Predators trade Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi to Maple Leafs for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney

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It’s a trade that might not shake you out of your sleep, but it’s an important deal for both teams. Nashville traded forward Matthew Lombardi and defenseman Cody Franson to Toronto for defenseman Brett Lebda and minor league forward Robert Slaney. This deal does things for both teams that should work out well in the end.

Leafs GM Brian Burke corrects the free agency mistake of a year ago and jettisons Brett Lebda. Lebda signed to a two-year, $2.9 million deal last season with Toronto and after just one season with the Leafs he wound up being the punching bag for the fans thanks to his poor play. By getting young, talented defenseman Cody Franson from Nashville, the Leafs add depth and talent to their blue line corps. Franson has solid upside and provides very steady play at defense. The addition of Lombardi might seem like a steal for Toronto but it’s mostly a salary dump for  Nashville.

After Predators GM David Poile signed Lombardi to a three year, $10.5 million deal last summer but saw Lombardi get knocked out for the year with a concussion just two games into the season. With Lombardi’s future still in question as he’s still dealing with effects from that blow to the head, the Predators couldn’t afford to keep him and his $3.5 million cap hit around much longer. The cost of giving the Leafs that kind of money was in giving up Franson. As Poile said after the trade, it’s the price of doing business.

“Unfortunately, Matthew Lombardi’s concussion last season and recovery left us uncertain about his ability to come back for this season, and that uncertainty has made it difficult for us to move forward, plan and develop our lineup,” Poile said. “We never like to give up young homegrown talent like Cody Franson, but have to give up something in order to put ourselves in position to do other things to improve our team, which we are committed to doing between now and training camp.”

The freed up cap space will come in immediately handy for Nashville as they’ve got to get team captain and restricted free agent Shea Weber signed to a long term deal. They’ll also have other cornerstone defenseman Ryan Suter to get locked up to a long term deal as he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season. This also frees up space for the Predators to attempt to acquire a top six forward. This will also give the Predators a chance to see what 2009 first round pick defenseman Ryan Ellis can do for them.

While Toronto can’t expect to get anything from Lombardi until he’s able to start skating again, the upside that Franson provides for their blue line was worth pulling the trigger on this deal. Both teams will benefit from this trade one way or another. For Toronto, simply subtracting Lebda from their roster could be viewed as a huge win (and believe us it’s already being seen that way) but Franson gives them a solid young guy to build on and one that can improve their power play. If they get anything positive from Lombardi, it’s gravy. For Nashville, freeing up opportunity for other players and clearing cap space to keep franchise players and potentially bringing big talent aboard made it a no-brainer for them.

U.S. women back looking for Olympic gold vs. archrival Canada

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — To three-time Olympian Hilary Knight, the thought of finally hoisting the gold medal means giving women’s hockey a big boost in the United States.

How big?

Huge.

”The U.S. wants to be No. 1 in everything, and I think we’ve all been raised as awesome competitors so at the end of the day we want a victory,” Knight said. ”We want to win, and that would be winning a gold medal.”

That’s the only shade of medal that has eluded the Americans since 1998, the last time they won it all in Nagano when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut. They took home a disappointing bronze from Turin in 2006 and silver from the past two finals – no loss more crushing than in 2014 in Sochi when Canada rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime.

Now the Americans have their latest chance at Olympic gold (Wednesday, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) against their archrival in a showdown Thursday that will include Marie-Philip Poulin, whose two goals snatched gold from U.S. hands in Sochi. She is back again as Canada’s captain.

”For me, it’s been a fairy tale for the last Olympics,” Poulin said. ”But it’s in the past now. It’s a new Olympics, and we have to bring our best game and go from there.”

This game once again features the only two nations ever to win Olympic gold.

Nothing less than a fifth straight gold medal is expected in the country that created the sport, and the Canadians have won the past four Olympic gold-medal games. Only the United States in basketball has dominated a women’s team sport more thoroughly with its streak of six straight golds.

The Canadians haven’t lost even a single Olympic game since the 1998 Nagano final won by the United States. Their streak stands at 24 consecutive games, including a 2-1 win over the United States to cap pool play a week ago. They’ve also won five straight over the Americans, including four exhibition victories in December prepping for the Olympics.

”Maybe I’m biased, but one of the best rivalries in sports and especially in our game,” said Canadian forward Emily Clark, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. ”So we obviously have a lot on the line, mostly pride. All of us are going to bring our best game.”

Yet the Americans have owned the world championships, winning the last four and eight of the last 10. That has only made the U.S. drought at the Olympics all the more noticeable and makes this game even more special.

”It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little,” said U.S. forward Dani Cameranesi. ”So it means a lot, and to be here with this group of girls and to be with them all year has really been an honor.”

The 10 Americans who lost the final in Sochi have left that game in the past. No need to waste energy dwelling on such a heartbreaker when the chance at history is at hand. Cameranesi is among 13 Americans on the roster at their first Olympics, so Sochi is just a game they may have watched on TV.

