More on trade: Penguins lock in; Panthers prep Panarin pursuit?

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In a previous post, PHT went over the elements of the fascinating trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers, noting the immediate cap concerns and some stats for the players involved. There’s more to chew on when you zoom out even further to the big picture for the teams — and to some extent, the entire league, considering potential trade deadline implications.

So, consider this peeling back another layer to this complex onion of a move. Let’s refresh your memory with the terms of the trade, and then get started.

Penguins receive: Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

Panthers receive: Derick BrassardRiley Sheahan, one second-round pick in 2019, and two fourth-round picks (one from the Penguins, one from the Wild via the Jamie Oleksiak trade) in 2019.

Florida faces fascinating fork in the road

If you’re grading the Florida Panthers here, I’d advise you to write the letter grade with a pencil, not a permanent marker. There’s an undeniable air of “To be continued …” here.

You could turn into Charlie Kelly unearthing fictional conspiracy theories with all of the trade tree possibilities here, as the Panthers:

  • Gained about $5.25M in cap space for 2019-20 in shedding Bjugstad and McCann, being that Brassard ($3M) and Sheahan ($2.1M) will see their contracts expire after this season.

  • Replenished/supplemented draft picks by getting three from the Penguins. Not long ago, Florida was looking a bit stark for 2019; by getting a third for Alex Petrovic, a second back in this trade, and two extra fourth-rounders, the Panthers have ammo to make future moves.
  • They could flip Brassard (and maybe even Sheahan?) again for even more picks.

That additional cap space gives Florida room to work with if they want to shoot for Artemi Panarin, (and/or?) Sergei Bobrovsky, or other big-time free agent targets. If I were in the Panthers’ position, I’d be most aggressive in targeting Panarin, or someone like him (example: Mark Stone).

“We’ve freed up a lot of space for an aggressive summer in free agency,” GM Dale Tallon said after the trade, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

With Panarin in particular, the Panthers needs to really search their minds about trying to cut in line by essentially aiming for a sign-and-trade by the deadline, instead of the summer.

Going for a Panarin-type now would mean parting with assets, yet on the other hand, the Panthers would guarantee that they’d land that player if they agreed to an extension.

Such a scenario could very much be worth Florida’s while. After all, while the Panthers have some strengths for a would-be free agent (Florida tax breaks, Florida weather, maybe not Florida Man), they’ve also lacked success as a franchise. The Panthers could avoid losing out to a more established contender by simply bypassing the free agent process and getting a deal done by the deadline.

In the long run, this could be a lot like the NHL’s answer to the New York Knicks trading Kristaps Porzingis in hopes of landing someone like Kevin Durant.

If it works, the Panthers could land a tide-changing talent. This team already has Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Mike Hoffman. Imagine that group with a Panarin-level difference-maker added to the mix?

On the other hand, there’s the risk that the Panthers would be left with little but cap space, possibly leaving them stuck in a familiar situation, much like the sad-sack Knicks.

Time will tell, but it sure seems like Florida is betting big on its future, and that will be an exciting situation to watch.

[More on the immediate aspects of the trade]

Penguins gain *and* lose flexibility

Intriguingly, the Penguins are more versatile on the ice after this trade — but also might box themselves into a corner.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey notes, Pens GM Jim Rutherford values the forward balance this trade could strike, particularly since Bjugstad can play at RW but also at third-line center, where he’s currently slotted.

“It gives us guys who can play in the top-nine, in Nick’s case, the top-six,” Rutherford said. “It makes our top-12 stronger. Now we have guys who will play on our fourth line that can move up into the top-nine on any given night. We have more balance in our forwards than we’ve had all year.”

The Penguins are making calculated risks when it comes to shooting for short and mid-term competitiveness, but like some other aging contenders, you have to wonder if something will have to give.

Alone, spending $5.35M in cap space on Bjugstad and McCann won’t wreck the Penguins’ cap situation. It really wouldn’t be surprising if they end up being fantastic bargains for a team that is perpetually strapped for cash.

But GM Jim Rutherford is continuing to commit this team to moves beyond next season, rather than taking “rentals.”

Tanner Pearson‘s $3.75M cap hit runs through 2020-21. Jack Johnson‘s still-baffling $3.25M won’t run out until 2022-23. McCann’s deal expires after next season, but Bjugstad runs through 2020-21.

That money starts to add up. Via Cap Friendly, the Penguins are slated to allot $78.83M to just 16 players in 2019-20.

They’ve also been bleeding draft picks. Look at Brassard alone and you’ll see that they gave up a first-rounder in 2018 and third-rounder in 2019 (plus a package including Ian Cole and Filip Gustavsson) to land him, and then sent out three picks in this latest trade.

A lot of these moves look pretty positive for the Penguins. After all, they’re getting more than one shot to reap rewards from Bjugstad, as they did with Brassard before him.

On the other hand, if the Penguins are wrong – or if market forces dictate that certain free agents become cheaper than expected, like in the odd MLB situation – then they’ll have less agility to zig and zag. There’s a risk of not having quite enough talent to beat other contenders, while also draining your prospect pool so shallow that you’re stuck in limbo for an extended period of time.

Then again, maybe that’s just the price of doing business in the salary cap era.

***

In a vacuum, this is already a highly interesting trade, and one where the impact changes based on when you’re looking back in hindsight.

It gets even bigger if the Penguins strike the perfect balance for another Stanley Cup run, the Panthers maneuver to land a big fish in free agency or … maybe both?

How do you think this will play out, and what would you do next, particularly if you were running the Panthers? The 2019 trade deadline could end up being endlessly fascinating, and the summer of free agency might be even better. It’s a great time to sizzle on the hockey hot stove.

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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.