Roundtable: Active teams at NHL trade deadline; Shesterkin’s Hart Trophy case

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Which team(s) should be most desperate to be active ahead of the March 21 NHL trade deadline?

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: The Toronto Maple Leafs need to be at the top of this list. Not only because they have to do something significant in the playoffs (like winning at least a round) to not be labeled as total failures, but also because they have some major holes on their roster, especially right now in net. They are not a bad team by any means, but that goaltending has to be a question mark and a concern and no matter what they are going to be facing a really tough opponent in the First Round. This core can not go a sixth consecutive year without winning a round in the playoffs.

Along those same lines, Edmonton should be in that desperate category as well. They can not keep wasting the prime years of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and they are not even a lock to make the playoffs at this point. The only problem is I am not sure how desperate Ken Holland is to make the necessary moves to address their many issues at forward, on defense, and in goal.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Colorado. It may seem like this team has years of contention ahead of it, but examining their cap situation I wonder if the Avs will ever have a better chance than this season. Their pending UFAs have over 150 points and their starting goalie facing unrestricted free agency, and there’s no way they can keep all of those players for their current cumulative price. Factor in that Nathan MacKinnon is going to be eligible for a monster extension this summer, and there will be an inevitable squeeze, perhaps as soon as this offseason. The Josh Manson deal is a start, but it shouldn’t be the end for Joe Sakic. He should exhaust every resource to make sure his roster is the best it can be going into the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Sorry, Ducks and Sharks, but the trade deadline isn’t a great time to wallow in denial. Sell in a big way, or saddle your future with mistakes.

If there were better goalie options at the trade deadline, I’d lean toward the Oilers and Maple Leafs as desperate buyers. I just don’t know if there’s much supply to meet that demand.

With that in mind, an aging team like the Bruins really sticks out. How much longer will their window be open to compete? Maybe it’s futile to be buyers when your playoff opponents are so rich in weapons and talent, but the Bruins could be a Tomas Hertl away from being scary in their own right.

[MORE: 2021-22 NHL Trade Tracker]

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The Toronto Maple Leafs should be desperate despite their very good regular season record of 37-17-5 record. They are only two points up on the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and while they do not have to worry about making the playoffs, that has not been the problem in the last few years.

The problem is that they are unable to win a playoff series. The fact that their goaltending has spiralled downhill faster than the skier on the opening of ‘Wide World of Sports’, and there is no guarantee that Jack Campbell will return to form once he recovers from his rib injury. The tighter checking in the playoffs do not play into Toronto’s hands although the off-season acquisitions of David Kampf and Ondrej Kase will help post-season, who last won a playoff round when Fred Flintstone was a kid..

The Leafs will likely do their best to try and acquire a goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury and failing that, they need an upgrade on the blueline, or definitely blueline depth. I think up front they are okay as long as they remain healthy but the need at the back end and in net should make GM Kyle Dubas desperate at this time.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: If you’re Kyle Dubas and you’ve watched the last two weeks of goaltending from your team, how can you be confident that — even when Jack Campbell returns — you’ll stand a chance against teams like the Lightning, Panthers, etc.? Can he truly spend the next week thinking that “Yes, this is the team I want to take into the playoffs.”?

Now, the goalie market, if you’re a team like Toronto that’s thinking Stanley Cup, is limited as far as upgrades go. Fleury is the obvious top choice, but he has to waive his no-move clause to facilitate any trade. Beyond that? Alexandar Georgiev, Joonas Korpisalo, and Ilya Samsonov are more likely to fit as part of a tandem. Semyon Varlamov, however, has the experience of being a leading No. 1, but has struggled this season. Is he worth a shot at a possibly cheaper cost than Fleury?

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Which non-star player(s) rumored to be on the move could end up being impactful for a new team?

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL contentAndrew Copp. Given the somewhat contentious history between Copp and the Jets, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up on the move so the Jets don’t lose Copp for nothing in free agency this offseason. Copp can play anywhere in the lineup, and has position versatility between wing and center. With nearly 500 regular season games of experience, and an additional 34 in the postseason, Copp would be the perfect addition for a contending team looking to push their forward group to the next level.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Judging by the asking price for Ben Chiarot, I think that you can really get burned by paying for overpriced mid-range players at the trade deadline. My advice to teams would be to either go for an obvious difference-maker, or a low-risk bargain.

And some prospects intrigue me as buy-low candidates. It wouldn’t shock me if Ryan Suzuki (Hurricanes) or Grigori Denisenko (Panthers) ended up figuring things out, especially if they get traded to teams who aren’t so loaded at forward. Basically, teams should try to spot the next Chandler Stephenson/William Karlsson/Filip Forsberg-type gem, possibly in lieu of a low first-rounder.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Justin Braun is picking up the most minutes he’s played since leaving San Jose, has a career high in goals (5) this season, in on an expiring contract, and would bring 100 games of playoff experience to his next team. Most playoff-bound teams look to bolster their defense, so why wouldn’t teams like the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Flames give Chuck Fletcher a call?

