"I've got a grandfather who is 93 that watches every game on TV and he wasn't too happy about the West coast games."
- Brad Richards explaining one of the reasons he signed with the Rangers.
"I've got a grandfather who is 93 that watches every game on TV and he wasn't too happy about the West coast games."
- Brad Richards explaining one of the reasons he signed with the Rangers.
It might have made sense to keep pending free agent Ben Bishop all year – if the Lightning were healthy and not in a dogfight for a playoff berth.
The Tampa Bay Lightning endured 2015-16 holding onto the year's most coveted unrestricted free agent to be. General manager Steve Yzerman weathered a storm of rumors and clutched Steven Stamkos tightly. The Bolts had a real shot to win the Stanley Cup after reaching the final the previous year, so treating Steven Stamkos like a UFA trade deadline rental made sense. Tampa Bay ended up re-signing its captain, of course, but even if that hadn't happened this past summer, retaining Stammer was the right move.
A year later, the Lightning once again hold an elite UFA to be. This time it's goaltender Ben Bishop and, once again, they're faced with the decision of whether to trade or retain their star. Only this time, dealing that star may be the smarter move.
It goes without saying that to keep Bishop all year is to risk losing him for nothing. Unlike with Stamkos last year, it's more of a guarantee than a risk with Bishop. The Lightning signed "backup" goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5-million extension in July. Bishop should command something like Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne money, a seven-year deal at $7 million per. That's out of the cash-strapped Bolts' price range with restricted free agents such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin needing new contracts next summer. On top of that, Tampa can only protect one goaltender in the expansion draft. Bishop is as good as gone.
The fact there's pretty much no chance of bringing Bishop back is one obvious reason to consider dealing him now, but we knew that as recently as the summer. Yzerman even admitted at the draft he would have to deal a goalie. It might've still been worth retaining Bishop all season for the sake of a Stanley Cup push, but things are so much more complicated than expected for this Bolts team through early December. Additional reasons to push for a Bishop trade have piled up.
1. Injuries, obviously
The Lightning have lost center Stamkos for four to six months after he tore his meniscus in mid-November. Right winger Ryan Callahan is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Right winger Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Jason Garrison have been nicked up of late, too. This team isn't quite a walking infirmary, but the Stamkos injury is monumental, and the Bolts need all the healthy bodies they can get. That's because…
2. The Lightning are mired in an (unexpected) playoff dogfight
We at THN picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. Through Monday's games they sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the last wild-card spot. Every team behind Tampa has games in hand. The Bolts have played as many games as any team in the East. We can blame the Stamkos injury, but that doesn't make it any less true that this team is suddenly no lock to reach the Big Dance, and scoring goals, Stamkos' specialty, isn't this team's weakness. The Lightning rank 16th in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.63. That's down from 2.41 (fifth) last season. They sit 13th in 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 at 54.44, down from 51.92 (sixth) last year. Tampa has regressed defensively, allowing more shot attempts. This team has needs to address on defense. And guess where the Bolts' surplus of talent lies?
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for No. 1 duty
Tampa has two high-end, starting-caliber goaltenders. And we know Vasilevskiy, 22, is the future. He's been one of the game's top netminding prospects since even before Yzerman and Co. drafted him in 2012. Vasilevskiy has a sparking 6-2-1 record with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts, and that stat line is no fluke. He's merely doing what he was always projected to do. So why not hand him the reins and use Bishop on the trade market to plug another hole?
4. The Lightning can still win this thing
I never would've supported the idea of dealing Bishop mid-season even a month ago, but so much has changed. This team needs help. It's also very much worth saving. The Lightning remain as talent-rich as any team in hockey, so they should continue to treat themselves as contenders, especially if Stamkos can return in time for the post-season. We've learned in this peak-parity era any team can win the Cup as long as that team gets in. That's where Yzerman has a bit of work to do. Having an elite goaltending tandem is great, but it's a luxury for a team in need of a top-four defenseman and perhaps another power forward who can play in the top six. This season isn't worth giving up on. The Bolts should chase a championship. At first, keeping Bishop looked like the best way to do so. Now the opposite is true.
