In celebration of THN's 65th anniversary and the NHL's All-Star weekend we hosted the closing party in Ottawa.
In celebration of THN's 65th anniversary and the NHL's All-Star weekend we hosted the closing party in Ottawa.
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. Image by: Getty Images
The origins of Patrik Laine’s lethal shot lie buried in his family’s backyard. And imagine, if it weren’t for his father, Laine would still be stopping pucks instead of shooting them.
It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of five centuries for aluminum to decompose. That means there are 490-odd years left for some archaeologically inclined Finnish hockey fans to get their hands on some precious pieces of memorabilia. The dig site is a backyard in Tampere, Finland, and soda can shrapnel is the treasure. Those fragments of old aluminum cans, bashed, battered and burst to bits by six ounces of hard-charging vulcanized rubber, are a reminder of where Patrik Laine began his path to becoming one of the most fearsome rookie scorers ever.
Laine’s shot, used to blast soda cans apart years ago, has been the talk of the NHL this season. It’s lethal, both in strength and accuracy, and it didn’t get that way overnight, which is to say it’s not Laine’s gift so much as his passion project. In his backyard, on the ice and in every moment he could spare, Laine would shoot. And when he was tired, he would shoot again. He’d shoot until his hands bled, as they did while training this past summer, and then he’d shoot some more.
“I had a net in our backyard and I spent many hours there every day, just shooting,” Laine said. “When the coaches would blow the whistle and everyone would get water, I stayed and took shots to improve it.”
Laine has long since graduated from obliterating soda cans in his backyard, moving on to dominating the SM-liiga in Finland and now to destroying the already high expectations put upon him as an 18-year-old rookie in the NHL. On his first night in the league, Laine showed off the skills built in his parents’ backyard with a laser wrist shot from the left point that sparked a Jets come-from-behind victory. He called his first NHL goal “the best moment in the world,” made more special with his family there to see it. Days later, he had a hat trick in a showdown against Toronto Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews – the only player drafted ahead of him last June – capped off by an overtime snipe that sent the MTS Centre into a frenzy. At the season’s midway point, only Sidney Crosby had more goals than Laine, and he and Matthews were on pace to be the first teenaged rookies to score 40-plus goals since Eric Lindros in 1992-93.
The irony in all of this, of course, is that Laine came close to spending his entire career trying to stop pucks. If Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t sent Laine’s father, Harri, a thank you card yet, he may want to get out his finest stationary and draft up something special, because if it weren’t for him, Laine might still be plying his trade as a goaltender somewhere in Finland. He didn’t give up the position until he was 12.
“I would have kept going but then my dad decided for me, and I went being a forward all the time,” Laine said. “I was a better goalie than a forward, but I think I’m good with his decision.”
That position change came only six years ago. Imagine what Laine could be capable of had he focused all his energy on scoring goals instead of stopping them from the outset. But there may be something to the connection between Laine’s goaltending days and his current goal-scoring ways. Facing Laine’s shot hundreds of times already in practice, Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson made note of a trait Laine has that few players, be it rookies or veterans, possess – the ability to use a goaltender’s understanding of a shooter’s tendencies against them.
“He doesn’t just pick the top corner every time,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of kids, especially at 17 and 18 with a shot like that, want to come in and just shoot the puck as hard as they can and try to go bar down and blow one by the goalie every single time. He’s not like that. He has no problem shooting for a rebound to get his teammates a goal, shooting for five-hole or picking a low corner over the pad. That’s maturity beyond his years.”
And impressive maturity given how swift his progression has been from goaltender to goal scorer. Laine is used to progressing quickly, though, because his six-year rise to becoming one of the world’s best teenage players was preceded by a year-long skyrocket up the draft rankings.
“I was a better goalie than a forward, but I think I’m good with his decision.”
In The Hockey News’ Future Watch and Draft Preview issues in 2015, Laine was nowhere to be found among the projected top 10 for 2016. Instead, a panel of scouts deemed the likes of Logan Brown and Kieffer Bellows as top-10 selections, with fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi considered the shoo-in second-overall pick behind Matthews. By the start of 2015-16, however, the winds of change were blowing fiercer than a blustery chill at Portage and Main. Laine had vaulted up the charts, projected to go as high as fourth, with Matthew Tkachuk and Jakob Chychrun often separating Laine from the top three. It was following the 2016 World Junior Championship that Laine completed his rise up the draft board.
“A year ago him and Jesse Puljujarvi were more or less even,” recalled NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb. “But after Christmas, and after the world juniors, Laine just took off and was unbelievable.”
Laine had seven goals and 13 points in seven games at the world juniors en route to winning gold with Finland. He then returned to the Finnish League and scored at a torrid pace, dominating the post-season with 10 goals and 15 points in 18 games as Tappara, his hometown team, captured the league title with Laine taking playoff MVP honors. His unpredictable rise continued at the World Championship in May, where he scored seven goals and 12 points in 10 games on his way to a silver medal and yet another MVP honor.
“His understanding of the game is exceptional,” Stubb said. “He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. What people also forget is he’s also a very good playmaker. It’s not only the shot.”
