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

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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.

Penguins keep heating up; Struggling Stars sink lower

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Is it time for the Dallas Stars to throw Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus again?

We’re still in October, and things are looking unsettling for a team that navigated some serious highs and lows in 2018-19 to eventually drum up lofty expectations for 2019-20. So far, the Stars have flopped in their encore performance, like a band tripping over all of their instruments while the crowd raises its lighters.

On paper, you’d think it would be the Pittsburgh Penguins who were struggling against the Stars on Friday. After all, they are the team still dealing with injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust, while the Stars recently got interesting offseason addition Corey Perry back in the lineup.

Instead, the two teams continued on their opposite trajectories. The Penguins keep finding ways to win, in this case riding two Kris Letang goals to a 4-2 win against the Stars, pushing Pittsburgh’s winning streak to five games. Dallas, meanwhile, lost its fifth game in a row (0-4-1), and the Stars saw their overall 2019-20 record sink to a deeply unsettling 1-7-1.

Former PHT editor Brandon Worley captured much of the mood among Stars fans after another dispiriting loss.

Most are shaking their heads in dismay, with some feeling like it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Like many, I didn’t expect Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and other Stars goalies to combine for a .923 team save percentage like they did in 2018-19, which towered over last season’s league average of .905.

It absolutely was a red flag that the Stars only marginally outscored the opposition (209 goals for, 200 against) last season despite that Herculean goaltending.

Still, there were signs that Jim Montgomery’s system was putting Bishop and Khudobin in a situation to succeed, and there are elements of a modern puck-moving defense in place. One could picture another step for sizzling sophomore Miro Heiskanen, and the Stars made the playoffs despite dark horse Norris candidate John Klingberg being limited to 64 regular-season games. More Heiskanen, more Klingberg, another step for Roope Hintz, plus the additions of Joe Pavelski and, to a much lesser extent, Corey Perry? There were worse formulas for success heading into 2019-20, so fools like me wondered if the Stars might be able to rekindle that magic.

Luck should improve

And, to be fair, counting the Stars out just a little more than two weeks into 2019-20 would be hasty.

Hintz and Heiskanen are some of the only Stars off to the starts you’d expect, with Seguin parked at four points in nine games, Pavelski only managing one goal and one assist, and Klingberg being limited to a single point.

Things should regress in a positive way, even in the highly likely instance that neither Bishop nor Khudobin will rekindle that 2018-19 magic. Much like the slow-starting Wild, the Stars have played most of their games on the road (six of nine away from home) so far. After Saturday’s trip to Philly to play the Flyers, the Stars play six of seven games in Dallas from Oct. 21 through Nov. 5. The outlook could look quite a bit rosier by the end of that stretch.

It doesn’t change the fact that the Stars dug themselves a formidable hole. While the Stars have a hapless divisional neighbor in the Minnesota Wild, the bottom line is that the Central Division figures to be unforgiving.

A matter of philosophy?

Maybe it’s too early to panic, but it’s absolutely time to ask tough questions. The Stars aren’t that far removed from being one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL, only to turn their back on that formula at the first signs of pushback, instead going the “safer” route of becoming more defensive-minded under Ken Hitchcock and then Montgomery.

It was easier to watch that beautiful thing die when the Stars were winning, yet it’s debatable if dumbing things down by going all-defense is truly the “safe” route, especially with a team fueled by offensive talent from Seguin and Alexander Radulov on offense and skilled defensemen like Klingberg and Heiskanen on the blueline.

Maybe losing to a depleted Penguins teams at least provides another chance to do some soul-searching?

The Penguins carried the Stars’ outscore-your-problems torch once Dallas wavered, and Pittsburgh marched to two consecutive Stanley Cups despite defense that ranged from shaky to shabby. Then, for reasons even more perplexing, the Penguins began to lose confidence in that approach, and ended up losing some ground in the process.

As of Friday, the Penguins and Stars are moving in very different directions, and one can bet that they’ll see other dramatic shifts over an 82-game regular season. Maybe both can provide each other lessons about playing to your strengths and knowing who you are, though.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Nationals’ Scherzer drops ceremonial baseball before Capitals game

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The Washington Nationals have some time to kill before the 2019 World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, so why not take in a Washington Capitals game … and maybe put a new knuckleball-like spin on a common hockey photo-op?

