Joey Burke, Staten Island, N.Y.
Joey Burke, Staten Island, N.Y.
Connor Hellebuyck and Auston Matthews. Image by: Mark Blinch/Getty Images
As we count down to the March 1 trade deadline, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.
Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.
But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.
As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.
And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.
The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.
Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.
The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.
The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.
Where they'll end up: Their next two games are against the Capitals and Penguins, if they lose those, Hextall likely folds his hand.
The case for buying: We've been talking about the Jets as the NHL's team of the future for years now, but that future never seems to arrive. The West is wide open this year, and the path out of the Central doesn't seem as daunting as it has been in recent years. Their biggest need is goaltending, and there could be some good ones available, even as short-term rentals. With the team on the edge of the playoff bubble, this could be the year to make a push.
The case for selling: This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but are they really a threat to do much damage once they're there? The franchise has been patiently building up a young talent base since returning to Winnipeg, and abandoning that approach now just to get swept in the first round could seem like a panic move.
Where they'll end up: History tells us that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets won't do much at all, no team has been as reluctant to trade in recent years. This could be the year that changes, especially if a goaltender shakes free as a decent value buy. Then again, it feels like we've said that before.
The case for buying: They've been bad for five straight years. Some of those were strategic, granted, but that phase of the rebuild was supposed to end in 2015 and give way to progress. There's been some, but not as much as fans probably hoped, and they're on the verge of missing the playoffs yet again.
But they've been better since a rash of injuries torpedoed their start, and they've got assets to work with to plug some holes. And in an off-year for the Atlantic, a push into the playoffs isn't far-fetched.
Again, most teams don't want to load up at the deadline just to make the playoffs and go out early. But this isn't the same situation as a team like the Jets, who didn't have to endure hitting rock bottom like the Sabres did. In Buffalo's case you wonder if even a first-round exit wouldn't represent a worthwhile investment, if only to offer long-suffering fans some hope that things are moving in the right direction.
The case for selling: They're not winning it all this year, and the roster is still young. Sure, missing the playoffs again will be frustrating, but there's no need to rush. Trust the process, trust Jack Eichel and the young core, and most of all, trust Tim Murray. At least for one more year.
Where they'll end up: Murray might tinker here or there, but any big moves to improve now would also have to extend to next season and beyond.
The case for buying: They're the Lightning. They went to the Cup final in 2015, and to the conference final in 2016. Plenty of us picked them to win it all this year. They'll be facing a cap crunch soon and their window may be closing, but on paper this team is still good enough to win it all, especially if Steven Stamkos comes back by the playoffs.
So of course you're buying. This team can win the Stanley Cup. They're the Lightning.
The case for selling: They're also terrible.
I don't know why. You don't know why. I'm not sure Steve Yzerman knows why. But they just haven't clicked all year, and they remain outside the playoffs with multiple teams to pass. Better to accept that, recoup some assets for guys like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle, and maybe even figure out a way to dump some deals with term. For whatever reason, this just isn't their year, so start setting the table for the next ones.
Where they'll end up: Yzerman's earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, so you figure he'll make the right call one way or another. The betting is with two more home games before the deadline, he waits as long as he can before throwing in the towel. But I have them in the "sell" column.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Matt Dumba and Artem Anisimov
The Eastern Conference used to be the land of opportunity, but now it’s the West that looks ripe for the taking if a team can get hot at the right time.
There’s a term, “Group of Death,” that’s usually used in soccer to describe a particularly strong collection of teams that will have to battle each other in order to advance in a tournament. To translate that to NHL terms, it’d be like if, heading into the post-season, one single division boasted the league’s first-place team, defending Stanley Cup champions and a squad that had gone on a 16-game win streak during the regular season. You know, like the Metropolitan Division.
