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:
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:
Batter up! ⚾️ @JDebrusk | #NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/YGtNX05Ub3
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 20, 2022
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.
Welcome back, Gio. pic.twitter.com/OYsxb67PDv
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 20, 2022
David Pastrnak boomed a one-timer to earn an OT win for the Bruins:
David Pastrnak's (@pastrnak96) ROCKET of a shot is your @SamuelAdamsBeer OT winner! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/aPbqCZFdKC
— NHL (@NHL) February 20, 2022
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?
Leafs make some depth additions that don't really move the needle, though both Lyubushkin and Dzingel carry strong defensive impacts pic.twitter.com/DcrdPrKPlr
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) February 20, 2022
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.
Interesting to have the reaction: "Wait, I kinda thought Ryan Dzingel was all-offense, but now he's all-defense?" And then realize … yeah, maybe so? (via @EvolvingHockey): pic.twitter.com/OoS66i7uSe
— James O'Brien 📎 (@cyclelikesedins) February 20, 2022
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.