PHT Power Rankings: 10 teams that could be most active at NHL trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we start to get you ready for the trade deadline (which is now just two short weeks away!) by looking at 10 teams around the NHL that could be the most active leading up to trade deadline day.

Some of these teams are sellers. Some of them are buyers. All of them have the potential to be busy over the next two weeks.

Let’s take a look at who is out there and who could be made available.

1. Ottawa Senators — Senators management has a grand plan for what the future of the franchise will look like, but it remains to be seen how they actually get there. In the short-term the stage is set for them to potentially be the biggest sellers at the trade deadline because of the ongoing rebuild and the number of key players that are on expiring contracts, including Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel. Not to mention any other veteran player that could potentially be available. The Senators are trying to re-sign both Stone and Duchene, but the longer it goes without a deal and the closer we get to the deadline the more likely it seems that one or both could be on their way out. The Senators need to find a way to recoup a first-round draft pick after sending theirs to Colorado in the original Duchene trade, and they should be able to get at least one or two if they send out their pending UFA’s. It will not be the potential Jack Hughes pick they sent away, but a rebuilding team without any first-round picks isn’t off to a great start.

2. Detroit Red Wings — Ken Holland started the rebuild, at least a little bit, last trade deadline when he sent Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar away for five draft picks. He could be doing even more this season with free agents Jimmy Howard, Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, and Niklas Kronwall all on the roster. Howard and Nyquist are by far the most marketable pieces that he has to deal from and could fetch him a decent return at the deadline. As tempted as the Red Wings might be to try and re-sign Howard given their short-term (and long-term) goaltending situation they should resist that urge and cash in on what has been one of the best seasons of his career. Or at least one of his best seasons in recent memory. A mid-30s Howard isn’t going to be the difference between a good Red Wings team and a bad Red Wings team next season, so they should try to get what they can right now and hope one of the contenders that is a goalie away (looking at you, San Jose) wants to take a chance on a deadline rental to put them over the top.

[Related: Five teams that should be calling about Jimmy Howard]

3. New York Rangers — The Rangers have been shipping out core players for more than a year, dealing away Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller since the start of last season. There will undoubtedly be more moves coming over the next two weeks even though they have put together a nice hot streak here recently. Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello both look like they could be on the move, but would it surprise anyone if they also moved some players that still had term left on their deals or years of team control? Like a Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov, or even maybe, if the price was right, a Chris Kreider?

4. Columbus Blue Jackets  — This is a totally fascinating team because I have no clue what they are going to do. The Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky contract situations mean that if they do something it is probably going to be massive. A potential playoff team shipping out top-tier players at the deadline would be huge news and significantly alter the course of several playoff teams and potential playoff teams. Or they could also keep them and load up around them for one more run, which would also be significant. Either way GM Jarmo Kekalainen has a chance to do something bold. Standing pat doesn’t seem to be an option. He is either selling or going all in.

5. Los Angeles Kings — Everything! Must! Go! The Jake Muzzin trade was a pretty clear sign that it is finally time to start looking for the future. They already sent away one pending unrestricted free agent on Monday by trading Nate Thompson to the Montreal Canadiens, and Carl Hagelin seems like he could probably be sent elsewhere as well. Their veteran players have some big contracts that might be tough to move, and I don’t expect them to even consider trading Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty, but this still feels like a team whose complete teardown is imminent.

6. Florida Panthers — This is a team to watch because they are clearly trying to position themselves for a run at some big free agents this summer. There is the rumor that they are interested in trying to strike now and get Bobrovsky away from Columbus to sign him before he hits the open market, they are a potential landing spot for Panarin, and they have a few UFAs they can move for more draft picks, including Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan who were acquired in the big blockbuster with Pittsburgh. Will they ship out even more money in an effort to clear even more salary cap space? TSN’s Frank Seravalli mentioned the possibility of Jonathan Huberdeau on Monday, the type of move that would almost certainly indicate they would be all in on free agency.

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

7. Boston Bruins — Simply put, they have to find some secondary scoring. All of their offense comes from the same five players — Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Torey Krug. They are all great, but five players alone producing offense will not get you very far in the playoffs. Especially against the teams they will have to face on their potential postseason path.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — Jim Rutherford tends to strike early before the trade deadline, and he has done that with a few moves already this season (Tanner Pearson, sending Jamie Oleksiak back to Dallas, the big trade with the Florida Panthers) but I just don’t see him being done. He has never done. He is always tinkering with his roster and this roster right now, as currently constructed, is not where the Penguins expect it to be. Almost anything is on the table with this team.

9. Chicago Blackhawks — A lot of this is dependent on what they can do with some veteran players that have no-trade clauses, specifically Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but there are a lot of bloated contracts here that they should explore moving. Not only Seabrook, but also perhaps Anisimov and Brandon Saad.

