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The Blues face a tough decision with pending UFA defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk -- keep him and try to make a playoff run, or trade him at the deadline.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was the subject last summer of considerable trade speculation. For weeks, there was talk that Blues GM Doug Armstrong was shopping the 27-year-old rearguard, who's eligible this July for unrestricted free agency.
Armstrong apparently set a expensive asking price for the puck-moving blueliner: From the Boston Bruins, both of their first-round picks in the 2016 draft plus right winger David Pastrnak. The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, spurned Armstrong's request for promising left winger Dylan Larkin.
Unable to find any takers, Armstrong opted to retain Shattenkirk for this season. The trade chatter eventually faded. But with the March 1 trade deadline less than six weeks away, the rumors are resurfacing.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wonders if Armstrong might shop Shattenkirk as a rental player to a playoff contender and use the cap savings to address other roster issues. With the Blues carrying Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko as right-shooting defenders, Friedman feels they've got sufficient depth to handle that move.
By peddling Shattenkirk to a playoff contender, the club getting him gets a boost while he bolsters his value in this summer's free-agent market. Friedman acknowledges Armstrong's previous high asking price, but wonders if he might lower it and use the cap savings to bring in something that helps the Blues now.
The Edmonton Oilers were linked to Shattenkirk last summer, but it's believed he was reluctant to go there. Friedman wonders if he'll reconsider joining them in a short-term situation.
TSN's Frank Seravalli also ponders the possibility of Shattenkirk becoming a playoff rental. He notes the Blues aren't as strong as they once were. With the Oilers in playoff position and considered buyers at the trade deadline for the first time in years, Seravalli proposes offering up a conditional first-round pick to the Blues.
Seravalli's colleague Darren Dreger suggests a “trade and extend” scenario could boost Shattenkirk's trade value. In other words, he gets dealt and signs a contract extension with his new club.
Dreger said the Blues defender is willing to consider several options. Among them, the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and even his former club, the Colorado Avalanche.
Of those on Dreger's list, all but the Sharks and Ducks need a top-four defenseman. San Jose is already solid on the right side with Brent Burns and Justin Braun. Anaheim's overstocked with good young defenseman and need scoring depth at left wing.
Pierre LeBrun believes the Blues could entertain offers for Shattenkirk. However, that doesn't mean they're keen to move him.
Trading a pending UFA would be an uncharacteristic move by Armstrong. He usually retains those players to help his club in the post-season, despite the likelihood of losing them for nothing to free agency in the summer.
Still, trading Shattenkirk before the deadline could be worthwhile to bolster a weakness elsewhere. While not as strong as in recent years, the Blues remain a playoff club. A significant move that addresses their weak points could improve their championship hopes.
If Armstrong moves Shattenkirk to a contender for a high draft pick, he could bundle that pick with a prospect and attempt to pry a quality player from a non-playoff club.
The Blues must improve at center, where the depth drops noticeably beyond Paul Stastny. If Armstrong wants a rental player, he could pursue Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes. If his preference is someone with term on his contract, Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche could be an option.
With goaltender Jake Allen struggling of late, perhaps Armstrong could use the freed-up cap room to bring in a reliable starter. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a playoff team, but they could attempt to move Marc-Andre Fleury to protect Matt Murray in June's expansion draft.
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.).
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Don Cherry took aim at good play-by-play man Paul Romanuk for not properly promoting Coach's Corner. But don't expect hockey's biggest bully to face any consequences.
I have to admit that I stopped watching Coach’s Corner years ago, not only because the star is a xenophobe and a bully, but also because Don Cherry stopped being relevant a long time ago, even before he ran the Mississauga IceDogs into the ground. I’ve always thought that perhaps if enough people stopped listening, Cherry would stop talking. Which would be nice.
So I was not watching this past weekend when Cherry went on a rant about a good person and a very good play-by-play man in Paul Romanuk. But thanks to the power of social media, I got to see it replayed several times. And it was pathetic.
Cherry was so rankled that Romanuk didn’t promote Coach’s Corner at the end of the first period of the Montreal-Buffalo game Romanuk was calling, that he unleashed a tirade against his Sportsnet colleague that he usually reserves for Russians and players who wear visors.
