"Today was the day to see what I could do. It's the next step in what I believe is the pathway to playing full time. This was the next progression."
- Nashville's Steve Sullivan who returned to his first full team practice in nearly two years.
"Today was the day to see what I could do. It's the next step in what I believe is the pathway to playing full time. This was the next progression."
- Nashville's Steve Sullivan who returned to his first full team practice in nearly two years.
It’s not the trade most would have expected, but the Kings acquired Ben Bishop on Sunday evening. Now they’ve protected themselves from any potential disaster in goal.
Jonathan Quick made his return to the Los Angeles Kings’ crease on Saturday in grand fashion. Facing off against the rival Anaheim Ducks, Quick turned in a sound performance, stopping 32 shots in his first full game of the campaign and slamming the door shut for the final 40 minutes as the Kings’ offense came to life to lift Los Angeles to a 4-1 victory. It was Quick’s first action since the Oct. 12 groin injury that has cost him almost his entire season, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time with Los Angeles fighting to earn a playoff berth.
No matter how well Quick may have played, though, the Kings aren’t about to let their playoff hopes rest solely on the veteran netminder’s shoulders. Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi made that abundantly clear Sunday evening when he went out and pulled the trigger on a deal few saw coming, acquiring goaltender Ben Bishop, one of the hottest free agents to be, from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The deal also saw the Kings receive a fifth-round pick, while the Lightning landed Peter Budaj, prospect Erik Cernak and a seventh-round pick in return.
At first blush, the deal itself is somewhat puzzling. Goaltending hasn’t exactly been the missing piece in Los Angeles this season, and one would assume that finding some offensive punch would have been the first thing on Lombardi’s to-do list with the deadline approaching. And it’s bizarre that Bishop landed in Los Angeles, of all places, when there are a number of clubs that could have used a goaltender of his calibre now and in the future. But despite how odd the trade may seem, it’s clear that there’s a method to the madness here.
Groin injuries for goaltenders can be a tricky thing, and the Kings learned that first hand this season with Quick. But it’s also something the club was familiar with when a similar injury sidelined Quick during the 2013-14 campaign. That he has suffered two groin injuries in the past four seasons, both of which put him on the shelf for a significant period of time, has to be concerning for Los Angeles down the stretch, especially with the fight the Kings are in to sneak into one of the Western Conference wild-card spots or earn a divisional playoff berth.
At this juncture, the last thing the Kings can afford is losing Quick again, because for as well as Budaj had played, there was no telling when he might come crashing back down to earth. And a pedestrian Budaj and injured Quick would almost assure the Kings weren’t heading to the playoffs. After missing the post-season in 2014-15 and exiting in the first round in 2015-16, the Kings clearly weren’t about to let goaltending fail them when they need it most. This is to say that the acquisition of Bishop is, in effect, an insurance policy, and a 6-foot-7, 216-pound insurance policy at that.
As far as getting goaltending help goes, the Kings could have done much worse than netting themselves Bishop, too. This season hasn’t been nearly as kind to him as the past few and Bishop’s 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage are some of the worst numbers he’s put up since landing in Tampa Bay, but he has proven time and time again that he can get the job done in the post-season. During the 2014-15 playoffs, he was one of the backbones of the Lightning on their run to the Stanley Cup final, and his 1.85 GAA and .939 SP had the Bolts within a win of the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16.
There’s no doubt then that if disaster strikes and Quick goes down, Bishop is more than qualified to take over. And having both goaltenders allows Los Angeles to ride the hot hand, a situation they haven’t really had in any season prior. Quick’s return to the crease was excellent, to be sure, but one game won’t tell the story. There are still 21 contests left on the Kings’ schedule, and if Quick shows any signs of rust, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t even have to hesitate when thinking about a change between the pipes. It’s not a knock against the likes of Budaj, Martin Jones or any of the backups who’ve played behind Quick in recent years, but Bishop’s resume, with an Eastern Conference title and two finishes in the top three of Vezina Trophy voting, speaks for itself.
