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Maple Leafs, Avs make blockbuster trade featuring Kadri, Barrie

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If you thought the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche almost seemed too quiet on free agent day … well, they combined for one whopper of a trade late on July 1.

It’s a lot to process, but here are the terms.

Maple Leafs receive:

  • Underrated right-handed defenseman Tyson Barrie, with the Avs retaining half of his cap hit on a deal that expires after next season. So Barrie only costs $2.75M on Toronto’s cap.
  • RFA center Alex Kerfoot. He’s a sneaky-good two-way player, but doesn’t have a deal yet.
  • The Avalanche’s 2020 sixth-round pick.

Avalanche receive:

  • The biggest piece is Nazem Kadri, a talented center who’s nonetheless become a lightning rod for controversy after being suspended for two consecutive postseasons. As controversial as Kadri can be, he’s an excellent forward who carries only a $4.5M cap hit through 2021-22.
  • Defenseman Calle Rosen.
  • The Maple Leafs’ 2020 third-round pick.

Maple Leafs work some magic

Personally, I’ve almost always been impressed with Kyle Dubas’ work as Maple Leafs GM, yet I’ve also been a little sad that we haven’t seen him be too creative, what with a team that’s largely been put in place for him.

Well, a cap crunch certainly forced him to use his brain, and the results are impressive.

Via Cap Friendly, the Maple Leafs now have about $11.1 million in cap space. They also still have some of their toughest work to do.

Most obviously, Mitch Marner is still an RFA who could conceivably eat up all of that $11.1M. The Maple Leafs have already seen the Montreal Canadiens throw out an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, and while Toronto would gladly match something close to that $8.4M+ range if that’s what came Marner’s way, there’s no guarantee that Toronto would enjoy such a manageable challenge.

Of course, there’s also no guarantee that any other NHL team will tender a viable offer sheet during this offseason.

The Maple Leafs also need to sort out Cody Ceci‘s situation, and Kerfoot himself is an RFA whose situation must be settled. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Kerfoot is expected to file for salary arbitration, and the award could exceed $3M.

So, there’s still some uncertainty hovering around the Maple Leafs. The biggest factor revolves around sorting out Marner’s situation. To do so, Dubas might need to make even more moves, and you can’t totally rule out moving the rights to Kerfoot and/or Ceci as time goes along.

But, as is, the Maple Leafs are in a profoundly better situation on July 1 than they were even at the end of June.

One could argue that Barrie is Jake Gardiner‘s equal, nearly at Gardiner’s level, or even better. That might come down to personal taste. One thing that’s not debatable is that Barrie is a better fit. While Gardiner with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin meant a glut of left-handed defensemen, Barrie is a RHD. This immediately gives Toronto better balance on defense, as RHD was their biggest weakness.

Now people can debate Barrie vs. Rielly, even.

About the only bummer is that Barrie’s contract expires after 2019-20, and considering his lofty point totals, he may end up being too expensive to keep around. Then again, who’s to say that Dubas doesn’t make another swap that buys Toronto some cost certainty?

The longer term discussion is interesting, yet as it stands, this is a fantastic boost.

One could argue that Kadri is a better asset than Barrie, particularly since his contract runs through 2021-22 at that affordable $4.5M clip. Still, with John Tavares and Auston Matthews firmly planted ahead of Kadri, and with William Nylander as at least a plausible option at 3C at times, Kadri was expendable. Even beyond the whole “Sometimes Kadri sees red, then loses his mind and gets suspended, including during the playoffs” thing.

Kerfoot is an intriguing talent if Toronto can keep everyone together, too, so this is promising stuff.

Avalanche add some certainty, still have a bunch of cap space

On paper, I’m more excited about the Maple Leafs’ side of the deal, at least potentially. Right-handed defensemen of Barrie’s caliber just aren’t available very often, and certainly not at a $2.75M clip, even if it’s just for one season. And, depending upon how Toronto can manage things with Kerfoot, the drop off at center might not be that steep for Toronto.

Don’t let all the disdain for Kadri fool you, though. He’s very good, and was almost certainly overqualified as a 3C this past season. The Avalanche seemed primed to part ways with Barrie, what with his contract up after 2019-20, and rising defensive prospects possibly set to usurp him anyway, including Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, in particular.

The Avalanche remarkably have $27.125M in cap space left over, according to Cap Friendly. Mikko Rantanen will take a huge bit out of that, possibly at a level comparable to whatever Mitch Marner makes, and Andre Burakovsky might not be cheap, either. Nikita Zadorov also lingers as an RFA, yet there’s a chance the Avalanche might get yet another piece … might they also look at former Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner?

***

Overall, this is a fascinating trade between two young, exciting, rising, and well-run teams. We could very well be debating the merits of this one for some time, and heck, maybe a future Stanley Cup Final would be the ultimate lab to test the experiment?

In the cases of Colorado and Toronto, there’s also a “to be continued” element, as both teams have enormously important RFAs to re-sign. If this trade is any indication: buckle up.

