NHL Trade Deadline 2019: Four playoff bubble teams that need to sell

2 Comments

With the 2019 NHL trade deadline coming up on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, we already have a pretty good idea as to who the clear buyers and sellers are.

We know Tampa Bay, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Vegas, Calgary, Nashville, Boston, Washington, San Jose and a few others (New York Islanders? Montreal Canadiens?) at the top of the standings will be buying.

We also know the teams at the bottom of the standings will be selling — teams like Detroit, Ottawa, New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other clear rebuilding teams. We already looked at a couple of those teams in depth a little. (Chicago here; Los Angeles here).

We also know there are probably a few teams in the middle that might tinker with their roster a bit with a bigger picture move here or there. Maybe they even simply stay the course and do nothing. Teams like Vancouver, Carolina, and Buffalo.

Then there are a couple of teams that are still on the playoff bubble that have some big decisions to make.  Here, we take a look at four teams that are probably still considered on the playoff bubble that should resist the temptation to add and go into a seller mode.

[Related: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

1. Anaheim Ducks. The record is a mirage. It is not even a good record, but it is still a mirage. The standings say they are only three points out of a playoff spot, which might be manageable and doable under normal conditions in a normal season. But they are only three points out of a playoff spot because the bottom half of the Western Conference is as bad as it’s ever been, and because John Gibson and Ryan Miller carried them to more wins than they deserved early in the season.

Even with three-point gap they still have five teams ahead of them for a playoff spot. They are also only on pace for 78 points this season. That is awful, and the fact they are still “in it” is a testament to how bad the rest of the Western Conference is around them.

Not only are the Ducks arguably the worst team in the NHL right now — and seemingly getting worse by the day — they have three massive contracts tied up in players age 33 or older and only have five draft picks in the 2019 class. So they’re bad now and are probably going to be bad for the foreseeable future. Yes, Corey Perry has only played in two games played this season. Yes, Ryan Kesler has dealt with injuries recently. But let’s be honest about this mess and admit that this team isn’t a 33-year-old Corey Perry and a 34-year-old Ryan Kesler away from being good again.

There should be no one on this roster that is untouchable other than John Gibson.

Jakob Silfverberg is their big upcoming free agent and they should absolutely be looking to move him. Given their current salary cap situation they can’t afford another long-term deal on a player pushing 30 that probably won’t be an impact player.

Tear it down and start over.

2. Florida Panthers. For the second year in a row the Panthers began the season by falling flat on their face in the first two months before trying to put it all together for a second half push that will ultimately fall short.

The Panthers already started selling by sending Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to Pittsburgh in an effort to dump salary.

Those salary dumps did two things.

First, it added to the Panthers’ stockpile of draft picks and gives them nine picks in 2019. It also helped them clear future salary cap space to prepare themselves for a run at Sergei Bobrovsky and/or Artemi Panarin. Or any other free agent they have their sights set on.

That sell off should continue in the coming weeks. Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, both acquired in the Pittsburgh trade, have no real long-term value to the Panthers beyond this season and could easily be flipped again as rentals at the deadline for additional picks. If they are going to take a run at Bobrovsky that means one of their goalies that is already under contract beyond this season (for several more seasons) is going to need to go.

The Panthers aren’t going to make up enough ground in the playoff race to be a factor this season, but they can position themselves to be players in the offseason and hopefully build around their of Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, and Jonathan Huberdeau.

3. Philadelphia Flyers. Goalies are weird, and projecting goalies long-term performance is not something you want to try to do based on less than 30 games at the NHL level because there is a good chance you are going to make yourself look like an idiot in the future by being horribly wrong. Having said that, I’m going to take a chance here and say Carter Hart might be the player. He might be the player the Flyers and their fans have been waiting for. He might be the player that actually sets them in net and positively impacts the franchise.

He might be. He could be. Maybe he is?

Heck, he has already helped change this season by arriving in the NHL and backstopping the team to an eight-game winning streak that has a chance to keep going with a couple of dog teams on the schedule over the next week.

That is all great news for the future of the Flyers. Perhaps even as soon as next season. But even with this current hot streak they are still five points out of a playoff spot and they still have three teams ahead of them. For as much ground as they have gained over the past two weeks that is still a difficult gap to overcome and they’re not going to keep winning forever.

When Chuck Fletcher took over as the new general manager I argued he needed to let this season play itself out, evaluate what he is, and then address what he still needs in the offseason. In other words, don’t come in and take a machete to the roster and don’t make some foolish short-term addition to the roster that tries to salvage the season. Let it play out.

With Hart emerging as the team’s starting goalie he could be a game-changer for them and it might be worth seeing what a core built around Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier can do with an actual living, breathing, solid NHL goalie. So a tear down probably isn’t in the cards.

What should be in the cards is dealing the upcoming unrestricted free agents on the roster (Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl specifically) if there is a market for them, and perhaps trying to dump an undesirable contract (Andrew MacDonald?).

The hot streak is probably (heavy emphasis on probably) too little, too late, but offers some encouragement for the very near future. There are pieces here to sell, but don’t blow it all up just yet.

4. Edmonton Oilers. They need to do something to fix this mess. But what is that something? The head coach and general manager are already gone There aren’t many options here that don’t result in another core player (likely Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Oscar Klefbom) getting shipped out. Given their history of those moves, that would probably be disastrous.

The Oilers look like a team that is on track to miss the playoffs, again, and there is no rental or addition they can possibly make in the next three weeks that is going to change that.

So they need to sell. Sell whatever they can that isn’t named McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins or Klefbom.

Some of that will be difficult because there isn’t much here beyond those four that has a lot of value. But the one name that stands out is Alex Chiasson. He joined the Oilers for nothing on a PTO, earned a spot on the roster, and has had a surprisingly decent season that has already seem him set a career high in goals scored.

A very Oilers-like move would be to look at a 28-year-old winger having a career season that is driven by an unsustainably high 25 percent shooting percentage and thinking, “he’s going to repeat this! Let’s sign him!”

The sensible move is to sell high, cash in what they can, and try to pick up a future asset for a player that was a pleasant surprise for you.

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.

Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

“Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

“This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

“This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

“We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

TRIBUTE

The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

“It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

FOR THE RECORD

Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

kris letang
Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

Kris Letang Penguins
Getty Images
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”