Chicago Blackhawks v Colorado Avalanche

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Rampant trade speculation, hockey is hard to predict, the bubble Canucks, and more


This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I was thinking after Kris Versteeg got traded back to Chicago, imagine how lame it would be if teams couldn’t eat salary. With half the NHL right up against the cap? It would be gridlock out there. I predict we’re going to see a lot more salary-eating before the March 5 deadline. And I guess we should thank Brian Burke for the new rules. The ability to retain salary was something he was trying to push when he was still in Anaheim. As a blogger who traffics in rampant speculation, I heartily concur with his opinion that trades are “healthy for our business.”

Mike Halford: Yeah, I want teams eating paper like a wonky fax machine. It just opens up so many more possibilities. The Florida situation is a great example, because it allowed Tallon to shake things up after he’d exhausted all the other conventional methods, like firing his coach and offering up Ryan Whitney via mass email. (Can you even believe that? Mass email? I bet some GMs got it and thought it was like a Nigerian banking scam. “Good day friend, I am manager general Tallon of Panther. Interested you R. Whitney, defender? Price is free.”) Now I’m trying to think of other guys who could be traded a la Versteeg. If Calgary’s willing to retain a good share of Mike Cammalleri’s $6 million hit, a lot of teams could be in the running for a proven sniper who’s off to a pretty hot start.

source: Getty ImagesJB: Absolutely. I already tried to stoke some Cammalleri speculation here, but it didn’t exactly set the comments section on fire. What, nobody cares about the Flames or something? Fine, let’s try another candidate: Ryan Miller, whose cap hit is $6.25 million. I’ve already mentioned a couple of times I think the Blues should see about adding him. I know they’ve already got Jaroslav Halak; I just don’t trust him to stay healthy. Besides, I think Miller is better, and the time is now for that team. The Blues are ridiculously loaded on defense, their forwards are actually scoring. If they got Miller without losing a significant roster player, I’d probably change my Stanley Cup pick from L.A. to St. Louis.

MH: Ah yes, Jason Brough’s famed Stanley Cup pick, the prediction by which all GMs set their rosters. I can just see Doug Armstrong scrambling to call Pat LaFontaine in a desperate attempt to get your endorsement…before realizing you picked Edmonton to make the playoffs. Anyway, since you’re floating the idea of Miller getting traded to a team that’s already loaded with goalies, let’s keep with the crazy and discuss the idea of Shea Weber getting dealt to Edmonton, which you wrote about last week. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said a “big stud defenseman” would help his club “immensely,” but here’s my question: after losing Ryan Suter to free agency, could the Preds really ship out Weber — clearly the face of the franchise — and do it after paying him an ungodly amount of money in salary and signing bonuses? Could make for a lot of disappointed fans.

JB: Ah yes, the old “face of the franchise” argument. It’s the same one I read here. I don’t buy it. If the Preds traded Weber to the Oilers, you realize it wouldn’t be for Luke Gadzic and Tyler Pitlick, right? Unless David Poile somehow loses his mind, it would have to include one of Edmonton’s young stars. Now, suppose that’s Taylor Hall, a recent first overall pick who would instantly become the most exciting player in Nashville franchise history, save for possibly Paul Kariya, who was only there for two seasons. The Preds’ marketing department couldn’t drum up some buzz for a future with Hall and Seth Jones? Look, I never said this was going to happen. It probably won’t. I just wouldn’t be totally shocked if it did, because unlike most blockbuster trade scenarios that get floated on the interweb, it makes some semblance of sense. At any rate, the Oilers have won two straight, including last night’s 7-0 blowout of Columbus, so maybe this isn’t the best time to discuss this. Almost as bad as our timing yesterday, when we talked about the Avs getting a “reality check”…about an hour before they went out and smoked the defending Stanley Cup champs. Is there any sport tougher to predict than hockey?

source: Getty ImagesMH: Based on the fact I predicted Joel Quenneville would be fired last season, I’m going to answer no to that question. Makes me feel a bit better about myself. Let’s get back to the Avs for a sec. Yes, they hammered Chicago last night, but they also got outshot, 37-23. This team still has a lot to prove in the next few weeks. Look at their next five games: at Phoenix, at Los Angeles, versus St. Louis, then a home-and-home against Minnesota. I know a lot of people are focused on the injuries to Duchene/Tanguay and expecting Varlamov/Giguere to come back to earth, but how about the smoke-and-mirrors on defense? Call me a skeptic, but a unit comprised of Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson, Andre Benoit, Cory Sarich, Nate Guenin and a rotating No. 6 will eventually get exposed.

