Save of the night: Marc-Andre Fleury stones Scott Gomez

Aside from the occasional night off – or the even less common instance when a save or goal isn’t deemed worthy – the gang at PHT will decide which tally or stop is the best of any given night. Once those two winners are determined, we’ll share our reasoning (and most importantly, the video clip for each) in posts for your viewing pleasure.

While Marc-Andre Fleury was busy beating the Canadiens last night and doing a bit of showing off after the fact, he had to put in a bit of work to make it all pan out in the end of course. These are the tasks of being a goalie in the NHL after all. Fleury was able to keep the Habs off the board enough while the Penguins were busy filling the net with four power play goals on the way to a 5-2 win.

One such stop Fleury had to make came off the stick of Scott Gomez. With the score knotted at 2-2 in the second period, Gomez had a glorious opportunity off a cross-ice pass that Fleury tracked swiftly from post to post to make the stop. Perhaps Fleury can do all the posing he wants to as long as he’s making stops like this to win games.

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Bruins? Canucks? Ekman-Larsson trade market ‘intensifying’

Ekman-Larsson Bruins
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We could see some significant player movement across the NHL this offseason, and one of the biggest names getting attention right now is Arizona Coyotes defenseman (and captain) Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Trading him would represent a fairly seismic shift for a Coyotes team that is already likely to lose Taylor Hall to unrestricted free agency over the next few weeks.

Thursday ended up being a noteworthy day on the Ekman-Larsson front due to several reports regarding interested teams and his preferred destinations.

This would not be an easy trade for the Coyotes to complete because Ekman-Larsson’s contract is not only significant financially (seven years remaining at an $8.25 million salary cap hit), but because he also has a no-movement clause that allows him to dictate where he goes.

The Edmonton Oilers were thought to be a team with interest in Ekman-Larsson, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Oscar Klefbom who may need shoulder surgery that could sideline him for a significant portion of 2020-21 season. But TSN’s Darren Dreger reportedthat while trade talks around Ekman-Larsson are believed to be “intensifying,” the Oilers have been informed they are NOT currently on the very short-list of teams he would consider a trade to.

Who are the teams on that list?

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, it is Boston and Vancouver (with long-time Coyotes reporter Craig Morgan adding that Boston has been a preferred destination).

Let’s take a quick look at both of those options.

Boston Bruins

This would be the definition an “all in, Stanley Cup or bust” trade.

Over the past two years the Bruins have been in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and finished the following regular season with the league’s best record. They are already one of the league’s powers and have a potentially massive hole opening up on their blue line due to the pending unrestricted free agency of Torey Krug.

(Not to mention the fact that Zdeno Chara, if he returns, is going to be 43 years old.)

There is a need there, and it would give Charlie McAvoy a long-term partner on the team’s top defense pairing.

The wild thing about this is the Bruins actually have the salary cap space to take on Ekman-Larsson’s contract, but doing so would almost certainly slam the door shut on a Krug return. The question then becomes are the Bruins better with Ekman-Larsson (minus whatever assets they have to give up to acquire him) than they are with Krug?

That’s a tough question to answer.

They can both be outstanding players, they are the exact same age, and their salary commitments will probably end up being in the same ballpark depending on what Krug’s value is on the open market.

Their overall production offensively is very similar, but Ekman-Larsson’s underlying numbers have regressed in recent years. Krug’s, meanwhile, have remained very strong. It is important to point out, though, the quality of talent around each player in those seasons. Playing next to McAvoy and behind David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand would do a lot to revitalize any career.

Vancouver Canucks

This is the exact type of move we should be expecting from the Canucks this offseason.

They have been operating like they are contenders for a couple of years now despite being in a rebuild, and their postseason success in 2020 (winning their play-in round series against Minnesota, eliminating St. Louis in the First Round, then taking Vegas to Game 7 in the Second Round) is only going to further convince them they are close.

They have an impressive core of emerging young stars (Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes) and definitely need more help on defense to help complement them.

The big issue here: Can they afford this?

