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Blue Jackets’ Panarin, trade deadline options after adding Duchene

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Trading for Matt Duchene feels like a game-changer for the Columbus Blue Jackets, yet rather than making everything clear, it only seems to open up more questions about the future.

It also doesn’t slam the door shut on the mysteries surrounding what Columbus will do about Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

Just consider this tweet from Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, and you’ll realize that the Blue Jackets aren’t just facing a fork in the road. It’s more like Dr. Strange computing millions of potential outcomes.

Keep in mind that GM Jarmo Kekalainen seems secretive even by normal, paranoid GM standards. According to this fascinating article by The Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required), Kekalainen sometimes goes as far as to buy a ticket to a game and disguise himself as a fan to do some scouting, rather than showing up at the press box, which would let people know he’s taking a look.

That’s a longer way of saying that it’s difficult to predict what, exactly, Kekalainen will do next.

At least it’s fun to try, though, so let’s have at it.

[Trade details]

Scenario 1: Blue Jackets load up

Columbus fans are probably nauseated to hear this talking point again, but it’s unavoidable: this franchise somehow hasn’t won a playoff series yet. I say somehow because, frankly, Kekalainen’s accomplished quite a bit during his time as GM.

Combine that thought with the Metropolitan Division presenting what could be the weakest bracket in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s easy to see why Columbus would take a carpe diem attitude here.

Portzline notes that the Blue Jackets haven’t totally emptied their prospect cupboard (just a lot of their draft capital), so they could actually add more after landing Duchene and possibly keeping both Bobrovsky and Panarin. Cap Friendly projects the Blue Jackets’ trade deadline cap space at more than $22 million, and while things can get funky when you consider prorated money, the bottom line is that Columbus has some room to work with.

Scenario 1b: Doom

If Kekalainen is assembling “The Avengers,” then perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins play the role of Thanos, trying to snap the Blue Jackets’ dreams out of existence.

As of this writing, the Blue Jackets aren’t located in a playoff spot, but games in hand hint at a brighter future.

But, really, the road goes through Pittsburgh.

The two teams have only played one time this season (Penguins won 4-2 on Nov. 24), so the division rivals square off on three more occasions. The remaining games take place in Columbus on Tuesday – the day after the deadline – and then the two teams square off in a home-and-home set on March 7 and 9.

Over the last three years, some promising Blue Jackets teams fell in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, and the Penguins authored two of those defeats. While not a guarantee, it’s quite possible that those head-to-head games might swing the playoff races (though Carolina could also bow out, maybe if the Hurricanes’ goalies flop).

Scenario 2: Lateral move

What if Duchene is essentially a replacement for Panarin, as discussed recently?

By just about any measure, Panarin is more of an impact player than Duchene, but it’s been heavily indicated that Panarin will leave Columbus in free agency. Portzline points out that, by landing Duchene, it may only increase demand for Panarin on the trade market.

The Blue Jackets could conceivably still be quite competitive with Duchene in and Panarin out, land some really great assets for Panarin, and extend Duchene, mitigating the painful damage of Panarin walking.

Naturally, there are a number of ways that could backfire. Generally, it would be an approach that would account more for the future without totally burning the present, while the loading up scenario would be all about now.

Scenario 3: Move Bob, Keep Bread

This doesn’t feel particularly likely.

Simply put, it’s difficult to trade prominent goalies, and it doesn’t help that Bobrovsky a) hasn’t been having a great season and b) could make things tricky regarding no-trade clauses.

There’s at least some logic to this remote possibility, though. Columbus could see some value in getting something for Bob before he’s gone, and goalies aren’t as reliable difference-makers as Panarin, who’s as close to a sure thing as you can find on the wing.

Don’t bet on that happening, though.

Scenario 4: Unload

It’s tough to imagine this happening after landing Duchene, too, but Kekalainen could even trade Bobrovsky and Panarin. That is, after all, a possibility that didn’t seem that outrageous earlier this season.

If that were to happen, would the Blue Jackets be comfortable rolling the dice with Joonas Korpisalo, or would they make things even more complicated by moving Bobrovsky out and bringing someone like Jimmy Howard in?

Scenario 4 would basically leave us all with impossible charts like Charlie Kelly from “It’s Always Sunny.”

***

The most likely scenarios come down to Columbus either loading up by keeping Panarin and Bobrovsky after landing Duchene, or moving Panarin and extending Duchene. But these are all just guesses right now.