Only one team can emerge from the group and represent the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference final, and right now the odds for the Eastern representative would have to favor whichever team escapes the NHL’s current powerhouse division. The Metropolitan teams have led the charge for much of the season with stacked lineups that are performing at the top of their game. That’s not to say the Atlantic Division teams stand no chance in the post-season, but rather that most of the favorites to represent the East — and, honestly, to win the Cup — are all in the Metropolitan.
That’s a change from the way things have been in recent years, however. Formerly, the Eastern Conference was the land of opportunity, almost entirely wide open with five or six teams who could be honest-to-goodness contenders. Heading into the post-season in 2015-16, for instance, the Penguins, Capitals, Lightning, Rangers and, to a lesser extent, Panthers were all considered teams with potential for a deep run.
In the West, however, years of dominance by a handful of teams has led to the conference boasting a few teams as contenders entering the post-season with a number of also-rans. From the 2009 post-season until this past season, the Blackhawks appeared in five Western Conference finals, the Kings in three and the Sharks in three. Those three teams account for more than half of the total appearances in the Western Conference final over the past eight campaigns, and the Kings and Blackhawks, especially, were the biggest road blocks en route to the Western Conference title for several years.
It would seem that’s starting to shift, though, and we could be in for a Western Conference that’s more wide open than we’ve seen in some time. The defending Western Conference champion Sharks look like a threat to go deep in the post-season again, without a doubt, and the Blackhawks are still contenders, but they’re not as faultless as they’ve been in the past. Each team has it’s pros and cons, giving to reason to believe it’ll be their year to take home the West title or a season in which they come up just that much short.
The Minnesota Wild, for instance, are the top team in the Western Conference, and the strength up and down the roster is near unquestionable. That includes the crease, especially, where Devan Dubnyk is turning in an outstanding season that is almost sure to end with him receiving the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The Wild also boast more depth than possibly any other team in the league and few teams will be able to roll four lines against Minnesota. In the same breath, though, that depth is necessary because the Wild lack that one, game-breaking star. Zach Parise has shown that ability, for sure, but he’s not in the same category as a Connor McDavid, Vladimir Tarasenko or Patrick Kane.
And when it comes to Kane, his Blackhawks have been on fire of late and he’s been no small part of that. Chicago is going to enter the post-season as the favorite for some simply because the team has been atop the league so often of late they seem a constant threat. You mix in the talented core group that has remained in tact and the goaltending the team gets from Corey Crawford, and the Blackhawks are a contender. But the depth can be questioned, and there are a handful of rookies who haven’t seen playoff action before.
Rounding out the top three in the Central Division is the St. Louis Blues, a team which most expected would be competing for a division title, not barely holding onto one of the three divisional playoff spots. The issue in St. Louis has been goaltending. The Blues have one of the West’s more prolific offenses, but their 172 goals against are the most of any team currently holding onto a playoff spot in the West. Things have been looking up under coach Mike Yeo, and the Blues will be very dangerous if goaltender Jake Allen gets hot.
Then there’s the Pacific Division, led by the aforementioned Sharks. The two wily veterans, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are still chugging along in San Jose, but the team has been led this season by an absolutely outstanding performance by Brent Burns. The defenseman is on pace to have one of the greatest offensive seasons by a blueliner we’ve seen in recent years. Captain Joe Pavelski has also cracked the 20-goal plateau once again, but the depth contributions have been sporadic. The Sharks really were hoping for more from Mikkel Boedker, too.
South of San Jose, the Ducks have stumbled of late under coach Randy Carlyle, but this is still a team with enough top-end talent that a close game can be taken over in an instant. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are still a remarkable one-two punch up front, and the depth on the back end is excellent. Cam Fowler is having a great year, and Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been as steady as ever. The recent injury to John Gibson is worrisome, but if he’s only out for a short period of time, it shouldn’t hinder the Ducks down the stretch. Relying on Jonathan Bernier might lead to disaster, however.
And, of course, everyone is going to be paying close attention to the Oilers. For some, Edmonton will be the Pacific Division favorite solely because of the McDavid factor. His first full season has been a treat to watch and the Oilers have benefited big time from his league-leading point total. Edmonton would probably love a boost to their back end and maybe some bottom-six scoring punch, though. They’re top heavy right now, and if the Oilers match up against a defense that can slow down McDavid, that could result in an earlier exit than some are expecting.
