The New York Rangers sent Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars in a fascinating trade on Saturday, and the conditions of that deal will mean that Rangers fans will have incentive to cheer Zuccarello on — even beyond simply liking the guy.
(And that shouldn’t be difficult, because Rangers fans really – justifiably – love the undersized winger.)
Conditional draft picks are becoming more and more in vogue heading into the 2019 trade deadline, but this situation is especially interesting.
Rangers’ rather complicated but interesting side: For one thing, the Rangers retain 30-percent of Zuccarello’s salary.
Conditional pick 1: Begins as a 2019 second-round pick.
That 2019 second-rounder gets bumped up to a first-rounder if the Stars win at least two playoff rounds during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Zuccarello playing in at least half of Dallas’ playoff games..
Conditional pick 2: Begins as a 2020 third-round pick.
That 2020 third-rounder turns into a 2020 first-rounder if the Stars re-sign Zuccarello.
So, at worst, the Rangers receive second and third-rounders for Zuccarello, but could end up with one or even two first-rounders depending upon how this works out. Wow.
A bit more on those picks
As of this writing, the Stars are ranked as the West’s first wild-card team. They’re unlikely to catch the Blues for the third Central spot, and face some competition in even staying in the full playoff picture.
But if they maintain their current spot, things get interesting.
The Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators came into 2018-19 as the West’s most popular picks (along with the Sharks, probably?) for a deep run, but both teams have been experiencing some struggles here and there. The Stars would still be beating odds if they made a deep enough run to win two playoff rounds, but it’s not impossible, especially if they add even more after landing Zuccarello and Ben Lovejoy.
One factor the Stars’ should weigh heavily in such talks is age, though. The winger is already 31, and will turn 32 on Sept. 1. Maybe the aging curve is a larger worry for bigger, more grindy forwards, but Dallas must at least consider that with Zuccarello.
And, no doubt, the cost going up to a first-rounder would add to the expense of it all. Actually, that pick might be in place to keep the door open for the Rangers to bring back Zuccarello in free agency, for all we know.
Stars add crucial support
Mats Zuccarello isn’t on the same level as Artemi Panarin, but he’s a heck of a playmaker, and probably underrated.
In fact, if you zoom out and look beyond just this season and instead to the last three years, you could make a nice argument that the gap between Zuccarello and Duchene isn’t even that large. (If you feel cheeky, feel free to say “The difference isn’t even Zuccarello-sized.”)
Zuccarello’s generally been a better possession player than his Rangers teammates. While that might be a case where it’s risky to use relative stats – these Rangers teams have been under water basically since the Alain Vigneault era – it’s better to look strong than weak.
Either way, you can’t really deny that he’s a useful scorer. Zuccarello’s generated 61 points once, 59 points twice, and has generally been a safe bet for at least 50 points during a healthy season.
The winger did experience some injury issues in 2018-19, limiting him to 46 games played before the trade. Still, he’s managed a strong pace nonetheless (37 points in just 46 games), and was really tearing up opposing defenses alongside Mika Zibanejad recently, generating an impressive 23 points in his last 20 games.
Zuccarello can give the Stars some supporting cast help, possibly slotting in alongside Jason Spezza on what Dallas would hope to be a stronger second line.
The possibilities are actually more interesting if coach Jim Montgomery experiments a bit. What if Zuccarello can slide onto the Stars’ top line, allowing one of Jamie Benn or Alex Radulov to move around the lineup, potentially allowing Dallas to ice a more balanced attack?
Either way, Zuccarello makes the Stars a more dangerous, diverse team. Refreshingly, the conditions of this trade should make that a much easier pill for Rangers fans to swallow. Really, they shouldn’t hesitate to root for one of their favorites, even if he’s wearing victory green.
For some time now, the Dallas Stars have ranked among the NHL’s most frustrating teams because, while they boast some outstanding high-end talent, they’ve rarely put it all together.
You might chalk a portion of that irked feeling to unfair expectations created by the dazzling early days with Tyler Seguin injected into the lineup, but still.
It’s probably unfair to dismiss the first season under Jim Montgomery as “same old, same old” for a simple reason: injuries.
To be more precise, the Stars – for all of their stumbles – hadn’t really dealt with the absence of near-Norris-level defensemanJohn Klingberg very often until 2018-19. He played every game in 2017-18, missed only two in 2016-17, and suited up for 76 in 2015-16, so missing six weeks is not a normal experience for the slick Swedish defenseman.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Klingberg is pumped to play against the Blackhawks on Thursday, representing his first bit of action since Nov. 8.