Laine had come a long way from being that petulant kid sent home from the 2014 Ivan Hlinka tournament following a highly publicized dispute with his coach. Petteri Lehto, Laine’s European agent who has grown to know both Laine and his family the past four years, said the incident was overblown and taken out of context. But instead of stirring up the controversy more, Laine, on the advice of Lehto, stayed quiet in hopes the story would go away. And eventually, it did.
“It was very tough for Patrik and his family,” Lehto said. “But it probably helped him to understand that when you’re a good player, media is a part of it and you better watch yourself.”
Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
The same passion that got Laine into trouble earlier in his career has now become one of his greatest assets, according to Kimmo Vaha-Ruohola, his former coach. When Laine came under Vaha-Ruohola’s guidance, first in the under-20s and later for two seasons with Tappara, his all-consuming desire to score often led to frustration and distraction. Vaha-Ruohola and Laine would talk honestly about what happened after each outburst, and learning to harness his passion led to a rocky road that required a benching from time to time. Laine grew to understand how he could handle his emotions and channel them to help his team. That continued into the men’s league.
“He had to analyze his game, every game, mental-wise,” Vaha-Ruohola said. “How did it go? Did he lose his temper and at what cost? How did he try to handle it? And so on. That process took two-and-a-half years.”
It’s clear how hard Laine can take the difficult moments, though, as evidenced by his gaffe in a December game against the Edmonton Oilers. Defending in his own zone, Laine inadvertently shot a loose puck into the Winnipeg net, for what ended up being the game-deciding goal. He looked distraught as captain Blake Wheeler comforted him on the bench. It was an impressive show of maturity post-game when Laine sat in his stall and answered questions, owning up to his mistake, but the sight of him on the bench following the goal was a reminder that this dynamic scorer who has set the NHL ablaze in his first few months in North America is still a teenager.
"The thing that often divides good players and top players in the world is how eager they are to learn and how fast it happens.”
It’s sometimes forgotten that Laine is still a kid, and it’s easy to see why. At 6-foot-5, 206 pounds, he’s a teen in a grown man’s body. And if it’s not Laine’s size that makes us forget how young he is, it’s his outspoken confidence that does.
In a sport filled with braggadocios boasting about the merits of humility, Laine has never shied away from being upfront about the fact he’s a talented player. He openly stated he believed he had what it took to be the first-overall pick ahead of Matthews, he turned heads with his stick-twirling celebration and he has outright said he knows how good he is. That’s a rare quality found in a small handful of players, and it has only increased his appeal.
It’s all about how Laine expresses that confidence, however. It doesn’t come across as if he’s gloating. There’s a truthfulness in the way he says it, an almost Honest Abe-like inability to tell a lie. It’s more endearing than anything, as are the other aspects of his personality, like his dry, subtle sense of humor.
For instance, Laine calls his father, a plumber, a “beer-league” player in Finland. When asked about his living situation, he glowingly refers to his mother as his roommate, remarking around the holidays how she did the decorating because that’s not really his thing. And he’s more than willing to take playful jabs at teammates. When asked about a scoring drought plaguing Nikolaj Ehlers, Laine’s road roommate and one of the teammates he’s closest to off ice, Laine quipped it was similar to the struggles that haunt Ehlers during their Playstation battles in FIFA. Ehlers shakes his head and chuckles in Laine’s direction when it’s brought up.
“He’s a great guy on and off the ice, and he’s a pretty funny guy sometimes,” Ehlers said, later comparing the duo to an old married couple. “We do chirp each other in a healthy way.”
Despite his steady growth both on and off the ice, Laine isn’t a finished product. He understands there’s room to improve, specifically on the defensive side of the puck. Even in Tappara, he was striving to be better defensively, sharpening his skating in order to be in the right place at the right time in his own end as often as he is when on the attack in the other direction.
But outside of his shot, Laine’s other great weapon is his ability to adapt and learn at a rate few others can.
“His development is probably the bigger thing for me as a coach,” Vaha-Ruohola said. “He’s not just scoring goals and being good offensively, but it’s how much he wants to learn and how quick he learns. The thing that often divides good players and top players in the world is how eager they are to learn and how fast it happens.”
It’s a skill of Laine’s that Vaha-Rouhola compared to Crosby, adding he believes Laine had the capability to be that kind of two-way forward. And it’s in his playmaking skill and ability to “take you out of your pants” that Lehto, who had a brief stint playing with a rookie Mario Lemieux, sees flashes of a young No. 66. For Stubb, there will always be the parallels drawn between Laine and great Finnish scorers like Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri. And every time Laine unloads a one-timer from the top of the circle on the power play, there will be inevitable comparisons to his childhood idol, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Yet Laine sees things differently.
“I don’t have to compare myself to anybody,” Laine said.
“Everybody is different, and I want to be me. I don’t have to think about what everybody else has done. People can say what they want, but I just want to be me and create my own path.”
Dale Hawerchuk's letter to Patrik Laine.
Kevin Shattenkirk. Image by: Getty Images
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
[Trade tracker 2017: Analysis on all the deals so far]
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.
Ben Bishop is set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season.
