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Late-night blockbuster: St. Louis trades Erik Johnson to Colorado for Chris Stewart

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Whether the Blues and Avalanche were saving the best for last after a remarkably busy day for trades or starting Saturday off with a bang, the teams came together for a blockbuster trade. St. Louis trades former No. 1 overall draft Erik Johnson, defensive forward Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick to Colorado in exchange for power forward Chris Stewart, rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and a conditional second-round pick.

To say that this deal came out of nowhere would be an understatement. There have been rumblings of late in St. Louis that they’ve had concern with how Johnson has played this year, but giving away a guy they took first overall in the 2006 draft is a shocking turn of events. This season Johnson has been quiet with five goals and 13 assists along with a -10 rating for St. Louis.

Sending him to Colorado means giving the Avalanche a defenseman they’re hoping will enjoy the change of scenery and go back to developing into the top level talent he looked like before injuring his knee back in 2008 in an offseason golfing accident. With how poor the Avs defensive play has been the past year or two, getting a talent like Johnson on board is the sort of player they’ve been dying to have since the likes of Rob Blake left town.

Adding a top-notch defensive forward like Jay McClement is an underrated addition to the deal. Colorado has one of the worst penalty-kill units in the league killing off just 78.0 percent of their penalties, good for 27th out of 30 in the league. Getting McClement into their lineup will help that out as the fans in St. Louis last year started a grass roots campaign to get him nominated for the Selke Trophy.

For St. Louis, they’re able to add a power forward capable of 25-30 goals a season and ability to make plays in Chris Stewart. Stewart broke out last year scoring 28 goals and showing great knack for the net and playing tough hockey. Think of it like the Blues adding another guy in the mold of David Backes. Considering how well Backes is appreciated in St. Louis, Stewart will be a huge hit. He’s missed some time this season with a broken hand suffered after a fight.

Shattenkirk is still very young on defense and while he’s shown a great offensive game, his defense leaves a bit to be desired. That’s all right as every team needs a power play quarterback and Shattenkirk can be that in the future for St. Louis. With captain Eric Brewer now out of town after being traded to the Lightning earlier Friday and Johnson on his way to Colorado, the Blues defense looks radically different. Shattenkirk will continue to learn and grow on the job with a virtually new Blues defensive corps. With seven goals and 19 assists so far this season, Shattenkirk’s offensive abilities are apparent.

Fans on both sides of this deal are going to feel like their teams are giving up on them. Stewart was beloved in Colorado while Johnson was the Blues No. 1 pick just five years ago now. Giving up that kind of talent hurts to see, but for both teams it’s a change in how they view themselves heading towards the future. Colorado gets a cornerstone defenseman to build around while the Blues add goal-scoring power forward to help fill out their ranks and make the team deeper up front.

The clichés about giving up something to get something good in return fully apply here, but in the end this looks like a deal where both teams can come out looking good. At the moment, however, we can’t help but think Colorado got better from this simply by adding a guy capable of being a top pair defenseman. With how bad the Avalanche defense has been all year, getting a guy of Johnson’s caliber was a move they had to make no matter how much it hurt to do so.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.