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.

Jack Hughes scores first NHL goal in first game against brother (Video)

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Jack Hughes had to wait until his eighth game to score his first NHL goal, and the timing of it could not have been any better.

Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, scored on the power play at the 14:04 mark of the first period to give the New Jersey Devils a 1-0 lead over the Vancouver Canucks, finishing a play that was set up by the 2010 No. 1 overall pick, Taylor Hall.

Here is a look at the play.

Why was the timing so perfect for Hughes?

Because his older brother, Quinn, is also playing in his rookie season for the Canucks and is in the lineup on Saturday afternoon. And since this was the first regular season matchup in the NHL between the two brothers the entire Hughes family was in attendance In Newark to see the big moment.

Both players players figure to be contenders for Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.

Jack’s goal on Saturday comes one game after he recorded his first career point, an assist in the Devils’ win over the New York Rangers  — and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko — on Thursday night.

Quinn entered Saturday’s game with a goal and two assists in six games for the Canucks. He scored his first goal in a win over the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season. He was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 draft class.

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.

The Buzzer: Caps’ Carlson is on fire; James Neal keeps scoring

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Three Stars

1. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

When you’re trying to split hairs and choose the best of the best on a night of strong performances, sometimes you have to break the tie by looking at the larger body of work.

You could make a strong argument that Capitals defenseman John Carlson is on the hottest start of any player. Not just of any defenseman in the NHL — of any skater.

Carlson generated three assists in Washington’s 5-2 win against the New York Rangers on Friday. That gives him six points (one goal, five assists) in his last two games, and 17 points through nine games overall in 2019-20.

If you haven’t clued into just how impressive that start is yet, consider this: Carlson is tied with Connor McDavid for the league lead with 17 points after McDavid finally went pointless in Edmonton’s tight win against the Red Wings on Friday. Yes, McDavid’s gotten to eight games compared to Carlson’s nine, but this is still some resounding stuff. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is the only other blueliner in double digits so far in 2019-20, as he reached 10 points after scoring two goals against the struggling Stars.

Carlson’s building quite the early lead in the Norris Trophy race.

Anyone who thinks point totals don’t matter to at least some Norris voters is naive, but Carlson hasn’t just been a points machine. Two of his three goals have been game-winners, he’s logging significant ice time, and Carlson’s continuing his recent upswing in possession stats. The cherry on top is that Carlson’s underlying stats are up a bit from 2018-19’s impressive jump even though he’s not seeing the same cushy situations (50.9 of his shifts started in the offensive zone heading into Friday, versus of an average of 56.6 percent last season; maybe the stemming from Matt Niskanen being traded away?).

Carlson’s certain to slow down, but has a strong chance to reach a new peak from last year’s career-high of 70 points.

2. Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche

A former Capitals player might have enjoyed the superior overall Friday, though.

Burakovsky generated two goals and one assist in Colorado’s 5-4 OT win against the Panthers, and his points were significant. Burakovsky scored Colorado’s final two goals of regulation, including the tally that sent the contest into overtime, and then nabbed the primary assist on a Nathan MacKinnon OT-winner that looked way too easy, even by 3-on-3 standards.

Could this be the breakout many expected to see in Washington? He’s riding high percentages, yet it’s promising that Burakovsky’s off to a strong start in Colorado (eight points in seven games). If Burakovsky can help the Avalanche generate secondary scoring, that team could get scary, arguably sooner than many expected/feared.

3. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins

During the same week that Hornqvist made plenty of enemies in Colorado thanks to a questionable hit on MacKinnon, Hornqvist was a disruptive force on the scoreboard, scoring one goal and two assists as the Penguins added to Dallas’ miseries.

Hornqvist ended up with a +3 rating, game-winning goal, four SOG, and one blocked shot. The only upset is that the sandpaper-y winger didn’t get credited with a hit.

(Considering Pittsburgh’s injury woes, maybe that’s the wisest path.)

Highlight of the Night

After scoring a goal in a video game where you hammered the deke button, you might feel some emptiness — that this never would have happened in “real life.” Then again, were you scoring that goal with Kris Letang?

Factoids

Scores

COL 5 – FLA 4 (OT)
PIT 4 – DAL 2
WSH 5 – NYR 2
CHI 3 – CBJ 2 (OT)
EDM 2 – DET 1
ANA 4 – CAR 2

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins keep heating up; Struggling Stars sink lower

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Is it time for the Dallas Stars to throw Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus again?

We’re still in October, and things are looking unsettling for a team that navigated some serious highs and lows in 2018-19 to eventually drum up lofty expectations for 2019-20. So far, the Stars have flopped in their encore performance, like a band tripping over all of their instruments while the crowd raises its lighters.

On paper, you’d think it would be the Pittsburgh Penguins who were struggling against the Stars on Friday. After all, they are the team still dealing with injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust, while the Stars recently got interesting offseason addition Corey Perry back in the lineup.

