Should Koivu injury push Wild to be trade deadline sellers?

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Mikko Koivu‘s season-ending injury is a brutal blow to the Minnesota Wild in 2018-19. There’s no getting around that. But it also might provide the push this franchise needs to make lasting changes that might make their future brighter.

Up to this point, the Wild have been middling at best.

To Bruce Boudreau’s credit, they’re a team that essentially grinds opponents to paste, limiting chances against and playing suffocating defense, allowing them to overcome what’s been a low-key disappointing season for Devan Dubnyk. It hasn’t been pretty to watch (their -4 goal differential captures the small margin for error), but it’s worked — enough. It flies in the face of the golden era of Boudreau’s love of ice cream and offense with the Capitals, but the Wild look likely to squeak into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Is just making the playoffs good enough for the Wild any longer, though?

[Koivu suffers tear to MCL, ACL]

Sometimes a bad break can actually force a team to do some soul-searching, and the truth is that Koivu’s injury should inspire new GM Paul Fenton to perform some roster surgery. As it is constructed, this team had a decent run, but this might just be nature’s way of forcing change.

(Considering all his mileage at age 35, you could glumly argue this was bound to happen for Koivu.)

Things to remember

The Wild currently don’t have picks in the fourth or fifth rounds of the 2019 NHL Draft, while they have an extra sixth-rounder.

Former GM Chuck Fletcher (understandably) sold off picks here and there to try to compete. In cases like the Martin Hanzal trade, it cost the Wild picks as valuable as a 2017 first-rounder. They lacked a first or second-rounder in 2017, didn’t draft in the second or third round in 2016, and so on.

A younger version of this core group didn’t make a big surge despite that spending, and the returns seemed to be diminishing even before Koivu’s season abruptly ended. And, it’s early, but the Nino NiederreiterVictor Rask trade argues that the Wild might not be best served going for “lateral” trades.

It’s time to sell.

Trade targets both reasonable and bold

Let’s fire off some suggestions for Fenton, then.

  • Eric Staal (34 years old, $3.5 million cap hit expires after 2018-19): Considering that Staal scored 42(!) goals and 76 points last season, there’s a scenario where Fenton would have been bolder, and put his stamp on this team by trading him heading into this season.

That would have been riskier, but it also would have been an example of selling higher.

Now it’s tougher, because they’d likely get less for the veteran center, and they also “need” him that much more in the context of this season. But, considering his age, the Wild’s middling station, and his expiring contract, it would be foolish not to try to get something for Staal.

It might hurt, because he’s not far removed from honestly underrated work. Staal’s also still a hearty possession player. But if the Nashville Predators were willing to cough up a second-round pick for Brian Boyle, imagine what a scorer with Staal’s two-way abilities might fetch, even in what’s been described as a crowded market? And, hey, Staal’s budget-friendly at $3.5M, and could be even more appealing if Minny decided to retain part of that cap hit.

  • Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (both 34, both about $7.54M cap hits, both through 2024-25): I don’t think the Wild would do this, I’m not sure another team would fall for a sales pitch on either player, and both players sport no-movement clauses, in part to sign with a team close to home.

Still, if I’m Fenton, I’d at least float the idea as tactfully as possible. Those contracts have terms that are scarier than wondering through a dark hallway in “Resident Evil 2,” and there may never be a more palatable time to hit the reset button. Parise’s had a resurgent season (46 points in 52 games), and teams might be willing to look past Suter’s term in a desperate search for a minutes-eating defenseman.

Can’t hurt to ask/beg, particularly if they’re convinced they’d be able to contend elsewhere.

  • Younger players like Charlie Coyle (26, $3.2 million, expires after 2019-20)

The pressing question any rebuilding team needs to ask when it comes to prime-age players is, “How long will it take us to contend?”

It’s a question that demands a high level of self-awareness, so the good news is that Fenton isn’t tied to years of decisions like Fletcher was. Where Fletcher might think to himself “if I cut ties with this player, it means I was wrong,” Fenton won’t have that same crisis of confidence.

So, how important is a player like Coyle to the rebuild? The Wild only get him for cheap, for sure, for one more season after this one. If teams really covet his versatility, potential, and manageable cap hit, then the Wild might want to make another tough decision.

If Minnesota decides they want to move Coyle, they should do it by this deadline, so they could sell the “two playoff runs” argument that worked well with Derick Brassard, and was squandered with Erik Karlsson.

Other moves to consider

The Wild really shouldn’t leave any stone unturned.

