Chicago Blackhawks v Colorado Avalanche

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

15 Comments

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.

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)
Getty
1 Comment

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

4 Comments

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

8 Comments

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

1 Comment

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.