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.

PHT Power Rankings: NHL teams under pressure to win this season

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we turn our focus to 10 teams that should be facing a lot of pressure for success during the 2019-20 season.

“Success” can mean different things for different teams and fanbases, and largely depends on what your expectations are for them. For some teams that are more established success is measured by winning it all right now. For others, it’s simply about making progress and getting closer to contender status.

We picked out 10 teams that are facing both types of pressure. Which teams are they?

To the rankings!

Pressure to compete for (or win) a championship

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper this is the best, most complete team in hockey. The roster is loaded with stars in the prime of their career that have done everything in the NHL except win the Stanley Cup. Until they get it there is always going to be the “yeah, but…” that follows them around, especially now as they come off one of the most stunning postseason exits in NHL history. “Championship or bust” is usually an unfair mentality because it only sets you up for the inevitable disappointment that 30 teams will end their season with, but if it ever fairly applied to a team this would be the one.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs. The most hyped team in the league managed to get even stronger this offseason with the addition of Tyson Barrie to its blue line. It is time, though, for all of that potential to finally turn into something because right now this current core has nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and first-round exits to show for all of its talent.

3. Winnipeg Jets. The Jets entered the 2018-19 season as a Stanley Cup favorite but faded in the second half, went out quietly in Round 1, and still have to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to new contracts, a pair of deals that will quickly eat up their remaining salary cap space. They also lost a lot of minutes off of their blue line this summer and did not really do much to replace them.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. Coming off of a Round 1 sweep against the New York Islanders, the Penguins traded a popular, productive player for a lesser player, signed another depth player to a long-term contract, and didn’t really do anything to improve a team that has its share of flaws and has drifted away from the recipe it found success with. They only have a few more years of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and need to do everything they can to maximize them. Have they done that?

5. San Jose Sharks. Losing Joe Pavelski will be a big blow to the offense in the short-term, but this is still a Stanley Cup caliber team, and as long as Joe Thornton keeps returning (we are assuming he will again for at least one year) there is going to be pressure to finally get him a championship. They have everything they need to get there, except for maybe the goaltending, a position they still have not addressed.

Pressure to simply get better … right now

6. Chicago Blackhawks. I don’t know that expectations are necessarily high for the Blackhawks after back-to-back non-playoff seasons, but general manager Stan Bowman has put a lot of pressure on himself for the team to win. His offseason plan has focussed on the short-term and looks like a GM that think he still has a chance to win with his current core. If he is wrong, he is probably the next one to go.

7.  Edmonton Oilers. They changed the general manager and the head coach and both will have a little bit of a leash to turn this thing around. But they have already wasted three of Connor McDavid‘s first four seasons in the NHL by not even being close to competitive, and that is just something that can not continue. Getting a player like that is a gift and the Oilers are wasting it.

8. Buffalo Sabres. The Eastern Conference version of the Oilers, only worse. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-11 season while the scorched earth rebuild that was supposed to turn things around has produced … nothing. Sabres fans have been ridiculously loyal and deserve a better product than they have been handed over the past decade.

9. New York Rangers. They had an incredible offseason with the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko. It has absolutely accelerated the rebuild, but has it increased expectations too quickly? This is still a team with several holes and probably isn’t ready to compete just yet. But the pressure will be there, especially as the team still tries to compete in the final years of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career.

10. New Jersey Devils. The additions of top pick Jack Hughes, forwards Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds, and defender P.K. Subban have quickly helped transform the Devils into a team worth watching, especially with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall. Even with all of those additions there is still a big question mark in net and they HAVE to show they can win and compete if they have any chance of re-signing Hall. He is a star that has spent his entire career playing on losing teams and is one year away from being able to pick his next spot. Winning would go a long way toward convincing him to stay.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Islanders need Varlamov to pick up where Lehner left off

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

When the Islanders needed to roll the dice on a goaltender last season, they decided to hand Robin Lehner a one-year, $1.5 million. The deal couldn’t possibly have worked out any better for them, as Lehner ended up being named one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy.

The 28-year-old posted a 25-13-5 record with a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage in 46 appearances with the Isles last season. It was, by far, the best year of his career. Of course, he had quite a bit of help. New head coach Barry Trotz used a defense-first system that limited the opposition’s scoring chances. That’s not to say that Lehner’s season wasn’t impressive though.

The Islanders netmider also helped his team sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately for them, they were swept in the second round by Carolina Hurricanes. In the end, Lehner finished the postseason with a 4-4 record, a 2.00 goals-against-average and a .936 save percentage.

[MORE: Summary]

As good as he was, Isles general manager Lou Lamoriello wasn’t interested in committing to his goalie long-term. Once free agency opened on July 1st, Lehner signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Isles decided to give Semyon Varlamov a four-year, $20 million contract.

Varlamov’s had his share of struggles over the last few seasons in Colorado. He ended up playing in 49 games last year, but eventually lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer. The 31-year-old had a 20-19-9 record with a 2.87 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage last season.