Instead, the two teams continued on their opposite trajectories. The Penguins keep finding ways to win, in this case riding two Kris Letang goals to a 4-2 win against the Stars, pushing Pittsburgh’s winning streak to five games. Dallas, meanwhile, lost its fifth game in a row (0-4-1), and the Stars saw their overall 2019-20 record sink to a deeply unsettling 1-7-1.

Former PHT editor Brandon Worley captured much of the mood among Stars fans after another dispiriting loss.

Most are shaking their heads in dismay, with some feeling like it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Like many, I didn’t expect Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and other Stars goalies to combine for a .923 team save percentage like they did in 2018-19, which towered over last season’s league average of .905.

It absolutely was a red flag that the Stars only marginally outscored the opposition (209 goals for, 200 against) last season despite that Herculean goaltending.

Still, there were signs that Jim Montgomery’s system was putting Bishop and Khudobin in a situation to succeed, and there are elements of a modern puck-moving defense in place. One could picture another step for sizzling sophomore Miro Heiskanen, and the Stars made the playoffs despite dark horse Norris candidate John Klingberg being limited to 64 regular-season games. More Heiskanen, more Klingberg, another step for Roope Hintz, plus the additions of Joe Pavelski and, to a much lesser extent, Corey Perry? There were worse formulas for success heading into 2019-20, so fools like me wondered if the Stars might be able to rekindle that magic.

Luck should improve

And, to be fair, counting the Stars out just a little more than two weeks into 2019-20 would be hasty.

Hintz and Heiskanen are some of the only Stars off to the starts you’d expect, with Seguin parked at four points in nine games, Pavelski only managing one goal and one assist, and Klingberg sitting at three points (after Thursday’s goal and assist).

Things should improve to some extent, even if it’s foolish to count on all-world goaltending once again. With six of their first nine games on the road, maybe Dallas is having some trouble bringing its small-margin-of-error style out of Dallas.

While the Stars have a hapless divisional neighbor in the Minnesota Wild, the bottom line is that the Central Division figures to be unforgiving, so Dallas needs to shake out of this funk as soon as possible.

A matter of philosophy?

Maybe it’s too early to panic, but it’s absolutely time to ask tough questions. The Stars aren’t that far removed from being one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL, only to turn their back on that formula at the first signs of pushback, instead going the “safer” route of becoming more defensive-minded under Ken Hitchcock and then Montgomery.

It was easier to watch that beautiful thing die when the Stars were winning, yet it’s debatable if dumbing things down by going all-defense is truly the “safe” route, especially with a team fueled by offensive talent from Seguin and Alexander Radulov on offense and skilled defensemen like Klingberg and Heiskanen on the blueline.

Maybe losing to a depleted Penguins teams at least provides another chance to do some soul-searching?

[MORE: What’s wrong with the Stars?]

The Penguins carried the Stars’ outscore-your-problems torch once Dallas wavered, and Pittsburgh marched to two consecutive Stanley Cups despite defense that ranged from shaky to shabby. Then, for reasons even more perplexing, the Penguins began to lose confidence in that approach, and ended up losing some ground in the process.

As of Friday, the Penguins and Stars are moving in very different directions, and one can bet that they’ll see other dramatic shifts over an 82-game regular season. Maybe both can provide each other lessons about playing to your strengths and knowing who you are, though.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Nationals’ Scherzer drops ceremonial baseball before Capitals game

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The Washington Nationals have some time to kill before the 2019 World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, so why not take in a Washington Capitals game … and maybe put a new knuckleball-like spin on a common hockey photo-op?

Instead of dropping the ceremonial first puck before Friday’s Capitals – Rangers contest, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer elected to drop a baseball instead. You can watch video of that fun ceremony (which vaguely reminded me of Auston Matthews doing a little Globetrotter spin with a Raptors basketball) in the video above. Sports city synergy is fun, is what I’m trying to say.

As a baseball not-knower, this brings up a lot of questions — some I can answer, some not so much.

  • Was it one of those new-fangled “juiced” baseballs? Scherzer probably doesn’t like those, if they’re really a thing.
  • I was wondering about Scherzer’s (maybe somewhat intimidating) different-colored eyes. Apparently Scherzer was born that way, although one eye was blue and the other was green, originally. (The blue eye turned bluer, while the green one turned brown.) Dany Heatley is a hockey player who comes to mind with that, but his story is less fun and more upsetting.
  • CNN clears up the Nationals’ connection to “Baby Shark,” which I wondered about thanks to this:

(Even Capitals fans would probably admit that this is swimming a bit close to San Jose’s waters.)

  • In case you were wondering, that sports city synergy went both ways, as you can see from Alex Ovechkin hugging Scherzer before a Nationals game in June 2018 (via Getty):
(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

As of this writing, the Capitals lead the Rangers 3-2 and the New York Yankees are trying to protect a 4-1 lead against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS. If the Astros win, they’ll face Scherzer’s Nationals.

… And that about concludes my baseball-knowing.

/chews imaginary tobacco/Major League Chew

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.