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Blackhawks should try to trade star defensemen

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The Athletic’s Scott Powers dropped an interesting report today (sub required): Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman realizes that he’ll have a glut of defensemen soon, so he might need to make a move.

To be more specific, the impending return of Connor Murphy could make for quite a crowd. Powers notes that Bowman acknowledged that much a couple weeks ago, albeit while also resisting some of the perceived pressure to make a move.

” … Murph’s a good player, so we want to get him back as soon as we can to help our team. What that means for the other guys, we’ll sort that out,” Bowman said on Nov. 24. “If there’s a surplus and everyone’s healthy, then there’s always needs around the league for defensemen. We can maybe make a move at that point.”

Now, Powers points to Bowman trying to move a depth defenseman such as Brandon Manning or Jan Rutta merely to open up a modicum of space … but that honestly might be thinking too small.

Right now, the Chicago Blackhawks are on a six-game losing streak. They’re not technically in last place in the West with 23 points, yet they’re sagging with 30 games played already, so they’re awfully close to that mark. Maybe playing five of their next six games at home will help them save a little face, but just about every projection should hammer a painful reality home: the 2018-19 season is as good as shot for Chicago.

With that in mind, the Blackhawks should begin preparing for the future, and that means acknowledging – not continuing to ignore – the elephant in the room: it’s time to strip away significant portions of this core group.

It’s tough to imagine the Blackhawks parting ways with the $21 million duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and in all honesty, those two could still conceivably help a team contend.

Instead, it’s time for Bowman to hit the “reset” button on an ailing defense, and he’d be foolish not to explore every avenue in doing so. Yes, that means doing whatever he can to a) convince Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to waive no-movement clauses and b) finding trade partners for one or both of those defensemen.

The risks that come with keeping Keith

At 35, Keith isn’t at that Norris Trophy level any longer.

Defensemen aren’t always sniping machines, yet it’s troubling that he’s failed to score a goal in 2018-19, and only has two over his last 112 games. He’s not quite the source of offense he once was, and while his possession stats are respectable, they won’t knock your socks off.

Keith is still a very useful defenseman, however, and one can bet that he still enjoys a high standing in the NHL … for now.

Let’s face it; as times go on and Keith’s team declines further from past successes, his stature is likely to tumble. It doesn’t help that his average ice time is down considerably this season (22:36), and last season’s 23:50 TOI average was already a significant step down from his workhorse, 25+ minute days.

The Blackhawks need to be weary of Keith’s $5.54M cap hit, which lasts through 2022-23. Yes, it carries the scent of obvious cap circumvention, as Cap Friendly lists his salary diving from $4.5M to $3.5M next, and so on until it sinks all the way to $1.5M in 2022-23. In my opinion, Chicago would get a much better return for Keith if they traded him before he became, essentially, Marian Hossa-like contract fodder.

(Sure, the Blackhawks moved Hossa’s deal, but they had to give up a helpful, affordable, and not-yet-optimized player in Vinnie Hinostroza.)

If the Blackhawks wait too long, they might be stuck bribing a team to take the last, empty cap years of Keith’s deal, rather than getting assets that can truly help them in the future. That’s not exactly an ideal scenario for a franchise that sorely needs to restock its prospect cupboard beyond Adam Boqvist.

Finding a taker for Brent Seabrook

While Keith could conceivably fetch an interesting offer, it’s difficult to picture GMs lining up to land Seabrook, a 33-year-old with a horrendous $6.875M cap hit that doesn’t expire until after 2023-24.

On the other hand, we’ve seen some surprising trades over the years that force you to never say never.

The Habs didn’t just absorb a nightmare Scott Gomez contract, they also sent Ryan McDonagh to the Rangers. A contract Roberto Luongo despised didn’t keep him in Vancouver forever. Chris Pronger eventually drew checks from the Coyotes.

Seabrook will be easier to move in time, as his total salary goes from $9M in the first three seasons (ending in 2018-19) to $7.5M next year, and lower as the years pass. That’s a comforting thought, but are we totally certain that Bowman has been practicing due diligence to get rid of that deal as soon as possible? You never know if an old-school team might want to take Seabrook off of Chicago’s hands sooner.

All it takes is one GM/front office to think that they’re seeing something no one else understands. Unfortunately, it’s fair to wonder if Bowman is too close to the situation, and thus overrates his own players to his own detriment.