JB: Well, I can tell you one team that hopes you’re right: the Canucks. According to Sports Club Stats, after yesterday’s shootout loss to Florida, Vancouver has a 34.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. So basically a one-in-three shot. Now, I’m not totally sold on that site’s methodology, and obviously there’s a ton of time to get back into the top eight, but it’s totally fair to call the Canucks a bubble team now. Frankly, I was absolutely shocked to hear Henrik Sedin say last night that Vancouver hung back in the third period when the game was tied. “You look at the clock,” he said. The Canucks wanted to get the point, he said. At home. Versus the freakin’ Florida Panthers! What’s the opposite of swagger? Because that’s what the Canucks have right now. Now imagine they lose at home to Columbus on Friday. There will be lava flowing through the streets of Vancouver, courtesy one Mount Tortorella.

As expected, Avalanche recall highly touted prospect Rantanen

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to facing the Carolina Hurricanes at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Last week, it was reported that Colorado Avalanche forward prospect Mikko Rantanen would re-join the team at some point this week.

On Monday, the Avalanche made good on that plan, recalling Rantanen, the 2015 first-round pick, from San Antonio in the American Hockey League.

The move comes after Toronto claimed Colorado forward Ben Smith off waivers, opening a spot up front for Colorado.

Rantanen’s season got off to an unfortunate start. He suffered a sprained ankle in a rookie tournament, and was eventually sent down to the minors to get some playing time after coming back from the injury.

It’s expected that Rantanen, who had an impressive rookie campaign in the minors with the Rampage despite still being a teenager, will be put into a top-six role right away for the Avalanche, which is averaging 3.2 goals a game early on.

He scored 24 goals and 60 points in 52 games in the AHL last season, and had a small taste of the NHL. He began the season with the Avalanche, and was later recalled from the minors in the middle of March when Nathan MacKinnon went out with a knee injury.

Rantanen, who later this week will turn 20 years old, didn’t register a point in nine games with the Avalanche last season. But he still did get that experience, as well as most of an AHL season under his belt, which could serve him well this time around.

Given he is a 10th overall selection, and his numbers in Europe before the draft and in the minors as an NHL prospect, there are high expectations for what Rantanen could potentially do at the big-league level for an Avalanche team that already boasts highly skilled playmakers like MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie.

The Avalanche are in the midst of a break in their schedule, with five days between games.

They don’t play again until Friday, when they host the Winnipeg Jets, so Rantanen’s season debut in Colorado will have to wait at least until then.

Canucks recall training camp standout Stecher

Vancouver Canucks' Alexander Edler, of Sweden; Joseph Labate; Alexis D'Aoust; James Sheppard; and Troy Stecher, from left, celebrate Labate's goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Didn’t take Troy Stecher long to get back up to the NHL.

Stecher, the undrafted free agent out of North Dakota that starred for Vancouver in the preseason, has been recalled from AHL Utica along with forward Jayson Megna.

The Canucks needed some fresh bodies from the farm following injuries to Alex Burrows, Derek Dorsett and, most distressingly, defenseman Chris Tanev. Tanev took a bad spill into the boards during Sunday’s loss to Anaheim, and appeared to be in serious discomfort.

If he’s out for any length of time, it could be a problem.

The 26-year-old is one of Vancouver’s top blueliners and a valued defensive defenseman. He’s averaging over 20 minutes per night this year, and is coming off a campaign in which he scored 18 points in 69 games, while averaging a career-best 21:45 TOI per night.

Stecher, 22, could draw into the lineup for Tuesday’s home date against Ottawa as Tanev’s replacement, or the Canucks could give towering Russian rearguard Nikita Tryamkin his season debut.

Tryamkin, who appeared in 13 games for Vancouver last year, has yet to dress but also refused assignment to Utica (he has an out clause allowing him to return to the KHL rather than report to the minors.)