The Canucks have $14 million in salary cap space to work with, but have a LOT of holes to fill at the bottom roster. They definitely need another top-four defenseman, but they are also going to need a goalie (either re-signing Jacob Markstrom or a different outside addition) and will have several roster spots to fill due to potential UFA losses (Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev). That does not even get into other improvements they may need to make to simply improve their depth production, something that needs to happen.

Can they do all of that?

Another potential wrinkle in all of this: Neither one of these teams currently owns a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft, an asset that Arizona would almost certainly want as part of a trade. The Coyotes do not currently have a pick until the fourth-round in this year’s class. The Bruins own picks in the second and third rounds, while Vancouver does not have a pick until the third round.

A 2021 first-round pick could, however, be in play. The Coyotes are also lacking a pick there as punishment for violating the NHL’s scouting combine testing policy.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Trading Laine would be huge risk for Jets, could create more problems

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We are about to begin one of the most unpredictable NHL offseasons in recent memory.

A flat salary cap, combined with uncertainty on when the next season will even begin, as well teams looking to work within their own internal budgets could create chaos on the player movement front.

Players that would have otherwise been deemed untouchable could soon be finding new homes as teams look to shed salary to stay cap compliant or come in under budget.

One of the most intriguing names that has been mentioned in trade speculation so far is Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine.

Under normal circumstances this is not the type of player you discuss as a trade chip. He is still only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s elite goal scorers. You build around players like this, not listen to trade offers for them.

But these are not really normal circumstances. The pandemic, which caused the suspension of the 2019-20 season and kept fans out of the building for its return in late July, has put a significant dent in revenues and has kept the salary cap at $81.5 million.

Why consider trading him?

The Jets are already dealing with an under-the-radar salary cap crunch and enter the offseason with only $15 million in cap space and only 14 players under contract for next season. They also have significant holes that needed addressed down the middle of their lineup at center and on defense. Laine will also be a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season and will be in line for a far bigger contract than the two-year, $13.5 million deal he signed before this season, and the Jets — for whatever reason — don’t seem to be in a hurry to pay him.

When Laine first appeared on TSN’s Trade Bait board in early September it was speculated that the Jets could put him in play “to explore avenues to fill holes on their blueline and down the middle.”

I hate — hate! –the idea of using one of your best players as a trade chip to try and fill other holes because it is probably not going to work out as planned.

The risks with trading him

For one, if you trade that player for a package of other players you are almost certainly giving up the best player in the deal.  That means you are taking a quantity over quality return. Yeah, you might get a second-line center and a second-pairing defenseman to fill two positions of need, but neither player is going to be as good as the elite goal-scorer you traded away.

While you are addressing those two weaknesses you have gone and created a different — and potentially bigger and harder to fill — weakness by giving up the goal-scorer. Laine certainly has his flaws as a player (he scores a lot, but he also gives up a lot the other way), but it’s hell of a lot easier for a young player to become a better defensive player than it is to learn how to score 35-40 goals. When you have the guy that does the latter, it is usually a good idea to hang on them. Because you can’t easily replace them.

There’s also the one-for-one option which could bring back a comparable player at another position, but you’re again fixing one trouble spot by creating another. You also need to make sure you get that one-for-one trade right, because if you acquire the wrong player it’s really going to set you back. You want to make sure you’re making the Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones trade, and not the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. Get it right, and it could work. Get it wrong, and it sets you back years and you become a laughing stock.

Let common sense win

The speculation makes some degree of sense when you put all the variables together.

The salary cap, the raise he will be due starting next season, and having so many other issues to fix on the roster.

But this is still one of those situations where the best solution really does seem to be the simplest solution. Keep the impact player that is just now entering the prime of his career, cut salary elsewhere on the roster, and don’t try to fix smaller problems by creating a bigger problem.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Breaking down this offseason’s crowded goalie market

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Need a goalie? You’re in luck, because this offseason’s NHL free agent and trade market is overflowing with options as several prominent goaltenders are set to become available over the coming days and weeks.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable options, ranging from the safest and best bets, to the riskiest and most volatile.