Beyond wins and losses, the Stars have been disappointing because they merely haven’t always been as exciting on the ice as they seem on paper, considering the fact that they’re ranked sixth-lowest at goals for and fifth-lowest at goals against.
It’s easy to forget how much of a difference Klingberg can make in altering the pace of Stars games.
Through 16 games this season, Klingberg had a whopping 13 points. Some of that was unsustainable (11.6 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman, well above Klingberg’s already-fairly-high 7.3 career average), but Klingberg is one of the NHL’s most explosive scoring defensemen, however you slice it.
He was also seeing an even bigger role under Montgomery, averaging a substantial 25:03 TOI per game, up from last season’s previous career-high of 24:04. Losing an elite defenseman who played almost half of every Stars game? Yeah, that will do a number on your transition game, not to mention overall play (as Klingberg is excellent from a possession standpoint at this stage of his career).
It’s also enticing to realize that the Stars could rapidly approach the sort of modern, puck-moving defense that thrives in the current NHL.
Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen have both been taking on significant minutes lately, and could each make sensible partners for Klingberg, what with Klingberg being a right-handed blueliner and those two being lefties. (At the moment, it looks like Lindell will go with Klingberg.)
Now, sure, it would be even more exciting if Julius Honka would also get in that space-age, top-six mix, but maybe that would be too greedy?
Note to self – include the source you got your information from when making a statement regarding apparent controversial opinions.
As of this writing, the Stars sit at ninth place in the West with a 17-14-3 record (37 points in 34 games). They’re two points behind second wild card Edmonton, who have 39 points in an extra game (18-14-3), so the Stars aren’t far off.
For all we know, Klingberg could stand as the difference between Dallas making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or once again coming up painfully short.
You have the power to name to the expansion NHL Seattle franchise. What are you choosing?
SEAN: Kraken is already a popular choice, and as a fan of hockey history (and their original jerseys) I’d love to see the Seattle group bring back the Metropolitans name. But do you then keep the Metropolitan Division name? The NHL is stubborn for change sometimes, so I doubt it.
Let’s get crazy in this post-Gritty world and go with Sasquatch. It’s perfect for the region (ever watch “Finding Bigfoot?”) and would allow Seattle to welcome back Squatch, the Sonics old mascot. The jerseys would be great. The plushy toys at the arena team stores would be sold out on a regular basis and he’d be a welcomed addition to the annual mascot game during All-Star Weekend.
Squatch is legendary, and with the NBA likely returning to Seattle at some point, might as well get him started before he has double duty. He was a dynamic performer, willing to take big risks to entertain the crowd, and even had his own theme song, thanks for Chris from Presidents of the United States of America:
JAMES: Deep down, my answer is the Sonics/Supersonics, but I’m aware that a ton of people from Seattle are giving me the stink-eye just for bringing that up, so I relent. Go ahead and name the Seattle team after the Kraken, or some other mystical and/or tuff beast.
For my money, the greater battle revolves around the mascot.
Allow me to introduce “Jittery,” an anthropomorphic cappuccino mug with cartoonish arms, legs, and comical googly eyes. Let’s face it; we’re in a Post-Gritty world, so you have to go big – which usually means some combination of garish, frightening, funny, and cute – or go home.
Jittery would have the potential to edge the Golden Knights’ gila monster, with the far-flung dream of at least competing with Gritty for viral potential/mindshare.
The greatest potential would be in what you could put in the Jittery’s head, which, again, is a coffee mug. Would mysterious, coffee-like liquid splash out of its head when Jittery is excitedly celebrating a goal? Would Jittery cry coffee tears upon defeat? Maybe you could fill Jittery’s head with toys/treats for the kiddos, and the young-at-heart. Just imagine Seattle winning a Stanley Cup, but drinking out of their mascot’s head, instead.
This is clearly a bullet-proof, genius concept, and I demand royalties.
ADAM: I know there is virtually no chance of it happening, and I think any reference to it has always been made in a joking manner (or maybe even a half-joking manner), but I am 100 percent on board with the Seattle Sasquatch. I think the biggest reason I like it is just for the mascot possibilities. Look at how crazy everyone went over Gritty. But I think Sasquatch seems to have just as much potential, maybe even more. Think Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.
But given that Sasquatch doesn’t seem to be a realistic option, I think I can accept Kraken. I was originally opposed to the Sockeye suggestion but I’ve even come around on that, too, and I assume Sockeye Salmon hitting the ice will be a thing at some point no matter what. I’m not on board with Metropolitans. I get the history — and I love hockey history — but we need something new, fresh, unique. Sasquatch is the answer.
