Jean-Gabriel Pageau

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How aggressive should Blue Jackets be at trade deadline?

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We need to talk a little more about the Columbus Blue Jackets because they are one of the most fascinating teams in the NHL right now.

Not only for their recent hot streak, but for what might still be ahead of them over the next couple of months.

Thanks to their win in New York on Sunday night, capped off with an Oliver Bjorkstrand goal with 26 seconds to play in regulation, they hold the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 15-2-4 since Dec. 9, while their overall record through 50 games is actually one point better than it was at the same point a year ago. Considering their offseason and the almost unbelievable run of injuries they have experienced once the season began, they are one of the biggest surprises in the league.

It all creates a pretty interesting discussion for what their front office does — or is able to do — before the NHL trade deadline.

1. They are in a position to buy, not sell

That is not up for much debate, either. This is the same team and front office that went all in before last season’s trade deadline at a time when they were still on the outside of the playoff picture. Not only are they in a playoff position right now, they are just one point back of the New York Islanders for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

There is also this: Their upcoming schedule through the trade deadline and end of February really softens up with only five of their next 16 games coming against teams that currently rank higher than 19th in the league in points percentage. Three of those games (two against Philadelphia, one against Florida) will be against teams they could be directly competing with for a playoff spot.

There is a chance to gain even more ground and solidify their spot even more.

2. What they need and what they have to spend

What they have to spend: A lot. The only teams with more salary cap space to spend ahead of the deadline are the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and Colorado Avalanche. Out of that group, only the Avalanche will be in a position to buy. The Blue Jackets, in theory, could add any player that is theoretically available before the trade deadline.

What they need: At the start of the season the easy — and expected — answer here would have been a goalie given the uncertainty of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins and their ability to replace Bobrovsky. After some early struggles, they have turned out to be the Blue Jackets’ biggest bright spot as that tandem has combined for the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the NHL and the third-best all situations save percentage. They have been great, and especially Merzlikins with his recent play.

What they really need now is some scoring. Getting healthy would help a lot (Cam Atkinson just returned to the lineup; Josh Anderson, Alexandre Texier are still sidelined) but they do not have a single player in the top-77 of the league in scoring (Pierre-Luc Dubois is 78th), and only two in the top-120 (Dubuois and Gustav Nyquist).

As a team, they are 24th in the league in goals per game.

Looking around the league, obvious forward rentals would include Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles Kings), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), Ilya Kovalchuk (Montreal Canadiens), and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Ottawa Senators). Potential trade options with term still remaining might include Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) or Tomas Tatar (Montreal).

3. The problem: How aggressive can they be?

The downside to their “all in” trade deadline a year ago is that it absolutely decimated their draft pick cupboard for two years. They were left with just three picks in the 2019 class (none before pick No. 108) and as it stands right now they have just five picks in 2020, with only one of them (a first-round pick) slated to be in the top-100.

While players like Texier and Emil Benstrom are good prospects, their farm system is not the deep and the younger players currently on the NHL roster (Dubuois, Seth Jones, Werenski) are players they are going to build around.

That seriously limits what they can do.

Is general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a position to trade another first-round pick to add to what is a pretty good, but probably not great team? Is there a player available that can a big enough difference to make that worth it? If there is, that player can not be a rental. It has to be a player that has meaningful term left on their contract and can be a part of the organization beyond just this season.

Even if you assume the Blue Jackets will not be able to maintain their current hot streak (and they will cool off at some point) they have at the very least put themselves in a position where they are going to be in the playoff race with a very good chance of making it. This is also not a team in a “rebuild” mode, either. When you are in that position you owe it to your fans and the players in that room to try to win. For the Blue Jackets, it is just a matter of how much they can do and how aggressive they should be over the next few weeks.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: 2020 trade deadline candidates

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we look ahead to the trade deadline and some of the players who could be on the move.

We have split the rankings into four different tiers focusing on the likelihood of a trade.

The first three tiers focus on players that are most likely to be traded for one reason or another (expiring contract, playing on rebuilding teams, requested a trade, etc.).

The fourth tier looks at players that could make a big impact and bring big returns, but aren’t anywhere near as likely to be traded.

To the rankings!

Tier 1: Players almost certain to be traded

1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators. This is a no-brainer for the Senators. With Taylor Hall already moved to Arizona, Pageau is the top rental available and there are going to be a number of teams lining up to acquire him in the hopes he can be their missing piece. Even as a rental his value in a trade will probably be worth more than his long-term value to a rebuilding Senators team that is still years away from contention.

2. Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings. He may not be a star, but I want to see what he can do on a better team with more talent around him. The Kings need to start turning the page on this core and Toffoli — a pending unrestricted free agent — is a good place to start.

3. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers. There is always the possibility that the Rangers could try to re-sign him, but you have to think if that was going to happen it would have already been done by now. He would be a great addition for a Colorado team that is all-in on winning right now. He would also be an intriguing replacement for Jake Guentzel on Sidney Crosby‘s wing in Pittsburgh, provided the two teams were willing to trade within the division.

4. Alex Galchenyuk, Pittsburgh Penguins. His value is at an all-time low, but there does not seem to be any chance he remains with the Penguins beyond the trade deadline. GM Jim Rutherford is quick to move on from mistakes or acquisitions that do not work, and this would qualify.

Tier 2: Expiring contracts that could/should be be traded

5. Brenden Dillon, San Jose Sharks. Even with their improved play as of late the Sharks are going to need a massive turnaround in the second half to make the playoffs. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Sharks are going to look to reset at the deadline, and that could mean a Dillon trade. As far as blue line rentals go he would be an intriguing option. He won’t put up a lot of points, but he makes a big impact defensively.

6. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks. Both of the Blackhawks’ goalies are free agents after this season, and Lehner doesn’t seem willing to take a below market contract again to stay in Chicago. Not keeping him creates another hole on a team that has too many to begin win. But can they re-sign him?

7. Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks. He is not going to come close to matching his offensive output from a year ago, but he could be a good depth addition for a team that needs a little more scoring punch from its blue line.

8. Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils. Ray Shero’s firing kind of throws a wrench into the things for the Devils, but given their spot in the standings and the expiring contracts they have you have to think they are going to be sellers. Vatanen might have the most value out of that group.

9. Wayne Simmonds, New Jersey Devils. He was a good low-risk signing for the Devils, but he hasn’t quite bounced back as either side hoped. His pending free agency makes him a potential rental, but there may not be a lot left here.

10. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. One of the many veterans in Ottawa playing on an expiring contract. He is not the goalie he was during his prime years, but he could be a solid backup addition for a contender.

11. Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators. Granlund was an outstanding player in Minnesota, but things simply have not worked for him in Nashville. If the Predators do not play their way back into a playoff position they could become sellers, and Granlund’s expiring contract might be at the top of the list.

12. Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres. Bogosian already requested a trade earlier this season and the Sabres have dropped like a rock in the standings. It is probably a matter of when and not if he moves. Do not expect a significant return when he does.

Tier 3: The change of scenery candidates

13. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Should they trade him? No. But they are currently carrying three goalies and seem to love Igor Shesterkin. The ideal situation is to simply keep both Shesterkin and Georgiev — two very good young goalies! — and see who emerges long-term. And if they both do? Even better! He will have more value to them that way than he will in a trade.

14. Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators. Maybe things change with John Hynes behind the bench, but Turris hasn’t worked out in Nashville and he still has a ton of money left on his contract.

15. Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders. Just because it has to happen at some point, right?

16. Lias Andersson, New York Rangers. He has requested a trade and a fresh start somewhere else would probably be in everybody’s best interest.

17. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers. He can not play in the NHL this season but he has zero future with the Oilers and needs a fresh start somewhere else.

Tier 4: Really players that could make huge impacts, but probably won’t move

(Several of these players are the best players on the list and would make the biggest impact, but they are also far less likely to actually be traded this season than the players above)

18. Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild. Former general manager Paul Fenton seemed determined to trade him but was never able to get it done. He is an outstanding two-way player that would bring a big return given that he still has a year remaining on his contract, but it would also be a pretty big white flag from the organization if the Wild move him.

19. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks. He doesn’t seem likely to be traded, but the Blackhawks would be wise to at least listen to offers. He is a good two-way player and has performed in big spots in the past. A contender would love to have him.

20. Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings. Out of all the potential trade candidates on the Kings’ roster Martinez might bring the biggest return given his position, ability, and contract (one full year remaining after this one at a fair price). Trading him would actually require a commitment to a rebuild, however.

21. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. It is going to be fascinating to see what the Canadiens do at the deadline. They lack quality scoring depth so trading one of their most productive players would be a step backwards, but this team is going nowhere fast as currently constructed and might need to change course.

