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.
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.
The Capitals are tired of playoff disappointments. Already the best team in the league, they decided overkill was the smart strategy. That's why they went out and got the best player on the trade market.
The Washington Capitals haven’t just fooled us once, not even twice, into thinking they’re legitimate alpha-dog Stanley Cup contenders. Since the Alex Ovechkin era started in 2005-06, this team has tantalized us with multiple Presidents’ Trophies, one of the two best players of this generation, some of the most exciting offensive teams of all-time and Vezina Trophy-winning goaltending. And no matter how much buzz the Caps could generate, no matter how much THIS year was the year, it never was. They still haven’t advanced past the second round of the Stanley cup playoffs since 1998, when they reached the final with an underdog group coached by Ron Wilson.
Kudos to GM Brian MacLellan, then, for taking a stand Monday night. He took a team already looking like the NHL’s best on paper, already loaded with talent, already on track for another Presidents’ Trophy, and augmented it with arguably the best player available on the 2016-17 trade market. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is now a Capital, acquired from the St. Louis Blues for the very reasonable price of a first-round pick in 2017, a conditional 2018 second-rounder and Zach Sanford, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. The Blues will also retain some salary in the deal, LeBrun reports. At a price that reasonable, renting Shattenkirk, a pending unrestricted free agent, is just fine. Re-signing him in the summer would be gravy (and likely not financially feasible for Washington).
The Caps have a top-three offense in the league. They allow easily the fewest goals per game. They rank second in save percentage. They boast the league’s No. 5 power play and No. 7 penalty kill. They still have Ovechkin playing high-end hockey even if his prime is over. They have arguably the best goaltender in the game right now in Braden Holtby. They call Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller their top three centers. Their top five defensemen are John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov
They are S-T-A-C-K-E-D. But MacLellan realized (a) they’ve never been stacked enough over the past decade and (b) that, despite such a talent-rich roster, they did lack mobility and true offensive creativity after Carlson on the back end. Shattenkirk is an absolute luxury, but that’s what the Caps evidently need to get over the playoff choke hump. Doing so, conquering the Pittsburgh Penguins, requires overkill.
Shattenkirk obviously enhances an already deadly power play, can play 20-plus minutes a game and increases the fleet-footedness on Washington’s blueline. But he’s also an underrated defensive player, a driver of possession with a career 5-on-5 Corsi mark of 53.3 percent and an average rating 2.2 percent higher than his teammates. He fits the modern definition of what it means to be effective in your own end. He is the anti Brooks Orpik, really. As a bonus, Shattenkirk blocks the New York Rangers, the Caps’ Metro Division competition, from landing him. The Blueshirts were one of the teams most commonly linked to him.
So will the Caps ultimately make every prognosticator look silly yet again and flop with an early playoff exit? Hey, it’s entirely possible. But they deserve credit for recognizing they’re in an elite contention window and for refusing to stand pat. They’re making the boldest mid-season move they’ve made during the Ovechkin era. The Capitals can also finally say they have good possession numbers, something that correlates directly with the past seven Stanley Cup champions. They rank third in the NHL in 5-on-5 score- zone- and venue-adjusted Corsi. The last five champions have ranked top-five in that category.
The Shattenkirk acquisition solidifies Washington as the NHL’s team to beat right now. No matter how skeptical we may feel about them, no matter how many times this team has fallen short of expectations, they’ve decided to do something different this time. We have to view them through a new lens.
The Sharks are still trying for that elusive Stanley Cup title, while the Canucks are building for the future in this win-win trade
Winning the Stanley Cup one year after losing the final series is very difficult. The Pittsburgh Penguins did it back in 2009 and now San Jose is in that position. With the acquisition of right winger Jannik Hansen, the Sharks have added one more weapon to an already potent lineup.
San Jose grabbed Hansen from Vancouver in exchange for prospect left winger Nikolay Goldobin and an interesting conditional pick: a fourth-rounder in 2017 that becomes a first-round selection, should the Sharks win the Cup. So we know who Vancouver will be cheering for this summer.
"Jannik is a versatile, gritty player who plays with speed and is talented on both sides of the puck," said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. "We think he is a perfect fit for the style of our team.”
Indeed, speed will likely be imperative in the playoffs, as it was last year when the Penguins skated circles around the competition (including the Sharks). San Jose already brought in another burner before this campaign began in Mikkel Boedker and although he hasn’t been a real difference-maker so far, every bit of depth counts in the post-season. Add in ascending rookie Kevin Labanc and you’ve got a decent amount of new blood on a squad led by the impressive veteran core of Brent Burns (a Hart trophy candidate), Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.
With Thornton and suddenly-spry Sharks lifer Patrick Marleau in the twilights of their careers, San Jose is really making one last stand here before the mantle gets completely passed to Pavelski, Burns and Couture. And they could pull it off.
For Vancouver, GM Jim Benning continues to have a good deadline with this deal. The Canucks have already amassed a very nice pool of prospects and Goldobin could slide into the NHL lineup right now. He’s a skilled, creative playmaker whose weak spots are defense, but he has been working on rounding out his game in the AHL and the Sharks were pleased with his progress. Add him to a Canucks future centered around Bo Horvat, Troy Stecher, Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Thatcher Demko among others and all of a sudden, Vancouver’s looking pretty good in a few years. Now, they have five picks in the first four rounds this summer and potentially two first-rounders, should the Sharks triumph.
San Jose and Vancouver definitely caught each other at the right time on this deal.