Frederik Andersen netted a first- and second-round pick for the Ducks and Brian Elliott was worth a second and third to pry away from the Blues. So why was the Lightning’s return for Ben Bishop so much less?
The Ben Bishop trade was months in the making. From the time the Stanley Cup was handed to the Pittsburgh Penguins, speculation was running rampant about what the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to do with a logjam in the crease and a cap situation that needed to be alleviated in one way or another. The easy answer was trading Bishop, and it seemed Tampa Bay would be in line to land quite the package in return for a goaltender who is a two-time Vezina finalist and had led the Lightning to consecutive Eastern Conference finals.
So, as shocking as it was that Bishop landed with the Kings of all teams, it’s as puzzling that the package that came back the other way was nowhere near what one would have expected the Lightning would haul in for the netminder. In all, Tampa Bay landed a backup goaltender, Peter Budaj, 19-year-old defenseman Erik Cernak, who was selected 43rd overall at the 2015 draft, and a seventh-round pick. There’s no top pick, no top prospect and, truthfully, the package is somewhat underwhelming. That’s especially true when you consider the recent price teams have paid for help in goal.
Frederik Andersen, for instance, cost the Toronto Maple Leafs first- and second-round picks and Brian Elliott cost the Calgary Flames second- and third-round selections. Heck, even the Jonathan Bernier acquisition cost the Anaheim Ducks a conditional pick. All three make the return the Lightning received for Bishop look worse. But maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Bishop didn’t fetch a similar package.
If Bishop was traded before the start of the campaign, it’s likely Tampa Bay would have received something that mirrored the price the Maple Leafs paid for Andersen. That’s all the more likely given Bishop was coming off of a season in which he finished second in Vezina voting and posted career-bests in goals-against average and save percentage. But as this season has worn on, Bishop has shown some holes. In fact, with how he’s playing right now, he’s on pace to have one of the worst statistical seasons of his career as a full-time NHLer.
Through 32 games this season, Bishop has turned in a .911 SP and 2.55 GAA. No full season has seen him post a worse SP and he’s only had a worse GAA in one campaign, all the way back in 2012-13 when he was dealt from the Ottawa Senators to the Lightning. Bishop had played his way out of the starting job with the Lightning, giving way to youngster Andrei Vasilveskiy more frequently as the campaign has worn on. Bishop's numbers and struggles alone were destined to lessen the return Tampa Bay was going to get. When they were talking trade before the start of the year, teams would have been paying for the promise of a first-rate starting netminder. That was no longer the case.
There also happens to be the matter of the market for goaltenders. A number of teams looking for upgrades in goal were looking to do so before the season began, but as the year has gone on, some of those clubs have fallen out of contention to the point where dealing away assets for a solution in goal doesn’t make all that much sense. Take the Dallas Stars, who are in a position to be a seller at the deadline. Spending to improve their goaltending wouldn’t be all that smart. They need the young assets to build for the future. Likewise, teams who have had stumbles in goal have seen their issues right themselves, which has lessened their need for a fix. The Flames have gotten better goaltending out of Elliott of late, and the St. Louis Blues, once in dire need of anyone who could make a stop, are finally starting to get favorable results from Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. As that happened, the market for Bishop almost certainly weakened.
The Lightning’s position also took a hit because those same teams who could be interested in an upgrade in goal — the Stars, Flames and Carolina Hurricanes could all potentially benefit from having Bishop — are now in a position where waiting for the off-season makes the most sense. Right now, acquiring Bishop would have cost a team a few assets, as we saw with what will end up being a three player package from the Kings. And while the ask obviously wasn’t as high as it was previously given the return the Lightning got, teams who are interested in Bishop’s services were able to hold onto a prospect, pick and roster player now with an eye on the summer signing season. At that time, Bishop can be had for the cost of his contract and nothing more.
Sure, trading for him now would have opened up an avenue for an earlier negotiation, but Bishop is going to go where he’s going to go. There’s nothing saying Bishop has to re-up with whichever team went after him at the deadline. It’s just an example, but say Dallas made a move to land Bishop, he could have gone and signed with Calgary come July 1. Then the Stars would be out the assets and the player they acquired. In that sense, there’s more value in taking a shot at Bishop come July 1 rather than spending at the deadline for a player who isn’t guaranteed to stick around.
And, even still, if there is interest in landing Bishop before the signing season kicks off, that’s not out of the question. The price for him could go down come the days leading up to July 1, a time when he might be able to be had from the Kings for as little as a late-round pick. With teams already willing to shop first-round picks due to the lack of top prospects in the upcoming draft, it’s hard to fathom some team wouldn’t be willing to ship out a mid-round selection just for the rights to Bishop if they really want the inside track.
All those factors combined resulted in a return for the Lightning that was much weaker than one would have expected. We’ll never know what Bishop would have been worth if he would have been traded before the season began. That was nearly a reality, too. Bishop himself said he was a contract extension away from ending up a Flame. The one thing that’s almost for certain, though, is Calgary was going to pay a higher price than the one the Kings did on Sunday. But that’s the risk the Lightning took by holding on to Bishop. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it didn’t pay big.
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