Update: General manager Jim Benning confirmed to Ben Kuzma of The Province that Burrows and Dorsett have been placed on injured reserve, and will be out a minimum of seven days.

Canucks’ Tryamkin refuses AHL assignment, would prefer to be a healthy scratch apparently

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers battles against Nikita Tryamkin #88 of the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks have an interesting situation with big Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin. Six games into season, the 22-year-old defenseman has yet to get into the lineup, and he’s been brandishing the KHL out-clause in his contract by refusing an assignment to the AHL.

“There is no possibility that he will play in the American Hockey League,” GM Jim Benning said this weekend, per the Vancouver Sun. “We’ve explored that. We’ve talked to him and his agent and he has said no. In a perfect world, we’d like him to get some games (in the minors). But it is what it is. He is working hard in practice and doing extra work.”

Tryamkin was the 66th overall pick in the 2014 draft, an enticing project with size and strength, one who naturally drew comparisons to Zdeno Chara. He came to North America late last season, after his fourth KHL campaign with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg had finished, and played 13 games (1G, 1A) for the Canucks down the (meaningless) stretch.

It remains to be seen when he’ll get into a game again. Chris Tanev got banged up Sunday in Anaheim and is questionable for tomorrow’s home date against Ottawa, but Tanev is more likely to be replaced by Alex Biega, who played as a forward against the Ducks.

Tryamkin, meanwhile, will likely have to sit and wait. Unless he gets bored enough to go to Utica, which is where the Canucks would like him anyway.

Per Cap Friendly, Tryamkin’s contract pays him $925,000 in the NHL versus $70,000 in the AHL. He can become a restricted free agent after the season is over, which would allow him to return to the KHL should he choose to do so.

The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the season

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) watches as Patrik Laine's game-tying goal goes past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

In case you haven’t noticed, NHL goalies are having a real struggle to start the 2016-17 season. After 80 games, the average save percentage sits at just .903, per Hockey Reference.

To put that number in perspective, the last time a season finished with that low an average was 2000-01. The last couple of years, it’s been at .915, the highest save rate in league history. So don’t expect it to stay at .903 for long. Remember, the goalies’ equipment hasn’t really been altered yet.

With that in mind, here are five goalies that need to pull it together:

Brian Elliott: The most obvious candidate. He’s been extremely shaky for his new team in Calgary, going 0-3-0 with an .839 save rate. Another poor performance tonight in Chicago and head coach Glen Gulutzan may need to give Chad Johnson an opportunity to take the ball and run with it, because the Flames are already in a hole.

Frederik Andersen: Another goalie playing for a new team. He’s gone 1-0-3 for Toronto, with an .879 save percentage. The Maple Leafs had better hope this is just a blip, because they’re committed to Andersen through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $5 million.

Corey Crawford: This is an interesting one, because Crawford has mostly been ventilated on the penalty kill. His save percentage is a ridiculously low .615 while the ‘Hawks are shorthanded (10 goals allowed) and an impressive .966 at even strength (three goals). Overall, he’s 1-3-0 with an .886 save percentage, which needs to be higher one way or the other.

Eddie Lack/Cam Ward: Let’s count these two as one, because they both play for Carolina and they’re both having serious issues. After five Hurricanes games, Lack’s save percentage is just .857 (three starts), while Ward’s is somehow worse at .852 (two starts). It was a similar story last year, when Lack and Ward combined for the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL, so don’t feel obligated to act surprised.

Steve Mason/Michal Neuvirth: We’ll also count these guys as one, since they both play for Philadelphia and they’re both having a tough go. This scenario is different than Carolina’s, though, because Mason and Neuvirth were both excellent last season in helping the Flyers to an unexpected playoff berth. This season, Mason is 1-2-1 with an .882 save percentage, while Neuvirth is technically undefeated with a 1-0-0 record, but his save percentage is just .854 in two appearances.

So that’s seven struggling goalies. There are plenty of honorary mentions, including Anton Khudobin, Louis Domingue, Darcy Kuemper, Craig Anderson, John Gibson, Martin Jones, Jake Allen, and even Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, whose save percentage sits at a lowly .861.

PS — Henrik Lundqvist, Semyon Varlamov, and Marc-Andre Fleury haven’t been great either.