Even in the wild card, the teams appear threatening. The Predators were early season favorites after their acquisition of P.K. Subban, and you’d still be hard done by to find a defense that is better, top to bottom, than that of Nashville. Trouble is the goaltending has been below average, which is the same issue that has plagued Calgary despite the Flames holding onto one of the wild-card spots. Short of acquiring Ben Bishop from the Lightning, there isn’t a quick fix for Calgary in goal, but they’re still competitive. And this is to say nothing yet of the Kings. Los Angeles is still well within striking distance of the post-season, and getting Jonathan Quick back and finding some scoring at the deadline could be a game-changer.
This might not be a one-off in the West, either. With the changeover that’s going on throughout the conference, from the Blackhawks’ in-house retooling to the Oilers’ resurgence and continued build around McDavid, there are more teams in the mix with a real, honest chance to represent the West in the final than we’ve seen in some time. That stands to continue for a few years until one team establishes Western Conference dominance. But until that happens, it’s going to make the playoff race and post-season battles all the more exciting to watch.
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Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Stastnys, Peter and Anton, combined for 16 points on this date in 1981. No sibling duo has matched the mark, but the past 30 years has seen some great offensive nights from brothers.
Darryl Sittler’s 10-point night is the pinnacle of single-game statistics. Others have come close in the years since Sittler managed the feat, but it takes a special performance for any player to even flirt with matching or potentially surpassing Sittler’s mark.
The thing is, though, that it doesn’t really seem as though it’s an impossible feat to match or surpass. Others have, at the very least, come close to matching Sittler. Twice during his career, Mario Lemieux scored at least eight points in a single outing, and Bernie Nicholls registered eight points in a game back during that same 1988 campaign where Lemieux hit the mark twice. The closest in recent memory, as most will recall, was Sam Gagner’s magical eight-point night, but even that left him two points shy with less than four minutes left to play.
But while it’s hard to fathom Sittler’s record falling, it’s still within the realm of possibility. Not sure the same can be said for the feat the Stastny brothers, Peter and Anton, pulled off exactly 37 years ago today. On Feb. 22, 1981, the Stastnys came out flying against the Capitals and, in an 11-7 thrashing of Washington, the brothers racked up a ridiculous 16 points. The pair of eight-point nights gives the Stastny’s the distinction of having the highest scoring game by a pair of brothers on one team in a single game, and it’s unlikely that record ever falls. It’s hard enough for one player to score eight points in a single game, let alone two.
There have been some incredible nights by sibling duos over the past 30 years, however. Dating back to 1987-88, here are the five best single-game performances by a pair of brothers:
Daniel and Henrik Sedin — Nine points, Nov. 21, 2015
The Blackhawks had front row seats to Gagner’s incredible performance, and they were also witnesses to the biggest night by a pair of siblings in the past 30 years. During the November contest between the Blackhawks and Canucks early in 2015-16, the Sedins scored early and often. The first point came midway through the first period, a power play tally that saw both Sedins pick up a point, followed by another point for Henrik before the first period was through.
The Sedins made all the difference in the final 40 minutes in what was a tie game heading into the second frame. Daniel registered his first goal of the game midway through the second, then added two more in a span of two minutes late in the third period. Henrik had the primary assist on all three of Daniel’s goals, and the Canucks skated away with a 6-3 victory thanks to the remarkable night from the Sedins.
Peter and Anton Stastny — Eight points, Feb. 21, 1988
First all-time and second on this list, the Stastny’s were, in a sense, the early version of the Sedins. They made magic happen together. The only thing they were missing was the seemingly psychic twin abilities the Sedins have, but the Stastnys more than made up for it with their ability to fill the net and stuff the score sheet. Fitting that one of the biggest nights of their careers came almost seven years to the day after their famous 16-point night, too.
