NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- The Nashville Predators know points
are at a premium with only eight games left to make their push
for the playoffs. Leaving points on the table during a streak of
three straight non-regulation losses wasn't helping their cause.
After snapping that skid by defeating one of the NHL's top
teams, the Predators look to record a point in their seventh
straight game and complete their first season series sweep of
the Los Angeles Kings when the clubs square off Saturday night
at the Sommet Center.
Nashville (36-30-8) has gone 16-7-5 since the All-Star break to
pull into contention in the tightly packed Western Conference
That crowded postseason chase makes the Predators' recent missed
opportunities particularly costly. They fell 4-3 in overtime at
Anaheim on March 18, 3-2 in a shootout at San Jose the next day
and 2-1 in a shootout at home against the Ducks on Tuesday
Nashville, though, ended that stretch with a 3-2 home victory
over the Pacific Division-leading Sharks on Thursday night.
"Everybody talks about having the opportunities and just
embracing the opportunities," Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
"We are pretty close to the finish line and there is no reason
to make any excuses."
Six Nashville players recorded at least one point as the
Predators overcame a 2-0 deficit Thursday. Radek Bonk got a
power-play goal to open the team's scoring at 7:34 of the second
period, Martin Erat scored less than two minutes later and Bonk
assisted on Greg Zanon's game-winner at 10:12 of the second.
"Playing as a team is how we are going to win," Trotz said. "It
is not going to be one individual putting us on his back. It's
going to be what you saw tonight with all of our guys pulling
together with all they have."
Trotz has to like the way his team has played against Los
Angeles (31-33-10) this season. The Predators have averaged 4.0
goals in winning the first three meetings, most recently 4-3 on
the road March 16. Nashville took its only previous home game
against Los Angeles 5-4 on Oct. 25.
Despite their struggles against the Predators and the fact
they're in 13th place in the West, the Kings haven't given up on
being a factor in the playoff race down the stretch.
They snapped a three-game losing streak on Justin Williams'
third-round shootout goal in a 1-0 win at Dallas on Thursday
night, improving to 2-3-0 in the first five games of a
season-high six-game road trip.
Williams, who's played only four games with Los Angeles since he
was acquired from Carolina early this month, thinks the Kings
will need to solve the Predators to keep their playoff hopes
"We can't lose a game," he said. "We know we have to win out to
have a chance."
Kings goaltender Jon Quick, who's likely to start Saturday, has
never faced the Predators, while Nashville's Pekka Rinne gave up
three goals in last week's win in Los Angeles - his first career
game against the Kings.
Nashville right wing J.P. Dumont has seven goals and nine
assists in his last 11 games against Los Angeles, including two
goals and three assists in three meetings this season.
There are some big names on the trade market, sure, but what happens on deadline day if those players are all moved before March 1?
Entering the final weekend before the NHL's March 1 trade deadline, activity is expected to increase in what's been a mostly stagnant trade market. There's already been two notable moves in recent days, with the Arizona Coyotes shipping defenseman Michael Stone to the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes dealing blueliner Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In recent years, some notable stars were moved well before deadline day. In 2015, Jaromir Jagr, Keith Yandle, Andrej Sekera and Antoine Vermette were moved to new clubs within days of the March 2 deadline. Last season, Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd were dealt the weekend prior to the Feb. 29 deadline, as well as second-tier players such as James Reimer, Kris Versteeg, Jiri Hudler and Justin Schultz.
It's not unusual for players to be moved well before deadline day. But in a season where there's a shortage of noteworthy trade bait, this year's deadline could be devoid of significant moves.
That will be a nightmare for the sports networks covering deadline day. Viewers could face hours of tedium as TV pundits try to play up the merits of the available lesser lights in the trade market.
This year's market is particularly thin, in part because of a notable lack of quality pending free agents usually pursued by playoff clubs as rental players. Parity in the postseason race and concerns over protecting players in the June expansion draft also adversely affects the trade pool.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk remains this season's top potential rental player. Given the trend of the last two years, he could be on the move by Monday.