If Devan Dubnyk wants out, maybe that would be for the best. He’s had a rough season, but less observant GMs might not have noticed, especially since Dubnyk had a great All-Star performance.

(Seriously, there are probably a few GMs who would just remember the All-Star thing and ignore his more troubling recent numbers, such as a considerable drop in even-strength save percentage.)

Boudreau’s one of the best coaches in the NHL, yet it might get to the point where this resembles someone gripping sand as hard as they can, only to lose more and more.

As much as Fletcher boxed the Wild in with bold moves that provided middling results (and serious problem contracts for Parise/Suter), Fenton still has some room to maneuver. That won’t mean it will be easy, but then again, didn’t Fenton wait all this time for a challenge?

The status quo hasn’t really worked for the Wild, so the potential sweetness from the bitter Koivu injury is that they might be forced to make some changes.

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 on NBCSN: Ovechkin just needs bounces to reach 700 goals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Alex Ovechkin‘s been stuck on 698 goals for five games now, with Thursday’s game against the Habs serving as his next crack at 700.

If it’s getting to Ovechkin, then he’s not admitting it. He denied his quest for 700 being a distraction for himself and his Capitals teammates.

“I don’t think somebody thinks about it,” Ovechkin said, via NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti. “If it happens, it happens. It’s just a matter of time, tomorrow, after tomorrow, whatever. We’re focusing right now to get our game better, to secure a playoff spot, and then we’ll move on.”

Blaming Ovechkin solely for the Capitals’ recent struggles (four losses, all in regulation, over the past five games) is oversimplifying. Consider, for instance, that they just concluded a three-game road trip in Vegas, all against viable opponents.

Even so, when a player is chasing a big milestone, teammates sometimes feel obliged to try to force it. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan cautioned against that, as Gulitti reports.

“From observing, I would say I think everybody wants him to get it and are trying hard for him to get it and I think we would benefit from just let’s play our game and it’s going to happen organically,” MacLellan said. “It’s just going to take care of itself. But you’d have to ask him that specifically if it’s affecting him.”

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET]

Ovechkin shooting, not getting bounces yet to hit 700 goals

The gut reaction would be to say that Ovechkin has been terrible since trying to reach 700.

After all, Ovechkin hasn’t scored a goal. In fact, Ovechkin has been held pointless, suffering through a cumulative -6 rating.

Yet, if you dig a little deeper, Ovechkin’s drought is mainly a reminder that hockey is a game of bounces. Ovechkin’s been almost miraculously immune to sniping slumps during his already-illustrious career, but he does get snakebit from time to time.

The numbers certainly indicate that he’s trying.

Through those five games, Ovechkin fired a whopping 27 SOG. That’s even after starting slow with two SOG against the Flyers on Feb. 8. The NHL also credits him with nine missed shots. Ovechkin isn’t hesitating to shoot, he just needs a few bounces to reach 700 goals.

You wonder if Ovechkin might tweak his pregame superstitions, though.

Could Canadiens (unintentionally) provide the breakthrough?

Reviewing his play at all strengths at Natural Stat Trick, it seems like Ovechkin is honestly playing reasonably well. The results just haven’t been there lately, which happens in the bounce-heavy world of pucks.

The Canadiens could be a worthwhile target for Ovechkin, who fell short against the team he won a Stanley Cup against (and the franchise he scored “the goal” against). Through 49 career regular-season games against Montreal, Ovechkin’s scored an impressive 32 goals and 54 points. That translates to .65 goals per game, even better than Ovechkin’s remarkable overall career average of .61.

With a middle-of-the-pack 3.08 goals allowed per game and a middling 79.1% penalty kill success rate, the Habs could be just what the milestone-loving doctor ordered for Ovechkin.

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.

MORE OVECHKIN:
NHL Power Rankings: Ovechkin’s top 10 goals
By the Numbers: Ovechkin’s 698 NHL goals
Stunning Numbers as Alex Ovechkin closes in on 700 goals
Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals?
My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’

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.

Our Line Stars: NHL Trade Deadline special with Bob McKenzie

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Bob McKenzie joins as a special guest to give all the latest as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches. Would the Avalanche make a blockbuster trade for Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price? Are the Bruins willing to pay the price for Chris Kreider? Does the addition of Alec Martinez put Vegas over the hump? Plus, why Chuck Fletcher’s deadline moves in his Minnesota days might mean he’ll be more cautious this year in Philly.