The Nordiques didn’t exactly buzzsaw their opponents like they had on the Stastny’s 16-point night, however. Rather, they only managed to eke out a 6-5 victory on the strength of a hat trick by Peter and an awesome four-assist night from Anton. All that was missing was a goal from Anton for the Stastnys stat line to match the Sedins exactly.
Jamie and Jordie Benn — Five points, Jan. 23, 2014; Dec. 13, 2016
When your brother is one of the top scorers in the league over the past few years, you’re bound to benefit from time to time. That’s exactly the case with Jordie Benn, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that he’s ridden Jamie’s coattails onto this list.
The first time the brothers combined for a five-point night was back when Jamie was just starting his rise to becoming a perennial contender for the Art Ross Trophy, and his four-point night was one of his best of the campaign in a 7-1 defeat of the Maple Leafs. Jordie’s assist, which came while playing shorthanded with his brother, pushed them up to five total points. They then matched the feat earlier this season when Jamie chipped in a goal and three points to add to Jordie’s two helpers in a 6-2 defeat of the Ducks.
However, there is a six-point night among the brothers. Trouble is there’s no split. Jamie scored six points — a goal and five assists — in a 7-3 victory by the Stars over the Flames. Jordie didn’t hit the score sheet that night.
Scott and Rob Niedermayer — Five points, March 31, 2009
The Niedermayers played more than 2,400 combined games in the NHL, and nearly 25 percent of those came with the brothers suiting up together for the Ducks. The time together started during the 2005-06 season in the post-lockout NHL, and it continued on through to the 2008-09 campaign. And it was right around the time their tenure as teammates was coming to a close — less than a few months, to be exact — that they had their biggest night together.
On the final day of March, five games before the season was set to close, the Ducks squared off against the Oilers and the Niedermayers struck gold, especially in the second frame. Scott scored on a power play 33 seconds into the second, assisted on a Chris Pronger goal less than five minutes later and added a second helper on Rob’s goal with 1:25 left in the period. Rob capped the scoring with an empty-netter with 36 seconds left.
Eric and Jordan Staal — Four points, five times
The Staals were the center of the offense for the Hurricanes for a four-season stretch that spanned nearly 270 games, and the duo produced like a solid one-two punch for much of their time with the team. There are four different occasions in which four total points came off the sticks of the Staals. Incredibly, however, three of those big nights came in one spurt.
Eric and Jordan combined for three four-point games across a span of five weeks starting in November 2013. In a Nov. 24 game, Eric scored once and had three points with Jordan adding an assist on the first Hurricanes goal of the game to lead Carolina to victory, they again combined for four points in a win over the Coyotes less than three weeks later and had the four-point night a third time in an overtime win over the Canadiens on Dec. 31, 2013. As it turns out, another sibling duo was doing the same that night.
Eric and Jordan again pitched in a combined four-point night to close out March 2015. Eric scored early on an assist from Jordan then started piling up helpers of his own. First came an assist on an Alexander Semin goal, following by the primary helper on the final nail in the coffin, an Andrej Nestrasil power play tally late in the third.
Brayden and Luke Schenn — Four points, Dec. 31, 2013
The Schenn household sure had an exciting close to 2013. Brayden and Luke were in their second season playing together in Philadelphia. Brayden was just starting to become a fixture of the offense as the brothers combined to contributed 24 goals and 53 points during the 2013-14 season, but nothing seemed to click quite like it did on New Year’s Eve in 2013.
Early in the contest, Brayden picked up his first of two assists in the game and he added a goal in the dying minutes of the second period, while Luke had his lone contribution of the outing when the brothers both got in on a Scott Hartnell insurance marker midway through the third period. It was the most productive the Schenns ever were in a given game for the Flyers.
The brothers were split up in 2015-16 when the Flyers shipped Luke to the Kings, coincidentally the same team from which they received Brayden.
(All statistical information via Hockey-Reference.com)
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Rookies William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Nikita Zaitsev.
