Trading baggage: Blue Jackets grab Clarkson, send Horton’s contract to Leafs

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It’s official: there’s no such thing as a contract that cannot be traded.

In what will probably be the most unlikely trade of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs unloaded David Clarkson’s contract to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton, who appears to be on the verge of retirement.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen already provided a quote for the team’s release, in case you need evidence that you’re not dreaming.

“David Clarkson has been a 30-goal scorer in the NHL who will bring added character and leadership to our group and we believe he will be a valuable contributor to our team,” Kekalainen said. “While we are excited to welcome David to the Blue Jackets, it is also difficult that Nathan’s time here has ended prematurely due to his injury situation. He is a tremendous person and we wish him and his family all the best in the future.”

The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that this was a straight player-for-player trade with no money retained by either side.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that it ultimately comes down to pure dollars: the Leafs can afford to pay Horton to not play (thus saving cap space with him on LTIR), while Columbus needs that money to go to someone who’s on the ice. Here are more details from McKenzie:

David Clarkson carries a $4.75 million cap hit along with the following salary breakdown:

Meanwhile, Nathan Horton’s salary looks like this ($6 million cap hit):

Despite this being a huge deal, it apparently got rolling very quickly.

The jokes have been fast and furious, with a ton of praise for Leafs GM Dave Nonis.

Penguins re-sign Jared McCann to 2-year deal

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PITTSBURGH — Jared McCann is sticking with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team announced Friday it has re-signed the 24-year-old forward to a two-year contract that runs through the 2021-22 season. The deal carries an average annual value of $2.94 million.

McCann tied a career high with 35 points during the 2020-21 season, collecting 14 goals and 21 assists in 66 games. He added one assist in Pittsburgh’s four-game loss to Montreal in the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and was a healthy scratch for Game 3.

”Jared is a good offensive player who can play center or wing,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. ”We saw improvement in his play this year and feel that there is more upside to his game.”

The Penguins acquired McCann from Florida on Feb. 1, 2019 and he has played primarily on the third line during his time with the team.

How Tampa Bay Lightning put together a Stanley Cup contender

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As we await Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC: livestream), let’s reflect on how the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning put together playoff rosters.

Earlier on Friday, we broke down how the Dallas Stars were built by GM of the Yeafinalist Jim Nill.

Now let’s consider the Tampa Bay Lightning, built by another GM of the Year finalist, Julien BriseBois. (With ample credit also going to Steve Yzerman, of course.)

How the Tampa Bay Lightning built a roster that reached the 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Two huge first-round stars, but a sneaky-high number of misses

The Lightning’s reputation for shrewd drafting is well-earned. When it comes to the first round, though, they didn’t always find the mark.

That said, they did when it mattered the most. Landing Steven Stamkos (first overall in 2008) and Victor Hedman (second in 2009) was instrumental in turning the Lightning around.

Of course, the Lightning got this far with Stamkos on the shelf, so they didn’t only live off of being in the right place, at the right time.

Again, though, the Lightning can feel the Stars’ pain in biffing a few first-rounders.

Slater Koekkoek (10th, 2012), Jonathan Drouin (third, 2013), and Tony DeAngelo (19th, 2014) all ended up on other teams, with only Drouin netting the Lightning a big-time return in potential star defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

But the Lightning are where they are today because of what they did outside of the first round, and sometimes outside of the draft altogether.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Lightning made huge draft (and undrafted) gains, largely with small players

Old-school types feasted on a perceived lack of toughness when the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning. Yet, you kind of wonder if there’s a defensiveness there. After all, the Lightning feasted on old-school obsessions with size over skill and production.

From Nikita Kucherov (58th in 2011) to Brayden Point (79th in 2014), the Lightning unearthed its top stars by looking below the 6-foot-mark. Ignoring height when it came to Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson allowed the Bolts to unearth undrafted gems.

Not every Lightning draft steal boiled down to different cover songs of finding Martin St. Louis, mind you.

But either way, the Bolts paralleled the Red Wings dynasty era by finding diamonds in the rough.

Potential future Selke winner Anthony Cirelli slipped to 72nd in 2015. If you want a seventh-rounder, consider Ondrej Palat (208th in 2011). From Alex Killorn to Mathieu Joseph to Cedric Paquette, Tampa Bay outfitted its roster with draft picks.

Like Brayden Point dangling around helpless defensemen, sometimes the Lightning made their peers look silly in the process.

[MORE: How the Dallas Stars were built.]

Building around Vasi

If you want to follow some of the most interesting Lightning-related team-building debates, follow the career of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

During a time when teams were timid about picking goalies in the first round, the Lightning snatched Vasilevskiy at 19th overall. Generally speaking, the “smart money” is not on picking a goalie in the first round, but it worked out in a big way for Tampa Bay.