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

PHT Morning Skate: Best fits for top trade targets; Bruins have room to work with

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Adam Gretz chooses ideal landing spots for top trade deadline targets. Chris Kreider making the Blues even more relentless? Yikes. (YardBarker)

• Gus Katsaros supplements that with an analytics-based look at those who have already been traded, and those who might move. (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of players who were already traded, Tyler Toffoli shares his experience hustling to join the Canucks. Yes, it involved sharing some joking texts with once-again-teammate Tanner Pearson. (Sportsnet)

• Breaking down how Brenden Dillon fits with the Capitals. Interesting point that while Dillon is prone to taking penalties, the Caps’ strong PK might mitigate that drawback. (Japers Rink)

• The Bruins possess healthy cap space, making a trade deadline move relatively simple by contender standards. They’d only need to juggle a bit if they landed a big-budget rental. (NBC Sports Boston)

• I’ve pondered how teams might practice “load management” with players plenty of times before. With that in mind, it’s nice to see a deeper discussion of the practice — or lack thereof — in the NHL. Dom Luszczyszyn discusses how parity makes NHL teams less likely to rest players than their NBA counterparts, but how smart hockey teams should explore similar tactics anyway. (The Athletic, sub required)

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

J.T. Miller has delivered at a staggering level for the Canucks on the ice. It turns out he’s elite when it comes to heartwarming gestures, too. (Canucks)

• Cycling back to Miller’s on-ice impact, The Point recently broke down his breakthrough. Sheng Peng discusses how well Miller gels with Canucks star Elias Pettersson. (The Point)

Braden Holtby has looked sharp lately. After struggling through much of this regular season, could Holtby be back on his game? (Nova Caps)

• Kim and Terry Pegula told Sabres GM Jason Botterill that they are not looking to hire a president of hockey operations. Botterill apparently said in the past that he prefers to report directly to ownership. All of that said, it’s not clear if the Pegulas might be looking for a new General Manager. (Buffalo News)

• Things were bad for Milan Lucic, particularly in November. With James Neal red-hot, people were making unkind comparisons. But even more directly, he found himself benched, and pondered retirement because the game just wasn’t fun anymore. Like a frosted tip, it seems like Lucic has his sparkle back at the moment, though. (Sporting News)

• Andrew Berkshire recently broke down the five best defensive pairings in the NHL, including Nashville’s Roman JosiRyan Ellis combo. (Sportsnet)

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.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak lifts Bruins to OT win; Kreider’s value continues to increase

David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins scores the game winning goal
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Three Stars

1) David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

Great scoring opportunities often start with a smart play in the defensive zone. Pastrnak poked the puck away from Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse then took off in the other direction. David Krejci made a quick outlook pass to Pastrnak before he converted a breakaway to lead the Bruins to 2-1 overtime victory against the Edmonton Oilers. It was Pastrnak’s 43rd of the season and helped the Czech forward return to the top of the NHL goal-scoring list alongside Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews.

2) Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

No. 20’s three-point night led the Rangers to a 6-3 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday. Kreider remains the top rental forward available ahead of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline and his value increased with another strong performance. The speedy power forward corralled a pass from Mika Zibanejad and then blew by Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist before netting his 24th of the season. NHL insider Bob McKenzie reported that the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have all expressed interest in Kreider. The Massachusetts native has spent his entire NHL career with the Blueshirts, but will likely be sporting a new sweater this time next week.

3) Alex Galchenyuk, Minnesota Wild

The 26-year-old forward made his first goal with the Wild count as he knotted the game late in the third period and then scored the shootout-decider in Minnesota’s 4-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks. Galchenyuk converted a forehand-backhand combination in the skills competition and interim coach Dean Evanson picked up his first win since the organization fired Bruce Boudreau. Galchenyuk was the beneficiary of an odd bounce at 15:15 of the final frame when his wraparound attempt redirected off Canucks defenseman Troy Stetcher.

Highlights of the Night

Vincent Trocheck is ready for baseball season as he batted this puck out of mid-air at 10:50 of the second period.

Patrice Bergeron finished a breakaway with a nifty backhand-forehand deke to open the scoring in Edmonton.

Roope Hintz found Corey Perry at the far post for the easy tap-in power-play goal to give the Stars a first-period lead.

Kevin Fiala wires a wrist shot off the cross bar and in just over a minute into the game.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 6, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Boston Bruins 2, Edmonton Oilers 1 (OT)

Dallas Stars 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

Florida Panthers 4, Anaheim Ducks 1

Colorado Avalanche 3, New York Islanders 1

Minnesota Wild 4, Vancouver Canucks 3 (SO)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.