Calder Cup Final
No Games Scheduled.
Kelly Cup Final
No Games Scheduled.
Calder Cup Final
No Games Scheduled.
Kelly Cup Final
No Games Scheduled.
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.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Dustin Byfuglien inked a five-year, $38-million extension little more than one year ago, and he's turned in one of the best seasons of his career to kick off his new contract.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but, generally speaking, players who are in line to earn themselves a new deal tend to outdo themselves. For Dustin Byfuglien, that meant the 2015-16 campaign was his chance to shine and show that he was worth the big money he was hoping to command. And by February 2016, with Byfuglien on pace for another 50-point season and the highest average ice time of his career, the Jets ponied up the dollars and paid him handsomely. He landed a five-year, $38-million deal.
After a player signs their big-money deal, the worry is there could be a slight let down, that he might rest on his laurels and turn in a season that’s not quite as good as that which led to the payday. In the case of Byfuglien, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This season has seen Byfuglien score just as well, hit just as hard and, more than anything, become a bigger part of the game-to-game performance of the Jets than he has ever before.
While Winnipeg’s performance as a whole has been up and down — with admittedly more downs than ups given the team has less than a 20 percent chance of making the post-season — Byfuglien has been a rock on the backend. His scoring prowess and ability to drive up the ice like a runaway train continue to be two of his greatest assets, as they have been for the past several seasons. His nine goals and 39 points put him into a tie for sixth in scoring among all rearguards, and were it not for his uncharacteristically low shooting percentage, Byfuglien would likely be among the two or three top scorers in the league. A career 7.1 percent shooter, he would have 13 goals if he was shooting at his normal clip. Instead, Byfuglien’s nine goals have come on 4.8 percent shooting.
That said, his 24 points at 5-on-5 is fourth-best among defenseman, his eight goals third-best at five-a-side and only Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Colton Parayko have more primary assists at 5-on-5 than the nine Byfuglien has compiled. On offensive performance alone, Byfuglien could be considered one of the best defenders in the league. However, his claim to one of the better defensive seasons of the year comes from the fact he’s playing nearly half of every outing, driving play and is consistently facing off against top competition.
As of Friday, Byfuglien is averaging 27:25 per game, the highest ice time of any player in the league. The usual suspects are up alongside Byfuglien, of course. Drew Doughty is 10 seconds off of Byfuglien’s average, Ryan Suter a single second behind Doughty with Rasmus Ristolainen and Erik Karlsson rounding out the top five. Byfuglien leads the league in 5-on-5 minutes, too, with nearly 1,290 at full strength. And in those minutes, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice is consistently putting him out against the opponents’ top line. No Jets defender faces a higher quality of competition on a nightly basis, yet Byfuglien has managed to produce a 50.8 Corsi For percentage.
Making that all the more impressive is that Byfuglien isn’t accomplishing this while playing alongside one of the Jets other top defenders. Tyler Myers has missed all but 11 games, Toby Enstrom has been sidelined the past five games and eight games over the course of the season, and Jacob Trouba didn’t enter the lineup until mid-November. That has made rookie Josh Morrissey Byfuglien’s partner for much of the campaign. The duo has worked well together and their numbers would no doubt look that much better if Winnipeg had gotten better than average goaltending to this point in the season.
The shame of all this is that no matter how well Byfuglien has played, he’s got absolutely no chance at winning the Norris Trophy. Really, no one not named Brent Burns does, because the offensive tear Burns is on is nearing historic proportions and the rumblings for him to win the Hart Trophy are legitimate. He’s been that good. That said, this looks like it could result in the best Norris finish for Byfuglien in his time as a defender. His previous best came the past two seasons with two consecutive 12th-place finishes. The better of the two was in 2014-15, when he received 21 total votes.
Given the way Byfuglien has performed this year, though, you could make the argument that he has to be in the conversation as a finalist for the award. Sure, it’s unlikely given the Jets stand to miss the post-season, but his play has warranted consideration as one of the three top Norris vote-getters. The list of players who have been better is a short one, and Byfuglien’s numbers can stand up against those of Doughty, Karlsson, Suter and Duncan Keith.
But no matter where Byfuglien finishes, it’s almost a no-brainer that he should have the best Norris finish of his career, and the timing couldn’t be better as Byfuglien proves that the Jets were right to shell out big money to keep ‘Big Buff’ in Winnipeg.
(All advanced statistics via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com)
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
It’s not the trade most would have expected, but the Kings acquired Ben Bishop on Sunday evening. Now they’ve protected themselves from any potential disaster in goal.