For all we know, even Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets might not be totally sure how this will end up.

That makes the final days leading up to the trade deadline almost as exciting as it could be to watch Duchene and Panarin rushing down the ice. It’s up to Kekalainen to make sure Columbus doesn’t whiff on this chance.

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: Campbell steals Tkachuk – Doughty show; Four for Tavares

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Three Stars

1. John Tavares

For the first time in his NHL career, Tavares scored four goals in one game. His four tallies were a mix of luck and skill, with all of them coming from very close in on net.

You can rank Tavares with the likes of Sidney Crosby as a star who tends to score a lot of his goals like grinders: in the dirty areas of the ice, cashing in on rebounds and quick reactions. None of this is to say that Tavares lacks skill, just that he sometimes applies those skills in subtler, more grinding ways.

This post goes into great detail on his great night in specific, and his fantastic first season with Toronto in general.

2. Jack Campbell

There were plenty of bitter moments involving Drew Doughty and Matthew Tkachuk, sometimes sniping and swiping each other, sometimes with just one of those players involved. But this was the closest they got to a fight, which is kind of a bummer:

Instead, Campbell basically stole the show, pitching a 42-save shutout to help the Kings upset the Flames.

This is the second shutout of Campbell’s career, and it’s increasingly looking like the former (mostly disappointing) first-rounder might just find his niche as a backup goalie. Nice story developing here, even if it’s in relative anonymity considering the low quality of this Kings team.

3. Steven Stamkos

Tavares was the free agent who left for Toronto after Steven Stamkos didn’t, so there’s a fun symmetry to the two high-scoring number 91’s generating four points during the same night.

In the case of Stamkos, he got to those four points with two goals and two assists. Stamkos is now tied for fourth in the NHL with Patrick Kane with 41 goals on the season, leaving him four behind Tavares. Stamkos has the edge in total points, however, as his 93 ranks seventh overall.

Highlights of the Night

Mark Scheifele is known for being a “student of the game,” so maybe he’s studied the best ways to sweep would-be goals out of his own net? Does he moonlight as a goalie?

Starting with a great save by Andrei Vasilevskiy, this is a fun watch (unless you’re a Bruins fan), as Nikita Kucherov tied things up for the Lightning. They eventually stunned the B’s in regulation, reminding the hockey world that they’re way, way ahead of everyone else.

Factoids

  • Four players have scored at least 30+ goals in three seasons before reaching age 21: Wayne Gretzky, Jimmy Carson, Dale Hawerchuk, and now Patrik Laine.
  • As tough as this season has been, and as embarrassing as that center-ice goal was, Cory Schneider had a fantastic overall game on Monday. You can make an argument that stopping 45 out of 46 saves ranks as three stars material. Schneider became the second goalie in Devils franchise history to earn multiple wins of at least 45 saves. Glenn “Chico” Resch was the other goalie to do it.
  • This post details the Predators clinching a playoff spot for the fifth season in a row, and perhaps most importantly, Devan Dubnyk, 32, having the same throat guard since he was 17.
  • The Flames hadn’t been shut out at home since March 21, 2018.
  • The Sharks lost in regulation to the Red Wings, which marks San Jose’s sixth consecutive loss. Cause for concern? Cause to gently nudge Erik Karlsson to get back in the lineup?

Scores

TOR 7 – FLA 5
NJD 3 – BUF 1
PIT 5 – NYR 2
TBL 5 – BOS 4
STL 3 – VGK 1
NSH 1 – MIN 0
DAL 5 – WPG 2
LAK 3 – CGY 0
DET 3 – SJS 2

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.

Predators clinch spot, deal major blow to Wild’s playoff hopes

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The Minnesota Wild’s offense is starting to stink almost as much as Devan Dubnyk‘s teenaged throat guard.

The Nashville Predators only needed Ryan Johansen‘s shorthanded goal to beat the Wild 1-0 on Monday, as Juuse Saros collected a 29-save shutout. With that, the Predators clinched a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Wild’s postseason hopes look that much grimmer.

With Zach Parise and others out of the lineup of a team that’s already lacking in firepower, it’s easy to understand Bruce Boudreau going for a “clog everything up” strategy. It almost worked, too, as the Wild generated a 29-19 shots on goal advantage, giving the Predators very little room to work with. This wasn’t an easy win for the Predators.

Minnesota simply wasn’t able to generate any margin for error, however, so that Johansen shorthanded goal just 4:32 into the game ended up being the decisive tally.

