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.
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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.
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Matthew Tkachuk. Image by: Getty Images
The Calder Trophy race will likely come down to Patrik Laine vs. Auston Matthews, which means in this Year of the Rookie, a lot of really good freshmen will not even be finalists.
There will be one winner and three finalists for the Calder Trophy this season and based on how impressive the rookie crop has been, it all seems inadequate. But hey, these kids are elite athletes and they don’t want your participation ribbons anyway. But for the sake of putting into perspective just how good this year’s Calder race is, I’d like to present you with the top five players who will not win rookie of the year this season.
In order to set this field, let’s first deal with the actual contenders: Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are your favorites. Zach Werenski, Matt Murray and Mitch Marner are your dark horses, yet all have very nice cases to be made. When us writers fill out our awards ballots, we get five slots to fill out and I would presume this cohort would be on the majority of them (so as you will note, two of these players will be “snubbed” from the announced list of three finalists, even though they probably got a ton of lower-ranking votes).
But who will be the true snubs? My top five:
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames: He’s the heavy on Calgary’s most effective possession line and one of the Flames’ top scorers. Tkachuk’s chemistry with Mikael Backlund and Mikael Frolik has been a great boon for the team and the rookie’s combination of skill, aggression and ability to agitate is unparalleled among his rookie peers. Most other years, he’d be a finalist for sure. Ranks fifth in rookie scoring right now.
Ivan Provorov, Flyers: Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev is the only rookie to average more ice than Provorov and has slightly better stats, but I’m not a psycho: no voter outside of the 416 area code is going to put four Leafs on a ballot. Provorov plays against top lines and averages nearly a minute more of penalty-kill time than Zaitsev, so it’s not exactly tokenism to put him ahead of his Russian countryman. Offensively, he’s only slightly behind Shayne Gostisbehere among Flyers blueliners and offense is Ghost Bear’s thing.
William Nylander, Maple Leafs: As I just mentioned, you can only have so many Leafs on the ballot, but Nylander has compelling arguments for inclusion. He is now Toronto’s best possession forward and has more points than all rookies outside the Big Three forwards Laine, Matthews and Marner. Nylander leads the NHL in power play points among freshmen (which you can take as a positive or a negative – I call it the Dave Andreychuk Gauntlet) and is now playing alongside Matthews, which could increase his numbers. One weakness? He has been shuttled around the lineup by coach Mike Babcock – which is normal for a rookie, but doesn’t help his Calder efforts.
Brandon Carlo, Bruins: As the Bruins ponder life without Zdeno Chara, another tall drink of water with great reach and shutdown ability comes to town. Carlo is playing with ‘Z’ and more than holding his own, playing against top lines and logging lots of minutes. Only Zaitsev and Provorov skate more among rookies. Carlo is also chipping in offensively, with all of his 14 points coming 5-on-5 except for one shorthanded, and he ranks second on the Bruins in penalty-kill time. Boston has the best PK unit in the NHL, to top it off.
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes: A solid possession player and one of the top scorers on a bad team, Aho is definitely off the radar in terms of Calder buzz, but again; in a regular year he’d at least be in the conversation. Already has his first NHL hat trick and is playing on Carolina’s top line, while logging some penalty-kill time on the league’s second-best unit.
Joe Sakic with the Quebec Nordiques. Image by: Getty Images
Back in 1995, the Quebec Nordiques unveiled a brand new logo and uniform designs, but, of course, they never got to wear them.
'Nordiques will have new look in 1996-97'
April 14, 1995 -- Vol. 48, No. 30
The Quebec Nordiques don’t have a new arena yet, but a new logo and colors are on the way.
When the Journal de Quebec published the Nordiques’ new colors March 30, the team had no choice but to confirm the makeover.
The team’s road jersey will be dark blue with a few lines of teal-like green color, black, white and silver. The crest has a large head of a husky dog with its teeth bared. They will sport their new colors in the 1996-97 and not next season because they failed to meet the NHL’s deadline for a logo change.
As for a new arena, there may be a solution to that problem and it has to do with gambling. The second-most powerful provincial politician in Quebec prefers a lottery to a casino as a way of raising public money to save the Nordiques.
That was one of the topics in a 90-minute discussion March 27 between Quebec’s deputy premier Bernard Landry and Marcel Aubut, the Nordiques’ president and part-owner.
Landry declined to meet with the media after the discussion. But Aubut told reporters of Landry’s leaning toward a lottery scheme.
Aubut has pressed all levels of government for help to keep the franchise in Quebec City. He has repeatedly stated the franchise needs a new venue with more seating and revenue-generating luxury boxes if it is to survive.
Photos via Sportslogos.net
Groups from Phoenix, Denver and Atlanta are reportedly interested in buying and relocating the club if it goes on the market. Aubut said Landry declared he is prepared to do anything to save the club.
“We’ve been received favorably but time is pressing and the agenda is tight.” Aubut said.
“The lottery is what Mr. Landry favors the most, but what he’s saying is he’s willing to do whatever must be done so the Nordiques remain”
Last January, Aubut set an April deadline for the Quebec government to decide whether it will build a new Colisee. The government said it might explore the possibility of a low-interest loan to the team, much as it did with baseball’s Montreal Expos.
When a consortium bought the Expos in 1991, the province lent $18 million toward the purchase.
The Nordiques responded to the loan possibility with a tersely worded statement in which they urged a new arena be built as soon as possible and the government absorb the team’s financial losses in the interim.
Aubut has said he expects the Nordiques to lose about $10 million this year and $12 million next season.