“Even [before last season] when we were looking for goaltenders, he was on the radar for the organization,” Trotz said of Varlamov via NHL.com. “He’s obviously been someone that I think we have a lot of confidence in. With Robin’s [contract] situation, when that didn’t materialize, [Varlamov] was the No. 1 guy that we were going to go after.”

So committing to him for four years is definitely a risky move, but Trotz’s system could help bring out the best in him.

“It’s very hard to play against the teams he’s coaching because of his system,” Varlamov said of Trotz. “Every team playing against a Barry Trotz-coached [team] is going to have a hard time because all the teams he’s coached, they play very well defensively. They play very tight in front of the net.”

There will be plenty of pressure on Varlamov’s shoulders heading into this season. Expectations will be higher for the Islanders this year because they were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference last season. The beauty of Trotz’s system is that he just needs his goaltender to be solid. Most of the time, he doesn’t need his goalie to steal games. Can Varlamov handle that? Can the Isles replicate the success they had last season?

Varlamov is the biggest change the Isles made to their roster this off-season. If they drop off in 2019-20, a good amount of blame will be placed on his shoulders.

The pressure is definitely on the Russian veteran to provide the team with adequate performances between the pipes.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s New York Islanders Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

2018-19
48-27-7, 103 points (2nd in the Metropolitan Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Eliminated in four games in the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

IN:
Semyon Varlamov
Jared Coreau

OUT: 
Robin Lehner
Luca Sbisa
Dennis Seidenberg
Valtteri Filppula

RE-SIGNED: 
Tanner Fritz
Jordan Eberle
Tom Kuhnhackl
Anders Lee
Brock Nelson

2018-19 Summary

Did your team lose the captain/best player on the roster? Do you feel like you have no hope? Well if you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, look no further than the 2018-19 Islanders. After John Tavares walked to Toronto in free agency, many predicted that the Isles would be one of the bottom-feeders in the NHL. Instead, they ended up being one of the greatest stories of the year.

The Islanders’ top point-getter last season was sophomore forward Mathew Barzal, who picked up 62 points in 82 contests. They had four players hit the 50-point mark (Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee). They also had just three players surpass the 20-goal mark (Lee, Nelson and Casey Cizikas). Despite those limited offensive numbers, the Islanders found a way to finish second in the Metropolitan Division which, again, no one expected.

How did they do it? Structure, structure and more structure.

Bringing in Barry Trotz as head coach proved to be a wise move for a team without an offensive superstar. Trotz’s defensive-minded approach ended up giving the Isles an identity. They weren’t very fun to watch, but they found a way to get the job done on most nights.

They also found a way to sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before they were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.

Now, the question is whether or not they can do it all over again.

“We know other teams will take us maybe more serious than they did last year,” Lamoriello said, per NHL.com. “But that’s where we have to grow and that’s where our character that I have tremendous confidence in comes through, plus the coaching staff that we have.

“This is the first time that a lot of our players have ever gone through the playoffs, first time they experienced success, and then the lack of success in the second round and how it’s approached. You learn by experience. You never know what experience is until you acquire it.”

The Islanders brought back three core players in Eberle, Lee and Nelson. The biggest change will occur between the pipes, as they let Vezina Trophy nominee Robin Lehner hit free agency. Lehner had the best year of his career, as he posted a 25-13-5 record with a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage. Despite those awesome numbers, the organization wasn’t ready to commit to Lehner long term. Clearly, they felt that Trotz’s system helped the veteran netminder succeed (it probably did).

In fairness to the team, no other squad was willing to give Lehner a long-term deal, so he ended signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

With him no longer in the picture, Lamoriello had to sign a new starting goaltender. In the end, they settled on former Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (he inked a four-year, $20 million deal). The 31-year-old has struggled over the last couple of seasons, but playing in Trotz’s system could help revitalize his career like it did for Lehner.

Whether or not he fits in as well as Lehner did remains to be seen.

This whole group proved a lot of people wrong last year. Can they do it again?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Top 20 defensemen; Canucks believe in Benning

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL.com breaks down the Top 20 defensemen in the NHL right now. (NHL.com)

• The Hockey News projects ahead to who the Canucks will protect come the 2021 expansion draft. (The Hockey News)

• The fact that the Canucks are extending Jim Benning shows that they believe in his plan. (Sportsnet)

• How can every team’s jersey be improved? (Puck Prose)

• Can Evan Bouchard crack the Oilers’ defense this year? (Edmonton Journal)

Charlie McAvoy continued developing during a big 2018-19 season. (Stanley Cup Chowder)

• How much can the Predators expect from Dante Fabbro? (Predlines)

• Here’s a list of forwards the Vegas Golden Knights could opt to sign late in the summer. (SinBin.Vegas)

• What would the Penguins front office look like without Bill Guerin? (Pensburgh)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.