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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    With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

    Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) takes control of the puck in front of St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 3-0. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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    It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Patrick Eaves won’t be able to play for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues in their upcoming Game 2.

    The last time we saw Eaves, he was leaving the ice by gliding on one foot after being hit by a teammate’s shot. He needed help to the locker room and was seen on crutches according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

    The bad news is that Eaves cannot go. The good news is that the Stars can replace him with a player who boasts considerable offensive skill, as Valeri Nichushkin will take Eaves’ place.

    Nichushkin wasn’t very effective in five postseason games so far, failing to score a point and only managed three shots on goal.

    Still, if the frenetic pace of Game 1 carries on through this series, Nichushkin could very well make an impact.

    Update: the Stars have other options at forward after making recalls:

    Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

    Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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    Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

    As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

    Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

    For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

    The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

    Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

    The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

    “They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

    As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

    Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

    The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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    The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

    Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

    At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

    “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

    Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

    Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

    Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

    Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
    Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
    Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
    Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
    Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
    Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
    Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

    Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

    Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

    One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

    “They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

    File that under “easier said than done.”

    Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

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    Honestly, it’s tough to blame people for making Edmonton Oilers jokes in regards to the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery.

    Really it’s only human nature to drop one-liners about the perennial cellar-dweller that (seemingly) always lands the No. 1 pick.

    Will it happen again this time around? We’ll find out soon enough, more precisely sometime around 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

    As you can see, the Oilers do not have the best odds to land the top pick … but they’re close:

    A reminder: this time around the lottery will determine the top three picks. The NHL discusses that tweak and other changes here:

    For the first time, the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will assign the top three slots in the first round of the NHL Draft – a change from prior years, when the Draft Lottery was used to determine the winner of the first overall selection exclusively.

    Want the full lowdown on the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery? PHT has you covered here.