Top five trade deadline day winners

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After a trade deadline day filled with just 16 trades involving 35 players, many fans around the league came away feeling a bit let down. Considering last year’s deadline day saw 31 trades, it’s an understandable let down comparatively. The 16 deals is the lowest since the 2000 deadline that saw just 12 trades made.

Of course, that’s not to say there won’t be an impact felt by the deals that were made today and as always there are winners and losers upon first glance. Who do we think came out on top of things today? Our top five deadline day winners should give you a good idea of how we’re thinking. (Top five losers can be seen here.)

1. Los Angeles Kings acquiring Dustin Penner

The Kings have been hurting for offense most of the season. They’ve seen Jonathan Quick carry them to the fifth spot in the West at the moment on the back of spectacular goaltending and even the Kings defense is doing a solid job on their own right. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams have been shouldering the load of the offense this year and they desperately needed some kind of help scoring with their forwards.

Enter Dustin Penner into the mix and all of a sudden the Kings top two lines look more solid and dangerous. Whether Penner plays on a line with Kopitar or Jarret Stoll shouldn’t matter as the newest King broke out last year in Edmonton pouring in 32 goals and 31 assists. This season he’s got 21 goals and 18 assists. Those kind of goal numbers in L.A. would put him first on the team in goals ahead of the Kings quartet of guys with 20. Kopitar, Williams, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Smyth each have 20 and while coach Terry Murray has juggled his lines a lot this year, things should settle out evenly with Penner in town.

The package the Kings gave up to get him isn’t a back breaker either as Colten Teubert is a defensive prospect, something the Kings are teeming with. Giving up their first round pick this year doesn’t hurt so bad as this year’s draft class is supposed to be thinner than usual. Kings GM Dean Lombardi waited things out and didn’t have to give up top forward prospect Brayden Schenn to get Penner. It’s a win all around for Los Angeles and should Penner provide the goal scoring they’re looking for, the Kings became very dangerous the rest of the way.

2. Vancouver Canucks get deeper with Maxime Lapierre and Chris Higgins

The Canucks are the top team in the Western Conference so deadline day was a day for them to pick up any pieces necessary to get deeper and ready for the playoffs. About the only hole for the Canucks was their fourth line which has seen a host of players cycle in and out of the lineup to play alongside Tanner Glass.

Bringing in a new center in need of a kick in the pants in Maxime Lapierre from Anaheim and an experienced guy like Chris Higgins from Florida are tremendous upgrades on what Vancouver has been using on the fourth line. Lapierre is an agitator to the extreme and when properly motivated plays a fantastic role as a grinder. Higgins gives Vancouver a bit more talent and depth to use along the left wing on their third or fourth line. Higgins is not the goal scorer he was long touted to be, but his ability to play better defensively and not be completely offensively inept helps out in a big way. These two guys also provide them with more speed and energy on those last two lines. Just what a dangerous team needed, better players to become that much more dangerous.

3. Washington Capitals acquiring forward Jason Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman

Caps GM George McPhee had a short list of things he had to do on deadline day to keep the fans at bay and show that the Caps were serious about being involved in this year’s playoffs. Yes, they’re a virtual lock to go and yes they have one of the greatest players on the planet in Alex Ovechkin, but glaring holes along the blue line and at center have been there all along. Failing to fill those holes at the deadline would’ve been major mistakes and McPhee made sure he didn’t fail this time around.

First he acquired offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman to help their power play and also allow the Caps to give Mike Green more time to recover from his head injuries suffered from getting hit with a puck and hit by New York’s Derek Stepan. Once Green does return, however, that gives the Capitals two guys to run their two power play units from the blue line. Wideman’s defensive shortcomings should be covered up in the Caps new defensive-friendly system.

Adding Jason Arnott to be the new second line center provides an immediate upgrade there as Marcus Johansson is still awfully young and Mathieu Perreault is just flat out not good enough. Arnott’s experience and abilities should play better with the likes of Alex Semin and Brooks Laich and gives Washington a more stable presence both on and off the ice. His playoff experience cannot be discounted either and when the Caps get to April and May, his help there should be noticeable. Now if only he can break his offensive funk that he’s been in the last couple months, the Caps should be all set.

4. Florida Panthers for not trading away Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun

All right the Panthers were obscenely busy making trades today as they sent Radek Dvorak to Atlanta, Bryan Allen to Carolina, Chris Higgins to Vancouver, and Dennis Wideman to Washington. They’d already done their part before deadline day in dealing Michal Frolik to Chicago and Cory Stillman to Carolina as well. While it’s apparent that GM Dale Tallon is cleaning house and starting over fresh in Sunrise, he didn’t give away the team’s best assets. Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Tomas Vokoun are all still there and they’re the type of guys you need to build a foundation around. While Vokoun is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, showing they’re dedicated to him by not dealing him makes it seem like the chances of extending his contract are better. We’ll see about that by summertime.