Instead of dropping the ceremonial first puck before Friday’s Capitals – Rangers contest, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer elected to drop a baseball instead. You can watch video of that fun ceremony (which vaguely reminded me of Auston Matthews doing a little Globetrotter spin with a Raptors basketball) in the video above. Sports city synergy is fun, is what I’m trying to say.

As a baseball not-knower, this brings up a lot of questions — some I can answer, some not so much.

  • Was it one of those new-fangled “juiced” baseballs? Scherzer probably doesn’t like those, if they’re really a thing.
  • I was wondering about Scherzer’s (maybe somewhat intimidating) different-colored eyes. Apparently Scherzer was born that way, although one eye was blue and the other was green, originally. (The blue eye turned bluer, while the green one turned brown.) Dany Heatley is a hockey player who comes to mind with that, but his story is less fun and more upsetting.
  • CNN clears up the Nationals’ connection to “Baby Shark,” which I wondered about thanks to this:

(Even Capitals fans would probably admit that this is swimming a bit close to San Jose’s waters.)

  • In case you were wondering, that sports city synergy went both ways, as you can see from Alex Ovechkin hugging Scherzer before a Nationals game in June 2018 (via Getty):
(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

As of this writing, the Capitals lead the Rangers 3-2 and the New York Yankees are trying to protect a 4-1 lead against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS. If the Astros win, they’ll face Scherzer’s Nationals.

… And that about concludes my baseball-knowing.

/chews imaginary tobacco/Major League Chew

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Devils, Hischier agree to seven-year, $50.75 million extension

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While the Devils don’t know yet if Taylor Hall will sign an extension to remain in New Jersey or find a new home next summer in free agency, GM Ray Shero has young locked down one of the team’s core pieces.

On Friday, Nico Hischier agreed to a seven-year, $50.75 million extension that carries a $7.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 NHL season. The deal buys three unrestricted free agent years since the Devils forward has been playing since he was 18, per Cap Friendly.

“Nico is a special person who possess a team-first mentality combined with an inner drive to succeed,” said Shero in a statement. The entire organization is thankful to him and his family for believing in our future. We are excited that he will continue to play a prominent role with us for many years to come.”

According to the Devils, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $7,000,000 (includes $3 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $7,250,000
2022-23:  $4,500,000
2023-24:  $7,750,000
2024-25:  $7,750,000
2025-26:  $8,000,000
2026-27:  $8,500,000

The extension also features a modified no-trade clause in the final three years.

In 157 NHL games, Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 37 goals and 101 points while averaging over 17 minutes a night. His offense has been just fine with a 20 and 17 goals in his first two seasons, but his two-way game is what’s really boosted his talent.

The 20-year-old center joins the list of NHLers who passed on restricted free agency in 2020 to put pen to paper on a new deal, joining the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Thomas Chabot, and Sam Girard.

Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, and Mikhail Sergachev are some of the other potential 2020 RFAs who will be looking for extensions before next season.

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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.

Helm fined $5K for slash on Flames’ Lindholm

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Darren Helm and Elias Lindholm had a little battle in the third period of Thursday’s 5-1 Flames win and it has resulted in a $5,000 fine for the Red Wings forward.

It all began during a face-off when Lindholm got taken down by Helm. The Flames forward took exception and skated after Helm as the puck entered the Calgary zone. The tiff continued on with Lindholm throwing an elbow at Helm, who responded by getting up off the ice and slashing Lindholm in the back of the leg.

“Their guy comes with an elbow that should have probably been called right away,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. “Then Darren reacts to that as most guys would, you get an elbow to the face for no reason you’re going to react. We got to be more disciplined in those situations, but he slashed him. I don’t think the slash was that super-hard, but it sure looked hard the way he went down.”

The fine is the maximum amount allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Helm was given a major for slashing and a game misconduct, while Lindholm got off with just an interference minor. Lindholm was helped to the dressing room and there’s been no update yet on his condition.

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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.