JOEY: I’m going with Metropolitans. That was the team’s name when they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, and that’s the name they should keep. Yes, I realize that you’d have to re-name the Metropolitan Division, but I don’t care. There’s hockey history behind the name and I think it would be pretty cool if they came back with it in 2021.
SCOTT: Seattle Kraken. Scrap the skyscraper odes and all that other garbage and RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
I’m all for this shift in marketing philosophy made popular by the Philadelphia Flyers this year with Gritty. It’s opened the door to other possible ideas that are, well, not just the same old cliche, safe stuff we’re used. Seattle Kraken has so much potential. Incredible jerseys, a ridiculous number of options for a mascot, a title sponsor with the Kraken Rum brand. There’s probably some death metal band with Kraken in their name that could sing the anthems and fit right into the Seattle music scene vibe.
I’m not holding out much hope here. They’ll probably be named the Skyscrapers or something like that with the Space Needle as their logo and some type of fish as a mascot.
We talk a lot about head coaches and hot seats, but what about some general managers who could follow in Ron Hextall’s footsteps out the door?
SEAN: It’s pretty amazing that Marc Bergevin’s seat has cooled considerably when you think about all the talk last season, but the Canadiens are playing better than expected and owner Geoff Molson isn’t close to making that kind of move.
Two GMs who should be feeling the heat are Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman. I’ve harped on Armstrong since the Mike Yeo firing and am curious how long owner Tom Stillman will wait before making a change. Another season appears to be wasting away and some big names could be out the door by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Then what? It won’t be a complete teardown, just a retooling if that’s what happens. But does he get one more season to make it work?
The move to fire Joel Quenneville hasn’t gone as planned and Chicago could be another place where big names are dealt, whether by the trade deadline or in the summer. Bowman’s helped construct championship teams and now some of those heavy-term, big money extensions have hamstrung building around the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Another playoff-less season won’t make upper management happy and you wonder if the changes won’t stop with Quenneville.
JAMES: Honestly, it boggles my mind that Peter Chiarelli survived last season, so if his Hitchcock Hail Mary falls short, that Oilers era should come to a merciful end. It’s nigh-criminal to accomplish so little with Connor McDavid and a bucket of other high-profile picks (which Chiarelli’s squandered either through trades, bad picks, or stuttered development).
I like a lot of what Doug Armstrong’s managed, particularly since – beyond Alex Pietrangelo – the Blues really haven’t been built by lottery picks. Still, it’s clear that the Blues need a change of direction, and a fresh voice would be more inclined to undergo the painful, necessary surgery to right the ship … which may, in fact, come down to trading Pietrangelo.
There’s also Ken Holland, if the Red Wings truly are planning on moving to Steve Yzerman, but can’t say out loud because of tampering.
Three more who I’d say are less pertinent, but interesting to watch:
• Jim Nill – Yes, he’s made some great trades, not unlike Armstrong. But the Stars also failed to truly take advantage of Jamie Benn‘s former-bargain contract, and seem headed toward the same with Tyler Seguin‘s $5.75M expiring after 2018-19. They’ve made significant missteps in slowing down their style (baffling with Seguin & Co. as their best players), failed to find difference-making goalies despite paying huge money, and have whiffed hard on some key drafts. Nill’s been there since April 2013. It’s fair to wonder about him if Dallas can’t make big strides.
• John Chayka – The Coyotes are in a much better place than they were when Chayka took over, and it would be nice to see him get some more time to bring them to the next level.
Sometimes sports can be especially cruel, however, and there are factors that make you wonder about Chayka. For one, the Coyotes have made some bold moves to get better, yet they seem on track to miss the playoffs once again. Ownership might grow impatient.
Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the ownership situation is often in flux, and if that changes, they might want to bring in “their guy.” Hopefully Chayka gets at least a bit more time, but it’s something to watch, either way.
ADAM: My answer earlier this season was Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton, but the Oilers have gone on enough of a roll and Ken Hitchcock seems to have them doing something right (mostly playing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl until the wheels fall off) and I think that is going to buy him some time.
I think now we have to look over at the Central Division and either Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or Stan Bowman in Chicago.
The Blues spent a ton of money and gave up a ton of assets this summer after missing the playoffs a year ago, and now they stink. They already fired the coach, so that card has been played, and the next logical conclusion is the guy that built the team. Other than a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015-16 this has been a first-or second-round team at its best (usually a first-round team) and now is on track to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row. Not a great sign for the GM who has, again, already played his “try to save the season” card by changing coaches.