5. Ben Bishop still has peak value
Bishop hasn't been his Vezina Trophy finalist self early in 2016-17, with a pedestrian .910 SP in 18 appearances, but that small sample size won't torpedo his trade value. Any suitors out there know who he is: an upper-echelon starting goalie. Bishop, however, seems to break down physically at some point almost every season. The big fella has become a yearly injury risk at 30. There's always a chance he gets hurt before Yzerman strikes a deal, so the time to act is now. Is there a market yet? It's tough to say. We won't see true contending teams looking for a big-splash rental just yet, but we may have a few also-rans needing immediate help to climb back into the race. The team repeatedly linked to Bishop is the Dallas Stars, and they still make sense, maybe now more than ever. The Stars have struggled so far and continue to get lackluster goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Bishop would rectify their problem in a hurry. It's risky to take on a pending UFA, of course, but what if Dallas sent one back in the form of, say, Johnny Oduya? Tampa get its veteran D-man, Dallas gets its star goalie. Tampa would need to take back one of Niemi or Lehtonen and may have to include a second body for the money to work, but such a deal could still make sense, especially for two teams in different conferences.
Keeping Bishop all year would've been a best-case scenario for Yzerman, but he no longer has that luxury. The Bolts' bad luck has created a need for reinforcements right now. Dealing Bishop is the best way to save this team.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
A pair of captains find themselves in the rumor mill early in the campaign. Montreal’s Max Pacioretty and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog are both potential trade chips in the hunt for improvements on the back end.
Last June, the Montreal Canadiens shocked the hockey world by shipping defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for blueliner Shea Weber. For months leading up to that move, Subban was the subject of frequent trade speculation.
Nearly six months after the Subban deal, another notable member of the Canadiens' core surfaced in the rumor mill. The Score's Sean O'Leary includes Habs captain Max Pacioretty among his site's list of six NHL players who should get ready to pack their bags this season.
O'Leary believes the Canadiens must stabilize their blueline beyond Weber. In his opinion, the emergence of Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk makes the 28-year-old Pacioretty “expendable.” After three straight 30-plus goal seasons, the Habs captain has bounced around the lineup. Prior to his two-goal performance in Sunday's 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings, he was on pace for only 17 goals.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos doesn't believe the Canadiens intend to trade Pacioretty, but points out some teams think his situation bears scrutiny. He notes there's some friction between the winger and coach Michel Therrien over his usage this season.
Kypreos echoes O'Leary's comments, claiming a lot of teams wonder if Pacioretty could become a trade chip to boost Montreal's blueline depth. His colleague Elliotte Friedman suggests it could be difficult for the Habs to get equal value.
It's no secret Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is reportedly in the market for a top-four defenseman. Despite Friedman's speculation about the type of return Bergevin could receive for Pacioretty, a scorer of his calibre will attract considerable interest in the trade market.
If Bergevin is willing to move Pacioretty, he should get a solid return. Given the winger's $4.5-million annual cap hit through 2018-19, it would likely have to be a dollar-for-dollar deal.
The Anaheim Ducks could be a trade partner. They're loaded with good young defensemen and could certainly use an experienced left winger such as Pacioretty on their scoring lines. Bergevin could cast an eye upon Cam Fowler ($4 million per season) or Sami Vatanen ($4.875 million).
Such a move, however, would leave Montreal thin on left wing and weaken their offense. While the Habs are among the top-10 in scoring, they've struggled of late in that category. Shipping out a proven 30-goal sniper in Pacioretty won't help them. Prior to the Subban trade, many observers (including yours truly) doubted he'd be dealt. Bergevin's shown a willingness to make big moves for the right return, so perhaps a Pacioretty trade isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
AVALANCHE CAPTAIN LANDESKOG MOVED FOR BLUELINE HELP?
The Canadiens aren't the only club that could trade their captain for blueline help. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson reports of “rumblings” the Colorado Avalanche could move left wing Gabriel Landeskog for a big-minute defenseman.
Like the Habs, the Avs must improve their depth on defense. They enter this week averaging 31.8 shots-again per game, ranking among the league's worst.
This isn't the first time Landeskog, 24, has popped up in the rumor mill. There was some talk last summer linking him to the Ducks and then-unsigned blueliner Hampus Lindholm, though that speculation didn't go very far.
