NHL Rink Wrap: Oilers perfect under Woodcroft; Maple Leafs trade Ritchie

NHL Rink Wrap: Oilers perfect under Woodcroft; Maple Leafs trade Ritchie
Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Top players from Saturday in the NHL

Tage Thompson, Sabres

So, uh, Tage Thompson, huh?

When a team is in a dire state, a borderline-breakthrough season can sometimes get lost. In a lot of cases, those breakthroughs end up being mirages. Yet, even then, fun tidbits can surface, some as a badge of fan torment honor. Did you know that Dick Tarnstrom led the Penguins in scoring?

Time will tell if Tage Thompson could be a part of the Sabres’ solution, or if we should call him Tage Tarnstrom. (Tarmpson?)

Either way, the extremely tall forward collected his first career hat trick during the Saturday NHL games. That pushed the towering 24-year-old to 19 goals and 37 points in 46 games played. In his previous 145 games, Tage Thompson only collected 35 points. You know, in case you were wondering if he set a new career-high, or ever played anywhere near this well before.

How much do we believe here? Again, unclear. It’s interesting to see Tage Thompson boost his underlying stats in xGAR, not just GAR, at Evolving Hockey:

Thompson xSPAR NHL Rink Wrap: Oilers perfect under Woodcroft; Maple Leafs trade Ritchie
via Evolving Hockey

For some, he may only be tall Tage Thompson. Others might ding him for being in the Ryan O'Reilly trade. But a more positive-leaning Buffalo franchise may try to make the most of things. Let Jeff Skinner just play, bloated contract or not. Don’t let the ROR comparisons leave Thompson slouching in sadness.

Either way, kudos to Thompson for playing hard in a season where others might phone it in.

Saturday NHL highlights

Check out footage of that Tage Thompson hat trick:

At this point, it’s half-strange to type “Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk.” It feels like he’s been on the verge of being traded for ages. But don’t let that fool you into thinking DeBrusk lacks any talent. Judging from this goal, DeBrusk probably could be a decent contact hitter:

The Flames welcomed back Mark Giordano during the Saturday NHL games. Maybe the Kraken will trade Giordano to the Flames or someone else during the deadline? Would honestly almost be a bit weird if the Kraken didn’t … then again, sometimes Ron Francis is a little uh, slow to pull the trigger on trades.

David Pastrnak boomed a one-timer to earn an OT win for the Bruins:

Saturday NHL Takeaways

Oilers win fifth in a row under new coach Jay Woodcroft

The Edmonton Oilers stayed undefeated under new coach Jay Woodcroft by holding off the Winnipeg Jets. Midway through the game, the Oilers rode three Connor McDavid points (1G, 2A) to a 3-0 lead. Midway through the third period, it seemed like more of the same.

Then the Jets really started soaring, and Mikko Koskinen was tested. The Jets scored two goals, including a shorthanded tally after barely missing on an earlier SHG. It seemed like Edmonton would crater, but they got the stops, an empty-netter, and the Oilers’ streak is now at five.

“Our team didn’t flinch,” Jay Woodcroft said about the Jets’ push to rally from down 3-0 vs. the Oilers, according to Daniel Nugent-Bowman.

Here’s a recap of the Oilers’ five-game winning streak to start the Jay Woodcroft era.

Feb. 11: 3-1 win vs. Islanders
Feb. 14: 3-0 win at Sharks
Feb. 15: 5-2 win at Kings
Feb. 17: 7-3 win vs. Ducks
Feb. 19 (Saturday): 4-2 win vs. the Jets

With the Oilers on a five-game winning streak and the Golden Knights dropping three straight, could Edmonton go from possibly missing the playoffs to securing home-ice in a 2 vs. 3 series? Guess the toilet seat’s up lately? Or down? Which position is good? Should the nearest spouse be consulted here?

