their young players will be exposed to crucial, tension-filled and important games down the stretch. And when was the last time anyone could say that? And if they make the post-season and expose their young stars to that level of competition, all the better. And not only will Boyle be instrumental in leading the way, he’ll also be able to offer some sage counsel to those players if the Leafs do find themselves in the chaos known as the playoffs.
The Atlantic Division is really weak. Spectacularly weak, actually. And if the Leafs can somehow find themselves in the No. 3 spot, they might be able to position themselves for a bit of a run. If not, they’ll find themselves playing the Washington Capitals in the first round and will almost certainly get trounced, but be all the better for having experienced the post-season.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the Leafs have been known to be woeful in two areas of the game – defensive zone coverage and holding onto leads late in games. Boyle will help immeasurably in both of those areas. To be sure, you just know Babcock will feel a lot better being able to put Boyle out for a defensive zone faceoff in the final minute of the game in which his team is clinging to a one-goal lead.
And don’t be surprised if the Leafs and Boyle make this a more long-term affair. Boyle is 32, but he actually doesn’t have a ton of NHL miles on him because he didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was almost 25 years old. And it’s not as though the Leafs are going to be asking him to do more than an over-30 player is capable of doing. If he can provide them with two or three more years of quality defensive play and leadership, they’ll be happy to take that.
Largely because of Auston Matthews and Babcock, the Leafs have become a destination. Don’t be surprised if Boyle sees it that way, too.
Johnny Oduya. Image by: Getty Images
The Blackhawks are No. 1 in our power rankings for the second week in a row, and went out and added a familiar face for some depth on defense.
It’s safe to say the last time the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline, things worked out pretty well. But this time around, the Blackhawks will not have the luxury of time they had when they traded for Oduya in 2012.
The Blackhawks did not win the Stanley Cup that year, but Oduya stuck around to help the Blackhawks to Cups in 2013 and 2015, logging valuable minutes in 2015. But at the age of 35 and at the end of his contract, Oduya is not seen as a long-term fix for the Blackhawks.
This time around, Oduya is an insurance policy and not a workhorse. You can never have enough NHL defenseman for a long playoff run, which is exactly what the Blackhawks are expecting again this spring. And with a second straight week atop THN.com’s weekly Power Rankings, they’re rounding into form at the right time. )Last week’s rankings in parentheses.):
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Chicago Blackhawks (1)
2. Minnesota Wild (7)
3. Washington Capitals (3)
4. Nashville Predators (23)
5. Montreal Canadiens (15)
6. Boston Bruins (6)
7. Calgary Flames (19)
8. Columbus Blue Jackets (12)
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (4)
10. San Jose Sharks (10)
The Blackhawks quietly signed Michal Rozsival and Jordin Tootoo to one-year extensions, likely to expose them in the expansion draft…These are not your father’s Wild. With 209, Minnesota is second in the NHL in goals scored…Kevin Shattenkirk logged 17:18 in ice time and had four shots on goal in his first game with the Capitals, a 4-1 win over the Rangers Tuesday night…Anyone who thinks it will be “just another game” when P.K. Subban returns to Montreal for the first time Thursday night is kidding himself…After losing five of six starts, Carey Price has gone 3-1-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in his past four…The Bruins have gone 7-0-1 and have outscored their opponents 33-17 under interim coach Bruce Cassidy…Since playing perhaps their worst game of the season in a 5-0 loss to Arizona, the Flames have gone 6-0-1 with three of those wins coming in overtime…Lip readers did not like what they saw from John Tortorella after the Blue Jackets lost 1-0 in overtime in Montreal on a power-play goal…The Penguins’ 3-2 loss to Dallas Tuesday night marked the first time in 66 games the Penguins had lost a game when leading after two periods…The Sharks’ 3-1 win over Toronto Tuesday night was the 300th of coach Peter DeBoer’s NHL career.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Edmonton Oilers (16)
12. New York Rangers (3)
13. New York Islanders (8)
14. Florida Panthers (2)
15. Anaheim Ducks (17)
16. Ottawa Senators (13)
17. Toronto Maple Leafs (10)
18. Philadelphia Flyers (20)
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (11)
20. Los Angeles Kings (18)
Take a wild guess at which player has the most game-winning goals for the Oilers this season. If you guessed Mark Letestu, who has six, go to the head of the class and collect your gold star…It did not make much sense for the Rangers to pay a king’s ransom for Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline when there’s a good chance they’re going to get him for nothing this summer as an unrestricted free agent…Here’s a red flag. The Islanders gave up seven goals twice in an 11-day span…Jaromir Jagr, after the Panthers registered a rather uninspiring 3-2 shootout win over Carolina Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing streak: “If we play like this, we’re not going to win in Philly (Thursday night). I can guarantee you that. We have to be a lot better than this.”…Patrick Eaves had five shots and drew two penalties in just over 16 minutes of ice time in his first game with the Ducks, a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles Sunday afternoon…The Senators gave up a really good prospect for Alex Burrows, then signed him to a two-year contract extension. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a head-scratcher…Rookie Auston Matthews leads the league with 12 first goals of the game…The Flyers’ 4-0 win over Colorado Tuesday night marked the first time this season they’ve won a game by more than three goals…The Lightning have won three of four, but it’s pretty clear with their moves that they know their season is over…The Kings had posted eight overtime victories against no losses (shootouts not included), then went out and lost two straight in OT to Minnesota and Calgary.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. St. Louis Blues (14)
22. Dallas Stars (24)
23. New Jersey Devils (26)
24. Detroit Red Wings (27)
25. Arizona Coyotes (25)
26. Buffalo Sabres (22)
27. Winnipeg Jets (21)
28. Vancouver Canucks (28)
29. Colorado Avalanche (29)
30. Carolina Hurricanes (30)
After winning six in a row, the Blues have not scored more than two goals in their past four games, all losses…A good reason why Jason Spezza, who has just nine goals for the Stars this season, will undoubtedly finish this season with his lowest goal total since becoming a full-time NHLer: His shooting percentage is just 8.4 percent…The Devils are 13-12-6 at home and 12-13-6 on the road. How’s that for mediocrity?...Ken Holland, trade deadline seller. Man, that sounds weird, doesn’t it?...Alexander Burmistrov was released from hospital Tuesday night after being carried off on a stretcher in Arizona’s 4-1 loss to Boston Tuesday night…The Sabres are leaky. They gave up five goals in three of four straight losses…After missing five games with a lower-body injury that required surgery, Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom returned for Winnipeg’s 5-4 overtime loss to Minnesota Tuesday night…The Canucks will get San Jose’s first-round pick if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup, which would make it the 31st overall choice, as part of the Jannik Hansen trade…The Avs have won just five games in the past two months…Jeff Skinner was scratched with what was called an upper-body injury for Carolina’s 3-2 shootout loss to Florida Tuesday night and has already been ruled out of the game against Tampa Bay Wednesday.
