NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
This game is the start of a home-and-home that will wrap up the season series between Columbus and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have won both meetings so far, including their game last week in Columbus. Overall, the Pens have won seven in a row in the regular season vs. the Blue Jackets.
This home-and-home series figures to have massive implications on the playoff race. Entering this game, just two points separate third in the Metro from being outside of the playoffs entirely.
Columbus picked up a much-needed two points on Tuesday with their 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey. The Jackets had been 1-3-0 since the trade deadline, so the win was a tangible measure of progress to keep them right in the playoff mix. However, the reaction in the locker room afterwards was hardly celebratory. The Jackets played very poorly, mustering only 18 shots on goal (a season-low) against a Devils team that had nearly half of its regular lineup out due to injury.
Pittsburgh also went past regulation on Tuesday, defeating Florida 3-2 in OT, thanks to Jake Guentzel’s second goal of the game. He now has 33 goals this season. Sidney Crosby had three points to surpass the 1,200-point threshold.
John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.
Penguins’ injury list grows as Rust, Ruhwedel out ‘longer term’
The playoff push has already started for the Pittsburgh Penguins and they scored a huge victory on Tuesday night with a gutsy 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It helped move the Penguins back into the top-eight in the Eastern Conference — for now — and came on a night where they were badly shorthanded on the back end and were playing one of the teams they are in a fierce fight with for a playoff spot … and one that just pushed all of its chips to the center of the table in a quest for a deep playoff run.
Coming out of that situation with two points was massive.
The Penguins’ list of injured players continued to grow during the game when they lost forward Bryan Rust (lower-body) and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper-body) to injuries that, in the words of coach Mike Sullivan, are going to keep them out of the lineup “longer team.”
Rust is the big injury here because he is such a vital part of the team’s forward group. He is a versatile player that fits in any role, plays up and down the lineup across all four lines, and has been playing some incredible hockey over the past couple of months. After a brutal start to the season that saw him record just one goal and six assists in his first 29 games.
In the 33 games since he has scored 16 goals to go with eight assists and has already set a new career high in goals scored.
He was injured on Thursday night when he was slammed into the boards by one of the Blue Jackets’ newest additions, defender Adam McQuaid.
He skated off the ice under his own power but was clearly in a great deal of pain and did not return.
Ruhwedel’s injury is a concern because, well, the Penguins are simply running out of healthy bodies on the blue line.
They are already playing without three of their top-four defenders with Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Olli Maatta all currently sidelined due to injuries. Sullivan said on Wednesday that Letang and Dumoulin are progressing, but that neither is skating and ready to return yet. Maatta is still expected to be out for a few more weeks.
The Penguins are expected to get Erik Gudbranson in the lineup for Friday’s game in Buffalo after acquiring him at the trade deadline in exchange for forward Tanner Pearson. After playing in Buffalo on Friday, they head to Montreal for a massive game against the Canadiens on Saturday night. Getting through that stretch with this defense and this injury situation is going to take a lot.
After weeks and months of speculation, rumors, scout watching, and hypothetical dreamland trades the NHL trade deadline has officially come and gone.
Who ended up making themselves better? Who ended up making themselves worse? Will any of this matter come playoff time and what sort of impact can it possibly have on the race for a playoff spot and the Stanley Cup?
We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at the league after the dust has settled on the trading season.
To the rankings!
1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They did nothing, and that is fine. They needed nothing. If it is not broken, do not break it.
2. Nashville Predators — David Poile makes more blockbusters than anybody these days, and he always tends to make his team better as a result. He did that again this season with the Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds moves. Granlund in particular looks like a home run.
4. Boston Bruins —Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson add some nice depth to a team that badly needed it. Not enough is made of the fact they enter the week with the third best points percentage in the NHL.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They made their big trade last month to get Jake Muzzin. The best addition for them would be William Nylander returning to form.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets — I find this entire situation fascinating. Never before have I seen a fringe playoff team go all in on trying to win right now. Given the contract situations of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, I can’t say I blame them. This is your best shot, go all in. Having said that, there is a solid chance this all backfires horribly because they are probably still not a Stanley Cup team even with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and the rest of their additions. They also have only two draft picks right now in 2019. They also are not a lock for the playoffs. I admire the tightrope walk without a net. This feels like a make-or-break season for Jarmo Kekalainen’s reputation as a general manager.