10.  Washington Capitals — I can’t imagine the defending champs are happy with the way this season has gone over the past few weeks or with the current state of their defense. That has to be high atop their shopping list as they look to make a repeat run at the Stanley Cup. I can’t see them doing anything drastic, but they could definitely use a move or two.

MORE: Defense should top Capitals’ shopping list

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.

Good, bad, and neutral: Breaking down Devils hiring Lindy Ruff as head coach

Good, bad, neutral of Devils hiring Lindy Ruff as head coach
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The wayward New Jersey Devils took major steps to chart a clearer course on Thursday — for better or worse. Tom Fitzgerald saw the “interim” tag lifted, making Fitzgerald their established GM. In tandem with that decision, the Devils hired veteran bench boss Lindy Ruff as their head coach.

Ultimately, we only know so much about Fitzgerald’s vision. He’s certainly put in his reps, especially as an assistant GM (first with the Penguins starting in 2009, then the Devils in 2015). Beyond that, we can only speculate regarding how Fitzgerald wants to rebuild New Jersey. Aside from what we can occasionally parse through buzzwordy quotes.

But is Lindy Ruff really the best fit for Devils head coach? Considering Ruff’s decades of experience at head coach and assistant coach levels, we have a lot of evidence to sort through.

Let’s tackle the Ruff – Devils fit question by looking at it three ways: the good (experience), the bad (recent results), and the neutral (some underlying stats and arguments).

The Good: If nothing else, the Devils gain experience with Lindy Ruff as head coach

Ruff served as an NHL head coach for 19 seasons, with his 1,493 games coached ranking seventh all-time. Ruff’s 736 wins place him sixth in league history, which will be a sexier talking point than a middling .561 career points percentage.

You can debate how well Ruff changed with the times, but he’s absolutely been employed as the style and pace of the NHL game twisted and turned over decades.

It’s worth noting that Ruff coached some very different teams. His early Sabres tenure revolved around forming a defensive shell around Dominik Hasek, without a lot of offensive support around him (sorry, Miroslav Satan, etc.). Yet, in that same market, Ruff presided over the “Buffaslug” era of the Sabres, when a run-and-gun team starring the likes of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury contended and even topped the NHL in scoring with 308 goals in 2006-07.

That wasn’t the only Ruff team that led the NHL in scoring. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn helped his Dallas Stars accomplish that feat with 267 goals in 2015-16.

So, for myself and others, the most reasonable best-case scenario with Ruff is for the Devils to emulate some of those high-flying teams. It’s not totally outrageous to imagine Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Kyle Palmieri, and others getting rejuvenated by throwing caution to the wind.

The Neutral: How much did any of it hinge on Ruff?

Sure, when you zoom out, it’s easy to see how experienced Ruff is. That might make the Devils feel like hiring Ruff is the “safe” decision.

But it gets harder to hammer the upside when you look at recent results, or even his larger resume. Ruff comes out looking a lot like an older Paul Maurice: a lot of volume, yet about as many lows and “mehs” as highs.

(And the highs were limited. That one 1999 Stanley Cup Final appearance, a handful of deeper runs, and three division titles over 19 seasons. Ruff doesn’t look awful, yet it’s hard to understand why the Devils wouldn’t be more excited about, say, Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette, or Bruce Boudreau. Maybe Ruff’s a lot cheaper?)

Averaging out between the brightest and bleakest scenarios, what if Ruff ends up being merely neutral — not good or bad, mainly replacement level? Is that really what the Devils need right now?

Ruff gives off the impression of being pliable, maybe versatile, if nothing else. There could be value in a pragmatic coach who will zig and zag depending upon the makeup of upcoming Devils teams. Considering how much turnover could happen with the Devils, that could be a useful attribute.

The Bad: Ugly recent results for Ruff with Rangers don’t scare off Devils

Don’t expect Ruff to wave a magic wand and make the Devils a top-10 defense, though. Not based on recent results.

The Rangers brought Ruff in ostensibly to help run the defense and their penalty kill units. Ruff … didn’t exactly solve their problems.

Yikes!

That’s not to say those issues were all Ruff’s fault. For one thing, Ruff merely served as an assistant. He didn’t necessarily get a full say in certain strategic decisions.

Even considering those caveats, the underlying numbers generally look somewhere between neutral to flat-out bad for Ruff. Devils management doesn’t have much of an argument for Ruff beyond bleating out “experience!”

Really, this duo of Devils decisions makes me feel dubious about the direction of the franchise.

For years, the Devils made progress on the analytics front. Hiring bright minds like Matt Cane seemed quite promising.

With these recent decisions in mind, I can’t help but wonder what Cane and his cohorts think. It’s possible they’re on board with this decision, but it doesn’t really seem as innovative as they’d likely prefer.