Jonathan Quick made his return to the Los Angeles Kings’ crease on Saturday in grand fashion. Facing off against the rival Anaheim Ducks, Quick turned in a sound performance, stopping 32 shots in his first full game of the campaign and slamming the door shut for the final 40 minutes as the Kings’ offense came to life to lift Los Angeles to a 4-1 victory. It was Quick’s first action since the Oct. 12 groin injury that has cost him almost his entire season, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time with Los Angeles fighting to earn a playoff berth.
No matter how well Quick may have played, though, the Kings aren’t about to let their playoff hopes rest solely on the veteran netminder’s shoulders. Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi made that abundantly clear Sunday evening when he went out and pulled the trigger on a deal few saw coming, acquiring goaltender Ben Bishop, one of the hottest free agents to be, from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The deal also saw the Kings receive a fifth-round pick, while the Lightning landed Peter Budaj, prospect Erik Cernak and a seventh-round pick in return.
At first blush, the deal itself is somewhat puzzling. Goaltending hasn’t exactly been the missing piece in Los Angeles this season, and one would assume that finding some offensive punch would have been the first thing on Lombardi’s to-do list with the deadline approaching. And it’s bizarre that Bishop landed in Los Angeles, of all places, when there are a number of clubs that could have used a goaltender of his calibre now and in the future. But despite how odd the trade may seem, it’s clear that there’s a method to the madness here.
Groin injuries for goaltenders can be a tricky thing, and the Kings learned that first hand this season with Quick. But it’s also something the club was familiar with when a similar injury sidelined Quick during the 2013-14 campaign. That he has suffered two groin injuries in the past four seasons, both of which put him on the shelf for a significant period of time, has to be concerning for Los Angeles down the stretch, especially with the fight the Kings are in to sneak into one of the Western Conference wild-card spots or earn a divisional playoff berth.
At this juncture, the last thing the Kings can afford is losing Quick again, because for as well as Budaj had played, there was no telling when he might come crashing back down to earth. And a pedestrian Budaj and injured Quick would almost assure the Kings weren’t heading to the playoffs. After missing the post-season in 2014-15 and exiting in the first round in 2015-16, the Kings clearly weren’t about to let goaltending fail them when they need it most. This is to say that the acquisition of Bishop is, in effect, an insurance policy, and a 6-foot-7, 216-pound insurance policy at that.
As far as getting goaltending help goes, the Kings could have done much worse than netting themselves Bishop, too. This season hasn’t been nearly as kind to him as the past few and Bishop’s 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage are some of the worst numbers he’s put up since landing in Tampa Bay, but he has proven time and time again that he can get the job done in the post-season. During the 2014-15 playoffs, he was one of the backbones of the Lightning on their run to the Stanley Cup final, and his 1.85 GAA and .939 SP had the Bolts within a win of the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16.
There’s no doubt then that if disaster strikes and Quick goes down, Bishop is more than qualified to take over. And having both goaltenders allows Los Angeles to ride the hot hand, a situation they haven’t really had in any season prior. Quick’s return to the crease was excellent, to be sure, but one game won’t tell the story. There are still 21 contests left on the Kings’ schedule, and if Quick shows any signs of rust, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t even have to hesitate when thinking about a change between the pipes. It’s not a knock against the likes of Budaj, Martin Jones or any of the backups who’ve played behind Quick in recent years, but Bishop’s resume, with an Eastern Conference title and two finishes in the top three of Vezina Trophy voting, speaks for itself.
Sitting three points out of the wild-card and 10 points back of the third spot in the Pacific Division, Los Angeles is doing everything they can to ensure they’re not just in the post-season, but competing with the West’s best. Getting Bishop gives the Kings a safety net down the stretch and the ability to ride a proven playoff performer if Quick happens to stumble at any point. So while it’s not the first major deal we thought we’d see coming from the Kings at the deadline, there’s plenty of reason the trade makes sense. Whether or not it works out, though, is still to be seen.
Marc-Andre Fleury. Image by: Dave Reginek/Getty Images
With parity at its zenith, Vegas looming and a so-so 2017 draft class, figuring what to do at the NHL swap meet has never been harder.
While the trade deadline tends to be one of the biggest TV days of the hockey year, its actual impact has long been exaggerated. Of course it would be glib to point out only one team – the eventual Stanley Cup winner – can really “win” the deadline, but it’s also inaccurate. That’s only true if you’re considering the “buyer” teams. The “seller” teams can also really benefit if their GMs play the field right.
