Around the Rink – Monday, November 22nd

What’s the general percentage of people working on the Monday during Thanksgiving week? I’m thinking somewhere between 80 and 90 percent, but I could be 100 percent wrong there. Either way, whether you’re planning a leisurely day full of hockey watching or in need of a light at the end of the tunnel at work, here are previews of today’s eight games. As usual, the start times are Eastern (ET).

7:00 pm

Dallas @ Toronto

The Stars have won the last four meetings between these two relative strangers and their odds of continuing that streak are solid. They bring in a high-powered offense while the Maple Leafs are struggling to provide goal support for their beleaguered goalies. Toronto’s biggest advantage is probably the fact that they are playing at home, though.

Calgary @ NY Rangers

When I think of these two teams, the first thing that pops into my head is the recent trend that Darryl Sutter often looks like an even more befuddled general manager than mistake prone Glen Sather. (Sutter’s most recent trade seemed silly, as he had to throw useful defenseman Ian White in a deal just to get rid of a troubled family member.)

The Flames come into this game frustrated, as they coughed up a two goal lead in the third period to lose to the Red Wings in crushing fashion. The Rangers are the more rested of the two teams, so we’ll see if that factors into this contest.

Washington @ New Jersey

This game was supposed to be a clash between two Eastern Conference titans, but only the Capitals are holding up their end of the bargain. Meanwhile, the Devils are off to their second worst start in team history and are especially pitiful at home with a 1-5-2 record. Put their sputtering start together with the fact that Martin Brodeur will be out as he rests his elbow and it’s pretty difficult to predict good things for New Jersey. Then again, the NHL often surprises, so you never know.

Montreal @ Philadelphia

The only thing separates these two teams in the standings is one point via an overtime/shootout loss for the Flyers. Last time these two teams met, Carey Price continued his outstanding play with a shutout victory. We’ll see if the league’s stingiest team (Montreal has only allowed 39 goals this season) can shut down its most explosive (Philadelphia leads the league with 75 goals) once again.

Nashville @ Columbus

The Blue Jackets might just be the most surprising team in the NHL, at least in a positive way. Columbus just wrapped up an undefeated road trip, but are only .500 at home. They are currently on a three game winning streak as they host the Predators, who are starting to get things back together after struggling a bit the last few weeks.

7:30 pm

Pittsburgh @ Florida

It’s been a bumpy start to the season for the Penguins – which really isn’t as big of a surprise as you might think – but it seems like they’re starting to heat up (4-0-1 in their last five games). They’ll pay a Panthers team that is pretty stout at home (5-2-0 in Sunrise so far) and Tomas Vokoun is 4-1 in his last five, so this could be an interesting game even if it seems lopsided in star power.

Los Angeles @ Ottawa

These two teams show how quickly things can change in the NHL. The Kings suddenly find the Coyotes rapidly approaching their rear view mirror in the Pacific Division while the Senators seem to go from hot and cold streaks seemingly with the suddenness of a flick of a light switch. Ottawa was outscored 17-4 in dropping the last three games of a four game road trip, so it’s safe to say they are happy to be home again.

Boston @ Tampa Bay

Each of these teams has 24 points (although Boston got there in two less games played), but they got there in different ways; the Lightning with electric goal scoring and the Bruins with outstanding goaltending and defense. One heartening thing for Tampa Bay: they played 13 of their first 20 games on the road, so they are quietly one of the league’s scrappier clubs. That being said, the Bruins are 7-1 on the road so it won’t be a picnic for the Lightning.

Did Brandon Saad want out of Columbus?

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On an insanely busy and blockbuster-filled Friday morning, it was hard to sit back and fully analyze all the trades going down. Such is the world of instant reaction.

But in the aftermath, a few pressing questions were asked. One in particular following the Brandon Saad-for-Artemi Panarin deal orchestrated by Chicago GM Stan Bowman and Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen.

It was asked of Kekalainen — did Saad like being a Blue Jacket?

A transcript from video posted by the Dispatch’s Tom Reed:

Q: Saad put up terrific numbers, really strong numbers, for two seasons here. But there always seemed to be a feeling he wasn’t quite totally comfortable here. Did you sense that?

Kekalainen: I can’t speak for his behalf. You’ll have to ask him. He was a good soldier for us, a good professional, and he handled himself well in that regard.

Kekalainen went on to add the Jackets weren’t looking to trade Saad, and agreed the 24-year-old put up solid numbers — especially at 5-on-5.

But there was friction during his stint in Columbus.

In February of 2016, head coach John Tortorella acknowledged he “screwed up” with Saad when he first took over behind the bench.

“I came here, I screwed up with him and I think I held him back in where he wasn’t killing penalties,” he lamented. “You know what he is as a player – two-time Stanley Cup-winner – but I still think he has a lot to learn about the game, and I lost him.

“When he spends two minutes on the bench and he doesn’t kill a penalty, and I don’t come back with him another shift after that because I’m trying to get my lines back together, there he is sitting on the bench for probably three minutes. It may not seem like a lot, but for a player that’s an eternity.”

Tortorella owned up to his mistake, which might’ve seemingly put the issue to bed.

But one year later, he and Saad were clashing again.

During Game 1 of this year’s playoff series against Pittsburgh, Tortorella benched Saad in the third period after giving the puck away.

