Could Dave Steckel be the Caps player to be traded?

davesteckel2.jpgThe recent fun with the drama surrounding Eric Belanger’s impending re-signing with the Washington Capitals is that it’s created the more intriguing stir about what move the Capitals are going to make to help Belanger better fit into the fold. While initial rumor mongering suggested that Tomas Fleischmann could be the guy heading out of town, Capitals blog Japers Rink has someone else in mind to ship out of town should the Caps need to do it. J.P. suggests that David Steckel is the guy being eyeballed by Caps GM George McPhee.

Belanger, [Mathieu] Perreault, [Marcus] Johansson, [Brooks] Laich and Fleischmann are probably all in the running for the second-line center spot (in varying degrees) at present, with one of Laich and Flash also as potential top-six wingers. No matter how that shakes out, Belanger, Laich and Fleischmann are locks for second or third line spots, with Alexander Semin also a second-line lock and Eric Fehr sure to be a top-nine forward. That leaves four forward spots (likely the third-line center and the entire fourth line) up for grabs, with Johansson the most likely candidate for the third-line center spot and Perreault, Gordon, Steckel, Matt Bradley and D.J. King fighting for three positions (to say nothing of a Hershey guy like Jay Beagle or Andrew Gordon making a bid). That’s quite the logjam on the back end.

So if the Caps had their choice of whom to move from that surplus of checking forwards, who would they want to trade? Perreault has value as a fill-in on a higher line, especially if prized prospect Johansson isn’t quite ready for the NHL. Bradley is a heart-and-soul leader, with a manageable contract – one year, $1 million. Gordon really stepped up his game in the playoffs last spring, but more importantly has a good deal – one year, $800,000. The Caps actively sought out King last month, so it surely wouldn’t be him.

That leaves David Steckel, a fine enough fourth-liner (though be careful not to overstate the importance of a good faceoff percentage – see here, here and here), but with a bad contract, one that will pay him $1,100,000 in each of the next three seasons. It’s not a cripplingly bad deal, of course, but rather one that’s tough to love for a guy whose game regressed in 2009-10 (I strongly recommend re-reading his Rink Wrap) and who was a healthy scratch in four of the seven playoff games, when cheaper checkers like Blair Betts (and Boyd Gordon) seem to be available every summer.

With that sort of contract for Steckel, it makes a ton of sense to want to potentially deal off the face-off specialist fourth liner. After all, if you’re making over a million dollars, playing a handful of minutes doesn’t quite make that financial investment worthwhile, especially on a fixed budget like the salary cap. Swapping out Steckel to a team looking for a player of his caliber (checking center, great with face-offs) looking to move a player with a larger salary can work for the Caps. The Caps aren’t in immediate danger of the salary cap and could stand to take on something a little bit bigger in return provided it’s not a long term contract. So who could that mean they’d be interested in?

Could the Caps expect to get much of anything in return for Steckel? Probably not, unless they found a potential trade partner who was looking to unload a moderate salary to free up some cap space… which is where a team like Vancouver comes in. Say they move the oft-rumored Kevin Bieksa for Steckel. The ‘Nucks save $2.65 million of cap hit (coincidentally, nearly the exact amount of salary they need to drop, per CapGeek), move a player from a position of overflowing depth, and better their bottom-six forwards. The Caps, in such a move, would upgrade their defense, move a player from a position of overflowing depth, be out from under Steckel’s deal for the next three years, and pick up an affordable – and expiring – deal in Bieksa. Because it rids the team of a bad contract, a deal like that makes sense for the Caps in a way that signing Willie Mitchell doesn’t (though, to be sure, a Mitchell signing makes sense in numerous ways this hypothetical would not, namely providing more of what the Caps need on the ice).

And, boom, you’ve got yourself a deal that makes sense for both parties involved money-wise.

There is a catch here though. The Canucks have added Manny Malhotra who is a more talented version of Steckel and also making a bit more money as well. Malhotra figures to be the team’s third line center while Rick Rypien could be the guy that holds down the fourth line. Rypien is a scrapper unafraid to drop the gloves if need be and an ideal energy line brand of player. If the Canucks are that eager to move some money off the cap, and they do have a surplus of defensemen even with Sami Salo out with an injury, taking on Steckel would only help them out with forward depth.

This is all idle speculation and trade-crafting at its best, but this is a situation where one often rumored player-to-be-traded fits into the needs of what another newly rumored player-to-be-traded can do for the other team.

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    The Buzzer: Nikita Kucherov just keeps scoring goals

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    Player of the night. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

    The Tampa Bay Lightning have played six games this season. Forward Nikita Kucherov has scored a goal in all of them.

    He continued that goal scoring streak on Monday night in the Lightning’s 3-2 win in Detroit by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner to help lift them to their eighth consecutive win over the Detroit Red Wings.

    With that win the Lightning now have the best record in the NHL, while Kucherov’s seven goals are the second most in the league, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (nine).

    Kucherov has seen his production increase every year he has been in the NHL. He set a career-high with 40 goals a year ago and seems like he is on track to top that mark this season. Now playing in his age 24 season he should be right in the thick of his prime years in the NHL. When it comes to pure skill and offensive production there are only a handful of players in the league that can top what Kucherov is doing.

    Highlight of the Night.

    Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilievsky stopped 29 shots on Monday night but perhaps none were better than this pad save to rob Tomas Tatar right on the door step.

    Vasilevskiy had a slow start to the season but has been outstanding in his past two games, stopping 57 out of 60 shots in the Lightning’s wins over the St. Louis Blues and Red Wings.