Despite the Blues' improvement in recent weeks, TSN's Darren Dreger believes Shattenkirk will be dealt. Noting Troy Brouwer and David Backes departed last summer via free agency, Dreger feels the Blues want to avoid the same scenario with the 28-year-old blueliner.
Dreger's colleague Bob McKenzie reports the Blues were believed to have had tentative deals involving Shattenkirk with three different teams stretching back to last summer. However, all fell through because he was unwilling to sign a long-term contract extension.
According to McKenzie, the most recent occurred about six weeks ago, as Shattenkirk turned down a seven-year, $42-million offer. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that deal was thought to be with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blues will now shop the rearguard as a rental player. It's believed the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs are among the suitors. However, the Blues reportedly seek at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. The Rangers and Leafs could balk at that, preferring instead to bid for his services in the free-agent market in July.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop still features prominently in this season's rumor chatter. After struggling with inconsistency and injury in the first half of this season, the 30-year-old's performance has improved in recent weeks.
However, there isn't much of a market for starting goalies at this point in the season. Bishop was linked to the Dallas Stars earlier this season, but they're now out of playoff contention and unlikely to go goalie-shopping. The Calgary Flames nearly had a deal in place for Bishop before the 2016 NHL draft. Perhaps they'll revisit that interest before the deadline.
Despite the risk of losing Bishop in July to free agency, the Lightning could retain him. Over the past couple of weeks, the Bolts have surged back into playoff contention. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Timesspeculates they could stick with Bishop and hope he can backstop them into the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings left winger Thomas Vanek is the most notable rental forward. With the Red Wings poised to miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 season seasons, MLive.com's Brendan Savage expects GM Ken Holland will soon go into sell mode. The 33-year-old Vanek is Holland's best trade chip. Teams lacking scoring depth on the wing, such as the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, could come calling.
The rest of the rental market is comprised of second-tier players such as Coyotes center Martin Hanzal and past-their prime stars like Colorado Avalanche right winger Jarome Iginla and Stars right winger Patrick Sharp. TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculates Hanzal could be on the move before deadline day.
If Shattenkirk, Bishop, Vanek, and Hanzal are gone by March 1, this year's deadline could be a dud for fans and pundits.
Noteworthy stars such as Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Edmonton Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle or Buffalo Sabres left winger Evander Kane could also be traded on deadline day. But all of them carry annual cap hits in excess of $5 million and the Avs set high asking prices for Duchene and Landeskog.
Given the concerns over a stagnant salary-cap for 2017-18 and the need to protect those players in the expansion draft, it's doubtful any of them will be moved at this year's trade deadline.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
The Panthers have been helped in a big way by Jonathan Huberdeau’s return, but there are other teams set to benefit from an important piece getting healthy in time for the homestretch.
Jonathan Huberdeau’s return has given the Florida Panthers a shot in the arm over the past month. In eight games, he has four goals and eight points, has managed 25 shots on goal since his return and is skating more than 17 minutes per outing while once again forming a formidable trio with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr.
Not only that, but in the time since he made his season debut at the start of February, the Panthers have dropped just two of eight games, rocketed right into the thick of things in the Eastern Conference wild-card race and are even on the cusp of potentially landing themselves a divisional playoff berth.
Now, as the deadline approaches, Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon, acting as GM while GM-turned-coach Tom Rowe mans the bench, said that he’s going to be looking to add another offensive boost to his lineup if at all possible. However, no matter who Tallon plans or manages to add at the deadline, it’s hard to fathom they’ll have anywhere near the impact that Huberdeau has had since he stepped back into the lineup. In that sense, the best addition the Panthers will likely have made at the deadline won’t come from a trade, but simply by the return of an important player from an absence.
While it’s the Panthers who are benefitting from a healthy lineup now, they aren’t the only club that stands to get a boost just around the deadline when a formerly ailing player gets back into action. There are five players currently sidelined who stand to make an impact for their respective teams upon returning:
5. Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
Donskoi has been out of action for the past month, over which time he’s missed 12 games. That may not seem like a massive loss, but Donskoi has proven he can bring his A-game at the toughest time of the season. During the Sharks’ run to the Western Conference title and Stanley Cup final in 2015-16, Donskoi scored six goals and 12 points in 24 games while playing bottom-six minutes. That’s the kind of production teams look for from their depth players come playoff time.