One to keep

If there’s one defenseman I wouldn’t take many trade calls about, it would be rookie Henri Jokiharju. The 19-year-old is already showing serious promise, and maybe just as importantly for the cap-challenged Blackhawks, he’s only in the first season of his three-year, entry-level, rookie deal.

Which brings us to some optimism:

If they can only stomach a short rebuild …

Normally, I’d refer to this idea as a “soft rebuild,” but let’s be frank: it won’t be easy for Bowman to swallow his pride and, ideally, trade Keith and/or Seabrook. Management probably wouldn’t even enjoy moving a more obvious cap-filler like forward Artem Anisimov.

Could there be some light at the end of the tunnel, though?

It certainly stings that Chicago lost some quality, affordable players in recent years because of the cap crunch and some general errors (Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Teuvo Teravainen, Nick Schmaltz, etc.).

They still might have some help thanks to certain cheaper options. As mentioned, Jokiharju could be part of a solution. Rising star Alex DeBrincat‘s rookie contract won’t expire until after next season. If Dylan Strome can at least bring more pros than cons, then he’s another guy who is cheap through at least 2019-20. Depending upon how he develops, Boqvist might be able to add to that group of cheap, competitive players.

According to Cap Friendly, the Blackhawks currently have 15 players carrying $62.21M in cap commitments heading into 2019-20. If Chicago moved Keith or Seabrook for futures and/or expiring contracts, they could push that number closer to $56M or so (considering overages and other cap quirks).

Suddenly, things could look more interesting with a salary cap estimated around $83M.

Perhaps the Blackhawks could right a wrong by bringing back Artemi Panarin, giving them more of a chance to outscore their problems? Maybe they could lure Erik Karlsson away from San Jose and other suitors? They could also target mid-level free agents in pursuit of depth, or extend their rebuild window by taking on some contracts from other teams (maybe they should “help out” the Maple Leafs?).

Things can start to change quickly once you gain some flexibility, with some ideas being wiser than others. Most of the bolder ideas sure beat sitting idly by, risking waiting too long to make much-needed changes.

For the sake of Blackhawks fans, here’s hoping Bowman agrees, even if it means painfully saying goodbye to some of the icons of a fading era.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Questions for the final eight teams

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Catch your breath yet? That was an exciting Round 1, but there’s no time for rest! Round 2 begins tonight with a pair of matchups as the quest for the Stanley Cup rolls on.

We begin Round 2 without the Presidents’ Trophy winners or the top seeds in either conference or any division winners. Six 100-point teams are enoying their off-season. Three teams remain who are hoping for their first championship and Joe Thornton’s beard lives to see another round.

Moving on.

As we progress in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, here are questions for each of the eight teams left in the tournament.

How far can these “Bunch of Jerks” go?

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the first round in dramatic fashion with their double overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 7. They’ve become the “second favorite team” of many hockey fans this season, led by Rod Brind’Amour and their captain, Justin Williams. The “Storm Surges” and their sticking it to the old dinosaurs around the game has endeared them to fans. After plenty of teasing that they’d finally take a step forward, 2018-19 has been their year and it’s been an incredible run so far after a decade-long drought. They get 48 hours to come down from the high before taking on the Islanders. There are probably a few more surprises left in their tank.

Will there be an early emotional letdown or continued momentum for the San Jose Sharks?

Game 7 had it all. Controversy, goals, a dramatic comeback, overtime, incredible postgame quotes… The Sharks have two full days off to decompress and turn their attentions to the Colorado Avalanche. Sometimes it’s good for a team to have that time off to heal up and come down from the emotional high of such a victory. Sometimes it’s good for a team to keep that positive momentum going as soon as possible. How will Peter DeBoer ensure his players — with hopefully Joe Pavelski back in the lineup — maintain that level for Game 1?

Which St. Louis Blues defensemen will chip in the goals?

The Blues scored 16 goals in their six-game series victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Zero came off the stick of one of their defensemen, who combined for 46 during the regular season to lead the NHL. The shots were there, as the St. Louis blue line fired 56 pucks on goal, but their contributions came in the form of assists (16). The opportunities won’t get any easier facing a stingy Dallas Stars defense.

How will the extended time off affect the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders?

John Tortorella and Barry Trotz had the right idea. Following their Round 1 sweeps, and realizing they would have a ton of time off, the two coaches wanted to keep their players’ competitive juices going during the break so they organized intrasquad scrimmages. The Blue Jackets welcomed 5,550 fans to Nationwide Arena for theirs, while the Islanders kept theirs only open to the media. The goal was the same: give the players a different reason for coming to the rink and break up the monotony of a typical NHL practice. How they come out at the start of their respective Game 1s will give us a clue how the extra rest affected them.