”We’re in South Korea, and it’s 2018 and you want a different result,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said . ”They’ve put a lot of energy and focus into transforming things that they needed to get better at, and that’s now. You drop the puck, see what happens.”

When the Americans and Canadians play, it’s essentially a heavyweight bout even if nobody drops the gloves.

”Every single time we play them, it’s a big game,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. ”You know the crowds there, people. There’s always pressure every single time when you represent your country and you play best on best competition. I think it’s something that we’re used to.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Olympic sensation Tolvanen may make Predators even deeper

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Watch out NHL teams, Eeli’s coming. Eeli Tolvanen, that is.

At least, that appears to be the plan for the Nashville Predators, as assistant GM Paul Fenton told Craig Custance of The Athletic (sub required) that they expect to bring in Tolvanen once his KHL “out clause” kicks in following his season with Jokerit.

“We’ll have a contract in place to be able to execute and have him come over here,” Fenton said. “That’s the plan. Funnier things have happened. I don’t want to say 100 percent. I never do that in our business. Yes, our plan is to have him.”

Now, depending upon whom you ask, the “funnier things” might involve a trade … although the odds seem pretty low on that, as Custance notes:

OK, so let’s assume that Tolvanen isn’t the one who’s traded. There’s the possibility, mind you, that Tolvanen’s emergence and Mike Fisher’s hopeful return might force a bit of a logjam, or at least a theoretical one. Maybe GM David Poile would use that anticipated influx of even more depth to make an upgrade?

(Dobber Hockey discusses how Jokerit’s work in the KHL playoffs also complicates when Tolvanen might be able to arrive in North America. Short version: Predators fans will probably root against Jokerit for at least a few weeks.)

It’s dizzying stuff to jump into all of the possibilities, especially if you’re like TSN’s Travis Yost, who ponders potential reverberations in a possible Seattle expansion draft:

/Needs a second to sit down and allow brain to heal.

OK, so all of that is important, but let’s take a moment to bask in the gloriousness of what might be another talented player added to a fun Predators roster already brimming with depth and skill. (Custance describes the Predators as “salivating” over clips from Tolvanen at the 2018 Winter Olympics.)

The beautiful thing about the Finnish 18-year-old, who was almost instantly heralded as a steal as the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, is that he’s checking just about all the boxes.

While his Finnish team fell to Canada and were eliminated in the quarterfinal today, he was absolutely sensational. Quick reference: when you’re getting mentioned in the same breath as vintage Eric Lindros, you’re probably doing something very, very right.

Of course, five games is a small sample size, and the talent on hand during the 2018 Winter Olympics was a mixed bag.

The Predators must be heartened, then, to see Tolvanen produce in the KHL. He currently has 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 47 games. That ranks Tolvanen second on his team in scoring, just one point behind former Canucks and Rangers forward Nicklas Jensen, who’s collected his 35 points in 52 games.

He made quite the splash right off the bat, becoming the youngest player to net a hat trick in the KHL:

Ultimately, the Predators enjoy an embarrassment of riches, with the luxury of bickering over whether they should keep the promising prospect or move him in a Rick Nash trade. The stakes are high when you’re aiming for a Stanley Cup, yet it’s also remarkable just how loaded the Predators are from their roster to their farm system.

While Poile and the Predators giggle about the possibilities, the rest of the NHL lets out more of a nervous laugh. Or at least they probably should.

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.

Amid Karlsson trade rumors, Ryan to return for Sens

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During Tuesday’s Insider Trading segment on TSN, Bob McKenzie noted that to trade for Erik Karlsson, a suitor might need to assume the mammoth contract of Bobby Ryan. Ryan, 30, hasn’t played since Feb. 1 and has been limited to 39 games this season because of hand/wrist injury issues that have been plaguing him for years.

Remarkably, a day after that report surfaced, it sounds like Ryan might make his return to the Senators lineup. The current plan is for Ryan to suit up for Ottawa on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to reporters including TSN’s Brent Wallace.

There are a number of remarkable things about this development.

Obviously, the timing stands out, as this comes on the heels of that report, not to mention less than a week before Feb. 26’s trade deadline. It’s even amusing that Ryan is slated to face the Lightning, a team that may very well decide that it’s worth it to go all-in and acquire Karlsson, even if it means taking on Ryan. Surely getting a look at him, up close and personal, wouldn’t hurt matters?

(Allow me to think out loud: if Ryan Callahan‘s $5.8 million was involved as well, would that grease the wheels a bit?)

There are a few ways things can go for Ryan.

LTIR bound?

For one thing, it’s difficult to ignore the possibility that the once-potent sniper might go the way of the LTIR mainstay, much like Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, and others before him. The Athletic’s Chris Stevenson went into exhaustive detail regarding the rather confusing scenarios for Ryan possibly being LTIR material here (sub required).

Even if Ryan’s fated to go on LTIR – which might be a necessity for a contender that already has big commitments, considering the fact that his $7.25M cap hit won’t expire until after 2021-22 – the Lightning or some other team might want to see what he can do now. Assuming they can make the cap hits work in 2017-18.