First, the backstory. With about six minutes left in the first period, Romanuk teased the first intermission, including a plug for Coach’s Corner. Then the period ended and, seemingly pressed for time, Romanuk told viewers to stay tuned for, “a busy first intermission.”
And that’s when Cherry, whose pettiness is only rivalled by Donald Trump, ripped into Romanuk.
“And this is your ‘busy’ first intermission,” Cherry said. “Where’s he from? What’s that guy? Who’s the name?”
And at that point, Cherry’s enabler, Ron MacLean, replied: “Paul Romanuk. This is funny. And for those of you watching the Montreal show, Paul said, ‘And a busy first period coming up.’ ”
Not yet content with embarrassing his colleague in front of the entire Hockey Night in Canada viewership, Cherry had to continue. “Thirty-four years and this guy comes over from Europe. Can’t make it there, so he comes on our show. All right, let’s go.”
Cherry then went on to call Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Martin Marincin, a Slovakian, “the Russian, whatever his name is,” and refer to Calgary Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk as ‘Taychuk’. He also highlighted a goal by Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon, then blurted out, “They need all the help they can get.” Presumably, he was talking about the Wild, who had two regulation losses in their previous 21 games. Then after his only cogent segment, one in which he said younger players should use smaller pucks, he dug the knife into Romanuk again. “Do you think Paul would like that? They don’t do that in Europe, eh? They don’t use small pucks." And as MacLean was signing off, Cherry interrupted once again with, “Busy! Busy!”
And, as is often the case, Cherry was wrong. Romanuk, who was a successful and respected play-by-play man, voluntarily left his job as the Toronto Raptors radio play-by-play man and moved to London in 2005 when his wife, Kari, was offered an executive position with Coca-Cola Europe. In his nine years there, Romanuk stayed busy as a freelancer, working World Championships, Spengler Cups and the Champions Hockey League for Euro Sport. Then when Rogers landed the Canadian NHL rights for $5.2 billion in 2014, it approached Romanuk about coming back to be one of its play-by-play men.
Sportsnet and NHL properties president Scott Moore and vice-president Rob Corte offered no comment about this matter, but nobody would be surprised if there were absolutely no repercussions for Cherry. Let’s face it, if Cherry were to be dismissed for on-air indiscretions, it would have happened a long time ago. So there’s no sense in demanding that Cherry be taken off the air because that will never happen. At CBC in the past and at Rogers now, Cherry seems to occupy some sort of rarified air. Staffers have long been under orders never to either contradict anything Cherry says, regardless of how inane it might be, nor are they to even talk about anything Cherry is going to cover on Coach’s Corner. And staffers learned a long time ago that there is no sense locking horns with Cherry because that is a battle they will never, ever win.
Because just as he was as a player, Cherry is a bully. He uses his status to belittle others, even if they work alongside him. This is not the first time he has taken fellow HNIC employees to task in a public manner. And even though Cherry is never to be crossed, he seems to have carte blanche to publicly rip anyone he wishes. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There was a time – many, many years ago – when Cherry was opinionated and informed and relevant. Those days are long gone. Somewhere along the line, Cherry became a parody of himself, dressing like a clown and, generally speaking, acting like one, too. A lot of people who work with him feel the same way, but they don’t have a voice. It’s a shame that Cherry’s voice is still the loudest one in the room. Because really all it’s been spewing out for years now is white noise.
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Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Image by: Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Nothing has gone the Stars’ way in what was supposed to be a Cup-contending season. With so many injuries and many pending free agents, becoming a seller could be their best strategy.
We should’ve seen it coming, really. The Dallas Stars were a seriously flawed hockey club. But their strengths were just so intoxicating.
They blitzed the NHL with 3.23 goals per game last season, topping all 29 other teams, even the potent Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Dallas boasted the league’s best tandem of elite scorers in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Defenseman John Klingberg broke out with a 58-point sophomore year and finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting. The Stars won the hotly contested Central Division with 109 points, finished with the NHL’s second-best record and came within one victory of the Western Conference final.