When the Rangers hired Ruff as an assistant in 2017, Adam Herman wrote about hockey’s “cronyism” problem. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that the Devils are merely leaning on “200 hockey men” and other antiquated ideas. A rebuilding situation gives teams opportunities to innovate, and set the foundation for future glories.

Maybe Ruff and the Devils will prove such feelings wrong, but as of now, it sure looks like these decisions are rooted in the past.

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 hire Lindy Ruff as head coach, retain Fitzgerald as GM

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Lindy Ruff is back in charge of an NHL bench after he was hired as Devils head coach on Thursday. The team also announced that Tom Fitzgerald is taking over the executive vice president and general manager role.

“We are proud and excited to have Lindy Ruff join our organization as Head Coach,” said Fitzgerald in a statement. “He is one of the most successful and respected coaches in the NHL, not only today, but in League history. His personality, experience, knowledge, work-ethic and focus will provide a calm presence in our locker room. He is the right coach at the right time for our organization. Lindy has a proven track record of getting the absolute best out of his players across the board- stars, role players and everyone in between. His teaching ability, and communication skills will be well-suited for our team, especially our young, developing players. Throughout his career, his teams have been greater than the sum of their parts. I look forward to working together with Lindy as the organization moves forward.”

(AHL Hartford assistant Gord Murphy will take Ruff’s spot on the Rangers’ bench for the Stanley Cup Qualifying round.)

Ruff, who’s been a Rangers assistant since 2017-18, has been involved in professional hockey since entering the NHL in 1979 as a player with the Sabres. After a 15-year career he entered the coaching ranks and later was named Buffalo’s head coach in 1997. He’d hold the head coach position for 15 seasons before moving on to the Stars for four years.

Those Stars teams played high-event hockey considering the personnel at Ruff’s disposal. Over his final three seasons in Dallas they were a top-10 team in possession, expected goals for, and led the NHL in expected goals/60, as per Natural Stat Trick). It helped have the likes of Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza on the roster. The quality may not be at that level for the Devils, but it could head in that direction with Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, plus those in the pipeline.

[MORE: Good, bad, and neutral: Breaking down Ruff’s hiring]

After David Quinn’s hiring, Ruff’s experience was something the young coach said he’s benefited from. Though Ruff has handled a Rangers defense and penalty kill that struggled this season.

It remains to been what will happen with Alain Nasreddine, who took over as interim head coach in December after John Hynes was fired. During the NHL pause, Nasreddine interviewed for the position along with Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette, and John Stevens.

Fitzgerald drops “interim” tag

Fitzgerald took over as interim general manager in January after Ray Shero’s dismissal. He’s been with the organization since 2015 as assistant GM after following Shero from the Penguins. 

As with many hirings, there’s always a connection. The one here is that Ruff was a Panthers assistant during Fitzgerald’s first four seasons in Florida.

“When Tom took over the role of GM in January, we were committed to moving the organization in a new direction,” said Devils managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer. “Having gone through the process of interviewing various candidates, including Tom, and reviewing his work in the interim, we feel that he is the best fit for the New Jersey Devils moving forward. Our decision was solidified by his ability to stabilize the organization, get solid returns at the trade deadline, make impressive plans for player development and hire a new coach in Lindy Ruff. We are very optimistic about our future and know we have great deal of talent, both on and off the ice. Together, we are excited to start a new chapter and are committed to becoming a consistent contender, which our fans deserve.”

As the Devils went through the search process Fitzgerald worked as if he was keeping the job. He handled the trade deadline, last month’s draft lottery, and has continued preparing the draft and free agency in the fall.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

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

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

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.

Sabres drop lawsuit after assistant coach is granted a green card

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres dropped their lawsuit against the federal government after immigration officials reversed course by approving the team’s strength and conditioning coach’s petition for a green card.

“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties,” with Ed Gannon receiving approval for an EB-1 visa, the Sabres announced in a text message Wednesday.

The Sabres sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May by alleging officials wrongly denied the team’s visa petition for the British-born coach.

The announcement came a week after the Sabres’ lawyer notified the U.S. District Court in Buffalo that the team was voluntary dismissing the suit, with each side agreeing to bear their own costs and fees.

The Sabres accused immigration services of misstating facts and arbitrarily failing to follow its own rules in denying a green card to Gannon. They argued the decision potentially subjected the team “to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing (its) athletes.”

Gannon was hired by the Sabres in 2015 while the team was beefing up its player development staff. He previously spent 10 years as the lead strength and conditioning coach of a professional rugby club, the Leicester Tigers.

The Sabres filed the application for permanent residency on Gannon’s behalf in October. To be granted a green card, Gannon had to demonstrate that he was at the top of his field, and the Sabres argued that he proved his abilities under USCIS’ criteria.

The denial of Gannon’s petition came amid efforts by the Trump administration to limit legal immigration. A report last year by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that USCIS had become “increasingly active in immigration enforcement” and that the agency was intentionally slowing down adjudication of immigration benefits applications.