22. Kyle Palmieri New Jersey Devils. Trading him would be a pretty drastic move for the Devils, but all options should be on the table. He is an excellent player with another year remaining on his contract at a good price. His value would be high.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs, Lightning back on track

Order has been restored to the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

After miserable starts to the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, they enter the week as two of the NHL’s hottest teams and have rocketed to the top of this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

The Maple Leafs are currently on a 10-game point streak (9-0-1) and have looked like the powerhouse offensive team they were built to be under new coach Sheldon Keefe.

The Lightning, meanwhile, are quietly starting to wake up from their early season slumber. Since Dec. 1, the Lightning have the second-best record in the NHL and are starting to post downright dominant underlying numbers. Their shot attempt share since then is second best in the league. They are third in expected goals (all numbers via Natural Stat Trick). They are averaging more than three-and-a-half goals per game. Finally they are starting to look like the team that won 62 regular season games a year ago.

Both teams continue to make big jumps in the power rankings and occupy the top two spots for this week given their recent play.

Where does everyone else sit?

To the rankings!

1. Toronto Maple Leafs. They have not lost a game in regulation since Dec. 12 and have the league’s best record (15-4-1) since hiring Keefe. They have some flaws, but they look like the team they were were supposed to be.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning. Everyone was so quick to bury the Lightning this season that no one seems to be paying attention to the fact they have been one of the league’s best teams for more than a month now.

3. Washington Capitals. They showed the San Jose Sharks on Sunday that they are never out of a game.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are by no means giving up on Matt Murray but the net belongs to Tristan Jarry right now, and he has earned it.

5. St. Louis Blues. A tough road trip that saw them go 0-2-1 and get outscored 16-8 drops them from the top spot for now.

6. Vancouver Canucks. They have feasted at home this season and enter the week on a seven-game winning streak. But they have to show they can win on the road, too, and they get a chance to prove that this week as they start a five-game road trip.

7. Dallas Stars. If you like goals this is not the team to watch because they don’t score many and they don’t give up many. What do they do? Win.

8. Boston Bruins. Is this too low for a team in first place in its division with one of the best overall records in the league? Not when consider they have only won four of their past 15 games. To be fair, six of those 11 losses have come in overtime or shootout (they have zero OT or shootout wins during that stretch) and there is a HUGE element of bad luck there.

9. Colorado Avalanche. They slumped for a bit, but then started to break out of it with back-to-back blowout wins against the Blues and New Jersey Devils.

10. Vegas Golden Knights. They were better than the early record showed, and now the results are starting to back up the process.

11. New York Islanders. Overall, they are fine. But they have struggled a bit over the past couple of weeks. They have won just four of their past 10 games and only two of those wins have been in regulation. Losing Adam Pelech will not help.

12. Florida Panthers. Imagine how good they would be if Sergei Bobrovsky played like they hoped he would.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is on his way to becoming a superstar in this league.

14. Arizona Coyotes. Goaltending is a big part of their success, and their top two goalies are currently injured. Hopefully for their sake Antti Raanta‘s injury is not serious.

15. Philadelphia Flyers. Every time you think you have them figured out, they do a complete 180 and go in the opposite direction.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets. The injury list keeps growing, but they keep finding ways to collect points and keep themselves in the playoff race.

17. Minnesota Wild. Bruce Boudreau has done a really good job keeping this team in the playoff hunt because the roster just is not very special.

18. Nashville Predators. They are fine, and actually quite good, during 5-on-5 play. Their special teams and goaltending is sinking them.

19. Calgary Flames. They should be better than this, but outside of a brief surge following the coaching change they have been a pretty mediocre team all season.

20. Chicago Blackhawks. They are trying to overcome the early deficit they gave themselves, but they still have a lot of points to make up and a lot of teams to jump over.

21. Edmonton Oilers. Huge win in Boston over the weekend. It was just their sixth win in 18 games.

22. Buffalo Sabres. Jason Botterill finally did something to address the defensive logjam and shortage of forward depth. Just not sure if it was enough, especially as they lost another top forward (Victor Olofsson) to injury.

23. New Jersey Devils. They have found some success in recent weeks, but it is probably way too little, way too late.

24. Winnipeg Jets. They are on the playoff bubble and heading in the wrong direction.

25. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin is on his way to a career season. He just does not have enough help around him yet.