So we can forgive ourselves for being so jazzed about their 2016-17 potential that we picked them to reach the Stanley Cup final. This team was as fun as any in hockey last year. In reality, though, it had some holes and chose not to address them in the off-season.
The first was goaltending, of course. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, the infamous $10.4-million tandem, ranked 38th (.906) and 40th (.905) among the NHL’s 44 qualified leaders in save percentage. The Stars as a team ranked 24th out of 30 teams in SP at .904. Lehtonen and Niemi were inconsistent throughout the playoffs, and while each had his moments, they wilted in Game 7 of the Central Division final against St. Louis and ultimately cost Dallas the series. I spoke at length with Stars GM Jim Nill over the summer, and he was convinced his goalies deserved another shot. He shot down rumors of a Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury acquisition. To briefly revisit that interview:
“Right now we’ve got two goalies that came in and, say what you want, but they got 50 wins for us and we got second overall in the league, so something had to go right.
"Unfortunately, all anybody’s really remembering is our last game of the year against St. Louis. Nobody remembers the game before that where Kari stood on his head to get us into Game 7. There were definitely times in the season where they would’ve liked some games back. But that’s kind of on our whole team. Every team goes through that. I really think they’re going to be better this year. It was kind of a feeling-out process last year, and now they’ve both settled in. We’re status quo, and they’ve got the ability to be better than last year, which I hope turns into even more wins for us next year."
Well, it hasn’t. The opposite happened. Lehtonen and Niemi continue to bleed goals this year. Niemi sits 37th in SP at .902, Lehtonen 39th at .899. The Stars have slid to 27th in team SP. I caught up with Nill again this week, though, and he was quick to defend them.
“To be fair, they haven’t been our issue,” Nill said. “Our special teams have been terrible, especially our penalty kill.”
He’s right. The Stars’ penalty kill ranks 29th in the NHL, their power play 19th. And there’s further statistical validity to the idea Lehtonen and Niemi don’t deserve all the blame. Lehtonen’s advanced metrics actually suggest he’s been much better than advertised, as he rates well above average in even-strength SP, low-danger SP and medium-danger SP. Niemi has been outstanding stopping low-danger shots, rating right up there with the league’s best. The problem: both goalies have been weak against high-danger chances, Niemi against medium-danger ones too, and the Stars just happen to specialize in allowing those. They rank third last in the league 5-on-5 in expected save percentage, which is how likely the average shot is to go in, and that reflects the quality of chances surrendered.
That’s where the second major flaw we ignored comes in: team defense. The Stars were a powerhouse of possession on the offensive side of the puck last year but were subpar defensively, often peppered with shot attempts from their opposition. They overhauled their blueline in the summer, trading Alex Goligoski’s rights and letting Jason Demers and Kris Russell walk in free agency. The plan had pros and cons. On one hand, it wasn’t the worst idea to change up a D-corps that was mediocre anyway, and the Stars had a truckload of promising young D-men ready for NHL roles, from Stephen Johns to Esa Lindell to Julius Honka to Patrik Nemeth to Jamie Oleksiak. On the other hand, it probably would’ve been best to rely on one of two of those guys in major roles – not all of them.
Honka’s only appeared in eight NHL games this season, and his possession numbers actually look quite good. But every other member of the Stars’ D-corps, including the rookie group, free agent signing Dan Hamhuis and even vets like Johnny Oduya – has gotten lit up. The “best” mark in 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 among the entire group is Johns’ 56.11. Klingberg has found himself a healthy scratch more than once. The Stars rate 26th as a team in Corsi Against. They were below average defensively last year, ranking 19th, but their offense bailed them out.
This year, the scoring hasn’t been around to mask the flaws. Benn has battled several injuries, having core muscle surgery at the start of the season, injuring his foot a few weeks ago and breaking his nose over the weekend. Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky are out with long-term injuries. Valeri Nichushkin returned to the KHL. The Stars have slipped to 15th in offense at 2.69 goals per game. A lot of that can be blamed on rotten luck, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s happened.
“I never like to make excuses, I don’t believe in it, but with the parity in the league and the condensed schedule, injuries made it tough,” Nill said. “We started on the wrong foot, with six of our top nine forwards injured.”