This might be a controversial position to take, but I think if Stan Bowman were named Stan … Smith. Or Stan Johnson. Or anything other than Stan Bowman his seat would probably be a LOT warmer than it is now. His track record in Chicago is obviously great, but it’s been a few years now since the Blackhawks have been a Stanley Cup team, they missed the playoffs a year ago, are currently one of the worst teams in the league, and it didn’t really have to be THIS bad. I know they had salary cap constraints and they have some big contracts, but he has made a lot of questionable to bad moves over the past couple of years. Then he went and fired the most successful coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in NHL history and the team has completely sunk after that. Not sure the Blackhawks are going to make a change now or even after this season, but if this season keeps going as it is and they do not get better next season they might consider doing something.
JOEY: You can’t mention general managers being on the hot seat without bringing up Doug Armstrong’s name. Last season, he traded Paul Stastny away because he felt his team was a year away from being a serious threat, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018-19. He pulled the trigger on a major deal for Ryan O'Reilly over the summer, and although O’Reilly’s been good, the team simply hasn’t been. Armstrong has fired a coach this season and if the Blues can’t turn it around, he’ll be next. With Jake Allen struggling for the most part over the last few seasons, Armstrong hasn’t found a solution to the problem between the pipes. This might be it.
Stars GM Jim Nill is also likely on thin ice. His team has some high-end talent, but depth has been an issue for them since he’s taken over. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg can only carry the team so far. Getting contributions from the rest of the team has been an issue. As of this moment, the Stars are on the outside of the playoff picture. If they were to miss the postseason again, you’d have to think that someone will play the price. It won’t be new head coach Jim Montgomery, so who else can it be but the GM?
And you can’t forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Chiarelli. Like Armstrong, Chiarelli also made a coaching change to try to get his team going. The Oilers are currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, but if they were to fall out of the playoff picture again at the end of the season, you’d have to think that Edmonton’s decision makers will want to make a change. You can’t just keep wasting all of Connor McDavid’s great years.
SCOTT: It would seem that Peter Chiarelli has bought himself some time after bringing in Ken Hitchcock to be the team’s savior. Edmonton is in a playoff spot, which isn’t something you would have uttered a month ago.
Of course, a losing streak of four or five games would change the above narrative, so Chiarelli is still certainly in the conversation and is by no means out of the woods just yet. He’s done little to improve this team since he arrived and still probably needs a miracle to happen if he’s to be in the same position this time next year.
Sticking in the west, Doug Armstrong’s leash must be retracting a bit. There were a lot of people who believed the Blues won the summer. But as we approach Christmas, we now know that wasn’t the case.
The Blues don’t look half bad on paper, but their on-ice product has been truly poor this season. Maybe the Blues just need to head in a new direction.
The last guy I have on a hot seat is Stan Bowman. If Bowman’s last name wasn’t Bowman, he’d probably already be gone.
I suppose he bought some time firing Joel Quenneville, but it’s clear Quenneville wasn’t the problem. Jeremy Colliton has been tasked with the impossible and it hasn’t worked out so far.
Bowman did well to win the Stanley Cup three times (partly due to drafting done before he got there), but there’s little coming up through the system these days that provide any hope for better times ahead. And trades to get picks and younger assets don’t seem to be in the cards either (see: Brent Seabrook contract). All the “bad” contracts are shrouded with no-movement clauses.
1. Jonathan Toews– The Blackhawks followed their game one script in game two, although beating the Blues feels like a bigger accomplishment than eking out a win against the Senators (though people will note that Ottawa has a win and St. Louis does not). Regardless, for the second consecutive game, the Blackhawks rode fantastic performances from their star players.
Toews was strong in Chicago’s first win, yet Saturday was his standout night, as he generated a hat trick, with that third goal coming in OT on a head’s up play. His other two goals were very Toews goals: grinding tallies in the dirty areas of the net.
(While Toews was second to Patrick Kane in Chicago’s first win, Kane was slightly behind Toews in this one, collecting a goal and an assist.)
2. Tyler Seguin – Consider this a collective star assignment for the killer Stars top line of Seguin (two goals, two assists), Jamie Benn (two goals, one assist), and Alex Radulov (one goal, two assists).
While Dustin Byfuglien drew the Stars’ ire with a questionable hit, the Stars’ high-end firepower turned what would seem like a Central Division showdown into a laugher.
Seguin fired a whopping eight shots on goal, even going 9-3 in the faceoff circle during an impressive night in Dallas. He’s playing as if he’s in a contract year, rather than having already powered up with a Super Mario-sized contract extension.