More in the tank?

It’s easy to forget that Ryan isn’t that far removed from some impressive goal-scoring days.

His last 20+ goal season came as recently as 2015-16, when he collected 22 in 81 games. He basically averaged 20 goals through his first three seasons in Ottawa, as Ryan totaled 63 from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

Ryan showed flashes of that brilliance during the Senators’ remarkable run within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He managed six goals and 15 points in 19 playoff games, including a brilliant OT-winner against the Penguins:

For once, the bounces were going Ryan’s way, as he enjoyed the best playoff work of his career and connected on 28.57 percent of his shots on goal. So, yes, those results were inflated … yet they came during the 2017 postseason. If healthy, is that unreasonable to imagine Ryan posting nice numbers in Tampa Bay and becoming more than just a throw-in? Could he help even if his injury luck continues to come and go?

If Ryan was forced to be part of a Karlsson trade, the dream scenario for the Lightning or another contender might be something like Clarke MacArthur‘s 2017 playoff run with Ottawa. Maybe Ryan contributes to a postseason push, then lands on LTIR?

One other thought

It’s important to note that trading Ryan wouldn’t necessarily be the best-case scenario for Ottawa. (It might be for owner Eugene Melnyk, mind you, as it’s basically an open secret that he’s very … cost-conscious at the moment.)

To accept Ryan’s contract – even at a discounted rate – a bidding team would likely give up less actual, beneficial pieces in a Karlsson trade. Perhaps ridding themselves off Ryan’s contract would cost the Senators a draft pick, prospect, or some other key piece? It’s certainly something to consider.

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.

Dion Phaneuf trade pays early dividends for Kings

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If nothing else, Dion Phaneuf knows how to make a first impression.

Think back to when Phaneuf burst onto the season as an NHL rookie. He scored 20 goals during his first season in 2005-06, which still stands as a career-high, and he enjoyed 50 and 60-point seasons in the next two years. During his first three seasons (2005-06 to 2007-08), Phaneuf collected 159 points, tying him with Brian Rafalski for sixth-most among defensemen. No other blueliner was even close to his 54 goals during that same span.

Between that scoring prowess and such a tendency to throw hard hits that his last name became a Kronwallian verb, it seemed like Phaneuf was destined to be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger, or maybe the next Rob Blake.

… That’s not how things turned out, of course.

Phaneuf’s been known as much for a shaky contract as anything else lately, which is part of the reason Blake was able to get the Ottawa Senators to eat 25 percent of his salary to make a trade happen.

[Trade: Senators send Phaneuf to Kings.]

At the time, it was a puzzling deal, with the main takeaway being that the Senators get to save money while the Kings hope to rejuvenate Phaneuf. So far, that rejuvenation has been remarkable, even if small sample size red flags pop out so much, they practically poke you in the eye.

Still, it’s been a cool, under-the-radar story. Through four games, Phaneuf already has three goals for the Kings. All three have come on the power play; Phaneuf scored in his debut for L.A. and also found the net last night, helping them carve out a 4-3 win against the Jets.

[A deeper look at debuts for Phaneuf, Marian Gaborik.]

Let’s watch all three of his Kings goals.

Phaneuf’s goal in his Kings debut is the anomaly, as he saw an opening for something of a backdoor goal, which isn’t really what you picture if you hear “Phaneuf power-play goal.”

His past two goals have been to type, with slappers from both points getting the job done:

Even skeptics would probably admit that Phaneuf can still fire the puck, so maybe the Kings will find a nice use for one of his enduring strengths.

Again, there really couldn’t be enough signs that this is a brief surge of luck.

Phaneuf has scored his three goals on 11 SOG, which translates to a 27.3 shooting percentage. He brought a 3.5 shooting percentage (in 53 games) with him from Ottawa, and his career average is 5.7 percent.

(You can stretch this out further to absurd PDO numbers and others, if you want to go exploring.)

The most interesting question will come down to how much value Phaneuf can bring to the Kings.

So far, his possession numbers are shaky, much like they were in Ottawa. He’ll get a chance to improve over the long haul, especially if he remains tethered to a solid middle pairing blueliner like Alec Martinez. Phaneuf has spent more even-strength time with Martinez than he has with any other King, Jonathan Quick included, according to Natural Stat Trick.

This brief but compelling surge is actually reminiscent of some other trades for the Kings. As you may recall, both Vincent Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla enjoyed brief-yet-notable surges in their swan songs in L.A.

Of course, the stakes are higher with Phaneuf. Even at a discounted rate, his $5.25 million cap hit is frightening, especially when you realize that it runs through 2020-21.

One must grade the trade with Marian Gaborik‘s also-challenging contract in mind, making this all a bit convoluted. If one were to wager, it seems most likely that this move will be remembered as a costly, creative, and somewhat confusing lateral move.

But, hey, at least the first chapter has been captivating.

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.