So the Stars’ huge strength has been neutralized, and their flaws have dragged them down in the standings. They’re 19-20-9, four points out of a Western Conference wild-card position, buoyed by a whopping nine overtime or shootout defeats.
“Our special teams have been terrible, especially our penalty kill.”
Now Nill has some tough decisions to make. This team boasts a ton of talent and, for all its struggles, remains surprisingly alive in the playoff race. The optimistic line of thinking would have Nill finally pursue a goaltending upgrade in the form of Bishop, Fleury or perhaps Semyon Varlamov and seek veteran help on defense. After all, Nill has so many good young ‘D’ prospects that he could spare one or even two. While he didn’t suggest this week to THN.com any trades were imminent, he left the door open a crack when I asked him about goaltending, suggesting “we always want to make our team better.”
Chasing a Stanley Cup at this point, though, would be a mistake. The Stars still have a bright future, but they’re best off accepting 2016-17 as a disaster year and coming back strong. Why?
First off, Benn just can’t get healthy, or at least he doesn’t look it. He hasn’t been himself. He’s as tough as any player in the sport, having not missed a game last year after surgeries on each hip during the 2015 off-season, but that may work against him right now. To get the peak Benn, Dallas would probably be best off resting him for an extended period and saving him from himself. Worrying about a playoff hunt won’t allow that to happen.
“We’ve had discussions and he says he’s healthy,” Nill said. “But is he ‘healthy but not healthy’? Only he can answer that. He’s been adamant that he’s healthy, though. We have not discussed shutting him down. “
Secondly, the Stars still have an extremely promising group of prospects, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Why mortgage away a Honka or Lindell or Johns, or a forward like Jason Dickinson or Denis Gurianov, when the playoffs look like a long shot right now anyway? Dallas can spend another year developing the kids.
Most importantly, Dallas’ salary situation suggests there’s a ton to gain by folding up the tent and deciding to sell. They have some extremely attractive pending unrestricted free agents to rent out. Plenty of teams would trip over themselves to get Patrick Sharp and his three Stanley Cup rings. Same goes for Oduya, a two-time champ with the Hawks, who has proven he can eat huge minutes as top-four blueliner under playoff pressure. Heck, the Hawks might be wise to reacquire both. Patrick Eaves has enjoyed a major breakout year, with 17 goals already, but he’s 32 and injury prone. Why not cash in that chip? Jiri Hudler and Lauri Korpikoski are UFAs as well. The Stars could further pack their system with picks and prospects with a nice trade-deadline fire sale.
Lastly, waiting until summer to fix the goaltending situation might come in handy. After this season, Lehtonen and Niemi have one year remaining on their contracts. They suddenly become much easier commodities to move. It’s unlikely the Vegas Golden Knights claim one of them, but GM George McPhee might see some appeal to picking up an expiring deal for the purpose of flipping for picks at the 2018 trade deadline. Nill might also be able to target a salary-floor team to pick up one of the goalie’s contracts, the way Arizona did with Pavel Datsyuk last June. That would free up money to then pursue Bishop in free agency.
Picture a 2017-18 Stars team free of several expensive veterans, armed with a young D-corps now boasting another year of experience, with a fully healthy Benn and a brand new No. 1 goaltender in Bishop, not to mention countless extra picks and prospects to throw around after acquiring them as a seller at the 2017 deadline. That could make Dallas a real contender next fall. Getting to that point requires a white-flag approach for the rest of 2016-17, however. If the Stars keep struggling into February, Nill should strongly consider it. He acknowledges that route is a possibility, especially with all his UFAs. It’s too early to quit on the year, though.
“We’re still on the playoff bubble,” he said. “If we win four or five in a row, we’re right in the thick of it again. The next three weeks will determine a lot.”
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
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The Brian Elliott acquisition hasn’t paid off for the Flames, and GM Brad Treliving would be wise to take another long look at acquiring Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury once the off-season rolls around.
The Flames’ goaltending issues were at their pinnacle in 2015-16 with the four-man rotation of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio and Niklas Backstrom leaving much to be desired, and that not one of the foursome has a job in the NHL this season is indicative of how poor they performed. It was a no-brainer for the Flames to chase a goaltender this past off-season.