26. San Jose Sharks. They have won a few games lately, but losing that game in Washington is going to sting. When you are desperate for points and have a two-goal lead with one minute to play on the road that has to be two points 100 percent of the time.

27. Montreal Canadiens. I don’t know if Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella can fix this. What they really need is a healthy Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Brendan Gallagher.

28. Los Angeles Kings. The short-term outlook is very bleak for this team.

29 Anaheim Ducks. The only games they have been able to win for more than a month now are the occasional game that makes it to a shootout.

29. Ottawa Senators. Just watching to see where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up and how they deal with Anthony Duclair‘s breakout year offensively (contract extension or trade while his value is at its highest point?)

31. Detroit Red Wings. Right now you are just looking for young players to make some progress. Filip Zadina has shown some flashes this season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Malkin, Pageau fined for roles in game-ending scuffle

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Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau were both fined on Tuesday afternoon for their actions in a late-game scrum on Monday night.

Malkin was fined $5,000 for high-sticking while Pageau was hit with a $2,500 fine for roughing.

It all started when Malkin became tied up with Brady Tkachuk behind the play, with tensions quickly escalating. As the officials were trying to break it up, Pageau shoved Malkin as he started to skate away. Malkin responded by hitting Pageau up high with his stick.

The entire sequence can be seen in the video above.

Malkin is pretty fortunate to only be fined here. He was suspended for a high-sticking incident in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers just last season.

He also had to be held back by teammates and a Penguins’ equipment manager from going back on the ice to re-join the scrum after he had already left. Had he actually returned to the ice he could have been facing a lengthy suspension.

The Penguins won the game 5-2 but lost All-Star winger Jake Guentzel for the next four-to-six months.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins dominate Senators but another top player is injured

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(UPDATE: Guentzel underwent shoulder surgery and will miss the next 4-6 months.)

PITTSBURGH — Another game, another potentially significant injury for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the same day he was named to the 2020 NHL All-Star team, winger Jake Guentzel had to leave their 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night after a scary crash into the boards. It all happened as he finished a beautiful passing play to score his 20th goal of the season.

Just after depositing the puck into an abandoned net, he collided with Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot and went flying face/shoulder first into the boards. He remained on the ice for a few moments before gingerly skating to the locker room. He did not return to the game.

Here is a look at the play.

Guentzel also recorded his 200th career point on that play.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had no immediate update after the game.

“It was really scary,” said Sullivan when asked about watching the play. “Those are always dangerous when you fall that distance from the boards. There’s no status on him right now. Our doctors are evaluating him. We will probably have more information tomorrow.”

He also added that the contact that resulted in the injury was incidental.

After scoring 40 goals a year ago on the team’s top line next to Sidney Crosby, he has done everything he can to show that performance is no fluke. After Monday’s three-point performance he is currently on a 42-goal, 90-point pace over 82 games this season. He also leads the team in goals and total points and has been a mainstay on the top line no matter who the top center is.

With Crosby sidelined he has been playing next to Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust. It is a trio that has been running wild over the NHL since they have been put together. They teamed up for three goals on Monday (Malkin scoring two of them, including one just 27 seconds into the game) and completely dominated the Senators. In more than 224 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey that trio has outscored teams by an 18-9 margin and controlled more than 56 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals, and high-danger chances (via Natural Stat Trick).

Senators coach D.J. Smith described the game simply and accurately: “Malkin just kind of ate us up tonight.”

The current injured list

Before Monday, Guentzel had been the one top player in the Penguins’ lineup to avoid injury this season.

They are already without Crosby, Nick Bjugstad, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz. This is also not a new development for them, either. Along with those four, Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, Jared McCann, and Alex Galchenyuk have all combined to miss 146 man games (and counting) due to injury this season.

Many of them have been out at the same time.

It makes their current place in the standings — second place in the Metropolitan Division, and the fifth-best points percentage in the NHL — all the more impressive. They have also been one of the league’s best defensive teams this season.

Game ended with some madness

The Senators did not go away quietly in this one. There was a mini-line brawl that broke out with less than 20 seconds to play following an encounter between Malkin and Brady Tkachuk.

The key thing to watch there is as Malkin leaves the ice, Jean-Gabriel Pageau shoves him. Malkin responded by hitting Pageau up high with his stick. He received a two-minute for high-sticking during that sequence.

Keep in mind he was suspended for a game a year ago for swinging his stick at Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl. It will be interesting to see if the league does anything with this.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.