Small-time dealing: Panthers complete three separate trades with Calgary, Winnipeg, and Vancouver

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The Florida Panthers and GM Dale Tallon aren’t limited to just signing every free agent available under the sun. Tallon is also an accomplished trade worker as well and today he pulled off three separate deals all with Canadian teams. Two of the deals feature former top prospects coming back to Florida in return.

First up, the Panthers traded defenseman Kenndal McArdle to Winnipeg for former Pittsburgh first round pick Angelo Esposito. Esposito was once believed to be the future at center for the Penguins but was later traded to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the Marian Hossa deal. Esposito has dealt with injury problems throughout his career and has yet to crack through to the NHL because of it. McArdle will fit in well into the depth mix in Winnipeg and he’s got some NHL experience with the Panthers.

The Panthers then dealt the rights to restricted free agent forward Mike Duco to Vancouver for the restricted free agent rights to top prospect Sergei Shirokov. While Duco shouldn’t be a problem to be signed for Vancouver, Shirokov bolted for the KHL. As George Richards of On Frozen Pond shares, the Panthers might have a wait to see him play for the team.

Shirokov recently left the Canucks to return to his KHL team in Moscow. According to Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo.com, Shirokov has a three-year deal. Florida now holds his NHL rights although Chesnokov says Shirokov’s contract doesn’t have an out clause.

Shirokov scored 22 goals in each of the past two seasons with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and was a two-time AHL all-star. He had 17 goals in 56 games in his final season with CSKA Moskow of the KHL before heading west.

If this storyline sounds familiar with the Canucks sending a highly touted prospect to the Panthers it’s because it happened just last year. The Canucks traded Michael Grabner to Florida in exchange for defenseman Keith Ballard but then waived Grabner who was then claimed by the Islanders and had a breakout season scoring 34 goals for the Isles. Should Shirokov get back to North America anytime soon and have similar success, we’re going to have to start taking a closer look at what Canucks GM Mike Gillis is doing with his young talent.

The third deal the Panthers did was a minor league deal swapping defensemen with Calgary sending Jordan Henry to Calgary in exchange for Keith Seabrook. Seabrook is the brother of Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook.

The final piece of business the Panthers took care of was re-signing center Ryan Carter. In 62 NHL games last year with the Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, and Panthers he scored three goals and six assists. With all the latest additions in Florida, Carter could find himself spending a lot of time in the AHL in San Antonio.

Kaapo Kakko has made his case to be top pick at 2019 NHL Draft

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If the IIHF World Championship is a last-chance-hotel of sorts for a few lucky youngsters looking to lift their draft stock, Finland’s Kaapo Kakko certainly hasn’t checked out yet.

If anything, he’s given the New Jersey Devils brass a headache leading up to the NHL Draft on June 21.

A good headache, of course.

Jack Hughes, the American prodigy who’s set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program ablaze, has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for most of the year, and the year leading up to this draft, and perhaps sometime before that, too. He’s a special player who, in 50 games this season with the program’s U-18 team, put up 34 goals and 112 points, 20 more at the U-18 world championships and four assists in four games at the world juniors.

Thus, Hughes is rated as the top prospect in North America from NHL Central Scouting, and the top prospect in the world by several pundits. When you average 2.24 points per game, these things come pretty naturally. When you put up 228 points in 110 games with the USNTDP — a 2.28 point-per-game clip — you become one of the best, if not the best, to ever emerge from the program.

Hughes has earned his stripes heading into Vancouver, but has his reputation warded off Kakko’s rise at the Worlds?

Kakko hasn’t exactly flown under the radar. Not at all, but he’s lived in Hughes’ shadow. At least, he did.

While both are playing at Worlds right now, it’s Kakko who’s getting the big minutes playing on a Finnish team that isn’t nearly as star-studded as the U.S. So while Hughes has a lonely assist in the tournament, and has only really featured in spurts, Kakko has launched a full-on assault on the minds of Devils general manager Ray Shero and his scouting staff.

Kakko has six goals and one assist in seven games played now at the tournament. He’s shown he can take over games with his hat trick vs. Slovakia, and he’s shown his sublime skill.