8. Calgary Flames — Like the Sharks I still question the goaltending. Unlike the Sharks they didn’t make another meaningful move anywhere (sorry, Oscar Fantenberg) else while everybody around them did.
9. New York Islanders — I actually kind of like that they stood pat even as the other top teams in the East got better around them. This was never supposed to be a contending year for the Islanders, it is all a bonus at this point, and this team as it is has gotten them this far, see where it can take them.
10. St. Louis Blues — Their best addition came in the form of a goalie who could stop a few pucks. They have been a different team ever since.
11. Winnipeg Jets — They didn’t get Mark Stone but they did get something that they needed in Kevin Hayes. That center depth was looking sketchy. The other thing they need is for Patrik Laine to start filling the net again … and he just might be ready to do that.
12. Vegas Golden Knights — Mark Stone is a star, and maybe getting away from Ottawa will make the rest of the league take notice. He drives possession, he scores goals, he is a huge addition for a fringe contender in a wide open Western Conference.
13. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been a huge addition and hey, look at this, now Jordan Staal is back. He may not be a huge driver of the offense but he is still an outstanding two-way player that will make a surging team even better.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are now making a run at a playoff spot with Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson making up one third of their defense.
15. Colorado Avalanche — After watching their season take a cliff dive for a solid two months in the middle of the season they have now earned at least a point in nine of their past 11 games to stay in the hunt. Maybe Derick Brassard will be a better trade deadline acquisition for them than he was for Pittsburgh a year. Scoring in his debut game already puts him off to a better start.
16. Dallas Stars —AddingMats Zuccarello, watching him make a huge impact in his first game, and then watching him leave that game with an injury that is going to sideline him for at least four weeks is a perfect representation of the absurdity that has been the 2018-19 Dallas Stars.
17. Minnesota Wild — It is something of a minor miracle this team is still lurking around a playoff spot. Their captain is done for the season and they traded two of their best players in Granlund and Nino NiederreiterVictor Rask and Kevin Fiala. That is a lot to overcome to earn a playoff spot, but the Western Conference this season is dumb enough to allow it to happen.
18. Florida Panthers — They are 11-5-0 in their past 16 games and for the second year in a row are playing really well in the second half. For the second year in a row it will not matter because the first half was so bad. The positive: They have positioned themselves for a serious run at any free agent (or free agents) they want in the summer.
19. Philadelphia Flyers — Their season has definitely taken on a more optimistic look lately, but the subtraction of Simmonds and the injury to Carter Hart is definitely a bit of a downer at the moment.
20. Montreal Canadiens — Losing six out of eight games has put them on the edge of the playoffs. Do they have enough to outlast one of Pittsburgh, Columbus, or Carolina?
21. Arizona Coyotes — There really was not a reason for them to be active at the trade deadline. There really was not anything to sell, there was no need to buy, they have probably overachieved given the ridiculous injury situation.
22. Buffalo Sabres —Brandon Montour is a decent enough addition, and maybe he looks better away from the mess that is the Ducks, but he is not really someone that is going to move the needle for this team. They still have two first-round picks even after trading one for him.
23. Chicago Blackhawks — The combination of a seven-game winning streak driven by a spike in shooting percentage and a weak Western Conference created the illusion of a team that might still be able to make the playoffs. Did that stop them from shopping some veteran players that maybe it’s time to move on from?
24. Vancouver Canucks — Dumping Gudbranson for Tanner Pearson might be addition by subtraction on the blue line and saves them a little salary cap space over the next two years.
25. New York Rangers — They did what they needed to, but man, how could you not feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist when watching him talk about the trade of Zuccarello? He has given so much to that organization and now it seems like he knows he will never get to win a championship with it.
26. New Jersey Devils — Hey, good for Cory Schneider for finishing the season strong. He has had a miserable couple of years and looks to have some confidence back now.
27. Anaheim Ducks — Hopefully getting some time behind the bench will give Bob Murray the information he needs to start tearing this thing down and starting over.