Sitting three points out of the wild-card and 10 points back of the third spot in the Pacific Division, Los Angeles is doing everything they can to ensure they’re not just in the post-season, but competing with the West’s best. Getting Bishop gives the Kings a safety net down the stretch and the ability to ride a proven playoff performer if Quick happens to stumble at any point. So while it’s not the first major deal we thought we’d see coming from the Kings at the deadline, there’s plenty of reason the trade makes sense. Whether or not it works out, though, is still to be seen.
Connor Hellebuyck and Auston Matthews. Image by: Mark Blinch/Getty Images
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Shattenkirk. Image by: Scott Rovak/Getty Images
Every team in the NHL could use a player of Kevin Shattenkirk's pedigree. But which playoff hopeful team most needs to get the defenseman?
Unless he's already been traded by the time you read this, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be the most sought after commodity on deadline day. He's a legit No. 1 D-man, and an unrestricted free agent come July, so everyone expects him to be on the move. Certainly almost every team in the league could use a player of his caliber, but which playoff hopeful really needs him? Here are some options.
It's the New York Rangers, without a doubt. We worried before the season started that the Rangers only had so many shots left to win a Stanley Cup before Henrik Lundqvist aged out. And while the Blueshirts have many good young forwards, vets like Rick Nash are exiting their primes, and same goes for D-men like Marc Staal. New York has a good enough team to make a legit run, albeit through a vicious road in the Metro Division. All the more reason to trade for Shattenkirk. He could jumpstart their 17th-ranked power play and help generate more goals for a team that has regressed a lot since a blazing offensive start to the year. Shattenkirk also owns a home in the Hamptons, so he'd be a strong candidate to sign an extension. (Matt Larkin)
No team needs to trade for Kevin Shattenkirk. Check that, the St. Louis needs to trade for him. No, I’m not off my meds here. If Shattenkirk is destined to be a rental to any team aside from say, the New York Rangers, then why would the Blues not treat him that way and keep him on their own roster without having to give up anything? The Blues are a bubble playoff team in the Western Conference, likely destined for one of the two wildcard spots if they make it at all. They need a healthy, productive Shattenkirk in a big way if they have any hope of making any noise in the west. And with Shattenkirk, they do have that hope. So instead of pedaling him off for draft picks and young guys who may never pan out, why not keep him and see if he can be a difference maker in the post-season, then lose him for nothing in the summer. The Blues are loathe to do this, but the fact they got Patrik Berglund under contract for five years will soften the blow this summer. Had both of them left, it would have been a different story. This way, he can still be a rental. He’s just the Blues’ rental. (Ken Campbell)
Finding a way to make the money work would be tricky, but the Bruins could really benefit from adding a puck mover like Shattenkirk to their back end. Boston has gotten good production out of Torey Krug this season. The rest of their blueline, however, hasn’t been all that effective at filling the score sheet. In fact, 39-year-old Zdeno Chara is the second highest scoring rearguard the team has with six goals and 18 points. That’s not enough to compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Adding Shattenkirk could realistically put the Bruins into the conversation for the Atlantic Division title — they're only four points back of the rival Montreal Canadiens — but getting out of the Atlantic in the post-season isn’t going to be easy if a Metropolitan Division squad crosses over due to the wild card. Competing with the high scoring teams from the Metro is a tall task. That’s where Shattenkirk would come in, though. Acquiring an offensive defenseman of Shattenkirk’s calibre would make the Bruins’ chances that much greater. (Jared Clinton)
Patrik Laine set the Winnipeg Jets franchise rookie record with 30 goals, surpassing…Ilya Kovalchuk? It’s time to get used to referencing the Thrashers when it comes to present-day Jets history.
When Patrik Laine blasted home his second goal in Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, his 30th tally of the season, he set the Winnipeg Jets’ rookie goal scoring record. It takes a split second to realize how, though, because the rookie goal scoring record — not just for the team, but for the league — belongs to Teemu Selanne, who scored 76 goals during his high-flying Winnipeg Jets days. And while it may lead to some confusion down the road, the 18-year-old winger was able to set the franchise mark because Selanne’s Jets aren’t Laine’s Jets.