Can Miro Heiskanen play more minutes, please?

Only three other players averaged more minutes per game (26:32) in Round 1 than the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman. Only Roman Josi (32:49) played more minutes in the Dallas Stars’ overtime clincher in Game 6 than Heiskanen (32:35), who became the third teenage defensemen since the NHL began tracking ice time to play at least 32 minutes in a playoff game. He’s so fun to watch and so fluid in his skating. You can see why the GM Jim Nill was so reluctant to include him in any trade for Erik Karlsson.

Can the Bruins’ bottom six production keep up?

The Bruins’ first three goals in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs were scored by Marcus Johansson, Sean Kuraly, and an empty-netter from Charlie Coyle. That’s the kind of contributions you need to this time of year. In Game 6, the bottom six, despite being held pointless, had an 18-7 advantage in shot attempts. Tuesday night they stepped up offensively and made their impact felt. Coyle scored three times, Joakim Nordstrom chipped in a pair of goals. Bruce Cassidy found combinations that clicked in his bottom line forwards, and they can’t disappear against the Blue Jackets.

Is Playoff Colin Wilson here to stay?

The Nashville Predators know this Colin Wilson. They know this Colin Wilson well, the one who really makes himself noticeable in the postseason. Through six games, the Avalanche forward has two goals and four points and giving Colorado hope that he can repeat some of his previous playoff production. He scored five times for the Predators in six games in 2015 and tallied five goals and 13 points in 14 games a year later. His two big goals in the second period of Game 5 helped put the Calgary Flames to bed. Now the Avs will need more of that to help their secondary scoring against the Sharks.

MORE: Round 2 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.

Predators disappointed after earliest playoff exit since ’15

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators had every piece in place for another long playoff run chasing the Stanley Cup.

So they thought.

Now they have a longer offseason to fix the NHL’s worst power play and the issues that proved so costly in being ousted in the first round for the first time since 2015.

”It is disappointing that for so many people for us to be here today,” general manager David Poile said Wednesday. ”Everything seemed to be in place in my mind. On paper, I believe we had a team that could compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Poile didn’t have any answers for what went wrong when he and coach Peter Laviolette met with reporters. Last summer, the Predators asked Poile to keep their team together after the Presidents’ Trophy winners lost a Game 7 in the second round. Poile said he believed they had reason to give that group another opportunity.

The Predators became the first to repeat as Central Division champs in a decade only to lose in six games to Dallas.

”We targeted this year to be our year, to obviously take another step forward and to get to our ultimate goal of winning the Cup,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. ”Our trajectory sort of went the other way where we went to the Cup Final, then second round and now obviously with a first-round knockout it’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Poile said he plans to look at himself and management, Laviolette and his assistants and the players themselves. Laviolette took responsibility for the power play woes and graded himself poorly.

”Our objective is to be successful in the playoffs, so ultimately it’s not good enough,” said Laviolette, who’s under contract through the 2020-21 season.

Some things to know about the Predators going into this offseason:

FIX THE POWER PLAY

Not only were the Predators the NHL’s worst with the man advantage in the regular season, they went 0 for 16 against Dallas. Four power plays came in Game 6, including in the final two minutes of regulation, yet they didn’t convert. Laviolette said he tried everything from switching the assistant in charge of the power play two-thirds of the way through the season, to team meetings and even hired an outside consultant.

JOFA’D OUT

The top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson had quite the regular season. Arvidsson set the franchise record with 34 goals in just 58 games due to a broken thumb, while Johansen had a career-high 50 assists. But the trio combined for four points against Dallas, and Arvidsson was held scoreless. The contrast with Dallas’ dominating top line was stark. The JOFA line remains under contract together at least through the 2021-22 season with Arvidsson signed for the next five seasons and Johansen through June 2025.

CONTRACT LIMITATIONS

Poile says he has enough flexibility under the salary cap but didn’t know if he’ll need more this offseason. He will be in touch with the agent for captain Roman Josi on July 1 to start talking about an extension with one season left on his current deal. Nashville has a lot of money tied up already in its defensemen starting with Subban, who’s due $9 million each of the next three seasons. Ryan Ellis is under contract through the 2026-27 season at $6.25 million. Rookie Dante Fabbro, signed at the end of the season once his college season ended, made a strong impression on his entry deal and is expected to get more playing time next season.