28. Detroit Red Wings — Gustav Nyquist’s no-trade clause probably limited what the Red Wings could do with him, but I’m a little surprised they didn’t try to sell more. They have collected a lot of draft picks the past few years but it seems like there was a missed opportunity for more here.
29. Edmonton Oilers — The trade deadline came and went with little fanfare and the stench of the previous regime’s roster moves still lingers throughout the organization. Yuck.
30. Los Angeles Kings — As of Tuesday they are riding an eight-game losing streak and they really didn’t really do much to look ahead to the future. The offseason could be active. It should be, anyway.
31. Ottawa Senators — Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s character walks into the Wallace household and is looking around, all confused, trying to figure out where everything is? I imagine that is what is going on in Bobby Ryan‘s head right now.
Success at a championship level in professional sports is not only a rare and short-lived thing, it also tends to be quickly and easily forgotten when the winning stops. Or at least when it slows down. So with that in mind we really need to talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins because this is a team that seems to be quickly trending in the wrong direction.
Just two years ago they were doing something that had not been done in the NHL in two full decades by winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup, capping off an incredible run of hockey that was driven by a core of superstar players and a series of roster moves that worked out to near perfection. The acquisitions of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, and a host of call-ups from the AHL were all home runs (or close to it), resulting in a stable, successful roster with very little turnover from 2016 to 2017. Other than the additions of Jake Guentzel (call-up) and Ron Hainsey (trade), it was mostly the same team.
But following the 2017 championship the salary cap, free agency, and what has seemingly been a curious change in direction from the recipe that produced back-to-back championships has stripped the team of most of its depth, and the front office has badly struggled to replace it. The result has been two years of constant roster shuffling that has left the team on the playoff bubble and facing a daunting stretch run that includes six games against the teams they are competing with for a playoff spot (three against Columbus, two against Carolina, one against Montreal) and a number of games against some top-tier teams. Those head-to-head matchups will go a long way toward making or breaking their season, which is a stunning thing to be saying about this team with this core in late February.
The move was not well received by … well … anyone.
The focus of the criticism has been centered around what Gudbranson can actually bring to the table. Objectively speaking, his career performance has not lived up to the status of a former top-five draft pick. His underlying numbers are among the worst in the league at his position, and the eye test isn’t any more forgiving.
There is legitimate cause for concern with him as a player.
But focusing on Gudbranson misses the bigger problem in Pittsburgh right now, and that problem is that over the past two years nearly every single roster transaction the team has made has been a failure.
We know this is true because they keep having to make more trades to undo all of the roster transactions in an effort to correct them.
The cost the Penguins paid to actually get Gudbranson from Vancouver is irrelevant. I don’t know of any other way to put this without sounding like a jerk — so I will just say it and sound like a jerk — but Tanner Pearson is a mostly forgettable, run-of-the-mill NHL player. He might score 15-20 goals for your team, he might finish with 40 points, and within a year of him being on your roster you will probably forget he was ever on your roster until you go down a Hockey-Reference rabbit hole and say, “oh, hey, remember that guy?”
But the Penguins had just acquired that guy two months earlier in exchange for Carl Hagelin, a move that in hindsight looks like it was only done to shake up a core that had maybe gotten too comfortable with itself. Hagelin had his flaws as a player, but he was a huge part of the team’s identity, a popular player in the locker room, a player who won championships with the team, and a player who could still play a capable shut down role and bring the type of defensive conscious so many of the team’s forwards currently lack.
That is not nothing. He was also an expiring contract after this season. Put it all together and that means within a span of two months the Penguins turned a somewhat useful player that was still a part of their identity and what would have been $4M in salary cap space next season into a player whose potential contributions are suspect at best, detrimental at worst, who will be taking up every penny of that salary cap space in each of the next two seasons.
Pearson’s arrival and almost immediate departure was the eighthtime since the start of the 2017-18 offseason that the Penguins acquired an NHL player and then jettisoned them within a year.