That’s two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray between the pipes.

Kakko cares little. Just like he didn’t when he slotted home the game-winning goal to give Finland a gold medal against Hughes’ Americans at the the IIHF World Junior Championship in January.

Kakko is another link in the chain that’s been Finland’s golden years of young prospects who are remarkable. Whatever was in the water 18 to 22 or so years ago should have been bottled.

And it has to make the Devils think.

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds already, Kakko comes ready for the NHL game in size. He’s played with men in the Finnish Liiga and is having no issues at all against NHLers at the Worlds either.

In his first full season with TPS, Kakko put up 38 points in 45 games, including 22 goals.

The recent Finnish lineage has included the likes of Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, Arturri Lehkonen, Mikko Rantanen and Miro Heiskanen, among others. Neither of those guys were first overall picks, yet all of them are making massive impacts of the teams they play on.

Hughes probably still goes first in June, and that might just be alright for the New York Rangers, who sit in the second hole knowing they get one or the other.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The 10 dates from the ’18-19 season that lead Blues to Stanley Cup Final

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The Cinderella story for the St. Louis Blues continued on Tuesday night.

A convincing 5-1 win pushed the Blues past the San Jose Sharks and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 long years. St. Louis will get its chance at redemption, nearly a half-century in the making, when they face the Boston Bruins beginning next Monday.

But while it is a little less than a week’s wait for the Cup Final to begin, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on just where the Blues came from over the past five months. Truly, the Blues started from the bottom and now they’re here, competing for hockey’s grandest prize.

Here are 10 dates from the 2018-19 NHL season that changed the course of history for the Blues.

Nov. 19, 2018

We’re going to skip back a month and a half before things really kicked off for the Blues on the ice, and look back at the date they made a change behind the bench. A troubling 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings — their third shutout defeat in their past four games at the time — and limping along with a 7-9-3 record despite going guns a-blazin’ in the offseason, attracting the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, general manager Doug Armstrong pulled another trigger, this time firing Mike Yeo as head coach and replacing him with Craig Berube, who was an associate coach of Yeo’s.

Jan. 3, 2019

Things under Berube didn’t get off to the best start. The Blues lost their first game with him behind the bench 4-1 to Nashville and two games later got obliterated by Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets in an 8-4 rout. Losses to Arizona (6-1) and Edmonton (3-2 SO) is how the Blues began December. They’d go on to fall twice to Vancouver in 2018’s final month and came back from the Christmas break to post a 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh and a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers. All the losing meant that when the Blues awoke on Jan. 3, they were wallowing in last place in the NHL. Happy New Year.

Jan. 6, 2019

A few players ventured to a bar in Philadelphia the night before they were set to face the Flyers. Presumably, we could assume they were drowning their sorrows of a season that had gone completely off the rails. Instead, Laura Branigan came on over the speakers during the Philadelphia Eagles’ playoff game against the Chicago Bears. The song, “Gloria,” would end up turning into their victory anthem. Who knew it would be played so many times in the weeks and months to come. “When I hear it, that’s a good thing, right. That means we’ve won the game,” Berube would later say.

Jan. 7, 2019

The Blues lost Carter Hutton to free agency several months earlier and had placed all their faith in starter Jake Allen. Allen’s play certainly hadn’t helped the team in the first half of the season, a stretch summed up quite succinctly by a .896 save percentage. Enter Jordan Binnington, a 25-year-old career minor leaguer who played a grand total of 13 minutes in the NHL, and had never started a game. By now you know the name, but back then, you didn’t. Nevertheless, Binnington started to push his way into the spotlight, first by blanking the Flyers in a 3-0 win. Binnington stopped 25 shots that night. The next several days and weeks, even, everyone wondered if the skinny kid with the iceman demeanor was just the next Andrew Hammond. We know the answer to that now.