Also just for laughs, one completely bonkers option that does not even seem realistic.

FREE AGENTS

Sign this goalie

Robin Lehner (Vegas Golden Knights — pending UFA). Word is the Golden Knights want to re-sign him, and there was even a report during the playoffs that an agreement had been reached (Lehner denied it). But until pen is put to paper and deal is official we are working under the assumption that he could still be available, and if he is, he would be the best available player at the position. Of the 70 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games over the past four years, Lehner ranks seventh in all situations save percentage (.919) and 15th in even-strength save percentage (.924) while also posting outstanding postseason numbers. He has played on one-year deals the past two years in shared net situations. He has more than earned a long-term deal and starting job, whether it comes in Vegas or somewhere else.

Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks — pending UFA). Markstrom was a huge part of the Canucks taking a big step forward this season. He is not one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has been a durable starter for the past three years and consistently provided above average play behind what was — at times — a very porous defensive team. It took him a while to establish himself as a starter, but now that he has, he is an excellent one.

Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars — pending UFA). How much money did he make for himself this postseason? The risk here is that he is 34 years old and never been a full-time starter in the NHL. The argument for him is that he has been outstanding for three years now, and even though he certainly played his way into a bigger contract he still shouldn’t break the bank. The ideal outcome for him is to re-sign in Dallas where he and Ben Bishop form an outstanding duo.

Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders — pending UFA). Like Khudobin, Greiss is probably most valuable in a platoon role. Not one of the biggest names available, but In four of the past five years he has played in at least 30 games and finished with a save percentage of .912 or better. Some team is going to spend a lot more money on a lesser goalie this offseason.

NHL Free Agency
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Proceed with caution

Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks — pending UFA). Crawford was the most underrated part of the Blackhawks’ mini-dynasty and one of their most important players. I still think he can be (and is) an excellent player when healthy. And that is the big “if” here. He turns 36 in December and has had some significant injury issues the past few years.

Henrik Lundqvist (Bought out — currently UFA). The two obvious questions here are: 1) which goalie-needy contender does he signs with to chase that elusive Stanley Cup (Colorado? Carolina?) and, 2) how much does he have left in the tank as a starter to help that contender win the Stanley Cup? He is 38 years old and has a .906 save percentage over the past two years. He’s a far cry from the goalie he used to be, but in the right situation I think there is still something here.

Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals — pending UFA). Just have a bad feeling about this for some team. At one time one of the best goalies in hockey, but he has been ordinary (to even bad) for three years now. Getting some strong Sergei Bobrovsky-in-Florida vibes with this next contract.

The Trade Market

Likely trade candidates

Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas Golden Knights). Fleury has said he will not ask for a trade, but if Vegas is successful in re-signing Lehner a deal here seems to be inevitable. There is not enough room under the cap for those two contracts, and there probably isn’t enough room in the crease for two No. 1 goalies. Seems like an ideal fit for Colorado given their trade assets and salary cap space, but why would Vegas want to improve what might be its top Western Conference contender?

Matt Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins). Here’s the problem with Murray: We just don’t know how good he is at this point. Sometimes he looks like the goalie that was a two-time Stanley Cup champion in his first two years and sometimes he looks … decidedly average. It seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the Penguins move him, but given the saturated goalie market and Murray’s inconsistency the past three years the return he could be way smaller than expected.

Long-shot trade candidates

Darcy Kuemper (Arizona Coyotes). Kuemper’s name surfaced in trade rumors shortly after the Coyotes were eliminated, but it really doesn’t seem like a good idea. They have a good thing going with him and Antti Raanta for this season, and given Raanta’s ongoing injury concerns keeping Kuemper seems like it should be a priority. Not likely to get an upgrade at a cheaper price.

Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota Wild). Bill Guerin seems determined to shake things up, Dubnyk only has one year left on his deal, he is coming off his worst season in Minnesota, and with the available options there could be an upgrade to be made here.