The Maple Leafs suddenly have as much as $15 million to work with at the trade deadline which they could use to make a big deal; Avalanche stars could stay put.
The rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs are among this season's most-improved clubs. After finishing at the bottom of the standings last season, the Leafs are jockeying for a post-season berth in the Eastern Conference.
Despite this improvement, the Leafs still have some roster weaknesses to address. Their most-pressing need is a skilled puck-moving defenseman. With the playoffs in sight, perhaps the Leafs could address that need by the trade deadline.
That possibility increased when Sportsnet's Chris Johnston last week reported the Leafs quietly placed injured players Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve. The moves give the Leafs flexibility in the form of an additional $15 million in salary-cap space.
With that kind of space, the Leafs have room to pursue a big-name player at the trade deadline. They've been linked in recent weeks to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Despite the Blues' recent resurgence, TSN's Darren Dreger claims the 28-year-old Shattenkirk remains in play.
The asking price for Shattenkirk is thought to be at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. While the Leafs have the depth to meet that return, they could be unwilling to do so unless Shattenkirk, who's eligible in July for unrestricted free agency, is willing to sign a long-term extension.
If Shattenkirk proves too costly for the Leafs, more affordable options include Buffalo Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and New Jersey Devils rearguard Kyle Quincey. If they want additional depth at forward, Johnston suggests Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle, Dallas Stars right winger Patrick Sharp or Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal.
DUCHENE, LANDESKOG COULD STAY PUT IN COLORADO AFTER DEADLINE
The Colorado Avalanche reportedly continue to entertain offers for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. While the notion of one or both moving before the March 1 trade deadline provides a much-needed spark to the trade-rumor mill, they could still be with the Avalanche when the deadline passes.
It's not as though there isn't any interest in the pair. For several weeks, the 26-year-old Duchene was linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Reports out of Boston earlier this month suggested the Bruins could make a push for the 24-year-old Landeskog. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports there's talk the Senators kicked tires on both players.
As always, the issue is the asking price. It's believed the Avs seek a good young defenseman, a first-round pick and a top prospect for either guy.
In a recent mailbag segment, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty said the Bruins shouldn't give up a promising young blueliner such as Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy for Landeskog. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has no intention of sacrificing his future. His colleague Pierre LeBrun believes the Sens interest in Duchene is pretty much dead unless the asking price is reduced.
LeBrun suggests the Carolina Hurricanes possess considerable depth in young blueliners and need a scoring center. However, he's not convinced Hurricanes GM Ron Francis will pony up for Duchene. LeBrun suggests Francis try to tempt the Toronto Maple Leafs into parting with William Nylander.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic apparently isn't under pressure to move Duchene or Landeskog before the deadline. It's expected he'll wait for the off-season, when general managers usually have more salary-cap room and a willingness to deal.
FLAMES COULD LOOK AT GOALIES AGAIN
Prior to the 2016 NHL draft, the Calgary Flames created a stir when it was reported they contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The discussion apparently ended when the Pens asked for the Flames first-round pick (sixth overall). Calgary used that pick to select left winger Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames eventually acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues, but he's failed to play up to expectations as a starting goaltender. With Chad Johnson also struggling of late, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the Flames could revisit their interest in the 32-year-old Fleury, who's lost his starter's job to rookie Matt Murray.
Earlier this month, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's open to dealing Fleury but prefers retaining him as insurance for the playoffs. Unless Fleury, who carries a modified no-trade clause, asks to be dealt, he could finish the season in Pittsburgh.
The Flames also nearly had a deal in place last June to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can't pry Fleury out of Pittsburgh, maybe they can once again look into the 30-year-old Bishop's trade status.
Bishop's an unrestricted free agent this summer and isn't expected to be re-signed. If the Lightning put Bishop on the block, they could seek a young defenseman in return. It's doubtful, however, the Flames meet that price unless they get assurances that Bishop will re-sign with them.
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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