Unfortunately, Donskoi hasn’t been near as productive this season with six goals and 15 points through 44 games. Even still, he’s proven he’s a threat to get the hot hand at any point. He scored 11 goals and 36 points in his rookie campaign, and that was no mistake. If he gets back soon, he could get some reps in right before the time the Sharks will need him most.
4. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Sidelined since the start of the season, Quick’s return appears to still be a week or two away, but that puts him in line to be back in the Kings’ net by the time the final month of the season is upon us. That’s great news for Los Angeles, especially if the team can manage to sneak into the post-season. Goaltending can steal a series, and Quick has stood on his head in past playoff appearances. The hope has to be that he’s in game shape by the time he gets back, though.
If Kings fans, or anyone else for that matter, is wondering why Quick isn’t higher on this list, there’s an easy answer. As good as Quick may be, Peter Budaj has played pretty well over the course of the campaign. Quick will be an improvement, but it’s not going to be like going from a shooter tutor to a brick wall.
3. Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers probably want to bolster their roster at the deadline as they get set for their first playoff appearance in a decade, but they might not have to do all that much to solve the depth problems on their blueline if Nurse comes back and plays like the top-four defender he’s capable of being. One of the bigger concerns facing Nurse has to be whether he’ll be in game shape or not. He hasn’t played since Dec. 1, and that’s a long time for a 22-year-old to be away from game action to expect him to come back and be effective immediately.
Nurse can be the perfect depth shut down guy once he’s back, though. He doesn’t need to play big minutes, but against a deep team, someone like Nurse could pay dividends late in the season and into the playoffs. As important as depth forwards are, having the depth defensemen to match up against a team that can roll four lines can be as crucial to post-season success.
2. Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders
Hamonic’s last game came in early January when the Islanders were in the midst of their struggles. The team has turned things around under interim coach Doug Weight in Hamonic’s absence, however. And while there’s a good chance some team in the hunt will improve their blueline in a big way with the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline, the Islanders stand to get their own top-four defender back in Hamonic. That’s going to be a big boost for New York.
That said, this season hasn’t been a great one by Hamonic’s standards. Despite the fact he was scoring at a better rate that he had during the 2015-16 campaign, his ice time was down three minutes per game through the early part of this season. Weight might have a different plan for the defender, though. If Hamonic comes back and performs like the legitimate top-three defender he is, the Islanders stand to add a top-four defender to their blueline without giving up so much as a seventh-round pick.
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have had an incredibly frustrating season and losing Stamkos as early as they did didn’t help one bit. By the 18th game of the season, the Bolts were without their captain for the foreseeable future, and he’s missed more than half the season with his knee injury. There’s still no definite return date for Stamkos, but he was given a four-to-six month timeline when he fell injured. That would indicate he could be back come the middle of next month or possibly just as the season closes. Things are looking positive right now, too. He recently practiced in full gear, per the Tampa Bay Times.
Stamkos’ game-breaking ability is something the Lightning have been missing for much of the season. While Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin have been contributing wonderfully this campaign, the Lightning have consistently had one of the league’s elite offenses over the past few seasons. This year, however, the Bolts rank 16th in goals for with 161. That’s not up to their usual standard, and Stamkos being sidelined hasn’t helped one bit.
The uncertainty surrounding Stamkos puts him at the top spot on this list with a caveat, however. He doesn’t help Tampa Bay near as much if the Lightning can’t somehow turn the tides late in the season and earn a spot in the playoffs. They’re only four points out with 23 games remaining, but it’s going to take some work and some favorable results around the league for the Bolts to sneak in. If the roster includes Stamkos, the likelihood of Tampa Bay making a late run go up drastically.
As we count down to the March 1 trade deadline, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.
Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.
But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.
As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.
And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.
The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.
Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.
The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.
The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.
Where they'll end up: Their next two games are against the Capitals and Penguins, if they lose those, Hextall likely folds his hand.