3. John Gibson – Despite this being the leakiest time of the season for defenses, as teams get used to new systems and rookies get their first exposure to the NHL, there were some great goalie performances on Saturday.
Gibson stood just a little bit taller than some other goalie performances, grabbing another win for an injury-limited Ducks team by stopping all 41 shots to shut out the snakebitten Coyotes.
Much like Seguin, the would-be contract year case is playing as if his extension hasn’t already been settled, winning his first two games while stopping 72 of the first 74 shots he’s faced in 2018-19. If Gibson can stay healthy through 2018-19, he might truly get his recognition as one of the league’s brightest young goalies.
(Andrei Vasilevskiy, another of the NHL’s brightest young goalies, stole one for Tampa Bay against Florida in his own right.)
Most honorable among many honorable mentions:
Thomas Chabot factored in a big way in the Senators’ surprise win against the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals and one assist. It’s hasty to make “Erik Who?” jokes regarding departed defenseman Erik Karlsson, but … you know what, Sens fans? You’ve suffered enough. Go ahead.
Elias Pettersson enjoyed a sensational start to his night, scoring his two goals and one assist through the first two periods of Vancouver’s eventual loss to the Flames, as Johnny Gaudreau‘s line came through with what ended up being comparable box score numbers to the latest sensational Vancouver rookie.
Again, there were a lot of other great performances on Saturday, so feel free to share your picks for honorable mentions, or alternate three stars.
Highlight of the Night
Both of Thomas Chabot’s goals were pretty fantastic against Toronto, but this one really takes the cake:
The Coyotes were haunted by an “0-fer” last season, as they didn’t win a game in October. With that in mind, they must be that much more frustrated after failing to score a goal on 71 shots on net through their first two games of 2018-19, including 41 saves from Gibson on Saturday.
Arizona’s low point probably came late in tonight’s game, as they were unable to tie a 1-0 game with a 5-on-3 power play that was essentially 6-on-3 at times when Antti Raanta was pulled from the Coyotes net.
Winning is tough in the NHL, and sometimes scoring is, too.
1. Brad Marchand – Bad news for those who believed Marchand should have been suspended for jumping Lars Eller during Washington’s 7-0 trouncing of Boston: Marchand didn’t just play on Thursday. Instead, he was dominant.
Marchand assisted on all four of the Bruins’ goals in a 4-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres, with three of his four helpers being of the primary nature. The pesky winger also registered a +3 rating.
Maybe Marchand was feeling a little deferential on Thursday, as he piled up all of those assists yet didn’t fire a single shot on goal.
The Bruins’ other strong candidate for three star treatment was Jaroslav Halak, who stopped all 32 shots for his first shutout (and win) with Boston.
2. Kris Letang – From Patrick Kane to Artemi Panarin to Mathew Barzal, plenty of star players opened their 2018-19 seasons with overtime game-winning goals. Letang probably enjoyed the most impressive night of anyone in that group, as he finished with two goals and one assist, with that OTGWG included in the mix.
Letang had a busy night with the Penguins, delivering two hits, blocking two shots, and logging almost eight minutes of time on the power play alone.
It’s tantalizing to imagine what Letang might be able to accomplish if he’s anywhere near full health in 2018-19. This is a player with four 50+ point and five 10+ goal seasons to his name, even as injuries have often hounded his career. A three-point evening certainly propels him to a strong start.
3. Connor Hellebuyck – Maybe last season’s breakthrough was the tip of the iceberg, not a fluke?
While Hellebuyck didn’t nab a shutout like other three star candidates did (Halak and Ben Bishop), the Jets goalie stopped 41 shots, and only allowed Vince Dunn‘s goal when the game was essentially decided.
At the other end of the ice, embattled Blues starter Jake Allen received a “Bronx cheer” from St. Louis fans when he finally made a save after some serious struggles, and it couldn’t have helped matters to see Hellebuyck playing so well in opposition.
The new-look Blues seem like the sort of team that could really push the Jets, at least when the goaltending is comparable. Hellebuyck made sure that it would, instead, be quite lopsided.
Highlights of the Night
Alex Radulov‘s celebration was almost as entertaining as his goal. Almost.
Maxime Lajoie made his mom cry tears of joy as he scored in his NHL debut:
It might not be such a bad thing for Alex Ovechkin, though, as he keeps climbing the all-time goal ranks.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 609th career goal to pass Dino Ciccarelli (608) for sole possession of 18th place on the NHL's all-time list and now sits one shy of Bobby Hull (610) for 17th. #NHLStatspic.twitter.com/i2ZgnhMu2G