Kyle Turris was signed to a six-year deal when Nashville traded for him in November 2017. He had what he called a frustrating season with just 23 points in 55 games, making his $6 million salary very costly for the production the Predators have gotten.

SUBBAN AND TRADE RUMORS

With each offseason, rumors start swirling that Subban will be traded. The defenseman ranked ninth with 31 points but played only 63 games because of an injury. Subban said he understands the responsibility that comes with being the team’s highest-paid player and he knows the business-side of the NHL having been traded once in his career.

”All I can hope is to continue to try to help this team win a championship,” Subban said.

PENDING FREE AGENTS

Poile traded for both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to help the power play, which didn’t happen. Now both Boyle, who returned a week after having his appendix removed in the playoffs, and Simmonds will be free agents this summer. Boyle said he’d like to return.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Roundtable: Round 1 surprising players; toughest road to Stanley Cup Final

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What player surprised you most (good or bad) in Round 1?

SEAN: Entering Round 1, there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence in the Calgary Flames goaltending. They had enough talent to get by the Colorado Avalanche despite the up and down play from Mike Smith and David Rittich during the regular season. While they went out in five games, you can’t place any blame on the play of Smith, who posted a .947 even strength save percentage and a .935 high-danger save percentage, via Natural Stat Trick.

JAMES: Johnny Gaudreau, and frankly, the Flames’ top players overall, Matthew Tkachuk included. It’s one thing for Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen to dominate – they tend to do that when they’re even remotely healthy – but Calgary must be stunned by just how severely the strength vs. strength matchups went in Colorado’s favor. The Lightning getting swept was the biggest upset of Round 1, but the Flames’ play was the most upsetting.

ADAM: I almost think I have to go with Warren Foegele, even though I hate — HATE! —  the play that knocked T.J. Oshie out of the series and thought he was fortunate to not get suspended for it. But if you would have told me at the start of their Round 1 series with the Washington Capitals that not only would the Hurricanes win, but it would be Foegele that ended up leading the team in goals I would have laughed in your face. He only had 10 goals and 15 total points all season and finished the first round with four goals and six points in only seven games. Totally out of nowhere for me.

JOEY: Jordan Eberle had a tough regular season, but he really came to play in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did Eberle get his name on the scoresheet at least once in every single game but his team also controlled nearly 54 percent of the shot attempts when he was on the ice. He was also on the ice for 21 high-danger chances for compared to just eight against. The Islanders forward picked a heck of a time to put it all together, as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. They’ll need him to keep performing at this level if they’re going to make it through to the next round.

SCOTT: Oskar Sundqvist. For a long time, Sundqvist was just that got that got pasted by Tom Wilson in the preseason. After watching him for six games in the series against the Winnipeg Jets, you start to see more than just that nasty hit. Against Winnipeg, he was physical, he produced, adding two goals and two assists in the series, and he played meaningful minutes alongside Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn on the second line (including a five-shot effort in Game 6).

RYAN: Warren Foegele had 10 goals and just 15 points in 77 games in the regular season, but he managed to be a factor in the first round. He had two goals and an assist in Game 3, scored just 17 seconds into Game 4, and chipped in another goal in Game 6. With six playoff points, he’s tied for second place in the Hurricanes’ scoring race, though I don’t expect him to be nearly as effective going forward.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Which Round 2 team do you believe faces the toughest route to the Stanley Cup Final?

SEAN: The most immediate challenge for the Colorado Avalanche is facing a San Jose Sharks team coming off the emotional high of a 3-1 series comeback and an epic Game 7 to advance to Round 2. That could benefit them early on in the series if the Sharks are still riding those emotional waves. But if Good Martin Jones is what we’re going to see, then the Avs are in for a challenge. The Blues and Stars would pose a similar challenge in going up against stingy defense and good goaltending. Plus there’s the change in play at how the Blues have played since January and the Stars finally finding an identity under Jim Montgomery down the stretch.

JAMES: The Blue Jackets, by a hair. I don’t think you can emphasize enough how unlikely that Lightning sweep was. We can dig through reasons all day, yet Columbus played at a high level — and the Blue Jackets had to. Next, they face a focused, versatile, and dangerous Bruins team. While a would-be third-round opponent seems less foreboding on paper, Columbus still isn’t in a spot to take anyone lightly. The West is likely to provide a robust opponent in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, too. There are plenty of other arguments because there aren’t many easy outs in this tournament (if Colorado goes deep, they’ll have a case), but the Blue Jackets get my vote.