The case for buying: We've been talking about the Jets as the NHL's team of the future for years now, but that future never seems to arrive. The West is wide open this year, and the path out of the Central doesn't seem as daunting as it has been in recent years. Their biggest need is goaltending, and there could be some good ones available, even as short-term rentals. With the team on the edge of the playoff bubble, this could be the year to make a push.
The case for selling: This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but are they really a threat to do much damage once they're there? The franchise has been patiently building up a young talent base since returning to Winnipeg, and abandoning that approach now just to get swept in the first round could seem like a panic move.
Where they'll end up: History tells us that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets won't do much at all, no team has been as reluctant to trade in recent years. This could be the year that changes, especially if a goaltender shakes free as a decent value buy. Then again, it feels like we've said that before.
The case for buying: They've been bad for five straight years. Some of those were strategic, granted, but that phase of the rebuild was supposed to end in 2015 and give way to progress. There's been some, but not as much as fans probably hoped, and they're on the verge of missing the playoffs yet again.
But they've been better since a rash of injuries torpedoed their start, and they've got assets to work with to plug some holes. And in an off-year for the Atlantic, a push into the playoffs isn't far-fetched.
Again, most teams don't want to load up at the deadline just to make the playoffs and go out early. But this isn't the same situation as a team like the Jets, who didn't have to endure hitting rock bottom like the Sabres did. In Buffalo's case you wonder if even a first-round exit wouldn't represent a worthwhile investment, if only to offer long-suffering fans some hope that things are moving in the right direction.
The case for selling: They're not winning it all this year, and the roster is still young. Sure, missing the playoffs again will be frustrating, but there's no need to rush. Trust the process, trust Jack Eichel and the young core, and most of all, trust Tim Murray. At least for one more year.
Where they'll end up: Murray might tinker here or there, but any big moves to improve now would also have to extend to next season and beyond.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The case for buying: They're the Lightning. They went to the Cup final in 2015, and to the conference final in 2016. Plenty of us picked them to win it all this year. They'll be facing a cap crunch soon and their window may be closing, but on paper this team is still good enough to win it all, especially if Steven Stamkos comes back by the playoffs.
So of course you're buying. This team can win the Stanley Cup. They're the Lightning.
The case for selling: They're also terrible.
I don't know why. You don't know why. I'm not sure Steve Yzerman knows why. But they just haven't clicked all year, and they remain outside the playoffs with multiple teams to pass. Better to accept that, recoup some assets for guys like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle, and maybe even figure out a way to dump some deals with term. For whatever reason, this just isn't their year, so start setting the table for the next ones.
Where they'll end up: Yzerman's earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, so you figure he'll make the right call one way or another. The betting is with two more home games before the deadline, he waits as long as he can before throwing in the towel. But I have them in the "sell" column.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Filip Forsberg back-to-back hat tricks have him on pace for another 30-goal season, and his career scoring rate has him looking like he could go down as one of the all-time greats in Predators history.
The Nashville Predators’ history isn’t exactly the most storied in all of NHL lore. The franchise hasn’t yet celebrated its 20th anniversary, there are no divisional titles, conference championships or Stanley Cups to speak of and there’s no player in team history to win one of the major individual awards. But that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had its share of stars over the years.
Going through the list of some of the all-time leading scorers in Predators’ franchise history, you come across the likes of Shea Weber, who was, up until this season, the franchise’s cornerstone player, a three-time Norris Trophy finalist and one of the more revered blueliners of his era. Then there are players such as Ryan Suter and David Legwand, both of whom were fixtures of the team during its slow build to consistent success. There are also those temporary greats, notable players in league history who spent some time in Nashville, such as Paul Kariya or Peter Forsberg, whose stint was all too brief.
But amidst all of the players who have come and gone in Nashville’s history, the franchise has always seemed to be missing the one true offensive star that could help separate them from the rest of the pack. During Kariya’s time in Nashville, he was exceptional, to be sure, but his stay lasted only two seasons. Forsberg’s played all of 22 games in Nashville. And it’s Legwand, who’s known more for his tenacity, that is the franchise’s all-time points leader, and Martin Erat who ranks second all-time. Oddly enough, though, Erat may have been unintentionally responsible for the Predators finally acquiring the first consistently great scorer in franchise history.