Tallon’s gone out of his way to acquire draft picks for all the other guys he’s traded away and in the 2011 draft he’s got a lot of choices to burn off. Apparently he’s not scared of how apparently weak the 2011 draft class is. Tallon’s gone through this rebuild thing before in Chicago and came away with guys like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook because of it. He got off to a good start in last year’s draft with Erik Gudbranson and having him and Dmitry Kulikov on the blue line to join Weiss and Booth along with whoever they add through the draft has the makings of a potentially bright future.

5. Columbus acquires Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto from Phoenix

Columbus needed a boost if they’re going to keep at it in the hunt for the playoffs in the West. Adding a great guy for the locker room and forward on the ice in Upshall and balanced defenseman Lepisto, the Blue Jackets did just that. With the news of Anton Stralman being out for the next 3-4 weeks, adding Lepisto and waiver acquisition Craig Rivet suddenly gives them a lot of depth on the blue line. It’s debatable how much Rivet can add, but Lepisto is solid and will be helpful to them on the power play as well, a key move with Stralman out.

Upshall can score a little and grind and check as well. Getting a winger with those talents in Columbus is a huge help and having Upshall ride along side Antoine Vermette gives them a versatile line that can both score and defend strong too. Giving up original Blue Jacket Rostislav Klesla is a bit of a downer and while he’s been a loyal soldier for the organization, he’s been part of a lot of bad teams, been injured too often and just now finally started falling into a good role in Columbus. Selling high is a smart move and GM Scott Howson did just that and came away with a steal.

Looking to make the leap: Haydn Fleury

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes have built an impressive stockpile of young defensemen, arguably the best in the NHL.

Looking at their current NHL roster there isn’t one defensemen under contract for this season that is over the age of 26, while three of their best — and youngest — are all signed to long-term deals. Not only are they young, they are also already really, really good and just need a more stable goaltending situation behind them to help the Hurricanes take a big leap forward this season.

For as good and promising as that group already is, there is another young player in the pipeline that hasn’t even had a chance to make an impact yet in 2014 first-round pick (No. 7 overall) Haydn Fleury.

The 21-year-old Fleury is coming off of his first year of pro hockey, spending the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Other than missing part of the season due to injury it was mostly a successful pro debut for the young rearguard, appearing in 69 games and scoring seven goals to go with 19 assists and showing considerable improvement down the stretch following a slow start.

The logjam of young defensemen already in Carolina is going to make it tough for Fleury to crack the lineup, but the No. 6 spot on the blue line does seem to be up for grabs between him and Klas Dahlbeck. Even if he doesn’t grab that spot at the start of the season it seems reasonable to assume that at some point during the season — whether it be due to injury, a trade, or just a lack of performance from somebody else — that he is going to make his NHL debut.

When he does it will be just another promising young player added to a defensive core that already boasts Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Given the contracts Faulk, Slavin and Pesce are signed to, and the fact Hanifin and Fleury are still on their entry level deals it gives the Hurricanes a ton of flexibility when it comes to constructing their roster. Any of them would be attractive pieces in trade talks to make improvements elsewhere, or they can be the foundation of the defense — and the team itself — for the next six or seven years for a remarkably affordable price.

Scott Darling will be the key to the Hurricanes’ season

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

A few numbers to keep in mind about the Carolina Hurricanes as they prepare to enter the 2017-18 season:

  • Over the past three seasons only one team in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings — has allowed fewer shots on goal per game than the 27.3 allowed by the Hurricanes. An impressive number, especially given how young their defense has been during that stretch.
  • Despite those low shot totals the Hurricanes are only 19th in the NHL in goals against. The are the only team in the top-eight in shots against that finished outside of the top-12 in goals against and the only one that has not made the playoffs at least once. Two of those teams have made the Stanley Cup Final at least once. Four have made the the Conference Finals at least once.

So how is a team that is so good at suppressing shots so bad at preventing goals and winning games?

Goaltending.

They are hoping that newly acquired goalie Scott Darling, getting what will be his first chance at a full-time starting job, will be able to help fix that issue.

Over that same three-year stretch mentioned above, Hurricanes goalies — a revolving door made up of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Anton Khudobin — have not managed a save percentage that placed them higher than 26th in the entire league in any one season. That is a pretty significant problem and it has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the team’s lack of success on the ice. No one position in hockey can impact the fortunes of a team more than a goalie. Carey Price has taken an average Canadiens team and made them a contender. The opposite has been happening in Carolina.

Let’s just look at this past season as an example, when the duo of Ward and Lack finished with a .904 mark, with Ward (playing in 61 of the games) leading the way at .905.