That’s because, if you get it right and that goalie develops reasonably quickly, you can save money. The Lightning really only started paying Vasilevskiy big money ($9.5M cap hit) this season. Before, he was making just $3.5M per year.

Paying a goalie that much also flies in the face of “smart money,” yet Vasilevskiy’s been an ace for the Lightning. At 26, his prime years are ahead of him — although goalies are voodoo, so that $9.5M could still end up looking bad.

Overall, Vasilevskiy looms large as a huge part of the Lightning’s foundation.

Free agency: scraps, and mainly trying to avoid losses

As brilliant as the Lightning are in many team-building areas, they aren’t immune to the salary cap crunch that confounds contenders. (Even if they’ve basically been wizards at convincing stars to take less money. They must love to jet ski.)

But, either way, free agency for the Lightning mainly boils down to finding scraps, and trying not to lose too many important players.

This leaves the Lightning with the amusing distinction of having two Atlanta Thrashers high first-round picks in Zach Bogosian (third in 2008) and Braydon Coburn (eighth in 2003).

Yet, for every marginal depth defenseman (Luke Schenn, who went fifth in 2008), the Lightning sometimes convince quality veterans to accept pocket change to chase a Stanley Cup. Warts and all, Kevin Shattenkirk has been a great value for Tampa Bay. And, now that he’s healthy, Patrick Maroon has been useful during the playoffs.

Again, though: free agency is more an area of desperation than aspiration for GM Julien BriseBois.

Lightning are busy traders

While the Stars are light with trading but heavier on free agency, the Lightning are generally the reverse.

At the very top, this team is built around draft picks such as Stamkos, Hedman, Kucherov, Point, and Vasilevskiy. Even so, the supporting cast features significant trade additions, often at significant costs.

Consider Ryan McDonagh the result of the more blockbuster-quality trades Tampa Bay sought as it was growing. As mentioned before, Sergachev for Drouin was another tide-turning trade, and we’re still waiting to see the full impact.

After being swept, and with the salary cap closing in, the Lightning have been selling off picks and prospects in pursuit of that Stanley Cup. That’s meant saying goodbye to J.T. Miller in a trade that, for all its pain, was still pretty brilliant considering the Lightning’s desperation. That also meant paying expensive premiums to land quality depth in Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

Factoring in all the Lightning’s bumps and bruises — not to mention the Stars’ stingy, exacting style — it wouldn’t be surprising if Tampa Bay leans on Coleman and Goodrow quite a bit during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning shine as one of the league’s most aggressive, and creative traders. They make things fun even when they’re not on the ice.

Final thoughts on how Lightning built their Stanley Cup-contending roster

To criticize the Lightning blueprint, you really have to nitpick about some first-round misses. Otherwise, they’re lapping all but the quickest of their peers.

They’ve found a great mix of skill and sandpaper, and oh yeah, they also employ one of the best coaches in the NHL in Jon Cooper. For all of the hysteria over that Blue Jackets sweep, the Lightning put together deep playoff run after deep playoff run for a reason.

Still, with the salary cap shackles clamping on, this team was also built to win now, and it remains to be seen if this strong foundation turns into a wobbly Jenga tower.

Then again, we thought it would topple multiple times before, yet BriseBois & Co. keep finding answers.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

How Dallas Stars built their Stanley Cup-contending roster

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As we await Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream), let’s reflect on how the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning put together playoff rosters.

Much like how they play, the Stars and Lightning got to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final building in different ways. Maybe that’s a message to teams trying to figure out how to copy their Stanley Cup blueprints?

Let’s start with the Dallas Stars, built by GM of the Year finalist Jim Nill.

How Dallas Stars built their Stanley Cup roster

The house that fifth-round picks built?

As PHT discussed back in 2018, the Stars haven’t always drafted well. Once you move beyond “obvious” high first-rounders (like Stars phenom Miro Heiskanen, selected third overall in 2017), a team can make or break its fortunes based on getting mid-first-rounders right.

Dallas shows that you can still cobble together a competitive team even if you do sometimes barely make contact.