Ryan Reaves, acquired on June 23, 2017 — traded on February 23, 2018
Matt Hunwick, signed on July 1, 2017 — traded on June 27, 2018
Antti Niemi, signed on July 1, 2017 — waived on October 24, 2017
Riley Sheahan, acquired on October 1, 2017 — traded on February 1, 2019
Derick Brassard, acquired on February 23, 2018 — traded on February 1, 2019
Derek Grant, signed on July 19, 2018 — traded on January 17, 2019
Tanner Pearson, acquired on November 14, 2018 — traded on February 25, 2019
It is not unfair to look at that list and that series of transactions and come to the conclusion that there is a problem somewhere in the organization, whether it is with the pro scouting, or with the coaching staff, or with the final decision-making, or with what they are looking for in players. Something is clearly off here. What other conclusion can you possibly come to?
A team that just two years ago was winning with speed, skill, and puck-moving defense keeps trying to find grit and toughness and keeps making itself slower and less mobile.
The one transaction that was made during this stretch that hasn’t yet been undone, the signing of Jack Johnson, might be the most damaging of the bunch and it’s probably only a matter of when, and not if, that ends in a buyout or a trade.
This much roster turnover and shuffling of players can not be a sustainable way to run a franchise, mostly because it doesn’t even take into account the collateral damage that has come with working to “fix” those trades. They lost Conor Sheary, Hagelin, Ian Cole, and Oskar Sundqvist as part of those transactions, and have also given up a boat load of draft picks and a top prospect (goalie Filip Gustavsson) along the way.
As of now, they have gained Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad, and Gudbranson out of it all, with the latter two taking up more than $8M in salary cap space over the next couple of years for a team that is already pressed against the salary cap because of their superstars. Will they be worth it? And what other trades will have to be made and what other assets will be given up if (or when) they are not? Because if recent history is any indicator there is almost no chance they finish their current contracts wearing Penguins uniforms.
Maybe they don’t make this latest trade for Gudbranson if the injury situation isn’t what it is. But even with that it’s bizarre to try and plug a short-term hole by acquiring a player with this on-ice track record with this much term and this much money left on their deal. There are other ways to plug a hole without tying up significant cap space in future years.
And quite honestly, if Gudbranson’s play doesn’t show dramatic improvement upon his arrival in Pittsburgh there is an argument to be made they would have been better off just staying with what they had. They might have been better off had they simply done nothing since the start of last offseason because at least then they might have more salary cap space, more assets to deal from, and it’s hard to imagine their spot in the standings being any worse because as of now they are only going as far as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a healthy Letang can carry them.
Rutherford has built three Cup winning teams in the NHL, and that is not only a big part of his story as an executive, it commands respect. It will probably be enough to someday get him a call to the Hall of Fame (how many three-time Cup winning general managers are not in?)
But it doesn’t leave him above criticism when it is warranted.
Based on where the Penguins are and the series of moves that have been made over the past two years the criticism is definitely warranted because his team looks like it doesn’t know what it is, where it is going, or how it should get there.
Well, that was fun. The 2019 NHL trade deadline is over and 20 deals involving 32 players were made on Monday featuring plenty of buyers and sellers. There were a number of of trades in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, which has some teams strengthening for a Stanley Cup run and others eyeing the future as they hope they are in the midst of building a contender.
As the dust settles, let’s take a look at some winners and losers from the 2019 NHL trade deadline.
WINNER: Columbus Blue Jackets fans
Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have given no indication they’ll re-sign and made it clear they want to test the market on July 1 as unrestricted free agents. So with that news GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t throw away the season and deal them off for futures. He kept them and loaded up to make a playoff run. Adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate deals with the Senators showed that they’re all-in to make some noise in the postseason. They also picked up Adam McQuaid for depth on defense and Keith Kinkaid for some insurance in net. For a franchise that’s yet to win a playoff round, good for them. The value in creating some excitement in the market is greater than whatever futures some team would throw their way in exchange for a couple of rentals.
With Kekalainen’s flurry of moves before the deadline, the Blue Jackets currently only own two picks in June’s NHL draft: Round 3 and Round 7 (originally Calgary’s). They could add to that if they end up dealing Panarin’s and/or Bobrovsky’s negotiating rights, but for now the prospect cupboard won’t see many additions when the league gathers in Vancouver. They also don’t have a second- or third-round pick in 2020.
WINNER: Nashville’s power play
The Predators’ power play has been atrocious this season, checking in at an NHL-worst 12.6 percent. The unit was at 21.6 percent last season and in the high teens from 2015-17. Simmonds’ addition will help that and the team’s second line. Since 2013, the 30-year-old forward has scored 74 power play goals and recorded 119 points with the man advantage.