There’s no use going over the trade once again, but the deal that sent Erat to the Capitals, a trade that went bust for Washington, landed the Predators Filip Forsberg. At the time, he was an 18-year-old first-round pick who had yet to play a game in the big league, and he wouldn’t really find his way to the NHL full-time until the start of the 2014-15 season. Since then, though, he’s been a revelation for the Predators.
In his rookie campaign, Forsberg finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting thanks to a 26-goal, 63-point season, and he didn’t shrink in his first trip to the post-season. In six games, he managed four goals and six points. The following year, as Forsberg hoped not to be a flash in the pan or hit a sophomore slump, he came out firing and topped his previous career highs by scoring 33 goals and 64 points. And this season, his third full campaign in the league, Forsberg is again on pace to reach the 30-goal plateau and add another 57 points to his career totals. Not to mention he is coming off of back-to-back hat tricks. At that rate, Forsberg would end this season with 90 goals and 190 points in 242 games in his time as a Predator.
On the all-time scoring register, that doesn’t make Forsberg’s scoring ability look like all that much. In fact, he’ll rank behind current Predators such as Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and defenseman Roman Josi. However, Forsberg, 22, has five years remaining on his current deal before he can himself look at heading elsewhere as a free agent, and by that time he may have etched himself into Predators history as one of the top scorers the franchise has ever seen.
Already, Forsberg is among the greatest point producers per game the Predators have seen. Among players to play at least 150 games in Nashville, Forsberg has the third-best goals per game rate at .34, his .38 assists per game are 11th most in franchise history and his .72 points per game is the highest of any active Predator. Only two current Predators outrank Forsberg in either of the statistical categories, and that’s James Neal, who has scored .36 goals per game, and Josi, who has .42 assists per game over his tenure in Nashville. And while Josi is in for the long haul, Neal’s deal is up in two seasons, and it’s not unimaginable that he could be playing the final years of his career elsewhere. Even if that’s not the case, though, it’s hard to imagine his scoring pace isn’t matched or surpassed by Forsberg in the near future.
And when it comes to scoring, conservatively extrapolating Forsberg’s current rates seems to indicate he’ll be one of the Predators’ all-time greats, too.
Let’s say Forsberg plays 70 games a season over the next five years, and continues his current scoring pace. If he has 90 goals and 190 points when this season ends, scoring another .34 goals per game over an additional 350 games would give him another 119 goals for a total of 209 in 634 games. The current leader is Legwand, who scored 210 times during his 956-game Predators tenure. As for points, Forsberg’s .72 points per game rate over the course of the next 350 games would give him 442 for his career, putting him one point back of Shea Weber for third in team history.
The thing is, though, there’s nothing to suggest Forsberg is going to miss 60 games over the next five years. Through the first two campaigns of his career, he didn’t miss a single game and he’s again on pace to play a full 82 games for the Predators. If he were to be an ironman over the final five years of his deal, he’d have 229 goals and 485 points at his current rate. That’d make Forsberg the best goal scorer in franchise history and only Legwand, with 566 points, would be a higher overall scorer. That said, Forsberg would have reached his statistical heights in more than 200 fewer games. In a career that spans as long as Legwand’s did in Nashville, Forsberg would have roughly 324 goals and 691 points.
In considering all of this, it’s worth mentioning again that Forsberg is 22. He still isn’t in the prime of his career and he’s a 30-goal scorer. As the Predators add more offensive weapons around him, it stands to reason that he could start to near 40-plus goal plateau or reach heights even beyond that. And that he’s got another five years to operate makes it hard to fathom he won’t end up as the best goal scorer the franchise has seen and one of the top point-getters in Predators’ history.
When Nashville GM David Poile made the deal to acquire Forsberg, he called the youngster “one of the top rated young forwards in the world.” Not even he could have known, however, that Forsberg would grow into the best offensive weapon the Predators have ever possessed.