    Factoid of the Night.

    Justin Abdelkader scored on a penalty shot for the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night becoming the first Red Wings player to do that in nearly 10 years.

    Ten years?! That seems like a heck of a long time between penalty shot goals for a team.

    Misc.

    Mike Green continued his incredible start to the season by scoring his first goal of the season for the Detroit Red Wings. He is now up to nine points in five games this season.

    Steven Stamkos picked up a pair of assists in the win for the Lightning, giving him eight on the season. Once he starts scoring goals (he only has one so far) he is going to be a force. His absence a year ago was a big reason why the Lightning fell just short of the postseason. With him back healthy they now have two of the top offensive players in the league (Nikita Kucherov).

    Scores

    Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Detroit Red Wings 2

    Leon Draisaitl lands on injured reserve for Oilers

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    After missing his team’s 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers announced on Monday that forward Leon Draisaitl has been placed on injure reserve.

    He was injured one week ago in a game against the Winnipeg Jets and has been sidelined with an eye injury and concussion symptoms ever since. It’s a big blow to an Oilers team that is off to a slower than expected start having won just one of their first four games.

    Draisaitl signed an eight-year, $68 million contract over the summer making him a significant part of the Oilers’ core alongside Connor McDavid. He finished the 2016-17 season as one of the top offensive players in the league and is going to be counted on to help carry the offense again when he is healthy. The Oilers don’t have a ton of forward depth and are going to need McDavid and Draisaitl to be the focal points once again if they are going to live up to the preseason hype that made them one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

    Before he was injured this season Draisaitl had recorded one assist in three games.

    The Oilers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

    It is not yet known how long he will be sidelined.

    SPHL gets creative, adopts ‘pick your opponent’ playoff format

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    When discussion about the NHL’s playoff format comes up, there is a section of fans who would like to see the league allow for an even greater reward for top teams other than home-ice advantage.

    That idea has become a reality thanks to the Southern Professional Hockey League.

    The 10-team SPHL announced on Monday that they are overhauling their opening round and turning it into what’s being dubbed the “Challenge Round.” The top three teams will get to choose their first-round opponent during a “Challenge Round Selection” event which will be broadcast to fans on Sunday, April 8, the day after the regular season concludes. After the top three seeds select their opponents, the No. 4 team will be matched against the leftover side.

    Every playoff series, including the President’s Cup Final, will remain best-of-three with re-seeding taking place for the second round.

    The idea for this change came to SPHL commissioner Jim Combs over dinner in June with Axel Bammer, Chief Operating Officer of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga. When Combs heard that the league’s top teams get to pick their opening round opponent, he could imagine the buzz it would generate. (Sweden’s Elitserien did this in the past as well.)

    A week after meeting with Bammer, Combs met with the league’s owners and received zero pushback about the idea. The new playoff format was widely embraced as the group felt this was the future of hockey.

    Feedback has been mixed on the change. But Mike Campos, who covers the SPHL for The Sin Bin, sees it being a big plus for the league.

    One of the benefits of being at the bottom rung of the professional hockey ladder (second-lowest, if you consider the FHL a pro league) is there is flexibility to implement radically new ideas other leagues can not. If the “Pick Your Opponent” format change generates buzz among fans and rivalries between teams resulting in a spirited postseason, the decision could be a winner for the SPHL.

    As Campos notes, lower levels of hockey allow for plenty of innovation while not straying far from the fundamentals of running a hockey league. This new format will certainly make the end of the regular season much more interesting and provide bulletin board material for teams and storylines heading into the playoffs. It’s an idea worth exploring, and the SPHL is no stranger to implementing ideas that catch on elsewhere.

    It was the SPHL where 3-on-3 hockey began over a decade ago. It was deemed a silly gimmick at first, but now that we’ve seen it at the NHL level for two seasons, it’s clearly a welcomed change — one that’s made overtime hockey must-see television.

    Combs said the league will see how this playoff format idea plays out in April before deciding whether to keep or tweak it in the future.

    So what do you think? Would you want to see the NHL go in this direction for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

    Stick-tap Scotty Wazz

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    Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    With Perreault out four weeks, Jets call on prospect Kyle Connor

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    Kyle Connor has been a scorer just about everywhere he has played — the USHL, the University of Michigan, and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

    He’s only had a brief taste of life in the NHL, playing 20 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring two goals and five points.

    The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t yet experienced the same success at the NHL level, although he’s about to get another opportunity with the Jets after getting recalled on Monday. The move comes after Winnipeg placed Mathieu Perreault on injured reserve. He’s expected to miss up to four weeks.

    Perreault has yet to play a full 82-game schedule with the Jets because of injuries, but he’s been an important player when available, with consistent production and strong possession numbers. That said, the 20-year-old Connor is a promising prospect with the potential for significant upside, especially considering the role he should find himself in.

    Per NHL.com on Monday, Connor skated on the wing with Bryan Little and sophomore scorer Patrik Laine. That, it would appear, is Winnipeg’s second line, which gives them a difficult top-six group of forwards — the top line consisting of the red-hot Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — for the opposition to face.

    “Speed. That’s the big piece that he can add to that line,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Patrik’s such a great shooter. Bryan’s a really quick player. What Perreault did well was he got in and he got on it. He was quick enough to get in there to create some offensive zone time and allow those guys to do the things they do well and Kyle should be able to add that.”

    The Jets have won three in a row, with Connor Hellebuyck giving them a trio of impressive performances in net. They host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, although according to Sara Orlesky of TSN, Steve Mason is expected to get the start.

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    Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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