Matheson wonders if the Avs might offer up Landeskog to the New York Islanders for rearguard Travis Hamonic. The Isles reportedly seek a scoring winger for John Tavares' line. In recent weeks, there was also talk of Landeskog's teammate Matt Duchene being peddled to the Isles.
Despite the rumors and the Avs' ongoing struggles, GM Joe Sakic maintains his belief in core players such as Landeskog and Duchene. Following last week's 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sakic told Terry Frei of the Denver Post he still has faith in his core, claiming the club's poor start is a team issue.
Sakic doesn't sound like a GM keen to shake up his roster. That doesn't mean, however, he won't that option. Former coach Patrick Roy can no longer be labelled the bad guy for their poor play. Sooner or later, the core players could pay the price.
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.). For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has thrown his support behind a play-in wildcard game for the playoffs. Holland has never had a bad idea...until now.
It’s not often, if ever, that your trusty correspondent disagrees with one of the brightest, most progressive voices in hockey. But when it comes to the notion of holding a wildcard play-in game to give one more team per conference a chance to make the playoffs, that’s where I have to draw the line with one Ken Holland.
Speaking to Gary Lawless of tsn.ca, the Detroit Red Wings GM and the man who brought us 3-on-3 overtime opined that he would like to see the playoff pool expanded to essentially have three wildcard teams instead of two. The wildcard team with the best regular-season record of the three would be guaranteed a playoff berth, while the next two would hold a one-game, winner-take-all event to decide the second wildcard team.
There hasn’t been much of an appetite for this sort of thing among the game's power brokers, thank goodness, but there wasn’t much of an appetite for 3-on-3 overtime at one time, either. Holland can be very persuasive. Not sure if he hypnotizes his fellow GMs by swinging one of his four Stanley Cup rings on a string in front of their eyes, but he has a way of getting them to come around his way of thinking. Here’s hoping they resist the temptation this time.
Here’s why. Because any excitement the wildcard race would create in the markets that are involved would be mitigated by the notion that the league is once again rewarding mediocrity. These teams have 82 games to prove they’re in the top half of the league. That doesn’t seem, at least to these eyes, to be too much to ask. A better idea would be to just give each of the No. 9 seeds a nice, shiny Participation Trophy and send them home for the summer.
Geez, Louise, don’t we have enough parity shoved down our throats by the NHL already? Let’s see, when a team is killing a penalty it is allowed, for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain, to ice the puck with impunity. And if it gets scored on, the penalized player is allowed back on the ice. Players can glove the puck ahead in the defensive zone, but not the offensive zone. The NHL has a draft to ensure that all the best players are distributed fairly. The NHL has a salary cap to prevent rich, large market teams from having a competitive advantage. Teams that lose in overtime or the skills competition get a single loser point for just showing up, which already creates trumped-up playoff races and bogus .500 teams. Someday when the league and the players can agree on it, they'll get around to streamlining goaltending equipment. The NHL awarded a trophy to the best defensive forward for more than 20 years before it decided to get around to establishing one for the league’s top goal scorer. Rather than reward excellence, the NHL has time after time tailored its rules and philosophy to bringing great teams down to the others’ level.
And this would just be another example of that. Last season, the Minnesota Wild limped into eighth in the Western Conference and lost their last five games of the season. The Colorado Avalanche finished five points behind the Wild, losing each of their last six games of the season. Wow, that would have been some game, eh? The only problem is that the way those teams were playing down the stretch, the league might have had to postpone the start of the playoffs to let them finish the game. When you take into account the 11 bogus points the Wild gained for losing in overtime and shootouts, they lost six more games than they won last season. And they still made the playoffs. That’s quite enough, thank you.
Had there been a play-in game in 2011-12, the Los Angeles Kings would have had to play the Calgary Flames in Game No. 83 of the season. If the Flames had won, the Kings would not have gone on to win their first Stanley Cup. If there had been one in 2014-15, the Winnipeg Jets would have faced the Kings and had they lost, we would have been deprived of their first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, one that went four straight, but might have been the closest, most intense and competitive sweeps in the history of the game.