Most know that to be true, yes, but it’s worth repeating when something monumental, like Laine breaking the franchise rookie goal record, happens. The ‘Finnish Flash’ set his record and scored his points as a member of what is now the Arizona Coyotes franchise, even if that history isn’t celebrated the same around those parts as it is 3,000 kilometres north. As for Laine, he set his franchise’s mark by blasting his way past the previous high of 29 set by Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001-02. It’s a record that’s almost a decade younger and not even close to as hard to surpass, but the record nevertheless.
Even knowing full well that’s the case, it’s still a somewhat jarring fact. Hearing Laine take the franchise rookie record by snapping the mark set by Kovalchuk sounds bizarre. It takes a moment to realize these are the Jets related to Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Kari Lehtonen and, to a much lesser extent, Patrik Stefan. This isn’t the same franchise that was led by Selanne, Dale Hawerchuk, Teppo Numminen and Nikolai Khabibulin. It’s not the one that came over from the WHA during the Avco Cup-winning era, and it’s not the same franchise that signed Bobby Hull.
Separating the old Jets from the new Jets isn’t something that happens much, especially not in Winnipeg where the franchise’s outdoor game features an alumni team filled with what are technically former Coyotes. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as the former players who were part of Winnipeg’s original NHL run mean more to the city and its fans than the former Thrashers players. Bringing them back is to celebrate the city’s hockey history, not necessarily that of the current franchise that calls Manitoba’s capital home. The fact of the matter, though, is the original Jets alumni has very little to do with what are franchise records for the present-day Jets, and that’s something we have to get used to.
However, as the years go by, it stands to reason that the new Jets, or Jets 2.0, will take over the current franchise record book and erase many of the marks held by former Thrashers. Already, that process has started. Ondrej Pavelec, for instance, is the franchise’s all-time wins leader. Though he started his career in Atlanta, all but 41 of his 152 wins came in Winnipeg. Chris Thorburn also holds the franchise’s games played record, but more than half of his 691 games have come as a Jet, not a Thrasher.
Those two are only a couple on a long list of franchise records held by former Thrashers that have been or stand to be surpassed by present-day Jets. Here are five major marks still held by former Thrashers players — and players most will recognize as Thrashers — that stand to be overtaken by current Jets:
Points by a rookie: Dany Heatley, 67 points, 2001-02
While Kovalchuk was sniping his way to the now-former franchise mark of 29 goals by a rookie, Heatley was doing his best to keep pace — he finished with 26 goals — and managed to set the team’s rookie scoring mark along the way. Appearing in all 82 games that season, he added 41 assists to his goal total for a combined 67 points and he’s held onto the rookie mark since then. There’s a good chance Kovalchuk could have matched or tied Heatley’s mark had the Russian winger been able to play the full season, but he missed 17 games and finished with 51 points.
And that Kovalchuk finished with 51 points means that Laine is already three points ahead for second-place in franchise history. Next up will be breaking Heatley’s record, and Laine’s current points pace suggests that shouldn’t be a problem. After Tuesday night’s performance, Laine is on pace for 40 goals and 72 points. And if he doesn’t miss another game, he’ll have only played 74 this season.
The split history version, wherein the old Jets franchise mark is adopted by the new Jets, is 132 points. Selanne really wasn’t taking any prisoners during his rookie season.
Points in a season: Marian Hossa, 100 points, 2006-07
At his current age, most think of Hossa as that incredibly talented two-way winger who keeps chugging along for the Chicago Blackhawks. Before he turned into the savvy veteran he is now, though, Hossa was one of the best scorers in the entire league. No season was that quite as apparent as the 2006-07 campaign when Hossa blasted home 43 goals and 100 points while playing alongside Kovalchuk during the height of his powers with the Thrashers.
Hossa’s record is one of those that is going to stick around for a while, too. Here’s the full list of players to score 100-plus points in a season over the past three full campaigns: Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. That’s it. The current Jets have some players with the potential to set the new mark, however. Mark Scheifele is proving with each passing game that he’s a top scorer in the league, Blake Wheeler neared the 80-point mark in 2015-16 and Nikolaj Ehlers has all the tools to do it. None of this is to mention Laine, who could be a real threat for a 50-goal season soon.
As for the Jets-Coyotes record, Selanne’s 132-point season was the best mark ever put forth by a member of the former Jets. Expect to have the same conversation about this record as we’re having today about Laine snapping Kovalchuk’s mark.
All-time points: Ilya Kovalchuk, 615 points, 2001-2010
This is worth tackling in a couple of parts. Let’s start with the goals, of which Kovalchuk had 328 during his time as a Thrasher. The only current Jet close to that mark is Bryan Little, who has played the majority of his career in Winnipeg after being drafted while the franchise was in Atlanta. Little’s contract is up following next season, however, so there’s a chance he’s not around to set the record. Realistically, Wheeler or Scheifele currently stand the best chance of reaching the 328 mark first, with Laine as the obvious favorite at this point to eventually hold the mark.
Kovalchuk also holds the record for assists, though, with 287. However, Toby Enstrom, who’s played the bulk of his games as a Jet, has a chance to take the mark. He’s 38 back with 249 assists for his career, and a good close to the season plus a productive 2017-18 could have him surpassing Kovalchuk’s mark.
The toughest one overall, though, will be the total points. The closest current Jet is Little, and he’s 199 points behind Kovalchuk. Wheeler is 236 back, Dustin Byfuglien is 288 away from the mark and Scheifele is a whopping 408. Who gets there first? Well, three 70-point campaigns gets Wheeler there, and as the Jets’ captain, he could very well be set to stick around for longer than the two years he has left on his deal once this season closes.
Dale Hawerchuk holds the original Jets records for goals (379) and points (929), but it’s Thomas Steen who possesses the all-time assists mark with 553. Shane Doan, who started his career as a Jet, holds the franchise’s all-time record in every major scoring category with 401 goals, 564 assists and 965 points.
Single seasons wins by a goaltender: Kari Lehtonen, 34, 2006-07
The way things have gone between the pipes for the Jets this season has some feeling like Lehtonen’s record might take forever to fall, but rest-assured that at some point he’s going to have his 34-win total surpassed by someone suiting up for Winnipeg. It’s actually been close to happening in the years since the team moved to Manitoba, too. During the 2011-12 season, Pavelec turned in 29 wins, and Pavelec holds three of the five winningest seasons by a goaltender in franchise history.
The thing is, though, that Lehtonen wasn’t all that good during his record-setting season, and Pavelec wasn’t either in his pursuit of the record. Lehtonen had a .912 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average, which was better than Pavelec’s .906 and 2.91 marks.
Even through his tough season, Connor Hellebuyck remains the hope for the future in goal, and if he can right the ship come next season with a more experienced Jets team that is, once again, looking to take a step into the post-season, putting up a 30-plus win season shouldn’t be too tall of a task. And if he really hits his stride, don’t look past the possibility he turns in a stellar 35-win season.
In doing so, Hellebuyck — or whoever surpasses Lehtonen’s record — also stands to set the all-time mark for Winnipeg’s NHL clubs. Bob Essensa’s 33 wins in 1992-93 was the franchise record when the Jets moved to Phoenix. Overall, it’s Ilya Bryzgalov who holds the original Jets’ franchise record with 130 wins.
All-time coaching wins: Bob Hartley, 136, 2003-2007
Hartley was less than three seasons removed from a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche when he landed with the Thrashers. The situation wasn’t all that dissimilar to what happened with Claude Julien, actually. Let go by the Avalanche in December 2002, Hartley was hired by the Thrashers a month later and led the team to a 19-14-5-1 record to end the season and ended his tenure with a 136-118-13-24 record. It was his 0-6-0 start to the 2007-08 season that resulted in his firing.
Hartley’s record isn’t set to stand for much longer, however. Paul Maurice is currently 12 wins back of surpassing Hartley for the franchise mark. With the rest of this season and what is currently slated to be the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign remaining, Maurice should easily be able to take the record barring an unforeseen firing. No other coach in franchise history has surpassed the 80-win mark.
The best output from any coach for the former Winnipeg franchise was 106 wins, accomplished by John Paddock. In overall Jets-Coyotes franchise history, Dave Tippett stands atop the list with 273 wins in nearly 600 games behind the bench.
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