Five players to watch leading up to this year’s trade deadline

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The NHL trade deadline arrives on Monday at 3 p.m. ET and this year’s deadline has been made more interesting thanks to all the activity leading up to it this time around. Since February 9th when Toronto traded Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner, there have been 22 trades involving 46 players and 19 draft picks changing hands.

Given that we’ve still got the weekend to get through and rumors continue to swirl around almost virtually everyone, we’re giving you five players to keep your eye on when it’s time for GMs to lay it all on the line and decide whether they’re going for it or not. Keep in mind, this list comes from the copious amounts of speculation we’ve read and by no means are any of these guys as good as traded by the deadline. For appropriate irony’s sake, making up this list likely keeps all five of these guys from being moved at all.

1. Brad Richards – Dallas Stars

He’s out with a concussion but now he’s started skating and could be back soon. He’s easily the best player rumored to be out there and his ability to help create offense and set other players up is a hugely desired quality. He’s done it through his whole career with Tampa Bay and Dallas and he’s an impending unrestricted free agent. In a perfect world, Dallas signs him to a massive contract extension and everyone goes home smiling. But with the Stars ownership being up in the air and no major financial commitments being allowed, his future in Dallas may not be long.

Whether the Stars opt to hang onto him and then look to deal him before July 1st if their ownership mess isn’t cleared up or if they strike now while the price would be the absolute highest is the dilemma facing Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. The number of teams ideally interested in Richards would be many and the Rangers are an obvious landing spot given their desperate need for a top center and Richards’ former coach in Tampa, John Tortorella, being there. Any deal made would then see that team try their hardest to lock Richards up long term, so there’s an element of risk for anyone wanting to get involved as without that extension trading for Richards is a really expensive rental.

Oh yeah, Dallas is also smack in the middle of trying to make the playoffs. It seems crazy that they’d deal their best player, but if the reality in Dallas is that things aren’t going to loosen up off the ice, the Stars might have to make a move to get a big return to help them in the future.

2. Stephen Weiss – Florida Panthers

Weiss has made it clear before that he’d stay in Florida for as long as they’d want him to. Panthers GM Dale Tallon says it would take a huge offer to make him consider moving Weiss, but the Panthers playmaker is viewed as a guy that would make a nice second prize should Dallas not want to move Richards. With 16 goals and 24 assists this season, his numbers seem pedestrian but on the offensively-starved Panthers he’s their top scorer, a distinction he’s had the two years previous including last year when he had a career-high 60 points, including 28 goals.

For a lot of teams he wouldn’t be an ideal #1 center, but for most contenders he’d be a perfect fit as a #2 center. It’s a shame for the Capitals that the Panthers share a division with them and would then seem less likely to want to make a deal with them involving Weiss. Weiss has a no-trade clause but we’d assume if the right contending team came calling he’d waive it and look to play in the first playoff series of his career.

3. Bryan McCabe – Florida Panthers

Sure, we could put a few more Panthers on this list (David Booth, Tomas Vokoun) but there’s only so many spots we’ve got. McCabe is in the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent which makes him a prime target for a team needing defensive help with a hint of offense along the blue line. The Panthers captain has been battling injury this year but his imminent return to action means he’ll be well rested and ready to roll for anyone that acquired him. McCabe had his share of frustrations when he played for Toronto seasons ago, but he’s settled down into a solid, serviceable defenseman.

With five goals and 17 assists this season through 47 games, he can still chip in well offensively but his biggest number may actually be his plus/minus rating of +3.  On a team that’s often been giving up goals like candy, keeping that number positive is astounding. Teammate Dennis Wideman’s -26 rating tells you how bad it can get there.

4. John-Michael Liles – Colorado Avalanche

The offensive-minded Avalanche defenseman has seen interest in him pick up in a big way of late and with the Avs acquiring Erik Johnson from St. Louis last week, signs are pointing towards Liles being moved out of town to change things up even further in Denver. Toronto is supposedly heavily in the mix for Liles and with GM Brian Burke’s affinity for American defenseman that played college hockey it’s no wonder. What Liles can do is help spark the offense as he’s got six goals and 33 assists this season. He can run the point on the power play and help set everyone else up. One area where he struggles is defensively but in Toronto that wouldn’t be a big problem as he could be paired up with anyone else and get proper help. Yes, even in Toronto.

One catch for acquiring Liles is that he comes with a stiff price tag with a cap hit of $4.2 million that carries into next season. If a team wants him bad enough, they’d better be committed to paying for his offensive production and be able to look past his defensive shortcomings at that price.