Look, most teams are already in the playoff race until the last quarter of the season. Unless they’re really bad, like say, Colorado is this season. The league constantly trumpets how close its games are, conveniently failing to point out the fact that it’s only that way because nobody scores goals anymore. The NHL loves its parity, but enough is enough. It reminds me of house league hockey where scorekeepers stop adding goals to the winning team if the margin between the teams is more than five goals, as if the kids are too dumb to figure out that they’re actually losing 14-0 if the scoreboard only says 5-0. It’s all a part of the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality that many observers think is adding to a sense of entitlement in kids that they are now taking into adulthood.
I’m not about to wade into that debate at the moment, but one thing I do know is that there’s no place for it in the best league in the world where the players are also smart enough to know when they don’t belong in the playoffs. And it’s the NHL, which stands for National Hockey League, not National House League.
Connor McDavid missed a crucial part of last night's overtime loss to Minnesota for what turned out to be nothing. But it was absolutely the right move by the NHL.
Connor McDavid was absolutely right. It was a “shitty time” to take him out of the Edmonton Oilers lineup last night for the 20-minute concussion protocol. The Oilers were on their first of two consecutive power plays and on the verge of nine seconds of a 5-on-3. You want the best young player in the world out on the ice in those situations. Who knows? It may have led to the Oilers losing a point in the standings that they might desperately need to make the playoffs, or even win the Pacific Division, at the end of the season.
But here’s where Connor McDavid was dead wrong. The first was when he said, “Obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling,” then said, “I grabbed my mouth and they took that as something that it wasn’t.”
My guess is that the concussion spotter in Toronto had absolutely no idea how McDavid was feeling when he grabbed his chin after falling chin-first on the ice last night. He also had no idea whether McDavid had suffered a concussion. We've certainly seen players have concussions for far seemingly less serious incidents. And that’s exactly why McDavid was pulled off the ice. So if you want to point fingers here, don’t blame the guy who was watching Edmonton’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild from the war room in Toronto. If you’re trying to lay blame, find it with the 100 or so former NHL players who are suing the NHL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to protect them from head injuries.
Go ahead, blame Dan Lacouture and Mike Peluso, former NHL tough guys whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the effects of head injuries. Blame the family of the late Derek Boogaard. All enforcers who knew the risks of their profession? Fine. Then point the finger at former 50-goal scorers Dennis Maruk, Blaine Stoughton and Gary Leeman, who are also on the docket. Those guys were probably a lot like McDavid, wanting to stay in the lineup and doing whatever it took, including lying about concussion symptoms, to do it.
The reason McDavid was pulled off the ice after he fell is because the league is responding to a lawsuit that could be very, very serious. Another reason McDavid was removed from the game was that the player, his coach and his teammates are the last, absolutely last, people who can be trusted to tell the truth, particularly in the middle of a game. Another reason is the NHL really likes what Connor McDavid brings to the game and it would rather not have him on the sidelines. Think of it this way. If McDavid had been allowed to continue playing and had been diagnosed with a concussion today, we all would have been screaming about how the concussion spotter abdicated his responsibility.
“That’s a sensitive subject right now, not just in hockey, but all sports,” Wild winger Zach Parise said in a between-periods interview. “When it comes to your head, you want to be on the cautious side. I’m sure everyone is doing it for the right reasons. You don’t want a guy like (McDavid) missing a lot of time. He’s good for the game.”
Would Parise have felt differently if it were he or one of his teammates being pulled off the ice for the same reason? Perhaps. But a lot of people are missing the point here. You can’t advocate for player safety, then rail against those who are keeping players safe by taking precautionary measures. “They’re there for our health and doing the best job possible to look out for us. We respect that,” McDavid told reporters after the game. “But at the same time, they have to respect the time of the game, what’s going on in the game.”
No, no they don’t. And not only do they not have to respect the score, the importance of the game or what’s at stake, they have the duty to not respect any of those things. Because when it comes to a players’ long-term health and his brain, none of those things matters one iota in the grand scheme of things.
Undoubtedly there will be a hue and cry when a star player is removed from an important playoff game, only to come back later after passing the concussion test. It’s coming. Expect it. A team might even lose a game, and subsequently a series, because of it. But the NHL has to stand firm here and, given the litigation it’s facing, there’s little doubt it will do just that. We keep hearing that talented players should just have to live with being targeted by opponents, which actually makes no sense. But if you’re going to operate your league on that basis, then you also have to live with not having those players at crucial times. Because the alternative is just too great a risk.