ADAM: Honestly it is still probably the Blue Jackets for me, just because I think they have to play the most complete team still standing in Round 2. This was always going to be their issue for me in the playoffs, the fact they got stuck in the hardest bracket and that even if they got through Tampa Bay, they were going to have to face another top team in the very next round. If they get through this they will have more than earned their spot in the Eastern Conference Final and it would probably be one of the most impressive postseasons runs we have seen in quite some time.

JOEY: I have to go with the Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round, but all that did was get them a date with one of the stingiest teams in the league. That’s not to say that Carolina can’t beat the Islanders over seven games, but their journey to the next round definitely won’t be an easy one. Also, if they do find a way to win their second-round series, they’ll have Columbus or Boston waiting for them in the next round. No matter what happens though, they’re playing with house money at this point.

SCOTT: Columbus. Sorry, but can lightning strike twice? The Bruins are going to grind much harder than Tampa, and they likely know that they’re the frontrunners now with Tampa gone and the rest of the division winners. That’s going to provide some extra steam in the engine. Can Columbus beat Boston? After Round 1, anything can be done. But if we’re talking toughest route to the Cup, it’s got to be the team that has to knock off the first- and second-ranked teams in the NHL to get there. It’s an incredible tale to tell if they do. 

RYAN: The Avalanche. Although Martin Jones continues to give me pause, I still believe the Sharks are ultimately going to win the Stanley Cup and the Avalanche will have to go through them to get any further. Even if the Avalanche manage to pull off that, they’ll have to face the winner of the Stars-Blues series. The Blues are a great all-around squad while the Stars have an elite offensive core supported by a Vezina Trophy finalist in goal, so either of those teams would make life very difficult for the Avalanche even if they do manage to get past San Jose.

MORE: Round 2 schedule, TV info

Major penalty video review debate reignited in playoffs

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NHL players and coaches were split Wednesday on whether changes are needed to video review protocol a day after a major penalty played a dramatic role in San Jose’s Game 7 victory over Vegas.

Cody Eakin was assessed a major penalty for cross-checking and injuring Joe Pavelski in the third period, and the Sharks responded by scoring four times on the ensuing five-minute power play to set themselves up to win in overtime. The major was assessed after officials discussed the incident on the ice and a bloodied Pavelski was helped off the ice.

The Golden Knights were livid about the call, since Pavelski was not injured by the cross check. The NHL declined comment Wednesday, but the incident was surely discussed at league headquarters.

The league for five years has debated expanding video review beyond goals. There remains no consensus on potential changes.

”We’ve been saying that forever,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, whose team also dealt with a questionable major penalty given to Micheal Ferland in Game 2 against Washington. ”The game’s too fast. It’s hard on refs. I don’t know how they do it. I watch it live and sometimes I think the same thing they do and then I get to sit there and stare at a (tablet) and I can go, ‘It’s obviously the wrong call.’ So, I think they’re heading to that. The NHL has got to sit down.”

Eakin cross-checked Pavelski off a faceoff, and the Sharks captain bounced off Vegas forward Paul Stastny before his head hit the ice and blood pooled underneath him. Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said one of the referees told him it was a cross-check to the face. Series supervisor Don VanMassenhoven afterward said the officials judged it to be a penalty causing a significant injury and deemed it worthy of a major. The Sharks trailed 3-0 at the time and won 5-4 in overtime to advance to the second round.

There have only been two major penalties – not counting fighting – so far in the playoffs after 27 in the regular season. They are not subject to video review, which is limited to the puck going in or not on a goal or coach challenges for goaltender interference or offside, which have been around the past four seasons.

Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault after the game wondered: ”Why don’t you have hockey replay or something?” because it drastically altered the game.

The topic was broached as recently as March by league general managers after the missed pass interference in the NFL playoff game between the Saints and Rams prompted changes by the NFL.

Officials are ”only allowed to look at coaches challenges,” senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said at the time. ”We asked the managers, ‘Should they look at everything?”’

Not everyone is convinced. Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said slow-motion replays can distort what happens on the ice at full speed, and teammate Brett Connolly isn’t on board with adding to what’s already reviewed.

”I think that’s kind of the refs’ discretion,” Connolly said. ”I think you’ve got to let the refs make that call. I don’t know. It’s tough. You don’t want to be reviewing every play.”

AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow in San Jose, California, contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports