By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)
When the Maple Leafs sent a first-round pick and two prospects to the Kings for Jake Muzzin, it didn’t exactly open the flood gates a month before the trade deadline.
That’s because the standings are slowing everything down.
With less than three weeks until the Feb. 25 deadline, there are eight teams within five points of a playoff berth behind the 16 currently holding a slot. The NHL appears to be in wait-and-see mode, even though some big-name players are out there in the trade market. There are far more buyers than sellers right now as general managers wait to see what unfolds and how close they can get to contending.
”We’ll know better by Feb. 25 where we’re at,” said Florida GM Dale Tallon, whose team is 11 points out. ”We’ll go game by game and week by week and then we’ll decide before the deadline what we’re going to do. Performance will dictate what we do.”
The Panthers already made one move, acquiring picks and pending free agents Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan from the Penguins for Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad. Of course, they could still try to acquire pending free agent winger Artemi Panarin and/or goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky from Columbus.
Panarin and Bobrovsky are two of the hottest commodities who could be available, along with Ottawa forwards Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, Philadelphia winger Wayne Simmonds and Carolina winger Micheal Ferland. Need a goalie and don’t want to pay for a two-time Vezina Trophy winner like Bobrovsky? Edmonton’s Cam Talbot or Detroit’s Jimmy Howard are possibilities.
A lack of true sellers could drive up the prices and delay the falling dominoes.
”Sometimes it drags out a little bit,” Washington GM Brian MacLellan said. ”I think people get frustrated with it, but people are trying to get full value for things they perceive need to be getting full value (for), and it takes it to the end to figure out what is the actual value.”
MacLellan said the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals are active in trade talks. Their championship window is wide open now. For teams like the Flyers, the window isn’t yet open without some changes.
”We could both buy and sell,” Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher said. ”Every decision we make, if we’re going to try to improve our team going forward and we can get that player now, great. …. To be better next year, we may have to try to get better this year.”
Plenty of calls should be going to Los Angeles GM Rob Blake, who acknowledged the Kings are ”at the bottom of the league.” They have a potential rental in forward Carl Hagelin and some older players with years left on their deals like Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez. It is a team in transition after winning the Cup in 2012 and 2014.
”We’re looking at a lot of different options,” Blake said. ”I don’t want to get into specifics of players, but we are actively looking at making moves for the future of the organization.”
MATTHEWS CASHES IN
Toronto agreed to terms with franchise center Auston Matthews on a $58.17 million, five-year extension. Matthews will make much of his money in signing bonuses during the length of the contract that counts $11.634 million against the salary cap through 2023-24. Matthews and the Maple Leafs agreed on something shorter than the eight years Connor McDavid got in Edmonton to keep his salary under $12 million. It remains to be seen what that means for teammate Mitch Marner and Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine in upcoming contract negotiations, both on cap-strapped teams wanting to win now where perhaps a shorter contract is better.
GAME OF THE WEEK
The San Jose Sharks visit the Calgary Flames on Thursday in a matchup of the top two teams in the Pacific Division.
Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 37; Assists: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 59; Points: Kucherov, 81; Ice time: Ryan Suter (Minnesota), 26:45; Wins: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 27; Goals-against average: Robin Lehner (N.Y. Islanders), 2.02; Save percentage: Jack Campbell (Los Angeles), .933.
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