Players brace for moves as NHL trade deadline approaches

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By John Wawrow (AP Hockey Writer)

Thomas Vanek remembers waking up in Edmonton, Alberta, and turning on the TV in his hotel room to find out where he was heading.

It was March 5, 2014, the NHL’s trade deadline day, and Vanek’s bags were packed. He knew he had played his final game a few days earlier for the New York Islanders after rejecting the team’s bid to sign the pending free agent to a contract extension.

It wasn’t until the deadline passed when Vanek’s phone started ringing. It wasn’t his agent, the Islanders or some other team’s general manager.

”I got a message from a reporter saying, ‘The Montreal media wants to talk to you,” said Vanek, recalling how he found out he’d been traded to the Canadiens. ”That was probably the hardest one because it was my first trade deadline deal.”

It wouldn’t be his last.

The 35-year-old Vanek, now in his second stint with Detroit, has been dealt twice more at the deadline. Red Wings GM Ken Holland informed Vanek he was being traded to Florida on March 1, 2017. And he learned through a friend’s text message that Vancouver had sent him to Columbus last Feb. 26.

Though the one-year contract he signed with Detroit last summer includes a no-trade clause, there remains a chance he’ll move once again before this season’s deadline on Monday.

”There’s a reason I came back to Detroit because I like it here,” he said. ”But at the same time, who knows what’s going to happen? Kenny’s always talking. So if something comes up that makes complete sense, then we’ll take a look at it.”

The trading has already begun, with the most notable featuring Toronto’s acquisition of defenseman Jake Muzzin in a deal with Los Angeles on Jan. 28.

Otherwise, the trade market remains bottled up with more prospective buyers than sellers. Of the 31 teams, 25 are either in contention or within six points of their conference’s eighth and final playoff spot entering play Wednesday.

Among the more notable players considered on the market are forwards Artemi Panarin (Columbus), Derick Brassard (Florida), Gustav Nyquist (Detroit), New York Rangers Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello, and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. And then there’s the Ottawa Senators, who are attempting to determine the trade status of forwards Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel, all of whom are eligible to become free agents this summer.

Last year’s deadline featured 18 trades involving 37 players, including the Sabres dealing Evander Kane to San Jose, St. Louis sending Paul Stastny to Winnipeg and the Rangers moving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay.

Few of the deals made an impact in their team’s’ respective playoff runs. The Lightning reached the Eastern Conference finals, but they were defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, whose most notable late-season addition was defenseman Michal Kempny (acquired in a trade with Chicago a week before the deadline).

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final despite getting limited production from trade-deadline addition Tomas Tatar. San Jose made it to the second round before being eliminated, but re-signed Kane.

None of the deals came close to matching what’s considered the NHL’s gold standard on March 10, 1980. That’s when the Islanders acquired Butch Goring from Los Angeles to spark what became New York’s run of winning four consecutive championships. Goring wasn’t happy about the deal that also sent forward Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis to the Kings.

”It was very upsetting because I was on the second year of a six-year contract and had made a commitment to basically spend my entire career in L.A.,” Goring recalled.

It didn’t take long to get over the shock for the then-30-year-old, who had scored 20 or more goals nine times during his 10-plus seasons with the Kings.

With Goring, the Islanders closed the season 8-0-4 and lost just six times in the playoffs in winning the Final in six games over Philadelphia. The following year, Goring was named the playoff MVP.

He called the adjustment joining a star-packed Islanders team as less intimidating than it might have been as a younger player.

”I came into that dressing room and I didn’t have anything to prove. I had a pretty strong reputation about who I was and what I couldn’t do,” Goring said. ”I wasn’t taking Bryan Trottier’s job. I was there to be who I was.”

Now an Islanders broadcaster, Goring refers to the trade as the ”icing on the cake” of his career.

”Nobody knew much about Butch Goring, as I played all those years in L.A. There was no exposure,” he said. ”And now everyone remembers who you are. The great thing about the trade deadline is everybody talks about Butch Goring.”

DEADLINE DAY

Vanek wondered if the deadline falls too late in the season for players to become comfortable with their new surroundings.

”The only thing you can control is being a good person, being a good teammate,” he said. ”But at the same time, the team that gets you, they want you to be productive. And that’s the hard part.”

Goring doesn’t think so, noting the trade deadline used to be 26 days before the end of the season and now is 40.

”If you’re going to acquire a player that’s going to be a difference maker, he’s going to adapt in a hurry,” Goring said.

Red Wings GM Holland backs the current deadline.

”For those teams that are buyers, you still have 20 games to get that player acclimated to your system. For the teams that aren’t sure if they’re buyers or sellers, it gives them more time,” Holland said.

PLANES, UBERS AND FLAT TIRES

Ryan Hartman won’t soon forget what happened when traded by Chicago to Nashville at last year’s deadline.

With a stop-over in Toronto, it took him 8 hours to fly from Chicago to Winnipeg, where he would join the Predators. And that was after beginning the day contending with a flat tire. He used Uber to get to the Blackhawks practice and then had to use it again – this time with all his equipment – to return home and pack before heading to the airport.

”I had an issue with it all year and someone told me at the beginning of the year, ‘You’re going to end up getting a flat tire at the worst time possible,”’ Hartman said. ”Sure enough.”

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Points: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 99; Goals: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington), 42; Longest point streak: Patrick Kane (Chicago) 18 games (Jan. 3 to present); Rookie points: Elias Petterson (Vancouver), 54; Wins: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas) 29.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Colorado Avalanche visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday in a game between two Western Conference wild-card contenders.

AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage and Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

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.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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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.

Trade: Blackhawks send Anisimov to Senators for Zack Smith

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Artem Anisimov‘s name has been floating in trade speculation for more than a year now, and on Tuesday afternoon the Chicago Blackhawks finally moved him.

The Blackhawks announced they have traded Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward Zack Smith. It is a one-for-one deal that will probably make a bigger impact on both team’s financial situations than on the ice.

Both players are 31 years old, have two years remaining on their current contracts, and are coming off of somewhat similar seasons in terms of their performance. Anisimov scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 games for the Blackhawks this past season, while Smith had nine goals and 28 points in 70 games for the Senators.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So what is important here for both teams? Money, obviously.

For the Blackhawks, the Anisimov-for-Smith swap saves them a little more than $1 million against the salary cap as they go from Anisimov’s $4.5 salary cap hit to Smith’s $3.25 number. For a team that is consistently pressed against the cap and still has a ton of big-money players, every little bit of extra space helps. Especially as they have to work out new deals for Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome over the next year.

The Senators, meanwhile, had a different set of problems.

They were still sitting under the league’s salary floor before the trade and are now finally above it.

Anisimov’s contract not only gets them over the floor, but because the Blackhawks have already paid Anisimov’s signing bonus for this season the Senators actually owe him less in terms of actual salary, which is also probably an important factor for a team that is seemingly always in a cost-cutting and money-saving mode.

The Blackhawks have been extremely busy this offseason making multiple changes to their roster after a second straight non-playoff season. Along with acquiring Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in trades to try and upgrade their defense, they also signed goalie Robin Lehner in free agency and brought back veteran forward Andrew Shaw.

This past week they traded former first-round pick defender Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alex Nylander.

Related: Blackhawks shaping up as NHL’s biggest wild card

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.