If the Hurricanes had been able to replace Ward’s performance with a league average number (in the .912 range) in his 61 starts the Hurricanes would have allowed 12-14 fewer goals right off the bat. A league average duo across the board would have cut close to 20 goals off the board over 82 games. That is a potentially significant swing and Darling is the newest goalie that will get a chance to make it happen.

Darling spent the past three seasons serving as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago and playing at a level that made him one of the league’s best No. 2 goalies. Among the 58 goalies that have appeared in at least 60 games over the past three seasons Darling’s .923 save percentage has him sixth in the NHL behind only Carey Price, Matt Murray, Antti Raanta (another backup getting a chance to start this season), Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby.

The test for him is whether or not he can maintain that level of play — or anything close to it — when he is counted on to be the No. 1 goalie that gets the top teams every night.

If he can be, the Hurricanes are going to have a great shot to end that eight-year playoff drought given how good their defense already is and how many young, talented forwards they have in their lineup.

If he is not, it will probably be more of the same — a promising young team that just seems to keep falling short in the regular season.

Poll: Will the Hurricanes be a playoff team this season?

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It has been eight years since the Carolina Hurricanes qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then they have gone through three coaches, numerous roster constructions and a still ongoing rebuilding effort.

For the past three or four years it seems as if the Hurricanes have entered the new season as a popular sleeper pick to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and things never quite seem to work out for one reason or another (recently goaltending has been a big reason). Those expectations are back once again this season.

They had a pretty strong finish to the 2016-17 season with an 11-5-5 mark down the stretch and have an impressive young core of players in place, mostly on their defense that is stacked with a ton of already good — and very underrated — players all under the age of 24, with several of them now locked in to long-term contracts. Up front Jeff Skinner is one of the NHL’s best goal scorers, while Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask are looking like two of the best young forwards in the league. They attempted to complement that young core this summer with some pretty significant veteran additions, including Justin Williams, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Marcus Kruger and Scott Darling.

Their young players are still at an age where they have room to improve, and they made some significant additions around them (and do not forget Jordan Staal, who is still a really good player even if he carries a huge contract). Will those improvements be enough to help the Hurricanes make up eight points in the standings and get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season?

Under Pressure: Bill Peters

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Bill Peters is a pretty good hockey coach. In his three years behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench his teams have always played hard, they have been competitive, they have seen great growth from their young core of players during their rebuild, and they have consistently been one of the top possession teams in the league. There are a lot of positives and a lot of reasons for optimism for what might be there in the coming seasons.

One thing there has not been: A trip to the postseason. There hasn’t been one in Carolina since the 2008-09 season as three different coaches have been unable to reach the playoffs during that stretch. So it hasn’t necessarily been just a coach thing.

It doesn’t seem that Peters is starting the season on the hot seat, and general manager Ron Francis recently gave his coach a vote of confidence heading into the season saying exactly that.

“I think Bill Peters is one hell of a hockey coach, so I would not put him on the hot seat and in that category. Not at all,” Francis said this week, via the News & Observer. “This is guy who has shown he’s a hell of a coach with a very young team. I don’t think you hold him accountable for missing the playoffs the last couple of years, based on the situation we were in and what we were trying to build.”

All fair points, and he specifically points out the playoff drought and what the team was going through.

But professional sports is still a bottom line business, and eventually results will begin to matter. Especially after the offseason the Hurricanes had that saw them bring in Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk and goaltender Scott Darling who can hopefully fix the team’s biggest and most glaring weakness in most recent years (the goaltending position). Combine those additions with a promising young core, led by Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and that defense and expectations are going to start to build.

Peters has also been given a leash that most NHL coaches do not get. Over the past 30 years I found only 12 other examples of coaches that coached a single team to three consecutive non-playoff seasons.

  • Three of those coaches (Terry Crisp, Curt Fraser and Rick Bowness) were coaches of literal expansion teams that were just entering the league.
  • Seven of them were fired just after the third non-playoff season.
  • One of them (Ron Wilson) was fired late in what would have been the fourth consecutive non-playoff season.
  • Wayne Gretzky was given four consecutive non-playoff seasons in Arizona before he was no longer behind the bench. His replacement, Dave Tippett, was given five consecutive non-playoff seasons after some early initial success with the team. That run ended this offseason when he mutually agreed to step away from the team.
  • Lindy Ruff made it through three non-playoff seasons in Buffalo in the early 2000s and managed to stick with the team for another eight years. But his playoff drought followed four consecutive playoff seasons, including three years where the team advanced to at least the second round and one year where they won the Eastern Conference.

The bottom line with Peters is this: A good coach that probably isn’t to blame for the team’s recent lack of success, but given the shelf life of coaches in the NHL and how few of them get to stick around for this many seasons without the playoffs, and the offseason additions made by the front office, the team is going to have to start winning. Soon.