With the game turning into a grind that felt like a more skilled version of a slugfest from “The Dead Puck Era,” there was time to focus on other things … such as Devan Dubnyk’s throat guard, which might qualify as a biological weapon at this point:

Yes, gross.

The Wild struggled so badly to create offense, Dubnyk seemed to go over his teammates’ heads by trying to earn the equivalent to a delayed penalty advantage … that resulted in Minnesota taking a late penalty.

The Predators failed to score on the ensuing power play, yet the Wild had to kill that penalty fairly late in the game, rather than continuing to push to the same level of aggression for that tying goal.

While the Predators gave themselves a better chance to earn home-ice advantage for the first round (and maybe a shot at the division title), the Wild are at a disadvantage in the West’s bubble races. Take a quick look at how things look as of this writing:

WC 2: Avalanche: 81 points in 76 games, 33 regulation/OT wins

9: Coyotes: 79 points in 76 games, 32 ROW
10: Wild: 79 points in 77 games, 34 ROW
11: Blackhawks: 76 points in 75 games, 31 ROW

Not good.

If Monday’s efforts serve as any indication, the Wild seem likely to keep putting forth a dogged effort to try to earn a playoff berth. They just have to hope they don’t fall painfully short in these races like they did during this 1-0 loss to the Predators.

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.

Hats off to Tavares’ fantastic first season in Toronto

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However you feel about John Tavares joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, you can’t deny how great he’s been during his first season with the team he rooted for as a child.

It’s possible that Monday represented his best game yet with the Maple Leafs.

For the 10th time in his already fantastic NHL career – and already the second time since joining the Maple Leafs – Tavares generated a hat trick. He did so through two periods of Monday’s game against the Florida Panthers, and actually added a fourth goal during the final frame as Toronto outgunned the Panthers 7-5. With that, Tavares enjoyed his first-ever four-goal game.

As you can see from the highlights of his hat trick above and the fourth goal below, the goals were very much of Tavares’ trademark: “greasy” goals in the dirty areas in front of the net. If you combined the distance of all four goals, they might only match that single center-ice goal by Sam Reinhart.

Tavares has already crossed the 40-goal barrier for the first time in his career, and the milestones are piling up from there, as this performance pushes him to 45 goals and 86 points in 76 games. Consider the following:

via Getty Images

Impressive stuff.

There’s a lot of angst in the air in Toronto right now, and a win might only do so much to soothe concerns, as a 7-5 win isn’t exactly “pretty.” At least if you’re wanting to tighten things up, as Mike Babcock surely hopes to do heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But imagine if Tavares was a flop, instead of a slam-dunk success, during his first season with the Maple Leafs? Instead, he’s playing at such a level that he might just help Toronto to simply “outscore its mistakes.”

Either way, it certainly doesn’t seem like signing Tavares was a mistake.

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.

Center-ice goal is latest low moment for Devils’ Schneider

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The lows have been far, far more frequent for Cory Schneider during the last few seasons, to the point that it was fair to wonder if he’d ever restore his NHL career. Monday represented one of the lowest lows, even if center-ice goals happen to just about all goalies – from the elite to the going obsolete.

Schneider could do little but shake his head after Sam Reinhart‘s bouncing attempt beat him from center ice. You can watch that unfortunate moment in the video above this post’s headline.

That lucky/sneaky goal marks the 20th of the season for Reinhart, who’s quietly been one of the more promising stories of a disappointing finish for the Buffalo Sabres.

It isn’t lost on Hockey Twitter that the New Jersey Devils are probably better off losing, so at least there’s that?

This unfortunate gaffe actually does inspire a look at Schneider’s recent stats, and that’s where there’s at least some muted optimism.

Heading into Monday’s game, Schneider’s managed a promising .920 save percentage in his last 14 games. That’s quite an improvement considering Schneider only played in nine games before February, slogging through a miserable .852 save percentage.

A couple promising months don’t erase a couple very discouraging years for Schneider, but it’s telling that, despite all of these tough recent times, Schneider’s career save percentage is still stellar at .919. The 33-year-old hasn’t been that goalie since 2015-16, but if he could even become a decent 1A/1B goalie, that could give the Devils a considerable boost.

He’ll need to shake off moments like these, though.

Update: That ended up being the only goal Schneider allowed, as he stopped 45 shots in New Jersey’s 3-1 win against Buffalo.

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.