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?

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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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    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”