Not only does the 28-year-old blue liner go from one of the worst teams in the league to the defending Stanley Cup champions who are chasing a Metropolitan Division title, neither side wasted any time extending their relationship. Not long as the trade was announced, the Capitals signed Jensen to a four-year, $10M extension.
No one wanted any of the pieces they may have been dangling, leaving interim GM Keith Gretzky with lots of work to do in the off-season.
Edmonton media has been talking up Alex Chiasson lately for some reason, thinking he could fetch a draft pick. The 28-year-old forward has one goal since Christmas and is still shooting 19.8 percent, which shows you how bad the regression monster has been affecting him since starting the season off strong with 16 goals in his first 30 games.
WINNER AND LOSER: Ottawa Senators
We knew that Pierre Dorion was going to be active and in sell mode with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone on the market. Now that all three are gone, the Senators brought in a combined package of:
NHL players: Oscar Lindberg, Anthony Duclair Prospects: Vitaly Abramoff, Jonathan Davidsson, Erik Brannstrom Draft picks: Two 2020 second-round picks, 2021 second-round pick, 2019 and 2020 conditional picks
The Stone deal leaves something to be desired, especially since Dorion was unable to get a first-round pick for him.
These moves, however, leave the Senators with a little over $35M in cap space for next season, per Cap Friendly. They won’t spend to the limit just yet, but they will have to at least get to the projected floor of $58M, so they’ll be active before next season. Maybe that includes taking on a dead contract like, say, David Clarkson’s, which is a $5.25M cap hit through the end of the 2019-20 season.
While the draft picks and prospects could turn into something good in the future, right now there is no confidence from the fan base that the future holds anything positive for the team. The inability to extend Duchene, Dzingel or Stone did not sit well with fans and adds to their lack of belief that Eugene Melnyk will spearhead some huge spending spree in a couple of years as he said he plans to do.
Much like Jensen, Stone moves from a bottom team to a Cup contender and gets an extension to boot. Because of tagging issues, the contract won’t be official until March 1, but it will be eight years with an average annual value of $9.5M and a full no-move clause. Stone told TSN that an “ownership commitment to winning” was a big reason why he agreed to the extension with Vegas, which should tell you everything about why he never ended up putting pen to paper on a deal with the Senators.
LOSER: Those hoping for a big move from the Flames
As the Jets, Predators, Sharks, and Golden Knights loaded up, the Flames stayed quiet, only making a depth move on defense by picking up Oscar Fantenberg from the Kings and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. GM Brad Treliving had a maximum price in mind that he would pay to add a big name like Mark Stone. What Ottawa and other sellers were looking for was apparently too rich for his blood.
Treliving wasn’t going to part with prospect Juuso Valimaki, and is pleased to go into battle with his current lineup.
“Today, there is no mourning,” said Treliving Monday afternoon. “The hearse is not driving by, and none of us are climbing in. We’re pretty excited about our team. The fact that we wake up and I’m going to have a cold beer right now and still have guys like Valimaki in our organization, that’s a pretty good day. “So let’s all put it in perspective. We have a good hockey team.”
Owner of a modified no-trade clause, Staal said repeatedly he did not want to leave Minnesota. He wasn’t dealt and will be staying for at least two more seasons after inking a two-year, $6.5M extension.
This has nothing to do with the deal, as it was a good addition by GM Jim Nill. But the Stars only got to enjoy Zuccarello for barely 40 minutes before he blocked a shot and suffered a broken arm that will keep him out of the lineup for at least four weeks.
Knowing their newest acquisition is out at least a month, Nill didn’t go out and add any pieces on Monday, making it a quiet day in Big D.
The rebuild could take a turn this summer as GM Jeff Gorton will have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft to play with. He has said he’ll try to use those to acquire players who can step in and make an impact next season. Right now they could have over $20M in cap space this off-season.
There wasn’t much of a goalie market this trade deadline, and Howard, who can walk as a UFA this summer, stayed put. The price Detroit was seeking was reportedly high, but now GM Ken Holland will turn his sights into trying to re-sign the 34-year-old.