More, from the Dispatch:

The local Pittsburgh telecast showed coach John Tortorella screaming at Saad after a turnover. The team’s third-leading scorer sat for the final 14:17 with his team trailing by three goals.

“I’m not quite sure — heat of the moment,” Saad said when asked whether the turnover or other factors contributed to his benching and Tortorella’s eruption. “You will have to ask him about that. For me, it’s when I do get out there, do my best and try to help the team win.”

The overriding issue at play seemed to be Saad’s ceiling. The price to acquire him — and sign him — suggested Columbus saw him as an elite, top-line player (for example, Torts said he expected Saad to lead the way against Pittsburgh in the playoffs.)

But while the numbers and production were there, Saad might’ve been more comfortable in the role he had in Chicago, a guy that could thrive in a more secondary role while most of the focus was on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

And now, he’ll get that chance.

Again.

Wild trades center Jordan Schroeder to Blue Jackets

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired center Jordan Schroeder in a trade with the Minnesota Wild.

In exchange for the 26-year-old Schroeder, the Wild on Friday got minor-league center Dante Salituro.

Schroeder played in 37 games for the Wild last season, recording six goals and seven assists. He has 17 goals and 23 assists in 144 career NHL games with the Wild and Vancouver Canucks since making his NHL debut in 2012-13.

It was the second trade of the day announced by the Blue Jackets. They also got forward Artemi Panarin, minor-league forward Tyler Motte, a draft pick for forward Brandon Saad, minor-league goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 draft pick.

Contract stability and cost certainty key to Blackhawks’ overhaul

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Stan Bowman promised change this offseason and he delivered a lot of it on Friday when he completed two blockbuster trades to significantly alter the makeup of his core.

After sending Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defensemen Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin, the Blackhawks quickly followed that up by re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a deal centered around Artemi Panarin.

In the short-term the trades don’t do much to help the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation. Saad and Panarin have matching $6 million cap hits for this season, while Murphy offers them just a couple hundred thousand in cap savings in the Hjalmarsson deal.

But what the trades do in the long-term is give the Blackhawks a little bit of cost certainty when it comes to their salary cap structure.

Scott Powers at The Athletic quotes a Blackhawks source as saying “We believe this helps us because of contract stability. Saad has four years remaining on his deal and Murphy has five years.”

That is the key here.

Hjalmarsson, still a tremendous defensive defenseman, is set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Panarin, one of the NHL’s most prolific point producers since entering the league, will join him.

It is almost a given that if Panarin continues on the same trajectory he has been on during his first two years in the league (pretty much a top-10 scorer) he is going to cost significantly more than the $6 million cap hit he and Saad both account for this season. Finding a way to keep him with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford still on the books would have been incredibly difficult, if not completely impossible. Something like this was almost certain to happen at some point anyway.

Along with the cost certainty and “contract stability” that comes with the changes, they are also getting a little younger, something the Blackhawks could also use.

Murphy is seven years younger than Hjalmarsson and gives them another right-handed shot on their blue line. Saad, along with being locked in to a long-term contract, is a year younger than Panarin.

All of this makes sense for the Blackhawks from a long-term contract outlook, and in a capped league teams can never lose sight of the long-term finances.

But the most important question at the end of the day, of course, is are they better? Hjalmarsson is still an excellent player but he is also going to be 30 years old this season and is going to eventually reach a point where his game declines. That time will be sooner rather than later. Murphy, in theory, should still have his best days ahead of him and was — by a pretty wide margin — Arizona’s best defenseman when it came to suppressing shots and shutting down opposing players this past season.

Saad is an excellent two-way player and obviously has a lengthy history of production with the Blackhawks. But again, Panarin has been one of the 10 most productive players in the NHL the past two seasons. Is Saad’s all-around play so much better that it makes up for the difference in offense?

The one thing that could help make up for that is if prized prospect Alex Debrincat makes the jump to the NHL and is as good as advertised.

Even after all of these moves on Friday the Blackhawks still probably have more work to do given their salary cap situation. But these two moves at least gave them some long-term certainty when it comes to their core.

Related:

Chicago Fire: Blackhawks re-acquire Saad

Blackhawks send Hjalmarsson to Arizona

Coyotes expect Stepan to be ‘true number-one center’

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Derek Stepan is 27 years old and has played over 500 games in the NHL.

Though he has never registered more than 57 points in a single season, the Arizona Coyotes believe he’s the big piece they’ve been looking for.

“We are thrilled to acquire Derek,” said GM John Chayka after Friday’s trade with the Rangers. “Our organization has been searching for a true number-one center for over a decade and we are confident that he can be that for us.”

Chayka is absolutely right that the Coyotes haven’t had great centers for a while now. Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal were fine players for them, but Jeremy Roenick was their last elite center, and he’s been gone since 2001.

But is it fair to expect Stepan to be a true number one?

Well, the Rangers were reportedly concerned his game was on the decline. And at 27, his prime years are probably behind him.

Also consider the bar for number-one centers in the NHL. It’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom, and a few others who rate higher than Stepan.

One could even make the argument that the Rangers never won the Stanley Cup with Stepan because they never had an elite number-one center while he was there. (No disrespect to Brad Richards, but his game was on the decline when he signed in New York.)

So, no, it’s not fair to expect Stepan to be a true number-one center, even if he’s deployed like one next season.

The real hope for a number-one center in Arizona is with Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, and Clayton Keller.

In the meantime, Stepan will have to do.