[NHL Power Rankings: Avalanche stay in first; Capitals, Predators improve]

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Does Rickard Rakell count as not being a huge star? Because I think he could be a really good scoring winger in the right situation. His goal scoring has rebounded a bit this season and if he gets a playmaking center on a contender to play next to I think he could make a pretty significant impact. The same is true for Dominik Kubalik, who just seems like a player that is desperate for a change of scenery. He regressed a bit since his rookie season, but he can still shoot it and seems like he could be a Sam Bennett like acquisition for somebody.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I originally put Josh Manson but he was dealt on Monday to Colorado where I am sure he will make a big impact. Now, I think it is another Duck, Rickard Rakell. He is currently hurt but can score as he has had two 30-plus goal seasons. If he is in the right situation, Rakell, another pending UFA, can be an impactful player.

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Give us one prediction regarding the deadline — could be a trade, re-signing, other decision by a team/player.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Marc-Andre Fleury, the bell of the ball, will stay put in Chicago. Teams will certainly be calling GM Kyle Davidson, but the veteran netminder will not look to chase another Cup this spring.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: John Klingberg and Jake DeBrusk have been rumored to be going elsewhere by the trade deadline but I think they will remain with their respective teams in Dallas and Boston.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: With how poorly the Golden Knights have played of late, it’s hard to imagine the deadline passing without them doing something to improve their declining playoff chances — I just have no idea what it will be. Missing the postseason would be an outright disaster for Vegas, so I’m expecting Kelly McCrimmon to be active in the next week.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Claude Giroux making a Ray Bourque-ian Stanley Cup run with the Avalanche is just too fun not to happen.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: The Vancouver Canucks not only do not trade any of the players they are rumored to be trading (J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, or Conor Garland) but instead add somebody to try and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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As of today, would Igor Shesterkin end up in your top three for the Hart Trophy?

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Igor Shesterkin is definitely a top-three candidate for the Hart Trophy and with less than seven weeks remaining, he is my pick for the Hart. If not for Shesterkin, the Rangers would be battling teams like Columbus and the Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot, rather than sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division and just two points behind the second place Penguins. Shesterkin has been out-of-this-world great with a 2.07 goals-against-average (even after giving up eight goals in his last four periods) and a league-leading .938 save percentage.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Yes. Goalies are too often excluded from the Hart Trophy discussion, and as of this writing, he would be my MVP choice. It has been more than two months since the Rangers won a game started by someone other than Shesterkin, and he has been statistically dominant. Jacques Plante has held the single-season record for save percentage for more than a half-century (.944 in 1970-71), but Shesterkin could very well eclipse that. I still believe Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the NHL, but if Shesterkin keeps this pace up for an entire season, he should be squarely in the conversation.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Not only would Igor Shesterkin be in my top-three, he is my clear runaway winner. Whatever criteria you want to use he fits. In terms of value, his performance is unmatched. The difference in the Rangers’ record and team performance when he plays versus when he does not play is staggering. When he is the goalie of record they are basically the Colorado Avalanche. When he does not play or is not the goalie of record they are basically the Chicago Blackhawks or Ottawa Senators. If you just want it to go to the best player, he is in that discussion this season as well as he is head and shoulders above every other goalie in the league and playing at an historically good level.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Yes, Igor Shesterkin would be in my top three for Hart Trophy voting, but Auston Matthews is performing at a near-historic level, so I’d lean toward Matthews. There’s room for movement, though.

As far as Shesterkin/goalies being Hart Trophy candidates: I agree that it’s difficult to compare the value of goalies vs. skaters. My rule of thumb is: if a goalie is clearly dragging a shaky/downright bad team kicking and screaming into relevance, then they deserve MVP consideration. Sort of a “know it when you see it” form of a special goaltending season. And I think that applies to Shesterkin and the Rangers.

Frankly, maybe the NHL should create the Wayne Gretzky Award for the skater-MVP, and allow goalies to get more Hart Trophy consideration year-to-year? Sometimes this feels like the equivalent to a scenario where the NFL wouldn’t allow quarterbacks to be MVP winners, or something.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Right now he would be my winner for the 2021-22 season. He currently sports a .939 5-on-5 save percentage, tops among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes; he’s second in goals saved above average (20.57); and is third in high-danger save percentage (.875). Shesterkin’s play this season is one of the biggest reasons why the Rangers have been a top team in the Metropolitan Division while being a bottom-12 team in scoring (2.98 goals per game).

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.