Parity wreaked havoc on the trade market for most of this season, and perhaps with the blockbusters of the summer (Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson), that was to be expected. But with very few teams truly out of the playoff picture and the deadline approaching, GMs have to be cagey this season.
The Buffalo Sabres, for example, were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference as February began, but the rebuilding team is still only a hot streak away from wild-card contention.
“In the calls I make and the ones I take, I inquire about buying and I also listen to what people are asking for,” said GM Tim Murray. “So I’m kind of on both sides of the fence.”
An important reminder for teams that aren’t at the top of the standings is that building a franchise takes many careful steps, and a quick score at the trade deadline must be evaluated against long-term desires.
“Last year, as far as selling, I would have listened to anything reasonable, no question,” Murray said. “I definitely wouldn’t have bought anything that would have gone away from the plan, and I’m not sure I would this year, either. If I’m going to buy someone, I’d obviously like them to be young and someone we’d have around for awhile, but that’s not always easy.”
Figuring out exactly when your team has become a buyer or seller can be tricky, too. Ray Shero had some great deadlines as a buyer in Pittsburgh, but now he’s seeing the other side in New Jersey, as the Devils try to find their footing.
“Last year in New Jersey was the first year I really sold, and we took it all the way to the end with guys like Lee Stempniak,” Shero said. “We played Cory Schneider every game, but we just couldn’t get there. If we were five points in, it might have been different, but at the time it felt like the right thing to do and, in retrospect, it was definitely the right thing to do, so there are a lot of factors in play.”
Shero did end up dealing Stempniak to Boston, getting a fourth-rounder in 2016 (goalie Evan Cormier) and a second-rounder in 2017. The Bruins, incidentally, ended up missing the playoffs.
Another complication this season involves the Vegas expansion draft. Teams are limited in the amount of players they protect, but they must also have a certain threshold of eligible NHL players to expose. That means guys on expiring contracts aren’t as valuable as they would be in previous years.
“If you can get a real good player, you’re going to get that player,” Shero said. “But it’s happened a lot during the season where one player has a contract for next year and if he plays eight more games this season, he’s a guy we can expose, and we didn’t have that before. Teams are constantly evaluating.”
Even those on the waiver wire can be more valuable right now. Part of the reason they have been on waivers in the first place is contract status, but now another franchise may seek them out in order to expose them to the Golden Knights in the summer. On either side of the ledger, GMs and their fellow team execs are keeping constant tabs on their expansion draft situation, including the criteria of whom to expose.
And while the deadline is seen as a time for short-term gains, that’s mostly from the perspective of fans and the players. For execs, it’s all about the long term.
“The trade deadline gets overblown,” Murray said. “Sellers can certainly acquire assets that help you on draft day, and teams that are playoff bound realize it and try to give their team a jolt, but it’s not a blockbuster, long-term solution. Draft day is still the day.”
Which is why it’s interesting to see so many draft picks and prospects tossed around in deals. Unfortunately for buyer GMs, it’s the price of business. The important thing to do is never look back. With draft picks, that’s not as difficult, because every team has a very different list heading into the day. So when Shero acquired Marian Hossa from Atlanta in 2008, the 29th overall pick became Daultan Leveille for Atlanta – but the Pens wouldn’t have necessarily picked the Michigan State commit had they held on to that selection.
“The prospects you kinda know,” Shero said. “With the Jarome Iginla deal, we traded Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski to Calgary and they never really ended up playing, though Kenny is doing great in the minors this year. But they were assets in a deal. Same thing with Angelo Esposito (in the Hossa deal). You don’t hope they go to the Hall of Fame, but you hope they do OK. Hopefully it works for both sides.”
According to one director of scouting, the fact 2017 is seen as a down draft year is already affecting trade deadline preparation. A first-rounder in 2017 isn’t expected to have the same impact as the player chosen in the same range last year, so if your team sells off a roster player to say, Chicago or Pittsburgh at the deadline, that 28th overall pick is probably worth the same as a mid-second-rounder or worse in previous years. This is information GMs request before they seriously hit the phones.
“I still think the draft is the biggest day for us, no question,” Murray said. “You’re building your future. You look back at the history of the draft, and there’s a big difference between teams who kill it and teams who have a bad draft. Those decisions impact you for 20 years.”
Though the NHL’s parity has caused a logjam for deals so far, it only takes one or two moves before a flood is possible. The best GMs will be thinking about their short-term needs without mortgaging their future, and if it all works out, they’ll get a parade at the end of the journey. For everyone else, the gun sights turn to next season.