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T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Image by: Getty Images
With 10 pending free agents and the salary cap not expected to increase the Capitals will have a hard time keeping the band together. So it's now or never for their Cup hopes.
When the Washington Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004, the foundation for a championship team was set firmly in place. They progressively built a Murderers’ Row of talent that, at one time, looked as though it had the makings of a dynasty.
Which brings us to their acquisition of the crown jewel of the NHL trade deadline, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Monday night. It’s a game-changer for the already-stacked Capitals to be sure, one that gives them another talented right-handed defenseman who can move the puck, play the power play and is good in his own end. In making the deal, the Capitals have unequivocally stated that their time to win is now.
And they’re right because that’s exactly what it is. If you think previous Capital teams were under pressure to win a championship, that was nothing compared to the expectation the 2016-17 squad faces. This team was a Stanley Cup favorite before acquiring Shattenkirk, but after their bold move at the deadline, anything short of a Stanley Cup parade will be considered a complete failure.
But compounding this is a whole other layer of pressure that hasn’t been discussed much to this point. And that is, if this Capitals team manages to win the Stanley Cup this spring, it would not be a stretch to suggest the franchise that once held out hopes for a dynasty could very well become a one-and-done in the same vein the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks have been in the salary cap era.
And that’s a shame because it puts even more pressure on this group to win now. The failures of past teams in the playoffs are going to be carried by this group, a team that will face the challenge of erasing those bad memories in one playoff year. The Capitals’ inability not only to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup, but to even get out of the second round of the playoffs all those years, is going to be a demon this particular group of players must exorcise.
That window to win that was once so wide is closing quickly and dramatically, to the point that if the Capitals don’t win the Cup this spring, you have to wonder when they ever will again.
Now it’s not unheard of for a team to face the prospect of having 10 pending unrestricted and restricted free agents on their roster. It happens quite a bit actually. But it is unique for a team to have as many impact players facing free agency and as little cap space to either re-sign or replace them as the Caps have. Not including Nate Schmidt, who has almost certainly been knocked out of Washington’s top six defensemen with the addition of Shattenkirk, the Capitals face the prospect of having half their top 12 forwards, top six defensemen and two goaltenders on expiring contracts.
Consider first that with Shattenkirk now on their roster, the Capitals now stand to have three of the most coveted unrestricted free agents of the summer in Shattenkirk, fellow defenseman Karl Alzner and winger T.J. Oshie. Whether Alzner and Oshie are underpaid or not is probably a matter of preference, but both will undoubtedly be looking for raises.
Alzner, who has made just $2.8 million per year the past four seasons, will almost be certainly looking to cash in on a long-term deal at the age of 28. Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik are the only other UFAs the Capitals have, but they also have Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer to re-sign as RFAs.
And assuming the salary cap stays the same, they have only about $21 million to do it. If it goes down, as some have suggested it might, the Capitals are in even more trouble. When you look at it from that perspective, the band is breaking up. There is no doubt about that.
It would be different if the Capitals were flush with NHL-ready prospects who could come in and fill those roles, the way the young players in Chicago have made it possible for the Blackhawks to negotiate the salary cap like a tightrope, paying their veteran core players huge money and leaving the scraps to their young players who are not yet in a position to command big money. But the Capitals prospects are just good, not great. In THN’s annual Future Watch edition, the Capitals group of prospects ranked 20th overall, a group that was diminished by one when useful NHL prospect Zach Sanford was included in the Shattenkirk deal. Their best prospect is Ilya Samsonov and that would be great if Samsonov were not a goaltender. Jakub Vrana is a future NHLer to be sure, but it drops off after that. And the Capitals have clearly and deliberately mortgaged their future, dealing away their first three picks from this draft.
Any team with talent that includes the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will contend, but how seriously depends upon the supporting cast around them and that supporting cast will be diminished after this season. Both Ovechkin and Backstrom will be on the other side of 30 very soon, as is Matt Niskanen, while 36-year-old Brooks Orpik is on a contract that is not at all team-friendly for two more years. That one is going to sting whether the Capitals stick with him through to the end of the deal or buy him out this summer.
If the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, that first-rounder to St. Louis will be the 31st pick overall, which until the summer of 2017, was considered a second-round pick. And that’s where the Capitals are banking that pick will be. And if that happens it will have all worthwhile been worthwhile because they’ll have finally skated off into the sunset with the Stanley Cup. That would be great, because it might be the only one they win for a long, long time.
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