5. Ales Hemsky – Edmonton Oilers

The super talented forward is one of a few guys in Edmonton that are rumored to be on the move and while either he or Dustin Penner would be the biggest gets of the pack, Hemsky’s abilities and offensive creativity make him the more attractive option. Hemsky has 13 goals and 28 assists this season and in the past, when he’s been healthy, he’s been the Oilers most dynamic scorer and playmaker. He was an All-Star this season (for whatever that might mean to you) and there’s talk leaking about that even the Capitals might have interest in him.

The problem with gunning for Hemsky (or Penner) is the asking price. The Oilers reportedly want a solid roster player, a prospect, and a draft pick in any deal involving either of these players. With that kind of price attached, it’s tough to see either of them going anywhere. All told, the Oilers might be better off hanging on to them and allowing Taylor Hall to keep emerging as the top talent that he is while having these veteran running mates. Whether or not Oilers GM Steve Tambellini gets blown away by an offer or not remains to be seen.

Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

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The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

(That doesn’t mean he won’t have a setback … but all things considered, the Bruins will take it.)

So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Kucherov’s goal run ends, but he helped Sergachev make history, Bolts win

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Gosh, that Nikita Kucherov is such a slacker.

The underrated, rising star saw his historic, season-opening seven-game goal streak end with eight in seven games. This leaves him just one game short of tying Wayne Gretzky.

It’s fitting, though, that Kucherov made a little history even as his historic run ended. He earned two primary assists on the first two goals of Mikhail Sergachev‘s NHL career, factoring into the Tampa Bay Lightning’s surprisingly low-scoring 2-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

(C’mon, you pictured some fireworks there too, didn’t you?)

Here’s the first-ever goal for Sergachev, who matched trade mate Jonathan Drouin‘s two goals with tonight’s outburst.

And here’s the second:

Yeah, you can’t give Sergachev that kind of space and time; then again, maybe the Blue Jackets were a little preoccupied with stopping Kucherov and his red-hot partner-in-crime, Steven Stamkos?

The real star of tonight’s game/reason why it was so low-scoring was probably Andrei Vasilevskiy. Another key Russian for the Lightning, Vasilevskiy stopped all 43 shots for an impressive shutout. This marks his first of the season and only the fifth of what’s been a promising young career.

After falling just short against the New Jersey Devils via a shootout, the Bolts improve to 6-1-1 while winning another early temperature check against Columbus, who are still off to a strong start at 5-2-0.

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McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

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Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

(Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

Here’s the OT goal.

If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

***

Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Schneider injury puts damper on Devils win, Hischier’s big night

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Update: Nico Hishier was one of the biggest stories as the game went along, but a lot happened in an eventual 5-4 OT win for the Devils.

Tonight served as an “I’m back” moment for Erik Karlsson, who served up three assists as the Senators turned a 2-1 deficit to a 4-2 edge after a dominant second period. Ottawa wasn’t able to sit on that lead, however, as the Devils rallied to send the game to overtime.

Hischier didn’t get his hat trick, but he did manage a third point, assisting on John Moore‘s overtime-winner.

Karlsson and the Senators fell short of spoiling this big night for Hischier, yet the Devils have something to worry about, as Cory Schneider suffered an injury that ended his evening early.

***

One remarkable thing about the New Jersey Devils’ hot start is that Nico Hischier, the top pick of this past draft, had yet to score his first NHL goal.

Of course, there’s a danger to looking at only goals. After all, the 18-year-old had four assists in six games, with three coming in his last two contests. The Devils were justified in all of those comments about it being just a matter of time …

… As it turns out, it didn’t take Hischier much time against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Not only did the Swiss scorer find the net for his first goal by roofing a nice setup from Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford.

He also showed some savvy in scoring his second goal less than two minutes later.

Hischier now has two periods and change to collect his first-ever hat trick in that same game.

A quick look at how he’s been doing, overall

Even when other Devils stole some of his thunder in what might have been an opening statement of a first win for New Jersey, Hischier showed some dynamic moves.

Nice.

As NJ.com’s Chris Ryan reported, Devils coach John Hynes was left raving about Hischier after he collected two assists in the Devils’ shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.

“He was very good in all aspects,” John Hynes said on Wednesday. “Defensively he was excellent, going back to the video this morning, some of the chances he had that he didn’t score on were excellent. When you look at the chances he created, the assists he had, the assist on the game-tying goal, he set up (Taylor Hall) very well in the offensive zone. I’d say that was his most complete game to date.”

Hischier began the season being used sparingly, but he logged more legitimate top-six minutes the past couple games. He sure seems like a quick study so far. Hischier’s getting some protected zone starts and other situations, but there’s also sense that Hynes is going to take off the training wheels very quickly.

Thursday seems like the reward, or the flashing light, for all that good early work. This post will be updated as we wait to see if Hischier can manage that hat trick.

***

Look, it’s very, very early.

All we can judge Hischier and the Devils on, right now, is how they’ve played so far … and with each game, this team looks more and more legit. And so does their prized prospect.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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