[RELATED: Jordan Binnington’s incredible, season-saving run for Blues]

Jan. 23, 2019 – Feb. 24, 2019

Twelve St. Louis skaters figure into the points in a 5-1 win against the lowly Anaheim Ducks on a Wednesday night in late January. The game by itself isn’t especially important but is the start of something much more grandiose. The Blues began that day four points adrift from the league’s basement but would go on a season-defining 11-game winning streak over the next month that would eventually end in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 24, in the second half of a back-to-back. The Blues gained a whopping 12 places in the overall league standings, going from 25th to 13th. More importantly, they went from sixth place in the Central Division to third.

March 6, 2019

If we’re looking for a date where the Blues announced their intentions to the rest of the league, it may have been an early March game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Blues owned a 3-1 lead midway through the game when a very poor Ducks team staged a comeback. They scored twice to close out the second period to tie the game and then Adam Henrique gave the Ducks a 4-3 advantage. Knowing the Ducks, no lead is safe, and sure enough, Robert Thomas found the back of the net to tie the game. Overtime, surely:

April 6, 2019

The final day of the regular season for the Blues, who won 3-2 in a shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks. For a brief moment, they were first in the Central Division before the Nashville Predators eventually won it later in the day and the Winnipeg Jets slotted into the second spot, tied on 99 points with the Blues. They closed out the season winners of 14 of their final 16 games and narrowly missed out on going from worst to first in a four-month stretch. Still, U.S. Thanksgiving statistics be damned, the Blues were headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were the hottest team entering the postseason.

May 7, 2019

The Blues had won Game 6 two nights earlier to force a Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in Round 2. Two third period goals, including one after a Colton Parayko point shot that drilled Stars goalie Ben Bishop, sealed Dallas’ fate on that night. Two days later, they had to do it all over again. Bishop was shaken up, but the Vezina Trophy finalist dressed for Game 7 and was spectacular. A 1-1 deadlock after 60 minutes meant overtime, and the first period of play solved nothing. Bishop had made 52 saves in the game up until the 5:50 mark of double OT. It was then that Bishop didn’t get all of a puck that dropped behind him, allowing St. Louis native Patrick Maroon to get his stick on it to push it over the goal line. The Blues, in front of a sold out Enterprise Center, were off to the Western Conference Final.

May 15, 2019

The San Jose Sharks had caught a tremendous break in Game 7 of Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Essentially, a missed call resulted in a major penalty for Vegas’ Cody Eakins. The Sharks, who trailed 3-0, scored four on the ensuing power play and would go on to win in overtime. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the Sharks were on the receiving end of what could have been another series defining missed call. This time, the Sharks are in overtime against the Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. Timo Meier appears to bat the puck (a blatant hand pass) into the front of the net where an anxiously awaiting Erik Karlsson sits. Karlsson makes no mistake, winning the game to take a 2-1 series lead. The Blues were irate on the ice but Berube went into the dressing room after the game and calmed the troops. Unlike Vegas, the Blues had a chance to right that wrong.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

May 21, 2019

The Blues kept a level head after Game 3’s debacle and came out and took Game 4 by a 2-1 margin. Now a race to two wins, the Blues took the path of least resistance, beginning with a 5-0 blanking of the woeful Sharks in Game 5. Injuries began to mount for San Jose, who were without Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl for parts of Game 5 and all three for Game 6. There, the Blues secured a 5-1 win, putting themselves into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 years.

From Jan. 3, where they sat last, to discovering “Gloria,” and finding their diamond in the rough in Binnington, the Blues have put together one of the most memorable and impressive comebacks in NHL history. Now, they have one more hurdle in the Bruins (minus Bobby Orr), the team they last faced in the 1970 Cup Final. Does redemption, nearly 50 years in the making, await?

It would add the final chapter to what’s been a storybook season in St. Louis.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

What’s next for Karlsson, Pavelski, Thornton?

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The San Jose Sharks have had their share of heartbreak over the last decade, but their elimination loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final might sting a little more because it might force them into some significant roster changes.

Heading into the offseason, the Sharks have several players on expiring contracts. They include: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Donskoi and Erik Karlsson. That list doesn’t include restricted free agents like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier.