The nuclear option

Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins). Am only including Rask because TSN’s Frank Seravalli mentioned on Thursday that Bruins GM Don Sweeney has “initiated conversations with teams about Rask’s market value over the last number of weeks.” That doesn’t necessarily mean he is looking to trade him, but that is still interesting. Also a little insane. The Bruins have everything it takes to win a Stanley Cup and even though Rask only has one year left on his contract he is still better than any goalie they could realistically acquire to replace him. Let’s not overthink this, folks.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Countdown on for debut of Seattle Kraken

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SEATTLE — Standing on the recently poured concrete that will be the club level floor inside Climate Pledge Arena, Tod Leiweke nodded and pointed toward a corner of the upper deck.

That’s where Leiweke envisions sitting sometime in the fall of 2021 when the Seattle Kraken skate out from the dressing room three floors below, hoping to be in front of a packed building waiting to welcome the NHL’s newest member.

”We’ve gotten a lot done, but now we look up and we say, hey, 12 months out, maybe less, and counting,” Leiweke said. ”This is going to get real.”

Time seems to defy definition right now thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and all the ways it has changed schedules and plans. But after Tampa Bay raised the Stanley Cup on Monday night, the countdown is truly on.

In about a year, the Kraken will gather for their first training camp in a $90 million practice facility that is the anchor of a massive retail redevelopment. Sometime in late summer or early fall 2021, the arena being built under the iconic roof that’s been part of the Seattle skyline for more than 50 years will be finished.

Eventually, the Kraken will play their first game and officially become the league’s 32nd team.

When the puck will actually drop remains unknown. The NHL may be headed toward a January 2021 start for the upcoming season and the league would still like to play a full 82-game schedule that would likely drag into the summer. But the NHL is still hoping to start Seattle’s first season on time next fall, especially since it’s planning to send players to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Seattle will be ready regardless, largely because of what it was able to accomplish during the pandemic, highlighted by the launch of the team’s nickname and subsequent merchandise buying frenzy. While the name remains polarizing – most fans love it or hate it – the positive reaction to the slithering ”S” as the main logo, the secondary mark that incorporates the Space Needle and the success in sales can’t be denied. In the days following the name announcement, the Kraken were the top-selling team across all sports on Fanatics.com.

”It’s a mark that is the symbol of our brand. But really a brand is made up of 1,000 different pieces that all come together to create a team brand and a feeling of purpose and a soul, and the mark was really important,” Leiweke said. ”I walked into that morning believing that people were going to like it. But I think that the reaction of the public exceeded my expectations.”

Seattle also landed Amazon as its naming rights partner for its arena. The Kraken hired Everett Fitzhugh as the first Black team broadcaster in NHL history and continued to build out their hockey operations and scouting staff.

It’s allowed Leiweke to start thinking about the actual hockey product and the day next year when the foundation of the first team will be established through the expansion draft.

”There’s a terrific amount of work in front of us, but in fact we’re on track, and we’re on plan,” Leiweke said. ”To feel that, given everything else that’s going on, is pretty amazing.”

Everyone involved expects the arena to be ready in time, especially if the start of the 2021 season is delayed. The roof that had to remain because of its historical landmark status no longer rests on temporary supports. Permanent support structures are in place, while a completely new arena is constructed underneath.

The framework of the seating sections is completed in most areas of the arena, with the exception of one corner still being used to haul materials in and out.

”By far the biggest tests are behind us,” said Ken Johnsen, construction executive overseeing the arena.

The timeline for construction was impacted by the early stages of the virus outbreak, but Johnsen said any lag and supply chain issues have been resolved.

Leiweke said dealing with construction issues is just another example of a challenge his organization needed to work through during the pandemic, and thus far been successful at navigating.

”Not to say this project wasn’t already filled with lots of ambition before all of this, but this has made it certainly more challenging and I think people have risen to the challenge,” Leiweke said. ”That’s going to be a great story of this whole thing is how people rose up to meet this challenge.”