Take a look at their first-rounders since 2010:

  • Jack Campbell, 11th overall in 2010, never delivered much for the Stars. He’s rebounded to become an intriguing platoon option for the Maple Leafs, but it took a long time.
  • Jamie Oleksiak, 14th in 2011: a legit and large NHL player, but not necessarily a grand slam.
  • Radek Faksa, 13th in 2012: Stars love him, so there’s that. Just don’t look at Tomas Hertl, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Vasilevskiy going 17-19th. (That said, feel free to get people mad debating Faksa vs. 16th pick Tom Wilson.)
  • Valeri Nichushkin, 10th in 2013: found a second life as an analytics Selke darling. The Stars are getting more out of 29th pick Jason Dickinson; not great for two first-rounders, though.
  • Julius Honka, 14th in 2014: *cringe emoji*
  • Denis Gurianov, 12th in 2015: sure, he’s not Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th), or Thomas Chabot (18th), but Gurianov is rounding into a dangerous and fun forward. Now the Stars just need to loosen that leash. The Stars also drafted Roope Hintz in the second round at the 49th pick, so the 2015 draft was quality-over-quantity with just five picks. (And I’m not just saying that because Chris Martenet’s name makes me think of the dude who does Super Mario’s voice.)
  • Riley Tufte, 25th in 2016: uh.
  • Heiskanen, third in 2017: when you’re wondering if he’ll end up a bigger star than Cale Makar (fourth) or Elias Pettersson (fifth), you’re dealing with what the kids call “champagne problems.”
  • Too early to say about Ty Dellandrea or Thomas Harley. They haven’t played in the NHL yet, though.

So … not great.

Fortunately, the Stars nailed some later draft picks over the years. In particular, they found two huge steals in different fifth rounds, nabbing Jamie Benn at 129th in 2007 and John Klingberg at 131st in 2010. Getting Esa Lindell with a third-rounder (74th in 2012) has also been important for making up for some of those first-round follies.

Sorry, Loui: that one big trade

For the most part, the Stars haven’t gone the trade route in putting together this Stanley Cup roster. While the Lightning spent big to improve their depth during the trade deadline, Dallas sat on its hands.

But the Stars changed the trajectory of their franchise when they landed Tyler Seguin in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. (At minimum, of the salary cap era.)

Even factoring in his downright baffling playoff puck luck, Seguin’s been one of the Stars’ most important players. During his seven seasons in Dallas, Seguin has generated almost a point per game (514 points in 538 games).

Speaking of Super Mario, Seguin is so good, the Stars put this together when they extended his contract:

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stars scour the free agent market

How Dallas Stars Stanley Cup roster was built Khudobin Bishop
Gotta keep your backup/1B hydrated. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Huge free agent team-building value in net, alone

After biffing it with Antti Niemi, the Stars made incredible free agent investments when it came to goaltending.

To start, they shrugged off skepticism (especially in the analytics community) about Ben Bishop, and they’ve enjoyed incredible value. Although injuries have been a headache — even before the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs — Bishop’s been killer for a smidge under $5M per year. As strong as he was with the Lightning (.921 save percentage in 227 GP), Bishop’s been a brick wall for the Stars (.923 in 143 GP).

When Bishop hasn’t been able to play, the Stars have been able to turn to Anton Khudobin. Again, this playoff run is an amplifier, turning Khudobin’s strong play up to 11.  Khudobin somehow has a .926 save percentage in 71 GP over two Stars seasons, plus this playoff run you might have heard of.

About the only conundrum is that Khudobin is a pending free agent, and may see his value skyrocket beyond the Stars’ comfort zone.

The Stars have been knocking it out of the park when it comes to goalies in free agency lately, overall.

Adding veteran scoring help in free agency

Beyond those goaltending gems, the Stars made some big bets in free agency.

Pushing past fears of the aging curve, Dallas signed Alexander Radulov to a five-year, $31.25M contract that has been a great success. It’s all gravy as he approaches the final season of this deal, which is probably good because Radulov occasionally lands in the doghouse.

Time will tell if the Joe Pavelski investment ($7M cap hit through 2021-22) will pay off. Things went from lousy in the regular season to more promising during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. At 36, Pavelski will need to work for it.

Corey Perry, meanwhile, fell in the low-risk, low-reward bin, which makes sense since he cost pocket change.

Coaching

If you count coaches as part of a “roster,” it’s worth at least mentioning that the Stars certainly faced turmoil over the years. First, they cycled through styles and veterans, going from Lindy Ruff to throwback Ken Hitchcock.

Then off-the-ice issues prompted the Stars to move from Jim Montgomery to Rick Bowness this season.

Naturally, it’s tough to tell how much of the Stars’ structure hinges on Montgomery’s system, versus Bowness’ influence. But, the whole “being in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final” thing seems pretty promising. Especially since the Stars beat some true West powers in the Avalanche and Golden Knights.

Final thoughts on how Stars’ Stanley Cup roster was built

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Stars put together a strong foundation through a mix of some draft and trade deals, plus strong free agent wins.

Maybe most promisingly, there’s room to get better. Cap Friendly estimates the Stars’ cap space at almost $15.5M heading into the off-season. While Hintz, Gurianov, Faksa, and maybe even Khudobin will take up a hearty chunk of that surplus, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Stars ended up with room to get better for 2020-21.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

Game 1: Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)