Maple Leafs clear future salary cap space in Nick Ritchie trade to Coyotes

When a contending team (Maple Leafs) comes together with a rebuilding team (Coyotes), sometimes you see creative trades. That’s what happened when the Maple Leafs made a trade with the Coyotes on Saturday that’s best laid out to give you time to process everything.

Maple Leafs receive: Ryan Dzingel, Ilya Lyubushkin

Coyotes receive: Nick Ritchie, choice of either a) Maple Leafs’ third-round pick 2023 or b) Maple Leafs’ second-rounder in 2025.

Quirky move, huh?

Why trade makes sense for the Maple Leafs

Most obviously for the Maple Leafs, they move Nick Ritchie off the books. While the 26-year-old isn’t breaking the bank at $1.375M, Ritchie also wasn’t working for Toronto. That $1.375M cap hit runs through the 2022-23 season, while Dzingel (29 years old, $1.1M) and Lyubushkin (27, $1.35M) both are on expiring contracts. More than anything else, the Maple Leafs shake loose marginal-yet-for-them-sometimes-precious salary cap space.

From an on-ice standpoint, maybe the Maple Leafs gain some defensive boosts in the Ritchie/Dzingel + Lyubushkin trade?

In reading about Dzingel, I was at first confused. Generally, my impression of Dzingel was all-offense. Well, it seems like he’s adapted his style over time. Based on these multi-season RAPM charts from Evolving Hockey (note: one season missing in between), Dzingel almost seems like a different player now vs. then.

So, those two players seem like only marginal improvements, if not lateral moves. Again, though, this trade gives the Maple Leafs some flexibility now, and next season.

Coyotes keep stockpiling for the future (and get at least one more player under contract)

After this trade, Nick Ritchie becomes something exceedingly rare for the Coyotes: a player under contract. Like, an actual hockey person expected to play hockey games, not just fill up cap space while being functionally retired.

Theoretically, the Coyotes may look at Nick Ritchie in a way that they glance at restoration projects like Shayne Gostisbehere. The Coyotes already received draft picks to trade for Gostisbehere and Ritchie’s contracts; what if the Coyotes could then flip one or both of them in a future trade for even more?

It’s not outrageous to think about. With the shallow pool of Coyotes’ NHL-ready options for the near future, Ritchie (and Gostisbehere) should get plenty of opportunities to put up some numbers. That may pump up their value.

With Ritchie, he’s a big body with experience, and he’s dirt-cheap. Get Ritchie going on a hot shooting percentage run, and who knows?

Also, it will be interesting to see which pick the Coyotes lean toward. Do they hope that the Maple Leafs of 2025 look a lot more like a rebuilding team, and hope that second-rounder is only a skip and a jump from the top 32?* It’s at least an intriguing thing to ponder.

* – You know, assuming the NHL doesn’t add another team by then.

Sunday’s big story

Golden Knights’ chances at early home-ice advantage starting to slip

If they had it their way, the Golden Knights would certainly prefer the easiest path to their hopeful Stanley Cup push. You don’t go all-in over and over again without also wanting the best odds.

That said, if the Flames end up ahead of the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division race, it’s not the end of the world. Yet, with three straight losses, the Golden Knights may need to stop looking up the ranks, and instead keep an eye on those objects approaching their rearview mirror.

As mentioned above, the Oilers are gaining on the Flames in a big way. Home-ice in the first round is no guarantee. While the Golden Knights remain comfortably projected to most likely make the playoffs, this recent slippage should at least raise an alarm or two.

While the Sharks would love to be a team breathing down the Golden Knights’ necks, they are instead clearly the type of team Vegas needs to beat. Otherwise, those alarms may blare louder and louder.

Saturday NHL scores

Avalanche 5, Sabres 3
Oilers 4, Jets 2
Bruins 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Blues 6, Maple Leafs 3
Kings 5, Coyotes 3
Ducks 7, Canucks 4
Flames 2, Kraken 1

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.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
    André Ringuette/Getty Images
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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.