The Sharks are also without their first, second and fourth round draft picks this year, so making a trade without subtracting from the current team will also be difficult.

So, how will things shake out between the team and three of their key leaders?

Let’s start with Pavelski, who will be 35 years old by the start of next season. The veteran scored an impressive 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games during the regular season and he added four goals and nine more points in 13 postseason games.

As his teammates pointed out on numerous occasions during the playoffs, he’s more than just a goalscorer. After he went down with an upper-body injury in Game 7 of San Jose’s first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, it became clear that he’s an important figure in that locker room. But given his age, can they afford to bring him back at any cost? And where does he rank on the list of players they want to bring back?

He’s coming off a five-year, $30 million contract. Would the Sharks be willing to increase the money and would Pavelski be willing to bring down the term? Those are the biggest questions. In fairness to him, he’s been very durable throughout his career. Over the last eight seasons, he’s missed eight games but seven of those came in 2018-19.

No matter what the offseason brings for the Sharks, it would just feel wrong for us to see him in another jersey. They have to find a way to get him under contract before he hits the market.

As for Joe Thornton, the decision to return or not may be one sided. Thornton signed a one-year deal with the Sharks last summer, so agreeing on term shouldn’t be an issue. The big decision will have to be made by Thornton. Does he want to play another year?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Thornton would like to win a Stanley Cup before his career is over, but he also seems like a guy that’s come to terms with the fact that that might not happen.

Even though he’ll be 40 years old by the start of next season, he can still serve as an effective third-line center on this team. He just has to figure out if he’s up to it or not.

Now, let’s tackle the situation with Erik Karlsson.

Where to start?

Does he want to be back in San Jose? We don’t know. Details regarding his interest in re-signing have been few and far between. Assuming he’s open to returning, how much term and money would he be looking for? You’d have to think that he’d want maximum term. So if he goes back to San Jose that would be for eight years and if he hits the market he’ll be looking for a seven-year contract.

But the reality is, anyone giving Karlsson that kind of term is taking a huge risk. He’s only 28 years old, but his body has taken a pounding over the last few seasons. He played 82 games per season for three years between 2013 and 2016. Since then, he’s suited up in 77, 71 and 53 contests.

It was obvious during these playoffs that he was playing through an injury. He didn’t suit up in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and there was no guarantee that he could’ve played in Game 7 had the Sharks been able to force one. Since Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 (they made it to double overtime in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins) Karlsson has been playing banged up. He underwent a serious ankle procedure after that run and he’s been fighting through injuries ever since.

As of this moment, the Sharks have over $24 million in cap space. But as we mentioned before, there’s so many key players that need to be paid that it might not be possible for them to bring them all back. We know that Pavelski and Thornton would want to stick around, but there’s no guarantee Karlsson will be willing to take a discount.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy offseason for general manager Doug Wilson.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final: Blues vs. Bruins full schedule, TV info

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.

Blues superfan Laila Anderson interviews Alex Steen after Game 6 win

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It’s been a pretty great week for 11-year-old Laila Anderson.

After getting the surprising news that her doctor allowed her to attend Game 3 of the Western Conference Final between her beloved St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks, she was in attendance Tuesday night as the team clinched a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Laila has been battling a rare disease called Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocystosis (HLH), which, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, affects the immune system and causes certain white blood cells to attack other blood cells and enlarges organs such as the spleen and liver. Since January, she had only been at home or at the hospital before her mom informed her she would be attending Game 3.

After the Blues eliminated the Sharks Tuesday night, Laila was one of the stars of the postgame celebration. She spent time with some of the players, which included Patrick Maroon telling her how much she inspires them.

Laila even got to interview her good buddy Alex Steen, hitting the forward with some good questions.

“It’s very special to do this in this town,” said Steen “To have you here was a little extra special for that.”

The Blues are playing in their first Cup Final since 1970 and are seeking their first win in the Cup Final after getting swept in their three other appearances. Steen told Anderson she might be the difference against the Boston Bruins.

“We’ve got you, our lucky charm there,” he said.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final: Blues vs. Bruins full schedule, TV info

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.