The prevailing notion was Calgary would chase one of Ben Bishop, the 30-year-old Lightning starter who was nearing free agency, or Marc-Andre Fleury, the 32-year-old career Penguin who had lost his starting job to Matt Murray en route to the Stanley Cup. It was rumored the asking price was too high for the Flames’ liking. And as for Bishop, he was actually close to landing in Calgary. He told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that he and the Flames were negotiating a new contract, but it was then that the Flames pivoted and decided Brian Elliott would be the answer to their goaltending woes.
The deal made sense for the Flames. Elliott, 31, was coming off of one of the best seasons of his career and at 5-on-5 there were few goaltenders as dominant as he was with the St. Louis Blues. He had posted a .930 save percentage at all strengths — the best mark in the league — and his 2.07 goals-against average was the best mark Elliott had produced in a 40-plus game season in his career.
It’s nearing on impossible to recall that was the case, however, with Elliott looking pedestrian in Calgary through 23 games this season. His .891 save percentage is a mark you’d expect from a backup, his goals-against average has ballooned to 2.92 and after earning a few votes for the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16, he has a better shot at competing for the Masterton Trophy in 2017-18 than he does landing any recognition for his play in goal this campaign.
Now Calgary is more than halfway through their season asking themselves the same questions they were last April. And were it not for Chad Johnson, 30, signed to backup Elliott, the Flames could be in a much worse position than boasting a one-point edge on the final wild-card spot. Even with Johnson’s play being somewhat of a season-saver, though, Flames GM Brad Treliving won’t have much of a choice but to go back and look at his options in goal this off-season.
Looking inside the organization, consideration has to be given to Jon Gillies. The 6-foot-6 netminder has had a tough go in AHL Stockton this season after injuries sidelined him for much of 2015-16, but he’s the de facto goaltender of the future and arguably the top prospect the Flames have whose not yet in the NHL. The 23-year-old was a stud in the NCAA, backstopping Providence to a title in 2014-15. Gillies has the size and talent to be a difference-maker down the line, but Treliving would be remiss to think Gillies can solve the Flames’ current problems in goal.
Really, the only way to really fix what’s broken in Calgary right now is for Treliving to focus on the two goaltenders he passed over for Elliott this past summer. And while it’s an issue that could use addressing now, it’s unlikely Treliving could swing a deal to land Bishop or Fleury before the trade deadline.
All three teams — the Flames, Lightning and Penguins — are right up against the cap, dipping into long-term injured reserve in order to have any breathing room at all. Almost any deal made would have to be dollar-in, dollar-out. That complicates matters, which is to say the Flames might only have a prayer of fixing the situation in goal by the time March rolls around.
Things will get interesting in the off-season, however. Come July 1, the Flames are going to have six restricted free agents in need of deals, but more than $22 million in cap space and close to $17 million coming off the books as veterans hit the open market. Among the expiring contracts are Dennis Wideman’s $5.25-million deal, Deryk Engelland’s $2.917-million contract and the $4.2 million the Flames have locked up in Elliott and Johnson.
The upcoming expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights doesn’t make it a lock that Bishop hits the open market, and it doesn’t ensure Fleury will be on the trade block as a Penguin come July 1. That said, there is a way for Treliving to use the expansion draft in his favor, using it to approach Lightning GM Steve Yzerman or Penguins GM Jim Rutherford with a deal.
The benefit for the Flames is clear. Trading for Bishop or Fleury lands Calgary another shot at a starting goaltender, this time with Stanley Cup final experience. But there’s a positive for Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, too. Instead of losing a bonafide starting netminder for nothing, Calgary’s trade partner can recoup an asset. Even a draft pick for either Bishop or Fleury would be more than Yzerman or Rutherford could possibly hope for if Vegas plucks away either netminder.
The time is right for Treliving to do what he struggled to pull off last off-season, and that’s bring either Bishop or Fleury to Calgary. Goaltending has been an issue for two seasons straight, but both the money and assets will be there for the Flames to fix it this off-season.
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