Trading places: NHL deadline deals’ effect on playoff teams

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Excuse Derick Brassard for having a little difficulty finding his bearings after the veteran center took an unorthodox cross-country route in reaching the NHL playoffs.

Starting the season with Pittsburgh, Brassard was traded to Florida and spent 10 games with the Panthers before landing in Colorado in time to help the Avalanche’s late-season surge to clinch the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff berth. Brassard is also re-adjusting to center after playing on the wing in Florida.

”It’s been kind of a weird season for me personally. By coming here, I had to try to adjust quickly,” Brassard said Monday as Colorado prepares for a first-round matchup against Calgary. ”I feel like I’m fitting in really well. I wish I could chip in a little more. I think it’s been three or four games, since I’m back to my normal position.”

Brassard, who has four goals in 20 games for Colorado, was one of 32 players involved in 20 deals struck at the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25.

Brassard’s acquisition – Colorado gave up a third-round draft pick – wasn’t the most notable of the day. And yet it was a reflection of numerous teams’ approach to addressing needs before making a final playoff push and beyond.

The Winnipeg Jets led the way in completing six trades, including acquiring veteran center Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers. Central Division rival Nashville responded by acquiring forwards Mikael Granlund from Minnesota and Wayne Simmonds from Philadelphia. Vegas struck what was the most impressive deal by landing forward Mark Stone in a multiplayer trade with Ottawa.

The trades don’t include various deals struck in the days leading up to the deadline, such as Columbus’ addition of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate swaps with Ottawa.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And while other teams were wheeling and dealing, teams such as Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay elected to stand pat. The Lightning roster was already deep and talented at all positions.

”Well, I think if I was as the GM in Tampa, I’d probably stand pat, too,” former NHL executive turned broadcaster Brian Burke said. ”They’re the class of the league this year.”

In the end, Burke wondered how many of the trades will truly make the difference in determining the Stanley Cup champion.

”The trade deadline, so many mistakes are made,” Burke said. ”(You have) 15 teams making moves at the deadline, and there’s (only) one parade.”

Of the 16 playoff teams, only two – Pittsburgh and Colorado – were sitting outside the top eight spots in the conference standings on Feb. 25. Montreal dropped out in the East and Minnesota in the West.

The Jets’ additions failed to push them ahead of the Predators in the race for the Central title, though they were enough to keep Winnipeg ahead of the late-charging S. Louis Blues. Winnipeg was a point behind Nashville on Feb. 25 and finished the season in the same position.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, believes his team is better prepared in opening the playoffs against St. Louis.

”They’ve meshed in,” Cheveldayoff said of the newcomers.

”They’ve gone through the newness process,” he added. ”That’s over. They’re just like every one of us now.”

In Nashville, the Predators believe they added leadership to the locker room and more of a hard-hitting presence on the ice in preparing to open against Dallas.

”Just seeing who we match up against in the playoffs, it’s those heavier teams, bigger bodies and having guys up front who can handle the bigger D,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. ”The moves we made made our team better.”

In Columbus, the Blue Jackets went all in by adding to their roster rather than subtracting players such as goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin – both eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Panarin led the team with 87 points, while Bobrovsky closed the season by going 10-3, including four shutouts.

Add in the likes of Duchene, Dzingel and defenseman Adam McQuaid, and the Blue Jackets believe they have the depth for a daunting first-round matchup against Tampa Bay.

”They’ve been through the trenches with us. They’ve been able to feel a part of this team, take ownership of this team and know their role within it,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. ”You look at it, and we’re four deep everywhere. Our defensive core is set. It just makes you feel more confident.”

In Washington, the defending Stanley Cup champions benefited by adding forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen.

Hagelin, a trusted two-way forward, had three goals and 11 points in 20 games with the Capitals after combining for just eight points in 38 games split between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. Jensen’s addition is even more important with defenseman Michal Kempny sidelined with a lower body injury.

”I think they kind of filled holes that maybe we had really well,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”Even if Kemper didn’t get injured, I think adding another good NHL guy was important for us.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Arlington, Virginia, and AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.

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

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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